“Bringing in the Sheaves’

On Monday, 24 February 2010, my mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. We mourned, we prayed, and we moved on:

We moved on spiritually. We sang “Create in Me a Clean Heart” while on our knees, trusting that the Lord would be glorified even in this apparent tragedy. We attended church services and prayed with nearby brothers and sisters in Christ, rejoicing in God’s precious promises. When we couldn’t find a church that performed foot-washing ceremonies prior to Resurrection Day one year, we had our own foot-washing service at home. We endured surgeries and risky treatments and grueling medical appointments, all in His strength and by His grace. Eventually, we got to a place of reading the Word together each time my mother had an infusion.

Furthermore, I moved on spiritually. On 12 February 2010,God gave me a vision-promise of His glory; on 24 January 2011, the same presence of His Holy Spirit was given to me in a dream, with the assurance that I would soon be filled with such joy that all pain would be washed away. (If you didn’t know before that I believe in the active gifts of the Holy Spirit for today, you know it now…) And then, on 4 July 2011, that promise was fulfilled and I was so immersed in His marvelous presence that all fear, pain, and suffering were banished. At that time, I learned what it truly means to have faith as a mustard seed. My ears had been hypersensitive–likely due to stress and environmental pressures–and I was finding even worship music difficult to enjoy; then, one day as I sat at the feet of Jesus, He healed my ears and all sound became delightful to me once again. More than once, someone would discuss healing or grace or Christ’s eternal love in such a way that it could only have been a word from the Lord. I began getting up early in the morning to worship. I found that there is more joy in Communion than I had ever known before. I read Daniel and Revelation and Ezekiel–most often in conjunction with one another–and found myself understanding in the most beautiful ways possible. On 24 December 2011, I was set free from the anguish of accusations against me by other believers. On 14 January 2012, my relationship with a dear brother in Christ was completely restored. On 17 February 2012, He instilled in me a desire to get a guide-dog for His service–something I had had no inclination to do before. Although guide-dog training was strenuous, the Lord placed in my path those who needed His peace and, by His grace, I was able to give them a tiny measure of the comfort with which I myself had been filled. Although I traveled through a dark valley of depression from September 2012-February 2013, the Lord Jesus set me high upon a rock and immersed me in exquisite peace. I learned what it meant to wait on the Lord, to run to His sanctuary even during trials, to ask not for immediate answers but for peace, and to rejoice if those immediate answers came anyway in God’s own will and timing, to trust for healing but patiently ride out the journey. Gradually, “I calmed and quieted my soul … like a weaned child” (Psalm 131:2).

We moved on, at least in small measure, by developing a Christian network–a tiny support system that nevertheless staved off the loneliness that might be expected from a family who hasn’t yet found a church home. And so, because we really didn’t have anyone with whom to worship regularly each Sunday, we rejoiced in the people whom God brought to us: the family friend who invited me to join her for several hymn-sings, the CNA at the hospital who had attended a retreat with me the year before my mother’s diagnosis, the coworker who prayed with my sister each day, the brother in Christ at my father’s office who sent my mother flowers in a vase adorned with a small cross, the devout nurse whose voice sparkles and dances and sings with the joy of the Holy Spirit… And then, there were my moments–my treasured seconds with people whom the Lord brought specifically into my life. There was the student in one of my classes who, upon hearing of my mother’s diagnosis, first told me that she would be praying and then, taking me gently by the shoulders, repeated over and over again that my mother would be all right–cascading reassurances down upon me until my heart ached for the beauty of it all. And how could she have known that I was desperately terrified for my mother’s ultimate condition? Again, there was the bus driver who, upon hearing me say something about theology to another passenger, immediately turned on a Christian radio station. Another driver asked me what kind of music I might like to hear during my commute to the university and did not object when I asked to hear the soft, gentle refrains of this city’s most mellow Christian music. Somehow, I expected him to tolerate Christian rock but perhaps not praise and worship. Another blessing… There was the woman in the grocery store who, upon hearing me quietly quoting the book of Psalms to my sister, approached both of us and asked a question so intricately-related to God’s plan for my life specifically that it struck me speechless. There are ten thousand ways to ask whether someone might possibly believe in God, and this was among the least common I had ever heard. As we talked, this woman told us that she had been healed of lupus–the close cousin of MS. As we prepared to leave, I asked her why she had approached us, and why she had chosen to inquire about our spiritual lives using the wording she had. Her response: “Well… I don’t know… I really don’t–the Holy Spirit?” Yes and amen. There were people who prayed over us all–complete strangers and close, intimate friends. People who placed in our hands exactly what the Lord would have us to take in. Friends and acquaintances who, without even realizing it, would refer to some Scripture that one of us had just been studying the previous evening. Oh, ’twas glorious!

We moved on emotionally. Just before my mother was hospitalized, she left me a recorded note proclaiming her love and reminding me that our God reigns supreme. Soon, we had each bought cameras in order to capture life’s joyful and difficult moments–a digital camera for my parents, a voice-recorder for me. They serve the same purpose, don’t they? Isn’t an audio picture worth a thousand gestures? Later, we all began attaching analytical, philosophical, symbolic meanings to rather ordinary events. The chimes represented rain, which represented God’s grace, which was poured out upon us, which enabled us to love one another–AGAPE! Every piece of linen we ever owned came to represent purity and righteousness. We read more and quarreled less, hugged more and isolated ourselves less. Oh, yes, we gave in to fear and grief sometimes–but each tear was tempered with a moment of laughter and every sorrow was soon overwhelmed with gladness. We discussed medical procedures, but also more mundane matters–whether Anne Sullivan or Helen Keller actually penned The Story of My Life, the most effective way to communicate ideas in children’s books, the extraordinary need for less base and more treble in music, and the clinic and literary implications of everything from synesthesia to hyperthymesia. We walked in snow so soft and white and beautiful, yet so all-consuming, that it stopped traffic and drifted up all around us, relishing the blizzard for its sheer majestic qualities as one might a magnificent waterfall. There were swimming in a nearby pool, hiking down any trails we could find, and dancing before the Lord for pure joy at all that He had done–despite, or even in and through, the trials. I worked with Natasha, my sister made customers countless cups of coffee and tea and chai, my mother filled her heart with ideas too precious for words, and my father kept up the course of study he had begun a few years earlier. Nothing changed, except that we became closer.

We moved on by doing great, monumental things. We attended our first baseball game–not a tremendous thrill for me, as I’m not a sports fan, but a lovely family event. We went to see my pastor grandfather and were quickly immersed in the art of singing “Because He Lives”, praying about wilderness seasons, and generally praising God together. On another trip to see extended family, we were met by real prayer warriors–people who saw and knew and experienced God’s love and poured it out upon us. One woman had created a hiking trail to simulate all the stages of Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress. Oh, what a joy it was to leave my burdens at the foot of the cross–literally and figuratively! Shortly thereafter, I acquired a guide-dog. All such wonderful moments. On 14 April 2013, the extraordinary and ordinary circumstances of our lives merged when we all ate dinner together at a French restaurant–something my mother’s MS doesn’t generally allow her to do.

On 15 April 2013, my sister was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. We have mourned, we are praying, and we will move on.

Sometimes, sorrow overshadows the joy. In ways I can’t explain, my sister’s diagnosis diverges from my mother’s so sharply that it’s as though they were diagnosed with two separate conditions. Treatment is different, emotions are different–even faith seems different sometimes. I have never lost it; my soul will always follow hard after Him. However, sometimes it seems that I now need faith not to move mountains, but merely to look at the rolling hills in front of me before attempting to climb them. Sometimes, I feel weak and fragile and cracked. I don’t know what the next step is–how I should trust, what I should pray for, whether this request or that one is inappropriate. Sometimes, knowledge that I might not always be the best support for my sister drives me to wonder if I’ve sinned, when in fact I have made a simple mistake that requires no actual repentance. (Quiz: Is spilling some water something that requires forgiveness, or a mop?) It’s odd how many things unrelated to my life in the Lord somehow end up getting connected to it.

And this is where the Holy Spirit comes in. Oh, how I need the Comforter, the Wonderful Counselor! I knew before this that all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His purpose, but seldom have I seen it demonstrated as clearly as I did the week before Kristin was diagnosed. It had been a trying week, filled with medical appointments and tearful moments. One evening, as I prepared for bed, I came upon Psalm 126. This has been one of my favourite passages of Scripture since 2007, when the Lord used it to sustain me through the greatest desert I have ever endured. On this day, I settled back to let those familiar yet ever-new words wash over me.

“Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.” read the narrator of my audio NKJV. “He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, … bringing his sheaves with him” (Psalm 126:5-6).

“But, Lord,” I prayed from a heart too weary to silence its questions, “all I have experienced is weeping. I cannot imagine rejoicing, nor bringing any sheaves with me. I just don’t have any joy anymore…”

“But you will.”

The words were so great and resounding, yet delivered in such a still, small voice that I knew this could only be the Good Shepherd. Oh, how great it is is when Scripture is revealed to us and confirmed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit! At the time, having no notion of my sister’s impending diagnosis and believing that I might start skipping merrily on my way in the next hour, I took that promise at face value. “Thank You, Lord. I know I will rejoice, and that any pain I experience will be for Your glory. And thank You for the joy I know You will eventually bring…” And with that, I fell into a deep and dreamless sleep, entirely assured of His faithfulness.

And what now? Am I still assured of that same lovingkindness? Absolutely! What I know now is that God, in His mercy, promised that He would never leave nor forsake me, and that I would not walk through this valley alone. As yet, we have not moved on spiritually, and even I have had a difficult time returning to the peace I once knew in Jesus; sometimes we struggle to move on in finding prayer support, or emotional support, or in doing anything momentous with our time. But it will come. We will come rejoicing, and He will be glorified.

I have to remember that, for a time, I did not see the glory that the Lord was bestowing on us all. When my mother was first diagnosed, I didn’t see the kindly nurse or experience peace in the Scriptures. I remember only the negative psychology textbook I read in which MS was portrayed in a more negative light than necessary, or the one person who would not pray for me, or the times when I felt that everything I did was either a sin or displeasing to my family or both. In short, when my mother was first diagnosed, I saw only the challenges; I now remember the beauty in hindsight. May it not be that way now; may I see His goodness on every step of this journey, rejoicing in all that He does and praising Him for all that He will do. May I be drawn ever closer as I learn to rely on Him…

Bringing in the sheaves.

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“This Is the Day”

April 14. It is not a day, but a date. A day is a twenty-four-hour period of time in which the average person accomplishes a number of mundane tasks. A date is defined as above, with the exceptions that “the average person” becomes an individual, and the tasks performed are anything but mundane–a day, in fact, on which even the leather upholstery of a vehicle’s seats or a paper napkin at a diner take on significance.

And 14 April 2012 was a date. On the surface, it seemed much like other days: I ran errands with my family, had a wonderful time of worship listening to an album by Calvary Chapel, and went to bed. But, deep in my heart, that day shall ever remain with me as the Day of Prayer Without Ceasing.

I awoke with an inexplicable need for the things of the Lord. I know I always need Him, but this was special. Somehow, every activity and every word seemed infused with the thought, “I must trust God today.” Really, truly trust-just cling to His presence. And so, as I ran errand after errand, I tried to fill the time between establishments with pure, glorious worship music. I still have some idea of what I heard–certainly songs on surrender by Ginny Owens, likely Sovereign Grace Music and Hillsong, almost certainly anything I could find by Don Moen… And yet, it really doesn’t matter what I heard that day, because my entire being was focused not so much on man’s words or the joyous poetry of the instrumentation as by the absolute majesty of the Lord of Hosts. Everything in me worshiped Him.

Of course, this did cause some conundrums once we all reached our various locations throughout the day. Case in point: When my family and I all stopped for milk shakes t a local diner, I found a paper napkin at my place and immediately got caught up in thinking how, unfolded, the thickness of the napkin would be similar to the onion-skin fragility of Bible pages–so much so that a witty remark by my sister went entirely unheeded for several moments. Perhaps you think that that level of concentration was unnecessary, even silly–and perhaps “the average person” would say that I ought to have been just slightly more practical. However, at least once in one’s lifetime, I think it’s entirely necessary to experience a “silly” or impractical day.

The fact is, I had no other true concerns at that time–no pressing responsibilities or great obligations. It was a Saturday, and I knew that failure to focus on the topics at hand would harm no one and nothing, save for a witty comment or two. So, I was free to really, deeply, fervently talk to God. Most of what that day encompassed was just praise, pure and simple–giving thanks in great blessings and small, rejoicing in God’s love and grace. It was returning home and working on a writing project, all the while being filled with the peace of the Holy Spirit. It was working out later, listening to a song recorded by Calvary Chapel whose lyrics I believed I had forgotten, only to find myself singing them joyfully once again after several years on the song’s subject.

No, 14 April wasn’t a date to write in a family Bible–or, for that matter, in an individual study Bible. It wasn’t miraculous or remarkable save in my own life. It taught an ongoing lesson of trust, surrender, and worship–but many days did that. Why should I remember this one, above all others?

For a few reasons. First, I collect dates and have for years. This has sometimes startled people who come into contact with my mental calendars. A few years ago, I was struggling with some serious health concerns that had a rather profound spiritual impact on me. Long story. Anyway, I remarked to a relatively new friend, “Over the past two months, I haven’t been free from fear for a period of longer than twenty-four hours at a given stretch.” My heart was crying out,, “O Lord, how long?” (Psalm 6:3), but this friend had no idea what I was thinking and remarked, reasonably enough, “It sounds to me like you’re worrying about worrying, if you measure freedom from fear in hours.”

Oh, but it’s so much deeper than that. Years ago, about six months after I received the Holy Spirit, I was reading the book of Ezekiel when I made a fascinating discovery. Ezekiel recorded the exact dates of most of his prophesies–each time he saw the glory of God, or received a message for the people, or was commanded to demonstrate anything symbolically. Now, I am nothing like Ezekiel–well, except for a love for God!–but I had learned by that time that much of what people in Scripture did was written down for a reason. I had already amassed a vague collection of dates on which God had touched my life, but from that time onward I determined to emulate Ezekiel’s method of careful date-recording–if for no other reason than that this, too, was an act of worship. In my case, I could simply proclaim, “On 16 December 2002, I saw that God is faithful. On 17 December 2002, I saw His power. On 18 December 2002, I reread John 20-21…” And, somehow, remembering these things would be praise to the Lord I had come to love so very much.

The date of my Ezekiel discovery, by the way, was 6 January 2003.

“But why dates in the British format?” you may be asking. I wish I could say that style also harbored spiritual significance, but it doesn’t. “14 April 2013” simply looks more dignified with the day before the month and without the intrusion of a clunky and inelegant comma!

So, that is one reason I celebrate 14 April of last year–my simple propensity for collecting important dates and anniversaries. But there is also this: Until the Lord healed my heart of profound depression on 17 February 2013, there weren’t many dates to collect in my life. I trace the change with difficulty, but as far as I can estimate, my life was rather dateless from 30 August 2012 to 16 February 2013. There were no anniversaries, and looking back on other years’ victories did little for my heart. Sometimes, I tried to create occasions from my chaotic and desolate existence, but they all seemed disingenuous. So, 4 October 2004–a day on which I had received a particularly precious promise from God–went unheeded on 4 October of last year. The dates of my first time taking Communion in private, being filled with His peace following a proverbial storm, the moment He touched me when I was in the hospital once… all of these, likewise, went by without acknowledgement because I almost forgot that they had ever taken place at all. Meanwhile, I couldn’t make enough new memories to fill the void because I did not remember how to rejoice. . I couldn’t very well make a mental record of the twentieth day I had cried myself to sleep or the date on which I could no longer seem to uphold my end of a theological discussion or the occasion of my pleas for God to take me out of this valley, could I?

Frankly, I thought that there might never again be another “14 April”–another day of prayer without ceasing. There might never again be another “9 June”–a day of being fully satisfied in the love of God. So many days that might never be replicated again! So much time–and would I simply have to spend years without being able to see or know God’s presence in my life?

No, beloved reader, and that is why I celebrate 14 April today. I celebrate it because my life is full of dates again. Because, ever since 17 February–the day on which I finally decided to get a guide-dog in 2012 and the day on which Jesus led me back into green pastures in 2013–my life has been full of more anniversaries and dates and occasions than I can count. 19 February 2013: I celebrated His freedom with my sister; told a cashier about His love. 20 February: received good report from a doctor and was strengthened in my trust in the Lord. 26 February: was filled to overflowing with joy; found a new, beautiful, and very unique Algerian worship song. 7 March: met a beautiful sister in Christ and was prayed over in a glorious way that I hadn’t experienced in over a year. 20 March: received a truly exquisite medical report and was deeply convicted that I must put all my trust more fully in God. 12 April: attended a hymn-sing and was fully, thoroughly encouraged by the church as a whole. 14 April: trusted in the Lord all day; prayed about every trial I or my loved-ones encountered; saw that I could remember, acknowledge, and create all those little occasions I had forgotten about during that desert timeframe; rejoiced that I have been truly, completely restored.

“Oh, How He Loves You and Me”!

About three weeks ago, my aunt had a precious dream in the Lord, the details of which are rather personal and fodder for another post, if I choose to provide them at all. For now, suffice it to say that her dream involved me singing a song unto the Lord. Somehow, I was supposed to sing a song He had put in my heart, and this is what I sang:

Oh, how He loves me and you,
Oh, how He loves me and you…
Oh, how He loves me,
Oh, how He loves me,
Oh, how He loves me and you.

Anyone who is familiar with the song off of which my version is based knows that I have the words “wrong”. In my aunt’s dream, I was singing of God’s love for “me and you”, when the original song describes “how He loves you and me”. Such a minor difference in semantics, but so important to this seeking, Gideon-hearted disciple who sometimes flees like Peter rather than following steadfastly like John.

You see, I have often fallen into the trap of forgetting that Jesus Christ loves me–and, in the worst of cases, not allowing myself to hear it at all, even if I had remembered. In place of love, mercy, or any form of grace was an all-consuming sense of guilt and shame–guilt at my sin, shame at what I somehow never did for the Lord. In short, I suffered from Bad Christian Syndrome. Everything I did caused me to feel stained, regardless of whether my actions were actually sinful. One minor example: At the school at which I trained in order to receive my guide-dog, the instructors instituted a rule that all hot drinks must be covered in order to avoid spillage or, more importantly, injury to others. Somewhere along the way, I determined that failure to follow this guideline would make me a bad witness and hence a bad Christian because, naturally, anyone seeing me with an uncovered beverage might not want to explore a relationship with God.

Oh, where was the room for grace that is so fundamental to any real sense of faith!? If only I had realized that His strength is made perfect in weakness, or remembered that it was my joy and peace rater than my cup-covering skills that would cause others to see the love of God, or called to mind the Scriptures that so clearly indicate God’s power being much greater than our frailty, I might have fared better. If even one of those thoughts had made its way through my mind and into my heart, I wouldn’t have begun shaking the day I couldn’t find a lid for my decaf mocha, wouldn’t have discarded the drink in order to avoid breaking the rule and being a bad witness, wouldn’t… As it was, one of the school’s volunteers teased me about ways he perceived as snobbish: was I above getting my lips dirty or something? In hindsight, I know that I could have been a better witness–not a better Christian overall, but a more joyful one in whom others could see the Holy Spirit–if I had forsaken legalistic tendencies in favor of grace.

But how could I have known that last year? How could I, when I had forgotten myself what it was to know grace? Oh, there was a time–three glorious months in 2005 when I saw the love of God for what it is and comprehended His ability to cover a multitude of sins. At that time, I was suffering from a hemorrhagic ovarian cyst and spent much of my time ether in the hospital or commuting to and from medical appointments. In the same hour, I might scream in indignation and pain at a student lab tech, then repent and five minutes later find myself reading Acts. Oh, it was exquisite! But then, somewhere along the way, I forgot and succumbed again to this theology of perfection. I was still a Christian–one who loved the Lord with all the fervency she could possibly muster–but I was lacking most of my heart’s knowledge of what He had done for me.

Occasionally, I would remember somewhat. During the months when I was in the hospital, I was introduced to Starbucks mochas. To this day, the aroma of Starbucks reminds me of mercy. Fine, clean linen fills me with a knowledge of true righteousness. And how can I forget the moments when kindness would be bestowed on me for no reason whatsoever? Or, especially, those evenings I spent reading John 18-19, contemplating the Lamb of God and His precious gift to us, to me? And yet, so often, the disconnect remained. My mind understood the cross with clarity, but only about ten percent of my heart would absorb that knowledge at any given time. Enough to know I would be forgiven eventually, but not enough to keep me from feeling that I could repent and move forward in the Lord in a single moment. And so, to avoid guilt and shame that I could never carry, I strove for as much perfection as possible–as many good works in the flesh as I could perform. And yet showed He unto me a better way…

I wish I knew how great, freeing miracles take place in my life. I wish I could pinpoint exact moments, or find the words to describe exactly how the Lord’s hand touches my heart. But that shall never be, because God is far too infinite for our minute understandings. I know only this: I had felt so ungraced for so long that I had nearly forgotten that I needed to feel blameless. I had listened to Keith Green’s semi-prophetic song “When I Hear the Praises Start” for so long with so little comfort actually reaching me that I had begun to wonder whether, for reasons known to Him but not to me, this was the way I was to live my life–striving to follow Him, but having to deal with guilt as a thorn in my side.

And then, in the next instant, I did not. Gone were all of the guilt and shame and condemnation. The circumstances weren’t majestic or overwhelming; I was only reading the thoughts of another believing writer. She was writing of trust–literally, the trust of a child. Her subject was one of her own young children as an infant. Whether it was this woman’s description of trust, or the Scriptural promises that had been stored in my heart all day, or another writer’s using the very psalm that has always touched me, I suddenly found all shame completely, unequivocally dissolved. All at once, my stained garments and blemished character were replaced by a robe of righteousness, and I knew that Jesus loved me–just that, just so simple. Not that I was perfect, but that I was treasured and loved simply because He formed me, because He has plans for me, and because His grace is truly far greater than my sin.

And so, now, I know what to do moving forward. If I say something amiss, I can ask forgiveness from the Lord and continue to worship Him, making peace where I can and then allowing God to work. If I make some minor mistake (e.g., leaving bread out overnight when I should have put it away), I can and will recognize that some things are mere moments of forgetfulness, rather than attributing them to iniquity. In short, I have left my great burden of fear and condemnation at the foot of the cross, where His perfect love could cast out all my fear.

Again, I wish there were more magnanimous words for this experience. I wish I could grasp the moment and put it into the heart of every believer who has ever doubted his ability to approach the throne of grace with confidence. I yearn to embellish this with greater detail–where I was, what He spoke to my heart, just how He did it. But how can you truly analyse a gentle, peace-filled love that just seems to wash you? You know what it is to be clean, but have you ever tried to describe it–even in the physical? How much less can you describe spiritual purity! All I knew then, and all I can say now, is that what He did was deeply, joyously, miraculously beautiful.

Oh, and I can say this much: There exists a profound difference between the Then of 2004-2013 and the Now of this new day: I have a new song to sing, and I understand its meaning. “Oh, How He Loves You and Me”–that sentiment will be true for all time. Now, though, it has an entirely different meaning to me. Without doubt or question, I can now sing with confidence, “How He loves me and you…” And that, beloved readers, is the way the song will forever resonate in my heart.

“More Than Anything”

I love Jesus. I love Jesus, I love Jesus, I love Jesus.

Really, I want to end this post right there–because, to me, that is all that really matters. “All that really matters”, in the sense that it is the only truth that will ever endure–but also, “really all that matters”, in the sense that all else is insignificant.

I’ve been asked about this before–even chided for it. In my youth, a little over six months after I had received the Holy Spirit, a dear friend asked me if I ever “just had fun”, by which she meant going to the movies or reading a light novel. I said yes, even though movies represent boredom to me and I tend to be a literary snob. Yes, because all my joy really does come from the Scriptures. Yes, because my heart and soul and mind must sing, constantly, making melody in my heart to the Lord. Yes, because the One who remains at the core of my being and walks by my side day by day is more than all the simple pleasures we enjoy combined, yet He is also the One who infuses those same simple pleasures with His joy. Example: A ring is really just a piece of jewelry, but remembering that you received it on the same day on which you listened to “Holy and Anointed One” or read the gospel of John… that ring becomse a radiant treasure!

I have been told that this makes me more susseptible to guilt, more emotionally-fragile–particularly when I connect earthly events to my spiritual life. If I make a mistake in working with my guide-dog, then automatically come to the conclusion that I’m not showing others the love and perseverance God requires, am I not “too involved”? No, beloved reader–not too involved. A bit legalistic in the moment, perhaps, and a bit prone to relying on my flesh for a moment rather than accepting God’s all-sufficient grace, but not “too involved”.

Others have also wondered whether I ought to be a bit better-rounded. Ah, my dear reader, I’m better-roounded than most of my acquaintances, friends, or even close family know. I understand all the dynamics that led to the Civil War–and, for that matter, to the Franco-Prussian War, World War II, and the Hundred Years’ War. I speak French more fluently than most people will ever hear, am teaching myself Biblical and Modern Hebrew, and sometimes find myself tracing the devices used in Anglo-Saxon poetry and attempting to recreate them in modern Eglish. If you catch me in the right mood, I will introduce you th Helen Keller’s “predecessor”, Laura Bridgman, and enumerate the reasons I feel she was the epitome of an abused nineteenth-centure child/lab rat. I will further add that Helen Keller fared no better, for there is evidence that Ann Sulivan wrote most of the pieces ascribed to that great American heroine. I can describe the art of the bas-relief, give you a casual overview of most common medical conditions and a few uncommon ones, and demonstrate at least fifty ways to employ the double dash.

I can and sometimes do, but most of the time, I’d rather not. Instead, I’d rather discuss the pros and cons of the Revised Standard Version as compared with the New International Version, then opine on both as framed in the context of the New King James. I’d rather ask whether you believe John 7:51-8:11 was in the original manuscripts, then defend my position that it was indeed there all along. I’d rather inquire, no matter how grammatically-inclined you are, whether there is any excuse for not capitalizing the pronoun “I”, then suggest that failure to capitalize this crucial pronoun represents a believer’s humility in the knowledge of God’s greatness. Why try to speak French when you can share Korean worship music, regardless to the fact that neither you nor the person with whom you’re sharing the congregational piece knows the language? Every day, I awaken with two commands in my heart–one from the Old Covenant and one from the New. First, I am to think on the things of the Lord when I lie down and when I rise up (see Deut. 6); secondly, I must take up my cross and follow Christ, knowing that He is the only One Who can give me true rest.

Don Moen once led some five thousand worshipers in a song entitled “More Than Anything”. It’s on the album Eternal God, if you’re interested–and, trust me, you’re interested. That album is the second-closest thing to pure revival I’ve ever heard recorded. Anyway, the worship chorus is simple: “More than anything, / More than anything, / I love You, Jesus, / More than anything…” We love Him “more than worldly wealth” and “more than life itself”… Oh, it is marvelous!

And yet, it’s so easy for me to say here and now. At this very moment, sitting in my favorite chair in my fav orite place of worship, with nothing but blessings filling my day, with the sun shining and the lilies blooming and a gentle breeze lifting even mild cares off my heart, it is so easy to say that I love Him and that any “rounding” of my “square-peg” self is unnecessary. What will I do, though, if trials come? When last year’s guide-dog training proved so rigourous that I could scarcely read the Bible without feeling that I was wasting training time, did I cherish my Good Shepherd’s love so much? If at any time this overwhelming joy is replaced with quietude or a sense that God’s presence has faded in my life, will I still choose to sing Don Moen’s little song? When illness or difficult job experiences or grief or spiritual attacks have come, have I stayed the course? Have I taken up my cross–not the trials themselves, but the need to obey Christ during those valleys–and followed Him wherever He led?

I’m not perfect. I’m still a tree bearing what isn’t always ripe fruit–but I trust that, by the gracde of God, it will soon be ripe. Some days, I find myself heading toward a mountain and I don’t know what to do. Sometimes, I don’t have the faith to move that mountain, and I don’t know whether I possess the strength to climb it. And so, without really meaning to, I cry out, “Lord, why did You lead me here?” And then, I remember. I remember, deep in my heart, that “more than anything” means just that–more than the trial, the mountain, my own pain or struggle, more than anything. So right now, I say to my Savior, “I love You, Lord, in all circumstances whether joyful or challenging… more than anything.”

“Father, I Adore You”

The parking lot is disorienting today. Cars surrounding me and my guide-dog, coming and going on the stretch of cement that leads to an imposing curb. And my family is altogether too far away for comfort–too far away to provide directions on this little venture. Contrary to popular belief, guide-dogs cannot follow instructions such as “to Starbucks” or “to the library”l handlers must give more detailed directions. Not knowing whether to turn left, right, or forward once we reach the curb is really unnerving, but it really isn’t practical to wait for my family to catch up. Oh, why am I embarking on this little excursion at all today? Why now, and why am I being left in everyone’s dust?

And then, I remember. I don’t have to be alone–not at all. “Lord Jesus,” I whisper, “please walk with me.” At once, I am t peace. A gentle calm fills my heart and causes me to loosen my plier-hold on the working dog harness. Why, if I listen closely, I can hear the echo of the building to my left, and the automatic doors opening for other customers just ahead of me. My dog, too, knows what she’s doing. Once she feels me relax, she is free to do her job–and so we safely reach the doors. Best of all, the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit has not once left me through all of this. For the hundredth or thousandth or, more likely, the ten thousandth time since I began walking with the Lord when I was four, I understand the truth of Matthew 28:20: “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (RSV).

Tucked into a secluded corner of the store are some tables and chairs. I ease myself into one of the whicker seats, which is located at a wobbling little table. A much more solid table is to my left, but I choose to place my coffee on the shakier one because, ten years ago, I sat in a similar grocery store journaling at a terribly rickety table that ought to have crubmled under the weight of a pencil, and certainly my computer.

Officially, we have come to this store to shop. And, technically, I’ve accompanied my family in order to ensure that French bread and aged gourmet cheeses make it into the cart. But–oh!–this little corner of the store is so inviting! Suddenly, it is far more important to sip a peppermint mocha and focus my attention on Isaiah 53 than to roam the isles in search of semi-sweet baking chocolate. And so, knowing that this task can be accomplished without me, I bid farewell to my family and prepare for a half-hour of worship. There will be time enough for me to toss jars of Dejean mustard into an overflowing cart, but right now, “one thing is needful”, and I want to “choose the better part” (see Luke 10:42).

I take my time about setup, relishing the joy of simply being in God’s presence. It’s like Communion: if you’re privileged enough to be setting up Communion elements for yourself and others to partake in, sometimes the mere act of pouring the grape juice and finding the wafers draws you closer to God. And so, with great deliberation, I set my coffee to one side, open my bag, carefully remove my iPod and headphones, just as conscienciously find the playlist entitled “Prayer Closet”, and prepare to immerse my heart in His presence. All the while, I hum that old classic worship chorus, “Bather, I Adore You”. The store proper is so crowded, and this corner so isolated, that I doubt anyone can hear me. Even if they can, I don’t care. Which will matter more in a hundred years–the fact that I worshipped the King on this day, or the fact that others heard me humming a song of praise and wondered what I was doing?

And so the afternoon progresses: Bob Fitts and Don Moen, “Because He Lives” and “God Will Make a Way”, church services I’ve recorded and later transferred to my iPod, passsages of Scripture interwoven with each magnificent song… It makes all that food waiting in the cart seem mundane. You almost want to encourage everyone to put most of it on the shelf so you can all engage in a couple-day fast…

And then, there’s the drive home, the unpacking of groceries, the evening meal. Seeing little glimpses of glory and joy even in these activities. Coming up with ideas for writing and thanking the Lord for them, listening to the chimes outside the window throughout the writing process, singing with all your heart to the King of Kings, noting the fragrance and intricate pattern of the lilies you just received for Resurrection Day…

A friend of mine calls this worship of the heart “the normal Christian life”. If the interpretation of some scholars is correct, Paul might have referred to a day like mine as one on which I “pray[ed] without ceasing” (I Thessalonians 5:17). And sometimes, I see this as simply resting in the Lord, trying with every fibre of my being to worship in accordance with the proclamation, “Surely I have calmed and quieted my soul, … Like a weaned child is my soul within me” (Ps. 131:2). In Biblical times, children were weaned between the ages of three and five. Consider children of that age: quite young enough to understand that they don’t know everything and to rest contentedly in the love of their much stronger parents, yet old enough to grasp what love means, to understand their parents’ kindness, to surrender without constant clinging. It’s the beautiful juncture between humility and faith.

What does it mean? That, right now, I am unequivocally free to rest in all the promises of the Lord–to lean, as it were, on His everlasting arms. To cling to Him with all my might, but not to cry out in demanding anger if trials come. To pray fervently about all difficulties, but then to trust Him through them.

I will be the first to proclaim that I’m not perfect in this. I fail and falter and faint more often than I would like to admit. Until 17 February, I had been struggling through a bitter and apparently unrelenting desert–a time that seemed so parched and joyless that I took on the characteristics of an angry and needy infant and a rebellious adolescent, questioning God at every turn.

But–oh, how precious it is to be in His presence once again! “‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus”… And to know, whatever befalls me, that our Lord really does do all things well. This is the premise and purpose of this blog–to rejoice in the moments of peace, to hold to Him steadfastly through the trials, to write of Him until I begin to see how He worked all things together for good during even my darkest moments.

In other words, to celebrate the Normal Christian Life.