You Are Lebanon

woman wearing black long sleeved shirt sitting on green grass field near mountain under cloudy sky

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Years ago, there was a young Lebanese woman in my church named, Adeline.  Addy had grown up in Beirut during the war and though she often talked about her fear-ridden childhood, she also lamented how much she missed Lebanon. I found that intriguing so I asked questions. Before long an amazing picture of Lebanon emerged as I listened to Adeline describe her childhood summers spent in the high country of Lebanon’s mountains, far from Beirut.  Her description of crisp fresh mountain air heavy with the smell of cedars and furs, the sound of streams rushing over rocks and of gentle winds in the tops of towering pines, all took my breath away and gave me a whole new perception. Lebanon suddenly became fascinating!

Glitz and glamor, mansions and expensive lifestyles have never impressed me; never feel alluring.  For as long as I can remember, it’s nature that’s captivated me and given me my deepest sense of home.  I grew up in the country surrounded by cornfields, wheat fields, and cow pastures.   We had dogs and cats and my sister’s pet raccoons! My Grandpa had chickens and rabbits and cows and horses and ninety ponies!  That’s right, ninety! All my family had huge gardens and  I played outside barefoot from May to September.

At an early age, I discovered that nature speaks far better than words.

So when I did a study in the Song of Solomon and found the Bride refer to her Bridegroom as “Lebanon” I was instantly swept away by visions of Lebanese landscapes painting my Lord’s beauty in bold vivid strokes, more exquisitely than words could ever!

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HE IS fresh mountain air, crisp and cool in the morning.  HE IS peaceful streams, forever flowing pure and crystal clear.  HE IS lovely sun-warmed mountain meadows and groves of cedars reaching for the sky.  HE is the sound of the wind in the tops of towering pines, heard while the rest of the world lays silent.  Ah….yes, Lord Jesus, “You are Lebanon.

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“God stretches the northern sky over empty space and hangs the earth on nothing.  He wraps the rain in His thick clouds and yet the clouds don’t burst with the weight.  He covers the face of the moon, shrouding it with His clouds.  He created the horizon when He separated the waters; …By His power, the sea grows calm…His Spirit makes the heavens beautiful…. These are just the outer fringe of His works; how faint the whisper we hear of HIM.” Job 26: 7-14

Such splendor and yet only the outer fringe of His work; a faint whisper of His real beauty!

Still, nature’s display of Him echos through every corner of the globe.  Whoever can hear with their eyes and see with their souls, can catch a faint whisper of Him in this earth He created.  His whispers are like steady waves on the seashore; they leave us longing for something we don’t quite know.  Something we’ve never known only ached to find.

The older I get the more I’m drawn to search out those faint whispers my Lord has hidden away in creation.  The more I do, the more comforting they become.  I somehow feel Him when I watch a winter blue sky fade into amazing shades of frosty grey, then vanish into a sunset of rose and peach and soft yellow. I sense His still small voice in gentle rain and a silent snowfall. I get lost in the sweet wonder of a star-filled sky or a moonlit night.  There’s no comfort for a melancholy soul like the comfort of an autumn landscape covered in vibrant colors, boldly proclaiming that His beauty stands out best in the face of change and uncertainty.

These whispers calm my restless spirit and speak peace to my troubled soul. They paint dazzling pictures of sovereign perfection, for me to touch and feel and taste and see.

HE is my Lebanon ….  HE IS BEAUTY….

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Sing to me Beauty; let Your voice lead the way– in Your words, I’ll find the things I couldn’t say….  Oh how I’ve longed to write a love song just for You, but on my own, I found it was just another thing I couldn’t do…  Whisper the reason why the sun hides away and some days are so gray; tell me, how do the seasons of earth and of the seasons of my soul know exactly when to change…. and Lord, who on earth could find a language or a line to describe the beauty of Your designs—no one.  No other one but You.

It’s in the way You will the winds of the Spirit to calm the oceans of my restless soul… That’s who You are to me and You are all I will ever need.  No other one, only YOU…Let me say as I am falling on my face, that I am lacking better words but I just write these anyway…. No other One, there is just no other like You…not my children, not my husband, not myself; not my comfort ….No other one but You…and there’s no one else like YOU!

[SONG] No Other One by Rachael Lampa

Based on lyrics from Songwriters: Rachael Lampa / Tommy L. Sims  No Other One lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group

Autumn Rain

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Sometimes I swear I can feel their witness-eyed stares; feel them gazing down at me.  The whole whopping cloud of them, waiting with baited-breath and wondering if I—if anyone on the face of this earth, will take up their mantles, grab their batons and set out on the next leg of the race.  The race they lived and died running.

Some are namesakes for millions over centuries.  Far more are nameless; their martyred run, a mystery.  But ALL are Faith-Heroes of whom the world was not worthy. Each one earned their place by putting all their eggs in the basket of things hoped for, based on evidence of things unseen.  All proven by living in reckless passion for a country they’d never known.

I only wish something so noble could be said of me.  But when I sift through the stuff of my every day I just sense the smallness of my life. I wonder if anyone in that witness cloud ever felt like me?

What about that beautiful woman who lived in Iraq 4,000 years ago? Did she ever feel her life was small?  Did she know her call was to something bigger than herself?

Was she brave?

Did she thrill to follow her husband into wild unknown or cringe reluctant?

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Did her mind dance a million “what-ifs” on that cross-continental camel ride or did the excitement of adventure push all her fears aside?  Did she think her faith journey would make her mother dreams come true? I wonder how long it took for her to get sick and tired of empty starry night hopes for children like sand on the shore?  What tipping point pushed her to take baby matters into her own schemes? Still, in Heaven’s time, in Heaven’s better way, her 25 years of barren sadness ended with a perfect child of laughter.  And to think she lived to see him grow into a man of 28!  I smile when I see her name posted on the roll of that great witness cloud.

There’s another woman in the cloud that fascinates me.  Her beauty was so breath-taking it stole a Persian emperor’s heart. Her courage so amazing it plowed a path for God to save a million lives or more. Her act of bravery even inspired an ancient Holiday and a whole book of Scripture.  Yet Iranian history fills in details not recorded in the book that bears her name.  They say when she stepped prayer-protected, onto that infamous throne room floor, her legs gave way.  Three times she fainted in fear while in the very act of God-anointed courage.  Hmm.

So… if scheming doubts can become forgiven, heroic faith.  If obedient legs that shake in fear and a fainting body that stands back up and follows still is counted brave…

If courage is not the absence of fear but perseverance in the face of fear, then maybe—just maybe, there is hope for my small life.  Perhaps I too am called to something bigger than myself.

Lord, when doubts pervade and my faith walk turns to a crawl; when my legs give way as I step out into the great unknown, give me the strength to see beyond today. Give me ears to hear the clouded throng– the echo of eternal cheers.  Then even if I faint in the stepping—by Your grace, step I will!

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Happy are those whose strength is in the Lord; who set their heart on pilgrimage…. When they walk through the Valley of Baca (weeping), it will become to them a place of refreshing springs where pools of blessing collect after the autumn rains.  They will grow from strength to strength…until each appears before God. …. For the Lord God is a sun (our Light) and shield (our protection); HE gives grace and glory; No good thing will the Lord withhold from those who do what is right.  O Lord of Heaven’s Armies, How blessed are those who trust in You!  ~Psalm 84

autumn season

Leaves fall heavy feather weighted piles in yards and along sidewalks.  Colors so brilliant, so alive send waves of melancholy wonder through the soul.  Every season has its charms but Autumn out charms them all!  At least in my heart and in my Grandmother’s seasoned soul.  We walked together, her and I, past the barn and into the overgrown woods.  Musty earthy smells ignited nostalgia sending her thoughts plunging down twisting years. I listened to her talk of younger days, all melted now; melted into the stuff of a lifetime.  The stuff that makes us mortal like grass and wildflowers that flourish and fade. Yet seasoned souls like hers produce years that pile high like feather weighted autumn leaves; the body older–the soul younger, lighter, colored deep and all set to fly away.

Somewhere along her many years of narrow road walking, my Grandma set her heart on pilgrimage.  Her valleys of Baca became places of refreshing springs where pools of blessing filled the autumn of her life and spilled out all over me.  Those were the years I walked closest to her, drinking in every drop her beautiful soul offered my twenty-something self.

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Its been over thirty years since I took that last Autumn walk in the woods with Gram. The following October, she walked on streets of gold.  But there are cords inside my heart, cords that reach across light-years of time and space and connect my heart to hers.  She’s one of those in that great cloud–It’s her witness-eyed stare I feel the most.  It calls me to take up the mantle she left for me.  To pick up the baton, she held out to me; to run my leg of the race as she died running hers.

Oh Father, set my heart on pilgrimage!

Turn my valley of Baca into refreshing springs.

Fill my valley high and deep.  How I long to have water to share as the autumn of my life unfolds!!  Long tall drinks of blessing for my children.  Pools to share with my sisters and water to spare for this broken, dry and barren world.

They say all true heart pilgrims face foes–Baca only becomes Blessing through holy warfare. Victors must fight their battles on their knees.  Two weapons are all that’s needed and mastery only comes thru frequent use.  The shield of Faith, extinguisher of every fiery dart, and the mighty sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God– crafted from a wooden crossbeam; engraved in Blood, “Unrelenting Trust in His Unfailing Love”.

Join me, in this faith fight Sister, our victory’s already won!!

Let’s pick up the shield together and grab the sword together when financial pressures crush and worries for children overwhelm. For when hurts devastate and hidden stress mounts, the shield and sword stand fast!

In the face of failed attempts and dreams deferred may we NOT despair.  Instead, let’s hold our weapons higher and charge the enemy fearless, shouting in our wake: 

UNRELENTING TRUST IN HIS UNFAILING LOVE….

Forever, Lord, we shout it.  We hold it.  We cling to it.  We claim it. For we have seen Your power and tasted Your goodness!!  We refuse to be discouraged.

We reject all emotions that try to make us feel defeated; every lying attempt of the enemy to demoralize or steal.

He will not get our children or husbands or our homes!  He will not hinder our churches or sow discord in our sister-love. It’s not his to do or take; he has no right. We are blood-bought conquerors thru Him who loved us and we are one with Him in the power of His cross!

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“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord;  Be strong and let your heart take courage;  Yes, wait for the Lord.”   ~Psalm 27: 13-14

“Courage is not the absence of fear but God-breathed perseverance in the face of fear…”

Soaring on the Wings of the Wind

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Kinda feels like a Cinderella story. The one about the shepherd boy secretly anointed King. I can picture him fresh from the field all dirty and sweat-soaked, bent down as the holy Prophet pours sacred oil on his thick auburn hair. The handsome brothers with all their charisma and charm stand around sorta shell-shocked; trying to comprehend that the kid really was picked over them.

“Picked for his heart”, the old Prophet said; a heart after God’s own.

It must have been some heart! It carried that shepherd boy through so much! From outbursts of uninhibited, full-out worship to flights of fear, betrayal, victories that never quite got him to the throne; dark caves and cold nights; depression and loneliness; despair. The feel-good part of his Cinderella story fades fast!

But this unlikely pick held nothing back—didn’t sugar-coat his rocky road. He journaled it in songs, laments and celebrations all mixed together masterfully as his fingers’ flew over harp strings. His music expressed that heart; the one after God’s own. No wonder every despairing ranting meltdown ended in lyrics of hope; confidence in the sovereign plan of a God who sees and knows and loves til it bleeds and beyond. The very God whose heart, his was after.

Finally, after 15 years those impossible words spoken over poured out oil, on a sweaty head, in a backroom, came true! And on that sweet day of deliverance, David sat down with his harp. As music flowed from his fingers, these are the words he sang:

“I love you Lord. You are my strength. The Lord is my rock; my fortress. In my distress I cried out… He heard me from His sanctuary; my cry reached His ears. The earth quaked and trembled; the foundations of the mountains shook… Smoke poured from his nostrils; fierce flames leaped from His mouth. Glowing coals flamed forth from Him. Then He opened the heavens and came down; dark storm clouds were beneath His feet. Mounted on a mighty angel, He flew soaring on the wings of the wind. He shrouded Himself in darkness veiling His approach with dense rain clouds. The brilliance of His presence broke through the clouds, raining down hail and burning coals.
The Lord thundered from heaven; the Most High gave a mighty shout. At the sound of Your command, oh Lord, at the blast of Your breath, the bottom of the sea could be seen, and the foundations of the earth were laid bare. Then He reached down from Heaven and rescued me; He drew me out of deep waters. He delivered me from my powerful enemies, from those who hated me and were too strong for me. They attacked me at a moment when I was weakest, but the Lord upheld me. You rescue those who are humble but You humiliate the proud. Lord, you have brought light to my life; my God, You light up my darkness. He makes me as surefooted as a deer, leading me safely along the mountain heights…. Your right hand supports me, Lord; Your gentleness has made me great.” ~Psalm 18

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Lord Jesus, I haven’t spent 15 years hiding in wilderness caves, but sometimes, I sorta feel like I have. Lift my head here and now—in the middle of the muddle. Captivate me with the mystery of You. You, who open the heavens to come down in earthquakes, smoke, and burning coals. You come with dark storm clouds beneath Your feet as You mount a mighty angel and fly; as You soar on the wings of the wind. Dense rain clouds form but they’re no match for the brilliance of You bursting through. As You come close, I hear Your mighty shout break open the bottom of the sea and the foundations of the earth before You….

And that’s when I feel Your arms; they’ve reached all the way from heaven to where I am. They draw me out of deep water. Your arms deliver me from my powerful overwhelming enemies. From satan, worry, the devastating hurts of others, temptation, fear. Lord, those are the deep waters You draw me from; those are the enemies whose grip You pull me from.

Yes! they attacked at the moment of my weakness, but You, my Lord uphold me. You, Who rescues the humble and humiliate the proud, You, You have brought light to my life. You make me as surefooted as a deer on a mountain cliff. Your right hand supports me, and Jesus, Your gentleness has made me far more than who I am.

Oh, that nothing else would matter, Lord…. Nothing except the beat of Your heart and the breath of Your Spirit blowing through my soul. May all that feels unbearable in my life right now, become lost and found in You. May all I am or ever hope to be, fade into the brilliance of Your splendor. For though You dwell in unfathomable beauty and inapproachable light, you ever live to plead for me.

Lord Jesus, at Your feet I lay every fear. Every joy. Every worry, every grief…..the peaceful easy and the stress-filled heavy–it is ALL Yours, Lord. “For Whom have I in heaven but You? I desire You more than anything on earth. My health may fail and my spirit may grow weak, but God, You remain the strength of my heart; You are mine forever.” My sweet Lord–You are altogether lovely, and ALL my heart desires. (Psalm 73:25-26)

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No matter what is going down in my life, all my todays and every tomorrow are held securely in nail-scarred Hands.

So as I face what is and what is to come. The known. The unknown. I wrap myself in a calm assurance for “… the Lord is always before me. I will not be shaken”. HE turns my rock hard fears and struggles into sponge so JOY can soak in. Every inch of my spirit, soul, and body finds good in the nearness of HIM. I have no good, apart from HIM”.

Day by day His unseen hands direct me. His unheard words speak to me. They’re everywhere and every moment all around and deep within relentlessly orchestrating my life—sending the supernatural wrapped in the ordinary and the everyday. He’s why I happen upon the perfect verse after an anxious prayer. He’s the one who sends a song to awaken my soul as only music can. He speaks in strong solid sermon words as much as in words soft-spoken by a simple saint. I can hear Him in steady rain and feel Him in a clear blue autumn sky. He’s present in my child’s prayer and my husband’s love. He’s there in the sunshine between sidewalk shadows, an old hymn sung like new and a coffee-sipping window view on a gloomy blustery day.

I see and touch and taste and feel my Lord Jesus in all these good gifts. They pull me to Him as He calls me to a pilgrim life of listening. Trusting. Day by day following His Word and His heart. Ever anticipating the sovereign mystery as it continually unfolds.

Then someday Lord, someday, when all this unfolding of my life turns the bend toward HOME, when unworthiness is swallowed up in grace and I gaze into Your eyes, touch Your nail-pierced hand; feel Your full embrace.

May I? Dare I ask?

“Can I mount a mighty angel with You, Lord? Can we soar together on the wings of the wind?”

My sister, if you read this post weary worn with the weight of the world on your shoulders, I pray you’ve been refreshed by the words, the promises of the ONE who really loves you and is ever with you. And maybe, you’ll join me in a secret dream—the dream of someday soaring on the wings of the wind with the One who will surely bring us safely to His side…. Hallelujah!

Tears in a Bottle

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“You have taken account of my wanderings. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”   Psalm 56:8

I was in college when I read that beautiful verse for the first time; underlined it blue, typed it out hunt-and-peck style on a red IBM Selectric and pinned it to my dorm room corkboard.  It hung there for months.  Even though I couldn’t see meaning past the poetry, every re-read was captivating.  Beautiful imagery has always been a soul-magnet for me. I think it is for most of us.  Maybe that’s why Scripture is so chock full of parables and metaphors and scripted stories and lovely word pictures like Psalm 56:8.

Still, I wondered what that beautiful verse actually meant? Was it just imagery?  Pretty metaphors only meant as poetry?  I had no answer, so I tucked the mysteriously lovely verse away, considering it to be just that.

Oh, but over the years, the Lord has revealed new dimensions to the poetry of Psalm 56:8–dimensions with hidden depth so beautiful it has made the mere imagery, pale in comparison.

First I discovered the story behind the verse.  It seems David wrote those words during his fugitive years, specifically while hiding in a cave called Adullam.  He found the hiding place after a short-lived asylum, turned ugly, in Gath (Goliath’s hometown). Why in God’s name did he seek protection there? Maybe because his own people offered him little options.  He was desperate, alone, and according to 1 Sam. 21:12, terrified.  So he made a miraculously escape to, Adullam, meaning Refuge, and hunkered in all alone; no allies, none but God.

Oh yeah….been there before, baby.  I bet you have too.

Funny thing though, Adullam, is located beside the battlefield where David defeated Goliath. What demoralizing irony to have a vivid reminder of the victorious miraculous while hiding terrified, abandoned; defeated!

orange and brown cave

Hmm….pretty sure I’ve also been there …. You too?

Yeah, kinda crazy how ministry life can swing in a million directions and catapult us on a desperate search to hide in an Adullam of our own.

Let your mind drift back in time for a moment.  Can you picture David in that cave?  Sitting in a dirt corner of dark dampness with memories dancing between miracle moments and dead-end despair?  Yet even there, in a hovel of unanswered questions, somehow his aching doubts were swept away by divine inspiration: “You have taken account of all my wanderings. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.”

Just to know HE KNOWS is the solace Adullam-dwellers long for.  It’s the warm blanket that drives dark cold alone-ness away and speaks, “Peace be still.  Have no fear.  Your Savior knows.”

Its when life makes no sense, when past victory taunts outside a dark hiding place of humiliating fear, that we discover we’ve wandered into a sacred place. The kind of place where Jesus waits to meet us.  Not to make it all go away, but to pull us close so we can hear the Spirit’s unspoken whisper, “I’ve been taking account of your path, your wanderings matter.  I’ve recorded every single one in My Book. I KNOW.”

The split-second we know our Lord knows is when– without a single change in circumstance– we know everything’s O-K.  Unexplainable peace rushes in.  Anxiety is hushed like the calmed sea.  For here—here in the dark cold, we know, HE knows!

And that is enough…. Hallelujah!

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 But what about those tears?…. My tears …that He puts in…. His bottle?  What does that mean?

Ten years ago I found myself on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, eyes intent on a pair of ancient glasses held up by our Jewish Guide.  It was a simple frame with a place for two tiny bottles to attach to the center.  She explained that in ancient times, women would collect their tears in these tiny bottles then empty them into a larger bottle which was stored in a dark cool place.  As the years passed, their large bottles would fill with the tears of their lives–tears of joy and of sorrow.  At any point in time, they could pull out that bottle of tears and say, “Here is my life”.

Tears are the undeniable proof of the emotion they express.  They are truer than words; they validate the depth of our days.

This picture of an Old Testament woman’s hidden bottle of tears brings a flash-forward to a New Testament woman who just may have carried her bottle of tears right out in plain sight.  You know her, she’s that unnamed, unguarded woman of ill-repute.  The one who loved much.  Despite her shame, despite the ridicule of those reclining around the table, she pushed in and elbowed through, knelt behind Jesus and buried her face at His feet, sobbing.  She kissed His dirty feet and washed them with her tears.

I wonder, did she combine those tears with collected tears from her bottle?  Did she pour out the precious evidence of her very life—symbolically emptying herself for the humblest of service, washing dirty feet?  Ah, but they were Jesus’ feet, and she didn’t stop there.  She dried His feet with her hair.  How deeply personal!  In ancient times, a woman’s hair was her glory—yet she did not hesitate to coat her hair with dirt from His feet.

Then she went one final step, she anointed His feet with precious costly ointment from her alabaster flax. Yes, she loved much! Her actions said, “Here’s my life and my resources, Jesus, they’re all Yours now–spent and poured out.  Not for a valued place of service at Your side, but to offer You the lowest service of all; to wash Your dirty feet.”  Forgiven much.  She loved much!

How much do I love Him?

My devotion, or lack, does not affect His.  He does not waver as He traces my wandering path and collects all my tears.  But how much is He worth to me? Enough to pour out my very life and resources without condition; if only for the chance to wash His dirty feet?

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The twists and turns of our lives–both joys and sorrows find their best expression in tears.  Our Lord collects all those tears.  His fingerprints make our wanderings sacred.