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.

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Standing Stones

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I have come across them on an ocean shore, on top of a mountain, beside a river; a stack of uncut native stones balanced upon each other, often forming a manlike figure. They are called inuksuk, meaning “in the likeness of a human” in the Inuit language. On a forbidding, often featureless northern landscape, these rough stone sculptures were a welcome sight for searching travelers. Originally used by the arctic dwelling Inuit for communication and survival, the inuksuk is a traditional monument, saying “someone was here” or “you are on the right path”.

An even earlier civilization used standing stones as monuments, not by their own decision but at the command of the Lord God. In Joshua 3, the Israelites came to the Jordan River where Joshua conveyed God’s instructions to the Levite priests carrying the ark of the covenant. They were to step into the water and lead the people to the other side. This was no meandering stream but a river at flood stage, swift and deep. Obediently they took their first step, then watched in wonder as the waters mounded high on either side of a dry path opening up across the riverbed. “The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.” (Joshua 3:17 NIV)

For the second time in their exodus from Egypt God had parted the waters miraculously before the Israelites. He wanted them to remember, so through their leader, Joshua, He instructed a man from each of the twelve tribes to carry a stone from the middle of the Jordan and set them up together as a monument. “Joshua said to the Israelites, “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘The Lord your God did to the Jordan just what He had done to the Red Sea when He dried it up before us until we had crossed over. He did this so that all the peoples of the earth might know that the hand of the Lord is powerful and so that you might always worship the Lord your God.” (Joshua 4:21-24)

I have standing stones in my life. Not actual stones but figurative markers on my lifeline indicating where God has done mighty things. When I am asked, “What do these stones mean?“, I will speak about a barnacle-covered beach stone at the seaside bible camp where he made me His own. The place where tears wet a crumbling altar of broken vows and health is where everything was lost so I could come to know the Love I could not lose. I will gladly describe the obelisk pointing skyward where He knit my life back together in a new place, grounding me with love and purpose. Each beauty sketched in sky and landscape, creature and person, places a pebble in the monument of my worship of Christ who is worthy of all honor and adoration, the Living Stone.

“Come to Him — the living stone — who was rejected by people but accepted by God as chosen and precious. Like living stones, let yourselves be assembled into a spiritual house, a holy order of priests who offer up spiritual sacrifices that will be acceptable to God through Jesus the Anointed.” (1 Peter 2:4-5 The Voice)

Not-So-Fond Farewells

IMG_1739The quicker, the better is my motto when it comes to saying good-bye to someone I love for a long time. I dread the moment when I will have to release them from my arms and watch them walk away. It feels like a part of my heart is being torn out, leaving a big aching hollow. I am not so fond of farewells.

This summer has been one of good-byes. My daughter, son-in-law and granddaughter moved to Africa for 3 years with little prospect of trips back home. And after I said good-bye to my son when visiting him in a distant city, he sent me a note within the hour saying he missed me already. Every parting takes a piece of my too-tender heart with it which, I’ve come to realize, is the price for loving completely.

Of all the imperfections and missed marks in the world, this is the one I find the most arduous, sometimes to the point where I don’t want to say hello because I know a good-bye must follow. We say too many good-byes in this transient society where jobs require transfers to other cities, and rending divorces result in constant partings between parents and children.

The truth is, we were not designed for good-byes. In the perfection of this world before sin entered, God made man and woman in His own image. And God walked companionably with His creations in the garden in the cool of the day. (Genesis 1 – 3) God’s original intention was for an everlasting relationship with man, no good-byes required. Don’t you think it wrenched His heart to send Adam and Eve out of the garden? To say good-bye to the creatures He designed for relationship with Himself? The sin which broke man’s connection with God continues to throw good-byes in our path, causing hearts to break a little with each one.

So I wonder, how do I navigate those good-byes? Do I withhold myself, protecting my heart from painful partings? Not possible. I love those I love without reservation, making vulnerability part of the package. So I’ve decided to live in the good of the moments I have with each one I love. Some moments may be longer and some shorter before parting but each one is precious in and of itself. After His resurrection, Jesus spent 40 days saying good-bye to His disciples because they were so slow to believe and understand what He had done. During that time He made special memories with them, walking and talking on the road to Emmaus, visiting them in the upper room, making them breakfast on the beach. The disciples would have those memories to warm their hearts when He was gone.

Good-byes are an infinitesimal portion of my time spent with those I love. I choose to make that time rich, full of love and laughter, shared experiences, long talks and lots of hugs. It will still be hard to say good-bye but only because our love for each other will have deepened in the time we are together. Good memories don’t need good-byes.

 

 

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2015. 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.

A Sword and a Saviour

Jesus_Heals_the_Ear_of_Malchus_001Malchus’ eyes stung in the smoky haze of many torches, and his ears rang with the clang of boots and weapons. He let himself be carried along by the crowd of soldiers and temple guards streaming through the gate into the olive garden. Leading the way was a man called Judas Iscariot, purported to be a follower of the revolutionary they were sent to find. Malchus’ master, the high priest, had ordered him to witness the arrest and make sure the prisoner was brought immediately to him.

Malchus expected armed resistance, or at least a search for the fugitive and his men. Instead he saw a man robed as a rabbi walking purposefully toward them out of the gloom. A few men followed him, some with swords at their sides. When Judas Iscariot approached the rabbi and kissed him on the cheek, Malchus heard the man say, “Friend, would you betray me with a kiss?” Judas then slunk back behind the crowd.

“Who is it you want?”, asked the rabbi.

“Jesus of Nazareth,” was the reply.

“I am he,” Jesus said. At those words the whole company of men stumbled backward and fell to the ground. Malchus felt as if a mighty hand had pushed him from his feet, where he lay for a moment in a daze. He expected the rabbi and his men to use the opportunity to run, but the question came again, “Who is it you want?”

Unnerved, his captors restated as they got to their feet, “It is Jesus of Nazareth.”

“I told you I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”

Looking into the resolute face of the rabbi, Malchus thought, “he is about to be arrested and yet he protects his men? What kind of man is this?”

The rabbi’s men drew closer, ready to defend their leader at a moment’s notice.

Malchus didn’t see it coming until it was too late. A sword flashed in torchlight, sudden, searing pain smote the right side of his head, then his hand come away holding the scrap of his ear drenched in blood. The soldiers around him bristled as Jesus commanded the man who attacked him, “Put away your sword! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”

Turning his powerful gaze on Malchus, the rabbi placed his hand over the streaming wound where his ear used to be. He felt a tingling warmth, then the cessation of pain. Never taking his eyes from Jesus, he tentatively raised his fingers to feel a whole, healthy ear attached to his head. His hand came away clean, no blood staining his palm. Before he could speak, the soldiers surged around him to grab the rabbi, bind him roughly and drag him out of the garden.

After the rabbi’s crucifixion and burial, Malchus heard rumors whispered around his master’s house, rumours that Jesus was not really dead, that his tomb was empty because he had come back to life and had been seen by many. These rumors caused his master, the high priest, many sleepless nights. But they were more than rumours to Malchus. They were confirmation of the truth that the healing touch he experienced in the olive garden belonged to none other than Jesus, the Messiah, now his Lord and Savior.

(based on John 18:1-11 NIV)

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2015. 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.

Living Loved

IMG_0567In a previous life I lived as a woman unloved. Having given my heart to a man who did not value it, I strove to shape myself into someone he might love. It was an impossible alteration. The more I tried, the more of myself I lost, until I became a shadow of little substance.

Then into that shadowed life stepped the Spirit of God, kindly and with infinite patience, wooing me with His unfailing love.

“The Lord will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit —a wife who married young, only to be rejected,’ says your God. ‘For a brief moment I abandoned you, but with deep compassion I will bring you back. With everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you,’ says the Lord your Redeemer.” (Isaiah 54:6-8 NIV)

Scraping my heart from beneath uncaring feet, I offered the pieces to God, doubting He would find anything worth patching. Having lived so long unloved, I believed the lie that I was of little value. But He who created my inmost being, who knit me together in my mother’s womb, loved me and valued me beyond measure. For a time I grieved the dead dream of being a cherished wife, then I gradually gave my heart over to its Maker. He stirred in me a hunger to know Him, to dwell in close communion with Him, to search out His truths for me.

“For your Maker is your husband — the Lord Almighty is His name.” (Isaiah 54:5)

Life around me was a maelstrom. Long neglected and abandoned, now I was the focus of a vindictive campaign to leave me broken and destitute. But internally I was living loved. God was my calm center in the eye of the storm. The more the tempest raged, the more I found peace and solace in that calm lap of love. How else could I have survived?

“ ‘Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet My unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor My covenant of peace be removed,’ says the Lord, who has compassion on you.” (Isaiah 54:10)

Living loved is to touch bottom in the vast, unending pool of God’s care. Swim in it, float in it, be carried along in the current created by the beat of God’s great heart.

Living loved means though all sure things on earth are whipped out from underfoot, yet you stand firm on the only Rock which cannot be shaken, and you find peace.

Living loved gives a glimpse of yourself through God’s eyes, because His love comes without agendas or conditions or variances. It is a love to rest in.

Living loved sets the Cross at my back, the crux of history and of my own life, where Love stretched out His arms to die for me.

“Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade;
To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry;
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.”
(verse 3 of The Love of God by Fredrick M. Lehman)

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2014. 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.

Seasons of the Spirit

Four Seasons

 

Winter is waiting on the doorstep with a foretaste of snow and clear, black nights in its breath. I can’t say I mind, for with it comes a sort of hibernation from the activity of fairer weather. Long evenings wrapped in the cocoon of a warm room with a cat on my lap and a book to ponder, I relish the repose of the winter season.

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven,”  pens the writer of Ecclesiastes. (Ecc. 3:1 NKJV)   Then he lists what he sees as the cyclical events of human life set forth in the providence of God. Birth and death, planting and uprooting, speaking and silence, war and peace; all have an appointed time according to God’s purposes.     “And He has made everything beautiful in its time.”  (Ecc. 1:11)

If there is a season for everything and a time for every purpose, then my spiritual life has seasons as well. My relationship with God is shaped more like an ever-widening circle than a straight line. This infinite curve is never static; it undulates with the tides of growth and dormancy, mountaintop and valley, passion and complacency. I can not say I enjoy every spiritual season but I am beginning to understand that each one is useful and necessary, and that God has a purpose for it.

In my spiritual fall season I sense a need to prepare, to store up the things of God in my heart so I will be ready for whatever the future holds. As a farmer spends fall harvesting and storing his crops to prepare for winter, so God leads me to store up for myself treasures in heaven to strengthen me for the winters of my life. When I look back at difficulties I’ve experienced, I see that God always gave me a hunger to learn more and go deeper with Him in the time leading up to those difficulties. Fall can be cold and bleak but it does not need to be barren when God provides abundant harvest for the soul to store up.

The world appears inert in the deep cold of winter, when in fact it is dormant, in an inactive state in order to survive adverse environmental conditions. There is purpose in dormancy, even dormancy of the soul. “Be still, and know that I am God.” (Ps. 46:10) If all I know when my heart is cold is that God is God, then that is enough. I remember when I was in such deep distress all I was able to hang onto was that one truth, God is. Those two words kept me from the abyss. There is life in spiritual dormancy, deeply hidden, inactive, yet life all the same. When God breathes warmth back into that miniscule spark of life, the ice of winter begins to thaw.

The words spring and hope go naturally together in my mind. When spring stirs and stretches, my spirit rejoices in the resurgence of life which speaks of hope and continuation. Spiritual hope projects all the way to eternity, not as a possibility but as a surety, an anchor of my soul because God’s promise in Jesus Christ is not a maybe thing. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” (Heb. 10:23) The hope contained in the prospect of eternal life with Christ, perfected in His presence, fills me with joy and energy, like a spring lamb bouncing around a grassy field. That kind of hope removes fear of death, opening up the endless possibilities of heaven. Although it is not always so, it should be spring in my spirit all the time.

I live in a fruitful farming area where summer reveals fertile land bursting with crops of vegetables and grain. I never tire of seeing the abundance of provision growing on the land. A spiritual season of fruitfulness can contain many aspects, like varied rows of vegetables in a garden. There is the personal fruit of intimacy with God, the fruit of selfless labor and sacrifice, the fruit of encouraging others in their spiritual walk, the fruit of sharing the truths of God with those who don’t know Him and the fruit of prayers offered up for those you love, to name a few. Spiritual fruitfulness depends on staying connected to Jesus. “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me.” (John 15:4) I know I cannot be fruitful on my own, so sometimes my spiritual summer is short or yields little because I have drifted from the Vine.

Even when the spiritual season I am in is difficult I try to remember that God has a purpose for me being there, then I try to discover what that purpose is. The thing about spiritual seasons is that they always come around again, bringing more opportunities to discover the things God has made beautiful in His time.

 

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2014. 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.

Sorrow Knows No Strangers

IMG_1242Over the mourner’s heads I watch three young sisters walk slowly to the front of the church. Two carry vases filled with deep red roses and one carries an urn. They are formally saying goodbye to their father, although days of bedside vigils and watchful nights were witness to the real goodbyes. His parents and brother follow, bowed by the loss of a second son too young. Within the decorous confines of a funeral service, comfort is proffered but its starched ritual and words leave me wanting.

I imagine the liberty to enfold these fatherless daughters in my arms, barely known to them yet qualified to do so by the scars on my own heart. I have lost a father, a mother, a marriage, a dream, so the great vat of grief receives their tears alongside my own, blending them into one common cry. I would hold them close and mingle my tears with theirs, for sorrow knows no strangers. Generalities and platitudes forgotten, they would feel a once broken heart reaching out to their freshly broken hearts. They might rest their heads against its mended scars and know there is hope for a someday life.

In darkness and in secret, hidden from a world uncomfortable with grief, I once mined the depths of my own shattered heart, picking through its bloodied splinters until I found the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places revealed by God, who called me by name. (Isa. 45:3) Treasures not to be hoarded but to share generously, even when scars ache and pain reminds. Like diamonds formed under pressure deep in the earth, the jewels of God’s character sparkle against the black backdrop of loss and grief.

“The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the source of every mercy, is the one who so wonderfully comforts and strengthens us in our hardships and trials. And why does He do this? So that when others are troubled, needing our sympathy and encouragement, we can pass on to them this same help and comfort God has given us.” (2 Cor. 1:3-4 Living Bible)

I would tell those beautiful, sad daughters that the Father of Jesus is a Father to the fatherless; that when they ache to be held in their daddy’s arms, God will gather them like lambs and carry them close to His heart. And when they long to hear their father’s silenced voice, Jesus will call them as little children to Himself because He said heaven belongs to them.* These words have the power to soothe their broken hearts and dry their tears. I know because words from the same source have been healing balm to my sorrows too.

Grief can do a strange work in the heart it breaks. Rather than losing pieces of itself, a broken heart in the hands of God can enlarge to eventually gather in those whose hearts are freshly wounded. From my place of sorrow I can offer the healing I have found, because I know the Healer.

*(Ps. 68:5; Isa. 40:11; Mt. 19:14)

 

© Valerie Ronald and scriptordeus 2014. 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.

© photo credit – Valerie Ronald  2014