NOTE: I penned the greater part of this piece last night between 1:00 and 2:30 AM. I had no Internet access at the time, but intended to post this when I did. That moment has come. What you are about to read is more a letter to the Lord, an outpouring of thanks for what He has done and provided and taught, the growth and fruit that He is producing. No, I have not lost interest in my multi-part series; I still have much to say on the Lord’s restoration, and I hope to continue when I can.
Several months ago, I was taking that glorious day of rest that every Christian should have—one of those days just for refreshment in the Lord. My day of rest happens to be Sunday, and that Sunday I was meandering my way through family memories and listening to worship music. This, from Robin Mark, was among the auditory treasures I unearthed:
When the rain falls, and it some days will,
Then the pavement under my feet
Sparkles silver and gold in reflected light
That I otherwise wouldn’t have seen.
And when the storm comes and the strong wind blows,
I will bow my head to push through,
And every step that I take, I will watch and pray
And be sure my foothold is true.
Now, I could say “amen” to all of that! I had been through my share of difficult times and had even discovered treasures in some of that darkness. But it was the song’s refrain that began to trip me up:
Jesus, don’t You keep me from that storm;
I want to walk that sacred ground,
For You are Master of it all
And I am but a lost-and-found.
Now, I wasn’t questioning Robin Mark’s theology—I knew that his words were Biblically sound. But on the other hand, I didn’t feel I could ever come to a point of praying such a thing. “Don’t keep me from the storm”? “Don’t keep me from it, if You can use it in my life”? Well, God’s will be done, but how could I ever actually pray, ask for, petition God for, treasure, cherish, appreciate, or value difficult times? It wasn’t humanly possible, I concluded, to say in effect, “The sand of this place scorches my feet, the nearest oasis is miles away, and I am parched—but, oh, thank You for all the manna!”
Nearly four months hqave passed since I heard that song and admired Robin Mark’s bravery from a distance. Now, I know exactly what he meant.
It all began on 13 June. I awoke that morning, read Matthew and immersed myself in worship, and then deecided that I would update the content on my iPod. Simple enough, and not much to be learned, you say. Ah, but the device wouldn’t synchronize with my computer. Instead, it kept going into recovery mode, then wouldn’t even try to sync… Three, four, and five times we tried—first Naomi, then Hannah. We tried with different iPods; we tried uninstalling iTunes and downloading it anew; we tried manual syncing. Each time, we encountered fresh challenges. Now, don’t misunderstand—this did not leave me without a few silly songs and a movie or two. It left me without ten thousand songs’ worth of worship music and hundreds of sermons but, much worse, I was also without my eleven audio Bibles. If I wanted the Word, it was going to have to be a Braille edition—nothing wrong with that, but not as effective for quick, efficient study. Besides, I like to listen to the Scriptures as I’m drifting off to sleep, and I was now being denied this delightful pursuit. But do you know, my beloved reader, what came of it all? In the twelve-hour gap between the problem and the tenuous resolution I reached that night, the Lord put a song in my heart and a precious knowledge of His presence deep within my spirit. My refrain all that day was, “Lord, I will read Your Word in whatever format I can find. If that’s just one version, it is enough. Your presence, O Lord, Your Holy Spirit alone is more than enough.” And there was such a sense of His holiness in that day!—such a knowledge that He was with me? Would I ever relish having my iPod malfunction? No, not in the flesh—but the Lord did use this experience to teach me something about Himself and to reinforce to my heart that He is my everything.
“If that is what you call a desert,” you say, “then you really haven’t lived life. What you believe to be a storm was a gentle sprinkle of a rain-shower…”
Fast forward to last Monday. In the past ten days, I have been displaced from my apartment due to an exploding hot water that resulted in a destructive flood that ruined my carpet; we have temporarily lost our internet; two members of our extended family are seriously ill; anger, sorrow, and anxiety have filled my interpersonal communications with many of my brothers and sisters in Christ; I have faced challenges on both employment and guide-dog fronts; Naomi has suffered health difficulties; feelings of worthless and failure have threatened to sweep me away; and I have felt highly unforgiven by God, separated from Him and no longer permitted to come into His presence. My “church community”, y brothers and sisters in Christ, and I have been attacked in so many areas, and even now it has been difficult to wrap my heart around solutions. If you’re covered with bruises and you only have so many ice packs, which injuries do you tend to first?
First for me, and first for anyone who may be reading wthis with a similar list of heartaches stretching before them, is to address any outlying spiritual concerns. I tend to conntct every event, be it pleasant or unpleasant, with my walk with the Lord, so I was really in a bit of a bind. When the hot water heater burst, we all became stressed; when we were stressed, we got impatient with each other; when we became impatient, things were said that we might later regret; when something critical but unspiritual was said to me, I decided that it was a reflection of how I was living before God and, what’s more, a reflection of His heart toward me. My beloved readers, don’t travel down that slippery slope—it’s one I know all too well, and it invariably ends in quicksand.
What got me out of my spiritual valley was a little book by Jennifer Rees-Larcombe entitled WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, GOD? In it, the author reiterated some truths about God’s love that my heart really needed to hear. Then, too, the fact of these difficult moments in our spiritual lives was treated seriously and sensitively, which I can’t say for very many writers/pastors/theologians/books/treatises/dissertations… You get the idea. So, that book was helpful, but as we all know, things like this are only a tool in the Lord’s hands. It was really my prayers for forgiveness, an acceptance of His love and grace, a few tearful pleas to “start anew”, and, above all, the ever-present love, compassion, and mercy of the Trinity that set me free from the spiritual part of this valley. Am I still tempted to proclaim myself outside of His care, especially in these last few days and especially when some carnal concern makes me feel like a failure? Yes, I am—but now I can take those thoughts captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ, know that He will free me from them, and move forward in His joy and peace.
So, thus much of spiritual trials. Did my human suffering fade when I repented of last week’s sins and began to move forward in the Lord? Not quite. We’re still dealing with illness and anguish, pain in our hearts and aches in our bodies. But—don’t you know?—all of this is drawing me ever nearer to God, making me rely on Him more and more for every ounce of strength I possess.
At the moment, all of my furniture is outside my apartment, with boxes stacked against the dressers and headboard and tables. I am living in a small, unfurnished room that I have made comfortable and as home-like as possible just because it is my nature to do so. True, my “bed” is an air mattress on the floor, topped with a pillow-topper that I salvaged from the flood that threatened all of my apartment’s carefully-chosen accoutrements. The Faith Box, a large chest in which I keep anointing oil, Bibles, Communion wafers, and spiritual mementos, is now serving as a table. The rest of the room is filled to capacity with bags and boxes of things I did not wish to lose track of during this transition from old carpet to new.
What is my point in all of this? That the room in which I’m now staying, and the bits and pieces I’ve put into it, are almost symbolic. I have always named living spaces—Bethesda, Bethel, The Chapel, The Sanctuary. Accordingly, these new quarters are The Oasis. The Oasis, despite the unique circumstances. The Oasis because, though not a place of safety itself, it has come to represent a place of security. The Oasis, because it is here that I come when burdens are unbearable. The Oasis, because here almost more than ever, I seek and I find the presence of the Lord. His Shekinah glory is here. His light fills this place, even when my life and thoughts and day have seemed so dark. His comfort is constant—both in this physical room and in my day-to-day life, as I navigate our current trials. Here, I have seen and experienced and known with all my heart the holiness of God. Holy ground, even when my mouth is parched. Joyous ground, with plenty of manna. Awesome ground, even when the heat of circumstance presses in. Everything He provides here is all the more precious as I learn to trust Him more.
Am I enjoying all of this, every iota and each tiny detail? No, humanly speaking, I find it hard most of the time. But now, now more than ever, I’m being taught how to rely on the Lord, and on the Lord alone, to meet all of my needs. Minute by minute and day by day, I’m being given strength, wisdom, grace, mercy, peace, love, and even profound and inexpressible joy that surpasses all the fiery darts that the enemy could possibly hurl at me or my loved-ones.
Now, I understand Robin Mark’s prayer-song, “Jesus, don’t You keep me from that storm.” Now, too, I know what is meant by a few lines in that beautiful worship ballad “Just Let Me Say”:
Let me find You in the desert
Till this sand is holy ground,
And I am found completely surrendered
To You, my Lord and friend.
I will trust Him in the deserts of life, whether they be carnal and temporal wilderneses like our saga of the ruined carpet or more serious matters such as a wounded heart and a crushed spirit. Trust, surrender, relinquishment—”peace, wonderful peace”.