Sunday, February 14, 2016

Living in the Shadow

The Psalms keep singing their life into me each morning. Right now, I am doing a lot of singing and clinging through them.

Living in the shadow of death is part of the human condition. A cancer diagnosis brings that into sharper focus than usual. Living with intensifying pain does too. I am suddenly far more aware of my frailty and fragility. I am also far more aware of fear.

But thanks be to God, the shadow of death is not the predominant shadow we see in the Scriptures. When we abide in Jesus, the shadow we know most intimately is the shadow of his wings.

It's not that the other shadow isn't acknowledged. That's one of the beautiful things about God's Word. It tells us the truth, all of the truth, even the hard truth about suffering. But it doesn't stop with the hard word. It goes on to the gospel goodness of God's presence with his people from first to last, through every drop of suffering and difficulty.

It is God's presence that enables us to say that even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil. We are more aware of his rod and staff bringing us comfort.  (Psalm 23)

It is through the tender mercies of God that the sunrise breaks upon us, shining light even as we sit in the darkness and the shadow of death. He knows we need that light to live, and so that our feet will be guided in the path of peace. (Luke 1) 

And when we dwell in God's shelter, under his wings, we know protection, mercy, and grace. He covers us so that we do not have to keep our eyes on any other shadows, even the scariest ones. From Psalm 91:

1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, *
    abides under the shadow of the Almighty.

2 He shall say to the LORD,
"You are my refuge and my stronghold, *
    my God in whom I put my trust."

3 He shall deliver you from the snare of the hunter *
    and from the deadly pestilence.

4 He shall cover you with his pinions,
and you shall find refuge under his wings; *
    his faithfulness shall be a shield and buckler.

5 You shall not be afraid of any terror by night, *
    nor of the arrow that flies by day;

6 Of the plague that stalks in the darkness, *
    nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day.

7 A thousand shall fall at your side
and ten thousand at your right hand, *
    but it shall not come near you.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

"Mercy Embraces Those Who Trust in the Lord"

More goodness from the Psalms for my tired but trusting heart this morning. "...mercy embraces those who trust in the Lord" is from Psalm 32:11. Earlier in the Psalm, we read these words:

7 Therefore all the faithful will make their prayers to you in
time of trouble; *
when the great waters overflow, they shall not reach them.

8 You are my hiding-place;
you preserve me from trouble; *
you surround me with shouts of deliverance.

9 "I will instruct you and teach you in the way that you
should go; *
I will guide you with my eye.

The waters are overflowing, Jesus. Right now it feels like I am caught in a flood. Let your mercy keep me safe in swift currents threatening to overwhelm me. There are times I am resting secure, but times when I feel fear and pain and uncertainty threatening to overtake me. Do not let them overcome me, Lord. You promise that when the great waters overflow, they will not reach me, that you will preserve me instead. Be my life preserver. Let me hear your shouts of deliverance, loud and long enough for me to know you're coming to my rescue.

And do guide me with your eye. There is no other eye that sees further than yours. You know every single step of the road ahead for me and for my family. Do not let us step anywhere on this path without you. Help me to follow so closely in your footsteps that I'm like a clinging child who keeps stepping on your heels and grabbing your hand. I don't want to make a move without you, Jesus. Teach me in the way I should go, step by step.

Friday, February 12, 2016

"Be Strong and Let Your Heart Take Courage..."

"...all you who wait for the Lord." (Psalm 31:24)

Waiting for him today. Waiting for his strength, his courage, his love, his deliverance, his healing, his hope, his peace.

Also from Psalm 31:

14 But as for me, I have trusted in you, O Lord. *
I have said, "You are my God.

15 My times are in your hand; *
rescue me from the hand of my enemies,
and from those who persecute me.

16 Make your face to shine upon your servant, *
and in your loving-kindness save me."

Could there be any better words to pray today in light of the news I received yesterday? I so did not want this diagnosis, Lord. And yet here it is.

I couldn't even make it to the gospel in my readings this morning. There was too much goodness to cling to just in the Psalm. I love how gospel-infused the Scriptures are. We trip over the good news at every turn.

Courage, Dear Heart. 

Monday, February 08, 2016

So Much Goodness, So Much Grace

"Why is God so good to us?" may have been just about the most beautiful thing I've heard said in a long time. Those were the words spoken to me by the sweet girl last night as we hugged each other before bedtime. They sort of burst from her spontaneously and left me standing there almost limp with joy. (Okay, yes, I was very tired, but the joy was real too!)

My dear thirteen year old daughter has struggled a lot over the goodness of God in the past couple of years, especially with the big questions like "how is God good when there's so much suffering?" To hear her so joyfully affirm her sense of his goodness at the end of what has undoubtedly been the hardest week and a half of her life makes me so grateful.

These days really have been hard....very hard. My sudden swoop into serious illness, the uncertainty and anxiety we're all living under as we await more news on my diagnosis, the way the world felt like it turned upside down as I had doctor appointments, surgery, and have been having to put the brakes on almost everything "normal" in our life routine so that I can rest and heal -- all of this has been hard. It would be hard for any family and any thirteen year old. The fact that many of the challenges tap the sweet girl's most challenging places of anxiety has sometimes felt like another rushing and scary part of this whole tsunami.

And yet....

She is feeling and sensing and KNOWING the goodness of God. As I am. As are we all.

And she is feeling and sensing and knowing God's goodness through God's people. Her question last night: "why is God so good to us?" came on the heels of other exclamations: "I love people. I love God!"  And I knew exactly what she meant. I do too, and I especially love how God loves us THROUGH his people. It's astounding.

Why is God so good to us? Because he loves us, and because that's who he is.

In other good news today...
I had a very broken night's sleep, and finally got some good, healing sleep in the later part of the morning, after taking more pain medication.

When I woke up around 8, I reached for my water (doing a good job of staying hydrated) and my groggy mind started the phrase "this is the day...." I think what my brain was going for was "this is the day you might hear from the oncologist."

But the long engrained habit of Scripture reading and memorization took over. My heart and mind interrupted with the words "....that the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it."

Can I just say how deeply, deeply thankful I am for all the words of God that I've tucked away over the years? Beginning at the kitchen table with my own dear Mama and dancing through these last years when I've sung and repeated and taught and rehearsed so many words from the Scriptures with the sweet girl. They are there now, like a treasure house, ready to draw on. Or like a spring welling up inside me and bursting out when I don't even expect it.

Holding onto lots of truth today: that God is good, that he loves us so, that he made this day, that we can rejoice in it. No matter what. 

Sunday, February 07, 2016

When Your Reader Grows Up and Blesses You With Books

Life continues to narrow down to pretty much one focus (or one focus with a dual lens): healing as well as I can while staying as calm and peaceful as I can in the face of unknown diagnoses that potentially look quite hard.

Pain, discomfort, struggles to sleep, keeping up my mental, spiritual, and emotional health: these have all been on the agenda this week, and not much else.

In the midst of all this, I am finding that I need books (of course) but that I have very little energy for heavy lifting when it comes to reading. My precious sweet girl has come to my rescue, providing me with a supply of mostly mid-grade books that have been wonderful. As I messaged to a friend checking in on me this morning, I feel I am reaping the benefits of raising a really good reader! The books she has passed on have been lovely.

Yesterday I finished the novel The Thing About Jellyfish by Ali Benjamin. For a mid-grade book, this one had complexity in spades, but it also had some lovely writing, and my daughter especially enjoyed the way it played with narrative voices -- moving back and forth between the protagonist's thoughts (she is going through a time of intense grief and doesn't talk for much of the book) and her memories of the friend she lost. Those memories are written in second person as though she was speaking to the friend. It's a challenging back and forth and a story that doesn't have a completely neat resolution, though it ended more happily than I thought it might.

Since then, Jedi Teen has passed another book on to me. This one is called Enchanted Air. It's a memoir in verse penned by Cuban-American author Margarita Engle, who is recalling her childhood in two places. Really beautiful poetry so far -- I am enjoying this one a lot.

With the recent Newbery and Caldecott books out, the sweet girl and I have been plunging into book lists again. We've even checked out some picture books (I have so missed picture books). Matt de la Pena's Last Stop on Market Street was the first picture book to win the Newbery in years. We enjoyed both its lyrical writing and its colorful, detailed pictures by Christian Robinson, who brought the urban landscape to exciting life. Another gorgeous picture book we've enjoyed recently is Kate Messner's Over and Under the Snow. Christopher Silas Neal uses mixed media in the beautiful illustrations of woodland animals who have creative ways of surviving the winter.