Transition

30 07 2018

butterfly

Photo by Pok Rie from Pexels

Transition is the word they use to mark the shift from laboring to give birth to giving birth.

The time has come for emergence from warm dark waters into bright light, gulp of air, expanse of space, and rush of unmuffled sound. Sheltered senses shaken awake, infant life finds its voice and joins the chorus of humanity. And at least one little corner of the world rejoices.

Transition is the word she used to mark the shift from laboring to die to dying.

And shouldn’t it be so? For isn’t death in Christ emergence from this mortal womb to hear, see, taste, breathe for the first time all things new? Temporal senses shaken awake, redeemed life finds its voice and joins the eternal song in communion with the saints. And all heaven rejoices. 

So we, like midwives, hold his hands, kiss his brow, whisper words, songs, hymns, prayers, and wait in this momentary weight of sorrow — all creation groaning with us — for another son to be revealed. 

Unseen watchers stand, hands outstretched to welcome realest life to Realest Real. And then the time (the day, hour, moment written) comes. 

Windows open to his soul; he sees! One last gasp of lesser air; he’s free!

Just like that, beloved, weary, mortal womb — like the tomb — now lies empty. His labor past, he passed (the test) into his rest in peace. 

Transition.

We will all be changed: mourning to dancing, weeping to laughing, sorrow to gladness, sadness to joy. Glory to glory to highest, fullest, truest glory. All things beautiful in His time.

In His time.

See you then, Dad.

* * *

My daddy went to Heaven at 3:00 in the afternoon on July 23. I watched him go. As long as I live, I will never forget the holy, aching beauty of that moment. About six years ago, he asked me to write his obituary when the time came. He said, “Just say, ‘He loved his family.'” I said a little bit more than that. If you’re interested, you can read it here.  





When God Answers With A Song

12 05 2016

ripples

I can’t think of a better way to share this story with you than to simply copy and paste this conversation as it unfolded.

The first email arrived on January 11. The sender’s name was unfamiliar to me. The subject line simply said, “song.”

I opened it and read these words:

I just wanted to thank you for your insightful, convicting words that were featured on Ann Voskamp’s “Holy Experience” devotional last week. I was very touched and moved by what you wrote. It presented the familiar account of the “Good Samaritan” in a new light to me.

I’m a stay-at-home mom, but also a singer/songwriter, and, as so often happens when the Spirit stirs something within me, I went to the piano right after reading your article, and a song called “Mercy Calls” immediately came to me.  Most of it was written within an hour. I will share the lyrics here with you and hope to record it soon. I will send that to you as well, whenever I get it done.

So, much appreciation for your ministry, and for sharing what God put on your heart. I will continue sharing that message in this song.

Mercy Calls

Mercy calls, will I listen?
Mercy calls, will I hear?
Mercy calls, will I answer?
Will I serve or will I fear
When mercy calls?

There are so many needs
If I open up my eyes to see
Where should the light that’s in me shine
For it’s in the darkest place
That we need God’s gift of grace
To live the Truth and make it come alive

Like the Good Samaritan
Mercy had a cost for him
But he paid it anyway
What’s done for the least of men
We are doing unto Him
Is the price too high for us to pay?

If we would receive God’s mercy, mercy we must give
Blessed are the merciful, that’s how we’re called to live
Dying to ourselves and laying down our lives
Sharing the love of Jesus Christ

Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God
Do justly, love mercy, walk humbly with thy God

© Cyndi Aarrestad, January 8, 2016
Immediately after reading devo about mercy by Jeanne Damoff

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I wrote back the same day:

Oh, Cyndi! Wow! This is absolutely beautiful. I can’t wait to hear the recorded version.

I can’t begin to express how humbled and encouraged I am that God used those words to quicken this gift in you. I’m bowed low in awe and gratitude to Him, and THANK YOU so much for sharing it with me!

Really. I’m speechless. Just thank you again and again.

Cyndi: Thank YOU so much, Jeanne.  It always amazes, humbles and encourages ME how God uses the members of His body to minister to one another in a beautiful, ripple effect.  As we faithfully give what God pours into our hearts, He uses it to create an ever-widening circle of blessing.

I’m in the middle of having to upgrade some of my recording programs, so I’d appreciate your prayers that I can get past all the “technical difficulties” and on with sharing the songs!  Thanks!

Me: Amen! I too am amazed by God’s kind, beautiful, interwoven ways. Praying for you, Cyndi, that the Lord will bless your ministry through song and give you grace, patience, and insight as you navigate the “wonders” of technology. 🙂

I visited your website. You have a lovely voice and delightful style, and I’m more excited than ever to hear Mercy Calls once you’ve recorded it!

Thank you again for being His instrument and a gift to me.

Cyndi (mid-February): I FINALLY was able to get my system all working and have time to record “Mercy Calls.”  (I still have some glitches to work out, but I’m so thankful to the Lord for His help, wisdom and strength!)

So…I’ve attached the song here for you.  You’re the first one to hear the finished product!

I hope and pray it will be a blessing to all who listen to it, and encourage them to show mercy!

Thanks again for the inspiration!

(Friends, listen to this! Yes, I mean right now. You’re welcome.)

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Me: Oh, Cyndi. I have no words. And by “no words,” I mean I’ve started typing several sentences and then deleted them, because I honestly can’t express the wonder of hearing this beautiful gift God gave you, knowing He used my words to inspire you, and feeling this humbling sense of His kindness to His body, giving us to each other that we might speak to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, spurring each other on to love and good deeds and a holy urgency to love Him and all people well–especially the least of these.

Thank you for the honor of hearing this first. Please let me know if I have permission to share it. I would love to put it on my blog, tell this story, and direct people to you and your music, but I don’t want to run ahead of what you have in mind for the song.

I’m so grateful to our good, gracious God that He has crossed our paths in this way. You are a blessing to me, and I pray He takes this song and makes it a blessing to many.

Cyndi: Thank you for your beautiful reply!  It is so precious how God is working in and through each of His vessels for His purpose.

By all means, you can feel free to share this song. It would bless me to know it is reaching a new audience. I have been praying about what God wants me to do with it….and am thinking of somehow making it available as a download connected to some kind of outreach donation.  I’m just not sure exactly how to go about doing that. Maybe you have some ideas?

For now…rejoice with me in God’s goodness!  I too am grateful for the way He has orchestrated the meeting of two hearts seeking to do His will.

(Then in a separate email):

I almost a forgot about this….

Several days after writing “Mercy Calls,” I was looking at your site, and read the blog article on the clay pots.  This song came from that inspiration!  It’s just a little chorus, but it kind of sums up what I think you were expressing. I’ve been singing it quite often.

So…thank you twice over for your insightful writing!

Love,
Cyndi

Chorus

Humility, not I but Christ
Dying to self, Christ magnified
Humility, my pride dethroned
All glory given, to Christ alone
Let Him increase, let Him be seen
And let there be less and less of me
A servant’s heart, a willing mind
Till Christ in me, alone is glorified

© Cyndi Aarrestad, January 18, 2016
After reading Jeanne Damoff’s writing on her blog

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Me: I love this! What a blessing you are! Thank you for your beautiful and encouraging ministry. I’d love to hear this one, too! 🙂

Cyndi (mid-March): Hello again, dear sister!

Our God is so awesome and amazing! I just wanted to share what has happened with Mercy Calls lately.  As I mentioned to you, I have been thinking of perhaps using it as a download connected with donating to a charity.  Well, God had other plans first! I guess He was reminding me that charity/mercy are needed just as much close to home as across the globe! Very sadly, several weeks ago, our dear friends and neighbours (a family of 6), lost their home and belongings in a fire.  Thankfully no one was home and so they were all unharmed.  Our surrounding community has come together in amazing ways to support and help them, and God is already working the situation out to bring blessings.

They are a musically talented family, and Darryl, the husband, has been a huge part of the recordings I have done for many years.  It seemed only natural to have a benefit concert for them, which we are in the process of preparing for.  But then, the one day I just felt that familiar nudge of the Spirit, prompting me to compile some songs for a benefit CD for them.  Guess what the title is?!? Mercy Calls, of course!  All the songs center around the theme of helping/caring/serving others, and being instruments of God’s compassion.  I can already see how God is using this…many people whom I wouldn’t have expected (and who don’t usually listen to Gospel music)…are buying it (to support the family of course), but I am praying that God will really speak to their hearts through the messages of the songs.  It’s just created a really neat opportunity to minister!

Anyways…I just thought I’d let you know how the ripple effect from your writing has touched us here.

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Me: Oh my goodness! Cyndi, you are such a blessing and encouragement to me! THANK YOU for sharing these ripples, and thank you for listening to the Lord and for using your gifts to serve others and magnify Him. You inspire me.

I plan to post Mercy Calls and the story behind it on my blog, and I’d love to include a link to the benefit CD if that’s okay with you. Could you send that to me?

Cyndi (April): The “Mercy Calls” CD is now available on iTunes and here is the link:

https://itunes.apple.com/ca/album/mercy-calls/id1099291007

I appreciate your offer to share this, and I truly hope it blesses and inspires all who hear it.

Me (mid-May—not in an email to her, but right now to you):

Most of the time we never know what our small offerings stir in others — the kind, supportive word to the frazzled mom of three children wrestling her way through the grocery store aisle; the plate of fresh cookies to a neighbor; a handwritten note to a friend; a bold act of sacrificial faith that quietly emboldens others to do the same.

And maybe we think our voice doesn’t matter. What difference will it make if I add more words to the cacophony of noise clattering around in the cybersphere?

It makes a difference. Your offering matters. Share your words — your small, brave, healing, selfless words.

And don’t be surprised if God answers with a song.





Fragrance

17 10 2015

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In New Testament times, foot washing was both practical and hospitable. People wore sandals, walked on dry dusty roads, and arrived with grime clinging to their skin. Cool water on hot, dirty feet not only cleansed and refreshed, it expressed a host’s desire to honor and serve his guests.

In our day and culture, we no longer require or expect a foot washing when we enter a friend’s home. But that doesn’t mean we’re clean. We go through our day collecting the “dust” of every influence we encounter, and it clings to us every bit as much as the grime Jesus washed from His disciples’ feet.

We just don’t notice it. Until we have to.

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I first met Diana through email when Liz, a friend and minister at our church, asked if I’d be willing to encourage a sister who is isolated due to illness and craves real community. I was happy to. But once our correspondence began and I glimpsed this dear soul’s heart, I quickly discovered that Diana would be as much a gift to me as I could ever be to her.

Diana suffers from an Environmental Illness that began in 1992 and has progressively worsened since then. Her condition is controversial and misunderstood, forcing its sufferers to endure skepticism from some in the medical community, and leaving them to grope in semi-darkness for answers and help. At one point, unable to tolerate food, she dropped to 88 pounds. And no one knew how to help her. She plunged into deep depression.

Diana believed she was dying.

She and her husband, Mark, heard about available treatment and chemical-free living facilities in Dallas, and packed up to move from Indiana in 2013. Even so, her health continued on a downward spiral and her despair deepened. She took an overdose of sleeping pills, believing it was the only way to protect others from her apparently unsolvable problems. But she woke in the hospital surprised to still be alive. Perhaps God was pouring out His mercy on her? Hope flickered.

Not long after this, Diana came to faith in Christ, and her despair turned to joy. Her illness remained, with all its restrictions, but her spirit was no longer locked in its prison.

Wedding. Mom

Currently, Diana can tolerate 20 foods and owns half a dozen garments she can wear without reaction. She doesn’t go anywhere except to her doctor’s office, which is kept as “clean” as possible for patients like her. Even so, she often reacts to those visits.

I asked Diana what she experiences when she has a reaction. She said it starts in her head, which feels like her brain is swelling and pressing against her skull. The inflammation then spreads downward until, eventually, her whole body feels like it’s on fire. Her thoughts also become confused, which makes it hard to think, much less to pray and recall God’s promises. These episodes can leave her incapacitated for weeks. It’s no wonder she chooses to remain home.

Since moving to Dallas, there have been two events that motivated Diana to risk an extreme reaction. The first was her daughter’s wedding last June.

Wedding. Preston, Rachel, Dad, Mom

Wedding. Rachel, Dad, Mom

And the second was her baptism.

Diana knew she could be baptized privately, even in her own bathtub if it came down to it. No one compelled her to do otherwise, and pastors from our church offered to do whatever was best to accommodate her. But after months of intense prayer, soul searching, and Bible study, she was convinced. She wanted to make a public testimony — to share with the body of Christ what He has done and is doing for her. She was willing to count a very real cost to declare to the world that she has been buried in the likeness of Christ’s death and raised to walk in newness of life with Him.

Diana knew it would be impossible for the church to detox itself. Every fabric — carpet, upholstery, clothing — is treated with chemicals. Every person is unknowingly tainted. Soap, shampoo, deodorant, lotion, make-up, hair products. They all contain fragrances, and all fragrances are taboo. But Diana had instructed Liz how to wash her clothes multiple times in fragrance-free detergent, how to best cleanse her hair and body of any contaminants, how they could at least make the person who would be entering the baptistery with Diana as clean as possible. And Liz was ready.

But then they realized Liz would be out of the country on the date Diana planned to be baptized.

So three days before the scheduled service, she asked me if I would be willing. And of course, I was delighted to say yes.

I was deeply honored. And humbled. And I was also afraid. I didn’t want to make her sick, and I only had three days to cleanse myself. Three days of purification. Three days of trying to set myself apart.

It was a three-day journey to try to eliminate every clinging aroma, and it became a three-day journey into a deeper understanding of how desperately we need God’s grace.

Because I couldn’t do it.

The aromas in my home were suddenly magnified to me. I noticed them everywhere. The essential oils I diffuse, my favorite soap, candles in almost every room — their scents permeated the furniture, my hair, everything. I capped and put away candles and stopped using oils, but I could still smell them.

I washed the clothes I would be wearing three times in fragrance-free detergent and dried them without fabric softener. But I could still smell my tee shirt. Years of exposure to who-knows-what in the environment had woven itself into the fabric.

And then there was my body. Not only would it be a challenge to eliminate fragrances, I had to battle pride as well. Stand in front of the church, my face magnified on the screen, with no make-up? No hair products to tame the crazy? No lotion or deodorant? This was a true stripping down. A laying bare. And God, as He is so very kind to do, spoke into my struggle.

Unmasked
We walk through this world — maybe not in sandals gathering physical dust — but we pick up its clinging scents wherever we go. We begin to smell like the world, look like the world, and before we know it, think like the world. We’re called to be an aroma of Christ, but are we? Do we have any idea how saturated we are with the stench of the world? Or how powerless we are to remove it?

Isaiah 64: 6 says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.”

I couldn’t completely rid myself of fragrance. And, no matter how hard I try, I can’t cleanse myself spiritually either.

I’m contaminated, even sickening, and I desperately need Jesus.

As I considered these things, I thought about Diana — how she has trusted God and allowed Him to teach and sanctify her in her illness. She has been reduced to the simplest of existences and still suffers extreme pain, yet her hope remains in Him and her faith is radiant and blazing. The agonizing fire that spreads through her body has refined her to the core, and all her purposes are reduced to a single goal. She lives to give glory to the One whose mercies meet her new every morning.

And her husband, Mark, has willingly entered this world with her.

I met them both in person for the first time outside the church an hour before the baptism, and for that one hour, I had the amazing privilege of witnessing the way Christ loves His bride.

There I was, in all my no-make-up, frizzy-haired glory, but I soon forgot all about myself as I observed and listened to these two.

Wedding. Dad and Mom
Mark’s love for Diana is fierce and protective. It’s sacrificial and tender. It’s a wonder. I watched him take care of her practical needs, and I watched his eyes fill with tears more than once as he witnessed his brave wife’s joy.

We sat outside the building until almost time to enter the waters, and I felt like I’d been invited into a rare space. A sanctuary. A picture of Home. This beautiful, shining woman and the man who literally lays down his life to make her life possible.

When the time came, I stepped into the waters with Diana and listened as she shared her story with the church — a room full of people who will never get the chance to hug her like I did, or physically sit at her feet for an hour, or eye-witness the beauty of this marriage, but who are nevertheless her family — brothers and sisters who will one day see her whole and well. And the glory then? Eye has not seen nor ear heard.

Diana gave her testimony with a depth of joy that only a few present fully understood. Afterward, she plunged into symbolic death with a huge smile on her face, and rose up laughing.

She knew she would react to all the exposure, and by the time she got home, she was exhausted and in so much pain, she could only manage to shower and crawl into bed. But two days later in an email, her confession in the midst of severe suffering was still joy in obedience and gratitude for His sustaining mercies.

2 Corinthians 2:14-16 says, “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”

The aroma of Christ to God. A fragrance from life to life.

Last Sunday I baptized Diana. And the fragrance is still clinging.





Led forth in peace

4 04 2015

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If we’re allowed to have a favorite chapter in the Bible, I’m pretty sure mine is Isaiah 55. I love the combination of imagery, poetry, and promise — how God is set apart as holy and higher, yet He calls us to come and eat what is good, to seek and find, to forsake our wicked ways and run into His arms of compassion.

I can almost hear the mountains breaking forth into singing, see the trees clapping their hands, and feel the earth stirring with purpose as His word succeeds in all He has planned.

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This has been a profound Holy Week for me, my senses more fully alive, and my heart more deeply moved by the price Jesus paid for our redemption. I think this is true for a variety of reasons, but surely one of them is the fact that, after I gather with the Body of Christ on Easter morning to celebrate how life once and for all conquered death, I’ll get on an airplane and fly across the ocean to the Horn of Africa. Lord willing, I’ll spend the next two weeks visiting friends who work in that region. Two weeks listening to their stories and hearing their hearts. Two weeks meeting the beautiful souls they serve and seeing the image of God in their faces. Two weeks walking among people whose hardships are heavy and whose daily lives bear little resemblance to mine, and yet whose hearts cry out for the same love, hope, peace, and purpose.

I don’t know what these two weeks will hold, but as I think about going, I hear a Voice, urgently calm and fiercely tender:

Come! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

I know that my thoughts are not His thoughts, and my ways are not His ways. I know I’m utterly insufficient in myself to strengthen weak hands or feeble knees, but I also know the word that goes forth from God’s mouth will not return to Him empty. Like the rain and snow that water the earth, it will accomplish His purposes.

And I know that I will go out in joy and be led forth in peace — that no matter what happens, in the realest Real, the mountains will be singing and the trees keeping the beat. That all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.

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How do I know this? Because Easter happened. Because even though Jesus could have called down a legion of angels to take Him off the cross, He didn’t. He stayed there. And it wasn’t the nails that held him. It was love.

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Friends, will you pray with me over these next two weeks? I’d be so grateful. And have a beautiful, worshipful Easter! Jesus is risen. He really is. May we never lose the wonder.

 





Choosing to See

4 02 2015

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I haven’t watched the videos. Or looked at the photos. And I don’t intend to. But my imagination is alive and well, and that’s enough.

A man trapped in a cage, watching as the flames approach. Every measure calculated to ensure he experiences the maximum amount of terror and pain for the longest possible period of time before dying.

Then the brazen broadcast to a gaping world, and we all react as expected, with shock and horror and disbelief that any human with a soul could perpetrate this kind of evil against another human.

And then?

We have a choice.

We can question God’s power and goodness. We can harden our hearts and shut our eyes and refuse to let it be about us. We can throw up our hands in despair and indulge our flesh to numb the pain. We can cheer for acts of retribution and stock our basements with food and firearms. We can surrender to terror and live in fear.

“Your words have been hard against me, says the Lord. But you say, ‘How have we spoken against you?’ You have said, ‘It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping his charge or of walking as in mourning before the Lord of hosts? And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape.’” ~ Malachi 3:13-15

Or we can stand squarely in the presence of the living God, who sees when a sparrow falls, and numbers the hairs on every head, and reigns sovereign over the affairs of men, and we can choose to see.

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Then those who feared the Lord spoke with one another. The Lord paid attention and heard them, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who feared the Lord and esteemed his name. “They shall be mine, says the Lord of hosts, in the day when I make up my treasured possession, and I will spare them as a man spares his son who serves him. Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him.” ~ Malachi 3:16-18

We can fear the Lord, building each other up in Him, even as we weep with those who weep.

Because He is working out plans formed long ago with perfect faithfulness. And He was there. In that cage. As surely as He was in the fiery furnace with Daniel’s friends. I don’t know if the Jordanian pilot knew Him or saw Him, but I know Jesus was there, willing to be seen and to give the grace that has enabled martyrs through the ages to sing even as the flames rose around them.

We will not fear, because the God who orders our days is with us — the same God who opened Stephen’s eyes to the truer true, where instead of seeing rage-filled faces and jagged stones, he saw the Son of Man standing at the right hand of the Father. Instead of fear, he felt compassion and forgiveness for those whose hearts were darkened and filled with hate.

Evil has always been and — as long as this earth endures — always will be. But it will never win. Terrorists and tyrants have no authority except that which God allows for His kingdom purposes. It was true when Pilate condemned the Savior of the world to death on the cross, and it is true today.

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We have a choice.

We can return hate for hate, or we can pray to a God who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or imagine, and ask Him to take even this extremity of evil and redeem it for good. We can love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. And when He calls us to suffer, we can be sure it is purposeful, and He will carry us in it with grace overwhelmingly, abundantly, and extravagantly sufficient.

Those who fear the Lord speak with one another, and heaven takes notes. He may not spare us from the flames, but He will spare us in the exact same way He spared His Son. And evil will again be the means of its own undoing.

This is what I will choose to see.





Echoes

25 11 2014

 

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A canyon can
be
a mountain top
salted with saints,
majestic ones,
in whom is

All
my delight.

Light
from glowing ember
singing star

Far
from distraction
by distraction

Near
His heart
and yours
and ours, we

Come
and take, eat,
this is one
body, one
spirit, one
hope, one
high calling to

Walk
worthy of
the bond of peace
over all
through all
in all
humility, and

All
shall be well, and
all
shall be well, and
all
manner of thing
was
is
and ever shall be

world without
end

well.

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I don’t often post poetry in this space, but today it seemed appropriate. My heart is full, thankful for gifts of God’s presence and people at Laity Lodge this past weekend, heavy for Ferguson and all the ways our pride and blindness rob us, leaning into divine purpose that makes all things new, and looking toward a day when the redeemed from every tribe, tongue, and nation will worship with one voice around the throne.

Thanks for the inspiration to the High Calling community, Marilyn McEntyre, who invited us to slow down and play with words, Vincent Bacote, who reminded us to be salt and light, the psalmist David, T.S. Eliot, the apostle Paul, doxology, and Julian of Norwich, who said:

“In my folly, . . . I often wondered why, by the great foreseeing wisdom of God, the onset of sin was not prevented: for then, I thought, all should have been well. This impulse [of thought] was much to be avoided, but nevertheless I mourned and sorrowed because of it, without reason and discretion.

“But Jesus, who in this vision informed me of all that is needed by me, answered with these words and said: ‘It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.'”

And so it shall. Hallelujah.





Every Breath is Grace

7 08 2014

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One of the best gifts God can give someone is to take her out of her comfort zone and drop her smack in the middle of moment-by-moment dependence on Him.

It’s exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. Daunting and delightful. And humbling in the best way.

There’s something desperately wonderful about knowing that, unless God keeps, we will not be kept. Unless He gives endurance, we will collapse. Unless He guides and empowers our words, they will not be truly heard.

We absolutely know we are not sufficient. Not equal to the task. Not in control.

And we also know that He is all of these things.

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I went to Kazakhstan knowing I would be placed in situations where people who suffer in ways I can’t begin to comprehend would have the opportunity to ask me any question they wanted to ask about God, what I believe, and how I deal with my own suffering.

There was no way I could prepare answers in advance, because I had no idea what the questions would be.

My portion for the duration of the trip was utter, moment-by-moment dependence on God.

And it was amazing.

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God didn’t remove the difficulties and challenges. I battled jet lag. I couldn’t speak the language. Everything from food to currency to local customs was foreign. “Taking a taxi” equaled hitchhiking (and we did this often), and roadway lane markings were more like suggestions than actual boundaries. The heat index soared in a country where many homes, businesses, and cars lack air-conditioning, so I wore the same sweat-dried clothes again and again, living for two weeks out of one small suitcase. I needed a translator to carry on even the simplest conversation, and I never ventured out alone to do anything for fear someone on the street would say something to me and expect a response.

Once we got to camp, my job was to lead morning exercises on the beach, speak four times, teach and perform a dance with the moms, engage with them at meals, and help teach a cooking class using a recipe that was written in Russian.

Rest was not a priority.

But all of these things were gifts to me, because they bowed me low, and that’s exactly where I needed to be. I knew that I knew that I needed God.

And God was there.

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Our team gathered each morning for debrief and prayer. And in the stillness of those moments, as Russian and English words mingled in a chorus of praises and petitions, God’s presence was tangible. Every single day, He filled our meeting place with the sweetest peace, like a tiny foretaste of that great Someday, when every tribe, tongue, and nation will worship around His throne.

I never felt sufficient, but I never felt nervous either. I felt . . . held.

And maybe this is what “become as a little child” means. We know we’re small and weak, but that just lets Him be big and strong. We stand at the edge of opportunity and fling ourselves into space, laughing with utter abandon. It has nothing to do with knowing what’s about to happen and everything to do with the faithfulness of the One who beckons and waits, arms outstretched to catch us.

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As I looked into the eyes of those beautiful moms, I knew without a shadow of doubt that each one of them was made in His image, and all of our stories were written in His book before any of us were born, and here, on this page where a most unlikely cast of characters had assembled, I stood in awe of the glorious promise of God’s goodness and grace. Not one word He has spoken concerning a single one of us will fail. From the American visitor who grew up in suburbia, to the strong Russian woman raised under strict soviet law, to the soft-spoken Uighur wife who rises at 5:30 AM to milk the family cow.

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As different as our life stories may be, here in this place, we are the same. We’re women who love our “broken” children — who see them not for what they lack but for who they are — and we all long for the world to see them and love them the way we do.

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So I let myself be small. Just small and present and aware of this greater grace. Because it wasn’t about me at all, and it never is, and the more I understand this, the more life becomes one grand adventure. We’ve been given this string of days, each one made up of moments, and each of those moments packed with purpose, whether we’re seen or unseen by the world. It doesn’t matter if we’re ministering to millions or washing dishes or wiping noses or waiting long beside a hospital bed.

Now that I’m home again, I want to keep living small and present and aware, constantly leaning into Him. Because life is short, and I don’t want to waste the gift.

Every day is holy.

Every encounter brings me face to face with the Imago Dei.

And every single breath is grace.

 

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* * *

Dear friends, thank you for your patience.
I do have more stories to tell —
glorious stories of God’s redeeming grace —
and I promise I will tell them here. I will.
Meanwhile, I can’t begin to express how much I admire this
amazing ministry to these young people with special needs
and their strong, beautiful moms.

The dear souls behind A Friend at All Times serve with such tireless joy,
but the needs are many, and the resources are few.
Would you consider a small donation to
help them?

You can give online through Orphanos.
Scroll down and select “Partners in Asia”
then, from the list immediately below,
select “Kazakhstan Young Life.”

Thank you. With all my heart.

(all photos by Catherine Burns)








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