Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Hollowed and Hallowed Hearts

I recently listened to a friend tell part of their life story.  It's been a while since I've heard something so unfair, so hateful, so hard, so, just, wrong that's happened to someone who's followed God faithfully for so long.  It makes my sense of justice scream out, "No!" Or makes me at least just want to slap the person who caused it really, really hard.  (Good thing I'm not God! But I remember that people who hurt have been hurt as well.)

But while this person has endured the winds and storms of life and past events still affect today in ways, they also have a lot of traits of, "a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither." (Ps. 1:3)  Strong, steady, a person of depth, who knows the Source and has a huge heart for others.

I've long since let go of the idea that being a Christ follower makes you immune to the problems of this world.  'Victory' and being an 'over-comer' look quiet different than how they are often presented.  It's often more importantly about the destination inside than visible external victory.

But I have a lot of questions:  Why do the 'good', the innocent, the humble, the helpless have terrible things happen to them in this world?  Elisabeth Elliot who has walked a convoluted road herself wisely said, "Faith does not eliminate questions.  But faith knows where to take them."

To His throne. To His feet.  And I think it's about the expansion of our hearts.

We're in a stage of regrouping and reorganizing.  What we thought were our long-term plans have clearly, unavoidably been redirected into something else.  And while the process hasn't been easy, we're enjoying overall where we're at now.  We're moving into our own house soon that we look forward to renovating together, we're enjoying new friends, Steve began a new job last week, and we're getting a chance to focus on our family.  Plus, what's not to love about Algies Bay, Warkworth, New Zealand!  If you've ever been here you know what I mean.  A little slice of Heaven.

Last week we got to listen to a team from our church that had just returned from Kolkata, and as the pictures started flashing up on the screen, all I could do was sit in the back and cry.  Grief, so much more than a place, an investment of hard work, and a way of life; but memories and people. The sense of loss still felt surprised me.

A few days later I was in the checkout lane at Kmart happily scanning a shopping cart full of kitchen necessities to set up my own home soon.  The thought crossed my mind, "This reminds me of setting up house in Kolkata."  Starting from scratch.  Being very happy with just the basics.  I paid the cashier and turned around to see my boss from Kolkata standing there with his daughters.  He'd flown into the country for just a few days on his way to somewhere else.  Seeing 'family' even briefly is always wonderful, but as I walked away my heart hurt.  A lot. His family living just across the lane from ours and rubbing shoulders daily.  Other co-workers permanently nestled by love in my heart, not to mention the precious ladies that we served.

Happiness and heartbreak.  How do they so easily co-exist?  My heart just a bit more stretched.

When I first got back to New Zealand I expressed to someone the feeling of being 'scooped out'.  Like there was a huge empty hollow in my chest.  The painful scooping was still in process, but I knew that the 'filling' was to come.  Expanding my capacity to love, to feel compassion, to hold the hand of those who hurt, to extend grace.

Grief, pain, loss, and heartbreak all hurt.  But they also stretch and expand the capacity of our hearts.  And if we let it, make us more able to love.

In the middle of the enlarging we often want to ask;

 "Will the Lord reject forever?
    Will he never show his favor again?

Has his unfailing love vanished forever?

    Has his promise failed for all time?

Has God forgotten to be merciful?
    Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”  
(Ps. 77: 7-9)

But the psalm goes on to say, 

"Your ways, God, are holy,
What god is as great as our God?
You are the God who performs miracles."
(vs. 13-14)

He's capable of doing so much, but sometimes the miracle He's performing is mainly in our hearts.  Growing them, changing them, molding them, expanding.  A true miracle indeed!

"To all who mourn in Israel, he will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair. In their righteousness, they will be like great oaks that the LORD has planted for his own glory."
(Is. 61:3) 

Pain, mourning, hurt, and sadness can be a like seed planted in our hearts.  Put there to grow into something good.  Like a tiny, little, rotting acorn:

Small, insignificant, growing into this:

"Look to the Lord and his strength;
continually seek him." 
(I Chron. 16:11)

We need to embrace the 'seed' that He plants in our hearts and become 'great oaks' for His glory.    And when we know hard things, even when they seem pointless, unfair, just plain wrong, have a purpose---they can become that much easier to bear.  It's about the victory inside.  The one that we will take with us into Eternity.  And the outworking of our expanded heart for the world around us today.

Another one of our Kolkata co-workers wrote an amazing poem about the women that are served there. One stanza says:

"I pray that you will meet the God who is found 
in both the heartbreak and the hope.  
God with you in the moments of pain crying out for it to end, 
God on the cross.
God with you in the moments in which new life springs forth from unexpected places, God resurrected."

-Dan Lander

Yes. For all souls, for them, for you, for me.  For us all.  Expanded, resurrected hearts drawing others to Hope.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Raise Your Head

My fifteen year-old son broke his ankle mountain biking last week.  We've spent a lot of time around the hospital lately since he spent four nights there and had surgery to pin his ankle before leaving.  Lots of life happens in hospitals!  They're places of hope and happiness when things go right, pending sorrow, chagrin over silly accidents, thankfulness for life spared, death, and healing.

Aaron in the ER
Several times when I was in the car park late at night I saw couples arriving to have babies.  The women slowly making their way, all of their focus on the weight that they carried, stopping now and then for a contraction.  The men pulling her suitcase and just wanting to get inside, nervous with the responsibility of two precious lives and anxious to have the hospital staff take that load.

New life, interwoven with pain.  But oh so worth it in the end.

And death just down the corridor.

Life and death, so intertwined.  Bound together.  So much a part of existence.  Continual weaving in the tapestry of living.

Nothing is in a vacuum, everything is bound to something else.  Everyone.  Whether we like it or not--or even recognize it.

"I drew them with gentle cords, with bands of love, and I was to them as those who take the yoke from their neck.  I stooped and fed them."  (Hosea 11:4 NKJV)

The NLT calls them "ropes of kindness and love."  GOOD bonds.  Bonds of love are not bondage. There is no need to fear commitment when the One that you are bound to is perfectly loving.

I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt so you would no longer be their slaves.  I broke the yoke of slavery from your neck so you can walk with your heads held high."  (Lev. 26:13 NLT)

Bondage to slavery, bondage to sin, bondage to the enemy of our souls--bows the neck.  

A couple of weeks ago I spent some time in an office with lots of mirrors.  I kept catching glimpses of myself that surprised me.  Slouched over, neck bowed.  No wonder my neck and back have been hurting!  It's with great relief that I now consciously straighten my neck.  Walking with my 'head held high.' I wasn't even aware of the problem except for a nagging ache until I found the solution.

"I have broken the bands of your yoke and make you walk upright." (NKJV)

Sometimes we don't even realize that our neck has become bowed as we walk through life. The subtle influence of one who destroys.  It might be the tedious ache in our heart, a restless mind keeping us awake at night, anxious thoughts, fears of the future, wondering if we can cope with today, impatience with those that we love, just surviving. Sometimes those bonds are weirdly comfortable and have become a part of who we are.  We don't even know they're there until we cry out like the psalmist:

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."  
(Ps. 139:23-24)

When what we are bound with are 'bands of love' we can walk with our heads held high, trust in His heart and say, "I know that you can do all things and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted." (Job 42:2)

We can relax into bonds like those.  Ropes that comfort instead of confine.  Keep us safe.  Make us strong.

And sigh with relief:

"My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever." 
(Ps. 73:26)