In the Wake of the Storm

img_2323At some point that evening I went from being exhilarated by the fierce summer storm raging outside, to fleeing in fear to the only windowless room in our home. I huddled with my husband in the dark while the wind roared and shook the house as if it were too close to a speeding freight train. Finally sensing a lessening in the storm’s clamor, we cautiously crept out to witness the utter chaos left in the wake of its violent tantrums. Broken tree limbs and debris littered the lawn, but worse was the uprooted cottonwood tree stretched like a slain giant across our crumpled fence into the yard behind, barely missing the neighbor’s house.

In the following days as we cleaned up the wreckage from the storm, I mourned the loss of the cottonwood tree. On hot summer days we used to rest in our lawn chairs under its cool shade, lulled by the lyric rustle of its leaves in the breeze. It had been a green sanctuary to myriads of birds which we enjoyed watching splash in our nearby birdbath. Our grandchildren once climbed the lower branches, safe in its woody embrace. Now an ugly stump was all that remained, and empty space where once a friendly giant stood.

My husband took a more pragmatic view of the loss of the tree. He saw how its absence allowed more sunlight to reach his vegetable garden, especially the rows closest to the fence which always did poorly for lack of light. We observed carrots and parsnips gradually flourish with more sunlight to strengthen them.

In her book, “Roots & Sky”, author Christie Purifoy writes, “God does not erase our losses, those empty places in our lives, but He does something almost more miraculous. He fills the loss with a sign of His presence.” Losing a tree cannot compare to losing a loved one, or a marriage or a part of who you are, but for me it was a picture of how loss opens up room for a new work of God.

There was a time in my life when I lost everything I had ever feared losing; my marriage, financial security, health and family unity. In the midst of these devastating losses, I could not imagine a future when all would be made new, even better than before. But God could. “His mighty power at work within us is able to do far more than we would ever dare to ask or even dream of.” (Eph. 3:20 TLB)

God takes loss and turns it into abundance. In the ashes of my pain, I discovered the abundance of God’s love, His perfect character and His always faithful promises. When life left me hollowed out, He filled the space with His own presence. As I discovered, this is God’s specialty, giving beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness. (Isa. 61:3 NKJV)

In the equation of loss becoming abundance, He uniquely illustrates for each of us His supreme renewal project, the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.

“I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” (John 12:24 NIV) He was speaking of Himself as the Seed, abused, crucified, buried in a dark tomb. Then the Seed came bursting forth alive, His resurrection beginning a great harvest of souls for God’s kingdom. Death gave way to life. Decay became deliverance.

A mighty tree once stood in my yard where now there is just a weathered stump. However new light floods a healthy garden where many seeds now flourish in abundance. In our memory’s landscape, the scar of a loss does not need to be a place of pain forever. It may be remembered, even mourned, but more significantly, it is a landmark telling where God met us and how He brought restoration and renewal out of the darkest places of our world.

Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

An Articulate Silence

IMG_0737My world is filled with beautiful noise. Wind and whispers; bird song and babies crying; music and a man’s beloved voice. In the midst of this blessed clamor, I sometimes long for silence. Admittedly there are few places to go where there is utter silence, but what I am seeking is a silence of spirit, an inner quiet where God is given the space and time to impress His loving directives on my waiting heart.

God reveals the benefits of quietude in His presence. “This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel, says: ‘In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.’” (Isaiah 30:15 NIV) Solitude and silence need to be carved out from the demands of life if I am to truly know salvation and strength found in God.

When a peaceful interlude of time and place is finally found in my outer world, then I am faced with the inner noise of my own thoughts, concerns, and emotions. It takes time for my busy brain to settle down, to rest, to focus on God and not on myself. I picture my mind and spirit as an empty bowl waiting to be filled with whatever God’s Spirit has for me. This is not a time of specific prayer or intercession, it is a silent interlude, creating space for God’s activity rather than my own.

In her book, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Ruth Haley Barton writes, “In solitude God begins to free us from our bondage to human expectations, for there we experience God as our ultimate reality — the One in whom we live and move and have our being.” There is a place for corporate prayer, even corporate meditation, but solitude provides the silence necessary for God to speak to our souls.

There is no formula for how God speaks into the silence I offer up to Him. He does not speak in words, but more in impressions, expressing Himself in that mysterious way which defies description. Most often the silence fills with His loving presence, then I realize it is all I need. I may have couched the silence with worries and needs, but when I relinquish those in favor of time solely spent with Him, I come away settled and strengthened.

Sometimes in those periods of silent meditation and listening, revelation of my own sin and inadequacy confronts me. The noise of life distracts me away from what I need to deal with in my inner life. The ultimately beneficial risk of silence before God is that He will gently put His finger on what needs to be addressed, then expect me to deal with it. I may squirm under conviction but I have learned to trust in God’s direction, though it means humbly submitting and doing the hard personal work.

In an attitude of grateful expectancy I wait quietly for His presence to warm my inner world. Silence and solitude open the door for He who loves me most to give me what I cannot find myself.
  “Be still and know that I am God –” (Ps. 46:10)

A Stone Pillow

stone_pillow_by_DeuxNihillioIt has always mystified me why Jacob, in Genesis 28, used a stone for a pillow. He had been sent by his father on a journey to find a wife, so it is assumed he was equipped with supplies for travel, including bedding. So why a stone for a pillow?

I have a personal theory. He believed he deserved nothing better than a stone for a pillow. Jacob was also fleeing from his brother, Esau, whom he had tricked out of receiving their father, Isaac’s blessing of the first-born. His mother had talked him into the deception, for which he was likely suffering much remorse.

Jacob laid his head upon a stone, and in that hard place he encountered God. In the midst of his regret, loneliness and uncertainty, he was visited in a dream by God Himself, who promised him, “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land.” (Gen. 28:14-15  NIV)

Now the stone which had been Jacob’s self-punishment, became a stone of commemoration. “When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel. (house of God)” – (Gen. 28:16, 18-19)

I have often laid upon a stone pillow, blindly unaware of God in that hard place, only to be met by Him and receive His blessing. Whether the stone pillow is there by my own doing or because of outside circumstances, it is an uncomfortable place to be.
When my thoughts tread weary circles in my mind, a stone is my pillow.
When my heart is heavy with grief and hurt, a stone is my pillow.
When sin and failure dog my steps, a stone is my pillow.

But I have discovered those hard places are where God comes to bless me with His comforting presence. Jacob heard God’s promise in a dream. I receive His promises by His Word, which I recall as I lay on my stone pillow.
~“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” – (Heb. 13:5)
~“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” – (John 1:9)
~“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” – (John 14:2-3)

When I look back on my life path, I see the hard places of struggle and pain as standing stones commemorating where God met me, where He told me as He did Jacob, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. What was once my stone pillow, a place of pain, has now become a monument to the blessings of God on a most undeserving soul. How awesome God is to bless me in my brokenness with His very own holy presence and comfort. Someday I will discard my stone pillow for eternal rest upon His breast.