Hand in Glove

 

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His old leather gloves are worn and soft, wrinkled across the knuckles, cracked in the palms, permanently formed in the shape of his hands. If they were used for a plaster mold, the result would be an accurate cast of my husband’s hands. Clad in these gloves, his strong hands have dug gardens, shoveled snow, repaired cars, hung Christmas lights, even gently cradled newborn grandbabies in their broad, warm palms. Muscles, bone and sinew working together to perform specific tasks have given these gloves their unique shape. But when they are laid aside on the shelf, no matter how much they resemble my husband’s hands, they are powerless. Only his hands within them bring warmth to cold leather and strength to hollow fingers.

When I feel weak and empty I sometimes see myself as a laid aside glove. My spiritual form is made in the image of God. Like a glove, the shape of my soul is contoured by the life of Christ within it. But when I have in some way blocked His life-giving power from filling out the contours of my soul, then I am weak and ineffectual. Not that I have been discarded. That is not possible, for He promised, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:28 NIV)

The truth is, I don’t always allow Christ’s indwelling Spirit liberty to expend the power He desires to work out in my life. Sometimes my passion for Him wanes, my eyes stray from His face, I become distracted by my own desires and self-preoccupation, worried and burdened by the temporal. And my soul begins to slowly deflate like a balloon losing air, or an unworn glove.

When this is happening, it takes me a while to catch on. I begin to notice my spiritual energy leaking away and I am less effectual within my own faith life and in the lives of those around me. So I know I need to draw near again. Set aside the tasks of the day and spend some time nourishing my soul in the Word of God, listening to His heart in prayer and meditating on His love and goodness. Gradually the fingers of my glove tingle with returning strength. Not my own but the strength of God’s power vitalizing my grip, working through me to accomplish those things He desires me to do which I cannot do on my own.

“For it is not your strength, but it is God who is effectively at work in you, both to will and to work, strengthening, energizing and creating in you the longing and the ability to fulfill your purpose for His good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:13 AMP)

It takes some time for a new pair of gloves to take on the shape of the hands they belong to. Fingers are stiff and tasks done clumsily, yet with use the leather gradually forms to the hand’s unique shape. I want my soul to be well-used, sculpted in the shape of my Saviour whose Spirit fills me from within to work out His purposes. It is a unique, miraculous partnership, hand in glove.

A Nest for Herself

swallow-in-the-snow

A Nest for Herself is the first of several original seasonal stories I am posting to endeavor to convey the truths of  Christmas in a subtler form. These are my gifts to you, dear readers. I hope these small stories draw you into the greatest Story we are looking forward to celebrating.

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It was the lights which first drew her, glowing warmly from tall arched windows. Snow swirled thickly where the yellow beams lay across the sidewalk. Laurie Kay stood just outside their reach, her pale face turned up to the high colored windows set like jewels in the stone facade of the towered cathedral. She closed her eyes and opened her mouth to catch the falling snowflakes on her tongue. They melted on her cheeks, cooling the hot tears trickling down. How did she come to be here in this unfamiliar part of town, where well-dressed people carrying glittering packages rushed past her? Why had she come to Christ Church Cathedral?

A peal of bells cascaded from the top of the tower, ringing out a joyous Christmas carol. In a few hours the carved double doors would swing wide to welcome in people for a Christmas Eve service. She would be far from here by then, maybe at the shelter or on the corner by Tom’s Bar; anywhere she could find a little warmth. If it got colder she might even knock on JD’s door. A few bruises were the price she might have to pay for a warm place to spend the night. He was still mad about her having the baby. She pulled her thin coat as tight as she could around her swelling stomach.

Someone came out of a small door at the base of the cathedral tower and hurried down the street. Laurie Kay caught a glimpse of warm wood paneling and soft yellow lights. Without thinking, she crossed the sidewalk and slipped inside before the door closed automatically behind her. The hush of this holy place fell around her shoulders like a blanket, muffling the clatter of the city beyond its doors. Warmth, stillness, a sweet scent of burning candles and polished wood; she knew this place. Maybe not this actual place, but she knew the atmosphere. She grew up in a place like this, it was like home. She couldn’t go home but maybe she could stay here for a little while to warm up.

Across the city the windows of a simple old church grew increasingly bright with a flickering light. A man inside made his way patiently around the sanctuary, lighting candles tucked in greenery on window sills and walls. At the last pew he blew out the taper in his hand and sank down with a sigh. The old church’s scarred walls and stained ceiling took well to the forgiving candlelight. This gentle light would help hide the sadness in his eyes and strained lines around his mouth. When he stepped up to the pulpit shortly to lead the Christmas Eve worship service, Pastor Randall would need to work hard to project the joy of the Christmas season he wasn’t feeling.
Where was she? Was she warm? Safe? Even alive?

Thoughts of his daughter Birdie wore their weary way through his mind once more. After her mother’s death two years ago, Birdie had turned a hurt and angry shoulder on the life she grew up in. He remembered her as a little girl perched on the edge of the pew below him, her feathery head of dark hair and round brown eyes giving him a focal point while he preached. His wife would gently hold her hand to keep her from fluttering from pew to pew in the middle of his sermon to visit the church family who loved her so much. After his wife’s death he spent long hours alone in his study, unable to deal with Birdie’s despair along with his own. He was helpless against her anger and rebellion, rising from her broken, motherless heart. His feeble attempts to comfort her barely touched the passion of her grief. She flung herself against the loving arms of family and friends until they could no longer hold her. Then she flew away, a crippled bird, into the night.

Laurie Kay caught her breath when she stepped through the recessed door into the vast vaulted chamber of the cathedral’s sanctuary. It was as if heaven’s floor had dropped away so she could gaze up into its glory. The frescoed ceilings far above gathered the glow of a myriad of candles and jeweled scenes in stained glass windows seemed to come alive in their flickering light. There were a few people dotted among the rows of oaken pews. She went unnoticed as she stole up the side aisle to slide in beside one of the tall stone pillars. She leaned her head wearily against its cool surface, gradually relaxing into the warm, quiet hush of the great church.

A rich tapestry hung near the high altar, with intricate threads weaving a picture of the Virgin Mary and infant Jesus. Thoughts of her own mother came crowding in to her mind. She was too tired to stop them so she let them flow, remembering the sound of her mother’s laughter, her eyes alight as she held Laurie Kay up to put the angel on the top of the Christmas tree. With the house darkened except for the twinkling tree lights, they would wait for Laurie Kay’s father to come home, and each time he would exclaim how beautiful everything looked. But his gaze was only for her mother and for his little Birdie snuggled close to his side. Such comfort and belonging seemed so long ago, shattered by the sound of sirens in the night and men in white taking her mother hurriedly away. The pain was so great that Laurie Kay had only one urgent desire; to fly, to escape, to lose herself in a life so opposite to what she had known, she would never be reminded of what home used to be. She had succeeded for a time, up until tonight when she turned a corner to see the windows of the great cathedral gleaming through the snow. If this lofty chamber was as near to home as she could find, then she would rest here a while.

She noticed a carving of a small round bird on the high arm of the pew in front of her. Looking closer, she saw a bronze plaque below, with words inscribed.

“Blessed Are They That Dwell in Thy House”
“During the construction of Christ Church Cathedral in 1895, a swallow’s nest with eggs was discovered at the peak of this Gothic arch. Work was halted in this section until the eggs hatched and the fledglings left the nest. When the arch was completed, the nest was preserved in plaster and remains there to commemorate this house of God as a sanctuary for all His creatures.
“Yea, the sparrow hath found a house, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, even Thine altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.” Psalm 84:3”

Laurie Kay’s gaze followed the length of the stone column, seeking out a tiny gray nest tucked in the embrace of the curving arch.There it was, the one spot a little mother swallow had chosen as the safest place to have her young. In the midst of the formation of this mighty cathedral she found sanctuary, and God had protected her.
“Will I not do the same for you?”
The words came fully formed in her mind, settling in her heart just above the warm round form of the child within her. There was a safe place she knew of, much like this. She remembered the warmth, the refuge, the love she once knew there. Could she go back…like this? In all her migrations in the mire of this sickened world, she never forgot the sound of her father’s voice calling her his Birdie. Perhaps it was time to wing her way home.

Pastor Randall was reluctant to extinguish the candles yet. Their glow tinged the edges of his heart with a little warmth and he found solace in the quiet of the empty church. There was just enough light to read the banner hung above the pulpit.
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
He prayed for God’s good will to reach his daughter, to bring her peace, wherever she was. His requests for her became more simple the longer she was gone, yielding all his anxiety into a single prayer of surrender.
Candle flames guttered in a sudden draft sweeping through the opened church door. Before he turned around, he heard a sound like wings beating the air, becoming the patter of light footsteps running up the aisle. The weight of the child was forgotten as Laurie Kay flew into her father’s arms.

We Will Remember Them

img_1229They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Englishman Laurence Binyon wrote his well-known poem, “For the Fallen”, shortly after the outbreak of the First World War in 1914. Sitting on the cliffs of Cornwall, gazing across to France where the British army had suffered heavy casualties on the Western Front, he composed the poem to honour his fallen countrymen. The third and fourth stanzas are quoted often as a universal tribute for fallen servicemen and women.

Receiving little recognition, an ongoing battle rages between the worldwide family of Christ and those who oppose and persecute its members. Recently Perfecto, a dedicated church elder from a village in the Philippines, was brutally murdered by two Muslim men as he rested in a hammock outside his house. Perfecto’s 12 year old daughter witnessed the shooting. She and her younger brother lost their only parent as their mother left the family years ago.* Perfecto’s murder is only one among many occurring in countries restricted and hostile to Christians. As well, large numbers of believers are being tortured, imprisoned and persecuted for their faith. Will we remember them?

When the apostle Paul wrote the book of Hebrews, the early Christians were already suffering persecution for their belief in Christ. “Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.”
(Heb. 13:3 NIV) Calling upon the compassion exemplified by Christ, Paul exhorts believers to identify with their persecuted brothers and sisters and do what they can to comfort and help them. The most accessible and effective defense for such intense spiritual warfare is the weapon of prayer which can be wielded from anywhere by any believer. In Ephesians 6. Paul uses the parts of a soldier’s armour to illustrate the list of defenses needed for spiritual warfare. He instructs them to pray “in the Spirit, on all occasions” and to “be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.” (Eph. 6:18)

How can we best honour and remember those of the army of Christ who have given their lives for their faith? By vigilantly praying for those who are presently being persecuted around the world because of their love for Jesus, asking Him to equip and protect them with the His spiritual armour. “At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them.”

* story from Voice of the Martyrs http://www.persecution.com

 

The Cross Around My Neck

IMG_2129In its little velvet box, the gold cross on a chain appeared small and fragile. But I saw a royal insignia, a medal to wear into the fray, the emblem of a conqueror. It took three months of minimal payments on layaway at the jewellery store before I owned it. Working part-time and on a limited budget, buying a gold necklace seemed extravagant, but I knew it as a necessity. You see, my life was a battlefield, with my marriage gasping out its last dying breaths and my family scattered and struggling. Yet in the midst of the smoke and ruin God showed up, like a bright flower blooming in devastation. I needed the cross necklace as a banner for going into battle.

Before this, God and I were old friends who had lost touch. I thought of Him with affection and respect, but not someone I talked to often. Then His Spirit began stirring up a hunger in my soul. Like a starving woman, I consumed the bread and wine of His Word, longing for more. His voice drew me into deep, prayerful conversations. I craved time with others who knew Him, whose encouragement fortified me for what was ahead. I knew that God was preparing me for combat.

So why wear a cross around my neck? Some saw it as an archaic icon of a gruesome form of public execution, even a talisman to ward off evil. To me it symbolized the One who died on such a cross with His arms spread wide in love and sacrifice. I had come to believe that Jesus Christ, the perfect Son of God, gave His life willingly on that cross, was buried then rose from the grave to conquer death and sin, offering forgiveness and eternal life to those who believe in Him. I wore an empty cross, not one with Jesus still nailed to it, because I knew He was alive, just as I knew the battle I was facing would be fought in His strength.

“Stay focused; do not lose sight of mercy and truth; engrave them on a pendant, and hang it around your neck; meditate on them so they are written on your heart.”
(Prov.3:3 The Voice)

When I stood before a courtroom judge to fight for an equitable end to a dead marriage, I wore the cross.
While toxic chemicals flowed into my body to fight a life-threatening disease, I wore the cross.
As I battled abandonment, poverty, loneliness and more, I wore the cross.

Every morning as I fastened the chain around my neck, I felt fortified. It was only a little piece of gold, but it gave me a focus, a touchstone to wear into the day, reminding me that I faced the challenges ahead in the strength of Jesus, who overcame death on the cross. He promised in His word, “My grace is enough to cover and sustain you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor.12:9)

Jesus brought me through those long ago battles and for now the fields are green and peaceful. But I still wear the gold cross, although brutal in its origins, because it is the highest badge of honor displayed for the ultimate sacrifice given upon it by my Savior.

“It was God who brought us to life with Him, forgave all our sins, and eliminated the massive debt we incurred by the law that stood against us. He took it all away; He nailed it to the cross. But that’s not all. He disarmed those who once ruled over us — those who had overpowered us. Like captives of war, He put them on display to the world to show His victory over them by means of the cross.” (Col. 2:13-15)

 

©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.

Warrior

3474875-hands-of-the-elderly-woman-close-upI would literally sit at the feet of this frail woman housed in a body scored by pain. With my legs tucked beneath me, I listened to her soft voice as she taught me from a worn Bible open on her quilt-covered lap. As a busy mother of three young children, these times of spiritual learning and prayer were vital to me. Being a new believer in Jesus Christ, I was hungry to know more about Him and Margaret became my mentor.

Cared for by her husband, Margaret watched the world from a little cedar cottage perched on a steep hillside overlooking the ocean. During a routine surgery she suffered irreparable nerve damage to her back and as a result lived with chronic, disabling pain. She became a housebound invalid, yet I never heard her complain.

Margaret was a warrior. A most unlikely one from the world’s view, but a warrior in an unseen yet ever present battle. Like a commander at her headquarters, she kept in touch with the battle through letters, phone calls and visits from those she upheld in prayer. She armed herself with the sword of God’s word and developed spiritual muscles in the crucible of pain and isolation. When she prayed aloud, I felt heaven hold its breath to listen.

Cradling my newborn son for the first time, her faded blue eyes swam with tears which dripped onto his blanket like a benediction. She had prayed fervently for the health and safe delivery of this little boy, and now here he was in her arms. Without hesitation she closed her eyes and lifted her trembling voice in praise for this gift from God. Margaret’s prayers were more meaningful to me than any christening ceremony.

When she talked about Jesus, it was obvious He was her closest companion. With warm reverence Margaret wove His name and words into all her conversations. From the confines of her home she looked for ways to tell others about Him, and to offer prayer for their needs. By the chair where she spent so many hours she kept a prayer list, underlined, marked and often tear-stained. The one name most prayed for was her son, Bill, whose wayward lifestyle had landed him in prison. The enemy faced a fierce opponent in Bill’s warrior mother.

This week in North America many soldiers will be remembered and commemorated for their brave, selfless deeds, as they should be. But there is another army whose arms may be weak but whose prayers are mighty; whose legs cannot stand but who wield the mighty sword of God’s word.

They do not wage war as the world does but declare like the apostle Paul, “The weapons of the war we’re fighting are not of this world but are powered by God and effective at tearing down the strongholds erected against His truth. We are demolishing arguments and ideas, every high-and-mighty philosophy that pits itself against the knowledge of the one true God. We are taking prisoners of every thought, every emotion, and subduing them into obedience to the Anointed One.” – (2 Corinthians 10:4-5  The Voice)

I am grateful for the soldiers who fought for our country’s freedom, but my true hero is a frail little lady whose prayers transcended her physical disabilities; a warrior who discovered Christ’s grace sufficient for her, for His power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

A Hearing Heart

listening goldfinchI watched the tiny yellow and black bird perch on the back of a lawn chair, its head cocked, beady eyes alert. It seemed to be listening to the classical music playing on my computer as I worked next to the open window. A goldfinch is not known to stay still for long, but this one lingered for several minutes, tilting its little head this way and that; not singing itself but showing true music appreciation in its attitude.

As I watched this attentive little goldfinch I began to think about listening; specifically, about how God listens to me. The Bible is full of verses about us listening to God, and so we should, with full attention and desire to be obedient to what He says. But my heart opens like a flower when I dwell on the thought of God listening to me; my one small voice amongst so many. And He does, bending His ear attentively to my cries, my pleas, my joys, my praise. He hears it all. He is Jehovah Shama, the God who hears.

“I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.” – Psalm 17:6  (NIV)

In thinking of God listening to me I find myself differentiating between His listening and the formal act of prayer. I understand that any conversation with God is considered prayer, but there are times when I have no voice to speak to Him, only a raw heart, a wounded soul, and still He hears me. I believe God hears me with His great heart. “We are weak and do not know how to pray, so the Spirit steps in and articulates prayers for us with groaning too profound for words.” – Romans 8:26  (The Voice) The ear of His heart is attuned to every emotion, every thought, even the ones I cannot voice myself. What a gift, to be fully known in such a way!

Leah, the first wife of Jacob in Genesis 29, is unloved. Jacob loves her sister, Rachel, but is tricked into marrying Leah first. But God sees she is not loved and gives her a son. This gives her hope and she says, “Surely my husband will love me now.” But the barren Rachel is still favoured by Jacob. Leah conceives again and when she gave birth to a second son she said, “Because the Lord heard that I am not loved, He gave me this one too.” So she named him Simeon, meaning God hears.

I imagine Leah, awake in the still of the night, tears dampening her pillow because she so longs to be loved by her husband but knows she is not. She has been taught all the formal prayers to solicit help from God, but the pain in her heart goes beyond words. Will He hear her unspoken cry? Does He care?
“But God has surely listened and has heard my prayer. Praise be to God, who has not rejected my prayer or withheld His love from me!” – Ps. 66:19-20  (NIV)

The hearing of God is acute beyond any human capabilities. His Spirit hears our spirit in ways we cannot imagine. I like being heard like that, even if what I am asking  for is answered with a no, even if I still must struggle through the pain, even when my cries are for forgiveness because I have failed again. I especially like that He hears us when we are jubilant  in our love for Him.  And I believe when He hears our praises, weak and imperfect as they are, He rejoices.

Blessed in the Shadows

Blessings do not always come in good packages. When thinking of blessings in my life, the ones which stand out are not those inspiring gratitude but those which put me in the shadows. These life-shattering events could not be described as blessings at the time, yet without their occurrence I would not know God as I do today.

Some years ago God allowed my life to be covered by the shadow of a painful divorce and a life-threatening illness. Thoughts came that I would be consumed by the darkness. I cried out for relief, begged God to fix the problems, to send a little light my way, but shadows continued to loom, building upon each other until it seemed I faced a black wall.

I collapsed into the arms of God, someone who had always been in my life but up to this point, never had to BE my life. Now He was all I had; all else had been stripped away. The spiritual principle of the all-sufficiency of God was now being put to the test.  After each day of facing what seemed to be insurmountable challenges, I would cast myself on God again, thankful that he had preserved me through another day. More than preserving, He had walked with me each moment, revealing Himself to me in a new way.

When I abandoned myself to God in my brokenness, experiencing all the pain all the way to the bottom, there my feet touched ground and my desire for God was discovered, where all else had been removed, giving Him room to respond with His desire for me. This meant giving Him all my dreams for this world; not that they were bad dreams or that some may be realized or not, but their allure was lessened by the larger dream of my desire for God and His for me.
There came a time when I could say with Job, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.” (Job 13:15) Therein lies the most precious blessing. I would rather truly know God in the shadows of adversity than be cold in the light of day without Him. Against the black backdrop of my trials God spread the jeweled facets of His character before me. The contrast of light on darkness made them sparkle all the more and I was drawn irresistibly into His love.

God said that He may give us bread of adversity and water of affliction, but He who teaches us will no longer keep Himself out of sight, but with our own eyes we will see Him. (Is.30:20) He reveals Himself in the shadows; a mysterious paradox which can be likened to how a blind person knows someone by feeling the shape of their face. We cannot see God, especially in the shadows of adversity, yet if we reach out in the dark His dear face is there for us to touch, and we will know Him. I could not see God in the shadows of my affliction, yet when I reached out in the dark, there He was. The things learned in the shadows about God and His character…His love, His faithfulness, His strength, His provision…I would not trade for a lifetime of ease.

There came an epiphany when I learned what it meant “to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings.” (Phil.3:10) After a nurse in the hospital chemotherapy unit had painfully pierced the back of my already bruised hand, I lay back, exhausted and sick, while the toxic chemicals dripped into my veins. At a low point in this cancer journey, I silently prayed for strength to go on. The sun beamed through the window behind me, casting a shadow of the I.V. pole across my blanketed knees. It formed a slender cross, reminding me of Christ’s pain as He hung there, His hands pierced much more brutally than mine. I was brought to peace by identifying in this small way with my Savior. His sufferings were much greater, “but for the joy set before Him, He endured the cross.” (Heb.12:2) Could I not carry my small cross, even consider it joy to face such a trial because my Lord Jesus had gone before me? I was blessed by the warmth of the sun illuminating a spiritual truth I needed to learn on a heart level.

We who are blessed by the Father need to look for His blessings not only in the light He shines on us, but also in the shadows of trials and tragedies. Romans 5 tells why. “We rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who He has given us.”

I look forward with hope to the day when all shadows will flee and I will stand in the full light of my Lord’s eternal blessings.