Tuesday, July 5, 2016

In the Shelter

These days it seems everywhere I look—or listen—I come across this notion of abide, my theme for 2016. Scripture is saturated with references to it and its related concepts. I finally started keeping some notes on the topic and they are quickly piling up. Perhaps by December I'll bring some semblance of order to my scribbles and share what I'm finding to be deeply meaningful.

Meanwhile, here is a musical meditation on Psalm 61. (I recently discovered Sherri Youngward's music and purchased her Scripture Songs, volumes 1 and 2, to accompany my road trip to Illinois last week. If you need more Bible and acoustic guitar in your life—and who doesn't?—get some for yourself.)
You have been a shelter for me,
A strong tower from the enemy.
I will abide in Your tabernacle forever;
I will trust in the shelter of Your wings.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Jesus Led Me All the Way

During this morning's church service, our song leader announced "All the Way My Savior Leads Me" for congregational worship, and I got a little teary. It happens to be the hymn I sang to myself repeatedly in the weeks leading up to my move east, on the heart-wrenching day I packed up and drove away, and through the months of trying to figure out a new place and ministry.
For I know whate'er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.
This week marked one year since my arriving in West Virginia.  It was kind of the Lord to tenderly remind me of his presence and blessing on this anniversary week. O the fullness of his love.

Fanny Crosby, the lyricist, was an inspiring woman.  Permanently blinded due to a doctor's mistake when she was just an infant, she nevertheless lived out a sure trust in a God both sovereign and good.  Hers was a faith so real that it had to be expressed profusely.  And so she penned lyrics for 8,000 sacred songs and became the most prolific hymnist in history.

Every time I hear a Fanny Crosby song I note her references to sight.  Words like "see" and "look" pop up often.  (She wrote a lot about heaven, where she would be able to gaze with perfect eyes upon the Lord Jesus.)  "All the Way My Savior Leads Me" follows the pattern: Lo! A spring of joy I see.  Fanny Crosby saw with the eyes of faith.

Although I enjoy the Robert Lowry melody traditionally matched with Fanny Crosby's hymn, I think the simple, heartfelt lyrics lend themselves better to a more contemplative setting.  I love Chris Tomlin's version, but my favorite is Rich Mullins's.  That earnest, raw voice accompanied by Beaker's soft guitar harmonics:
All the way my Savior leads me;
What have I to ask beside?

I watched this video so many times in the last 15 months, often late at night when the doubts and grief seemed almost palpable.
Can I doubt His tender [faithful] mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
No, I cannot doubt my Guide—not for long.  The grief, too, is soothed by a growing contentment and gratitude that the Lord is mercifully cultivating in my heart:
Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
Here by faith in Him to dwell...
Fanny Crosby died in 1915, Rich in 1997.  Their faith is now sight.  Someday I will join them:
This my song through endless ages—
Jesus led me all the way.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Abide


The hours speed by and the days pile up and suddenly people are telling you it is anno Domini 2016.  And just like that, it's been six months since you blogged.

Do people even blog any more?

You realize with a start that you have very little idea what is going on beyond the borders of your own heart, which has needed careful tending for so long.  But now that you look around, the world seems hardly recognizable.

There is a bumptious megalomaniac with bizarre hair running for president and self-proclaimed conservatives are fawning at his feet.  Can this even be for real?

The pastor who has suffered in Iranian prison for three years is abruptly released and you watch a video of him, stepping off a plane in North Carolina into the arms of his weeping mother.  You weep, too, for you have prayed for this brother over and over; now God has delivered him and it is surreal.

The beloved people you left ten months ago are having weddings, having babies, having funerals, advancing the gospel, making moves of their own.  It is strange and joyous and heart-wrenching that all of this goes on without you.

But then you are granted a grace of magnificent proportion: two weeks with your family for the holidays.  Here, you are relieved to discover, is constancy.  The quiet rhythm of steaming oatmeal every morning and hands held in prayer every evening.  Yet—the hands are growing older and it is only a matter of time before this haven is fractured by change, too.

On the late flight back east, you study the tiny points of light below.  They outline the grid-like infrastructure of the plains, gradually replaced with the twisting roads of the Appalachians and her foothills.  Which do you belong to?  There come the familiar pangs of homelessness.  Sojourner.

In the darkness above the Ohio River you are given a single word: abide.

Abide—where?

"Abide in me," Jesus told his followers (John 15:4).  "Abide in my love" (15:8).  Centuries prior, an unnamed psalmist proclaimed, "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say to the Lord, 'My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust!'" (Psalm 91:1-2).

The "where" is a "who."  And he is omnipresent, everywhere at once.  Even more intimate than that: he indwells you.  So closely is your life tied to his that both are true: you abide in him and he abides in you (John 15:4-5).  "Home" is a "him."

Like the snail, you take your Home with you wherever you go.  You are snug and safe, and it hardly matters what changes around you or where your feet land.

This landing comes with a bump as the plane touches down on the mountain and quickly decelerates to avoid plummeting down the other side of it.  The door opens.  You are home.  You are home because he is here, around you and within you and you in him.

Abide: here is the word you take in your hands like an anchor at the beginning of a new year, heaving it down through troubled waters to solid bedrock.  You have walked by faith not by sight.  You have moved and now it is time to stay.  Abide.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Pictures

There's something tickling the back of my mind... something about place and home.  About transience and belonging.  About abiding in Christ no matter where I live...

If I ever get the tickle wrestled into articulation, no doubt it will appear here.  Meanwhile, the first stage of working it out looks like this.  Photographs.  Amateur ones.

These are the snapshots of a foreigner in Southern West Virginia who feels helpless to make this her home; whose anemic faith needs frequent assurances of God's providence in bringing her here; who wrote down this reluctant prayer: Give me a love for this place: a delight in its quirks, a humor concerning its faults, an eye for its beauties.

Graciously, He answers even reluctant prayers.

So these are also the pictures of one who, in certain quiet, grace-flooded moments, sees with true faith-eyes; who looks around and marks the mercies made new every morning, the skies declaring the glory, the mountains and hills breaking forth in shouts of joy, the trees clapping their hands—  And, paradoxically, the way this West Virginia beauty all foreshadows the New Creation and True Home brings peace and contentment in this place.

That probably made no sense, despite my nine—yes nine—revisions to this post in the last month.  Sigh.  All I'm really trying to say is: Here are some pictures of West Virginia.  : )
_ _ _
I have a need
For cool, verdant spaces

Beneath the trees,
Secret empty places...
(Mary Chapin Carpenter)

One of the hardest parts of moving—for an introvert, anyway—is finding new quiet spots.  I'm extremely thankful for the one above.
_ _ _



The flora of West Virginia is very different than Utah's, of course.  These new wildflowers are no substitute for whispering aspens and scarlet Indian paintbrush—but they are lovely, aren't they?  If you know their names, please teach me.
_ _ _


This color, though!  "Not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these."
_ _ _


I arrived in time to watch West Virginia's state flower burst into a riot of pinks and purples across the hills. "Rhododendron" comes from the Greek for "rose tree"; they are common in Asia and are the national flower of Nepal.  I was not surprised to discover that bit of trivia: these exotic blooms look the part.  I'm already anticipating next spring.
_ _ _


Yellow irises?  I had no idea such a delightful thing existed.  These reminded me of Wordsworth's ode to their cousin:
...A host of golden daffodils
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze...
_ _ _


The New River flows north.  I still can't get my head around that.  But I do find the coal mining history around the New River Gorge fascinating and heartbreaking.  The land was used hard and the people were used hard; may the wounds of both know God's healing.
_ _ _


Working at one's alma mater means that just about every spot on campus has years-old memories associated with it.  I walked up this hill to chapel approximately 250 times as a student.  The friends who walked beside me over a decade ago I have kept up with, for the most part.  They are spread hither and yon now.  Some have suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.  Most are laboring well, serving God and fellow man with a daily faithfulness that makes me glad to think of them as I walk around campus.
_ _ _
The pictures will keep coming.  I hope the words will, too.  Right now it's a struggle.  If you are a supporter of mine, know that I'm more grateful than ever for your faithful, giving heart despite my minimal communication in this season of transition.  I will be sending a prayer letter... soon.  Because the Creator of stunning rhododendrons and north-running rivers can be counted on to bring refreshment, peace, and creativity to an unsettled heart.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The Buffer

After leaving Utah mid-March, I enjoyed about 3 weeks in the Midwest.  A friend wisely termed this my "buffer" between West and East.  I needed it.

The most relaxing days were in Minnesota, where my family was reunited for a rare photo.  I missed you, Grandpa.


Time spent with Grandma (and Aunt Carol, pictured): always precious.  I even got a bonus day with Grandma when 9 inches of snow suddenly made travel ill-advised.  We potted geraniums and watched March Madness and visited Grandpa's grave and reminisced.


Another highlight: visiting the country church where I grew up until age 11.  These dear people faithfully support me and several other missionaries.  Debbie and Darrin (below) made sure there was a plate of cookies after the worship service, and we had such good fellowship that Sunday school never even got started.  Thank you, High Forest Community Church.


After the Minnesota snowplows did their thing, I hopped in a Kia Soul (awful handling, nice sound system) and drove back to Kansas alone.  I visited Grace Bible Church in Garden City on Palm Sunday.  The picture below shows a young man sharing a worship song he had written in Burmese.  The tune?  "Take Me Home, Country Roads": the state song of West Virginia.  What are the chances?


It was a treat to be with supporters at Newton Bible Church for Good Friday, and then to be home at Hoisington Bible Church for Resurrection Sunday.  There was a thought-provoking play about the first Passover, and a brunch—oh! can these people cook—and a joyful service.  Christ is risen!  He is risen indeed.  That afternoon it was time for a photo op with the parental units.  Mom and I are both subconscious head-tippers, as you can see.


Have I mentioned how, in Kansas, the wind ALWAYS BLOWS?  Always.  Hence the hairdo.


The day after Easter I headed east.  <--That sentence makes me curious if the etymologies of those two words are related.  Wendell the White was riding awfully low under the weight of 2/3 of my earthly possessions.  (The other 1/3 had been mailed from Utah.)  The terrific thing was, if another sudden blizzard hit and I were stranded, I would have about 23 sets of clothes within reach, along with just about anything else you can imagine.  If worse came to worse, there were 7 years' financial documents that could be burned for heat.  Thankfully, no such extreme measures were needed.


I crossed eastern Kansas listening to these apropos lyrics:

Look down upon this winter wheat and be glad that You have made
Blue for the sky and the color green that fills these fields with praise.  -Rich Mullins, "The Color Green" 


Two short stops before I made it out of the state.  Breakfast with a supporter (thank you, Shirley!) and lunch with an old friend (below).  Sarah's friendship and her quiche and her two adorable boys were good medicine for a heavy heart leaving home again.


After that, it was straight to Mt. Vernon, Illinois and a night at the Motel 6.  And on Tuesday, April 7, Wendell and I drove the rest of the rainy way to West Virginia.

The life of a sojourner seems to include too many partings and leavings and drivings off with tears rolling down your cheeks.  But then there are also the graces along the way: quiche with a friend, and music that lifts the spirit, and $2 on the floor of a Missouri rest stop, and eager friends to unload the car when you finally arrive—friends who say, "I'm glad you're here.  I know it's not been easy.  I've been praying for you."  And also, "There's almond milk chilling in the fridge for you."

Monday, March 30, 2015

Sweet Sorrow

Hard as leaving Utah was, there was a sweetness to the days leading up to my move on March 13.

Due to a mild winter, I could be outdoors often savoring moments like these:

Last hike: Slate Canyon

Last peaceful sunset at Utah Lake

One last walk on a favorite stretch of road
_ _ _

And then there were the goodbyes.  Some were to new friends, like Melissa.

 Others were to long-time friends and teammates, like Char.

Each goodbye was a reminder of the unexpectedly rich fellowship I've enjoyed in Utah.  I don't remember having more than a passing moment of loneliness this last decade.  God-given friends like Lydia were the reason.
_ _ _

I was shown great kindness, grace, and generosity as I prepared to move.  One dear friend volunteered her day off and her truck to haul stuff to the thrift store.  Another made sure I had one more helping of lomo saltado at a favorite restaurant, and then came to my rescue for the final cleaning of my apartment.  My church hosted a farewell brunch, and Key Radio held an open house.  Listeners wrote lovely notes.  One even brought his ukulele and sang to me.  People presented me with gift cards and checks and snacks for my trip and a beautiful coffee table book featuring pictures of—what else?—Utah.

Shakespeare had it right: parting is such sweet sorrow.  As I type this two weeks later, on the cusp of a new adventure, it is the sweetness that I remember most.  I am grateful.
_ _ _

Good-by to the life I used to live,
And the world I used to know;
And kiss the hills for me, just once;
Now I am ready to go! 

- "Farewell" by Emily Dickinson

Friday, March 13, 2015

Rags and Shreds

Car driving away

How hard it is to escape from places. However carefully one goes they hold you... you leave little bits of yourself fluttering on the fences... little rags and shreds of your very life. (Katherine Mansfield) 
Another rag, another shred,
Another goodbye said...
O come, thou World; come, thou Day,
When—heart made whole—I stay.