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.

Along the Road

EmmausTravel has a way of drawing out internal things. As the body is engaged in getting to a destination, the mind has time to ponder and explore, away from daily routine. On a seven mile journey by foot from Jerusalem to Emmaus, a few days after Jesus’ crucifixion, two of His disciples discussed the internal things closest to their hearts.

Shoulders slumped, feet scuffing the dusty road, faces sad and perplexed, their demeanor spoke their discouragement. They had put their hope in Jesus of Nazareth as the one who was going to redeem Israel, but he had been arrested, crucified and buried, and his body probably stolen, for his tomb was now empty. With the road stretching before them, their conversation was tinged with sorrow and confusion.

In the aftermath of a life-shattering event, we want to study it from all angles, dissect the details, try to figure out the why and how and now what? Somehow it gives us a sense of control to analyze the facts and search for some answers, preferably with someone who can commiserate with us.

Processing a traumatic event turns the focus inward. The two walking to Emmaus were so absorbed in their discussion, they probably did not notice a fellow traveler until he came alongside them. Wrapped in a robe, dusty and windblown, like themselves, they did not recognize Jesus. Even though it was Jesus they were discussing, seeing Him in person was the farthest thought from their minds. Although He had spoken of it often, His resurrection was outside their realm of possibility.

When we are caught up in our own problems, trying to cope with an imperfect reality, we can miss Jesus walking beside us. Life narrows our vision to focus on looming bills, a serious medical diagnosis, a fractured relationship. Even when we fail to recognize Him, He is beside us through all the difficulties because He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. (Heb. 13:5)

Still disguised, Jesus gently chided the two on the road for being foolish and slow of heart. In modern terms, He admonished them to “look at the big picture”. Then painting the big picture in words, “He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” (Luke 24:27 NIV) And they still were not aware it was Him.

When all I can see are the problems right in front of me, the best thing I can do is adjust my spiritual lens, go wide angle and take in all of who Jesus is, what He has accomplished and what He has promised for the future. His story is woven throughout the Bible from the first word to the last. Reading it reminds me of the providence of God so clearly demonstrated in the life of His son Jesus, so I can trust Him for my life too.

The two travelers warmed to their wise companion as they walked. They strongly urged him to stay with them and have a meal. “He took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.” (Luke 24:30-31)

This part of the story touches my heart, because it was in the act of thanksgiving and sharing bread that Jesus revealed Himself. And He will continue to reveal Himself as we practice thanksgiving, focusing on the One who has given us all things. We are called to give thanks in all circumstances. (1 Thess. 5:17). Thanksgiving points us to Jesus, our true north, who guides us into all truth.

Finally they put the two together. Jesus, the man who walked to Emmaus with them, once dead and now alive, was the Messiah. fulfilling all the prophecies in Scripture. Their hearts burned within them with this revolutionary knowledge.

The story of the two on the road to Emmaus is our story too. Often blind to the presence of Jesus right beside us, we listen to His story in Scripture, but until we thank Him for His body broken and His blood poured out for us, we cannot see who He really is. When we finally recognize our constant companion, our hearts will burn within us — with love, with gratitude and with worship.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Solitary Seed

amaryllis1-300I was given an amaryllis bulb as a gift one winter. When I planted and nurtured the bulb, it produced a long stem with four large, red, lily-like blooms at the top. I enjoyed the exotic flowers for several weeks before they died off. In order for the bulb to produce flowers again it needed to have a dormant period of several months in cool darkness without water. Having never grown an amaryllis before, I found myself checking the bulb as it rested, sure it must be dead. But when replanted and cared for, it grew and bloomed again even more beautifully.

Within the darkness of a garden tomb lay a Seed, fallen to the ground and dead, like a kernel of wheat. “I tell you the truth: unless a grain of wheat is planted in the ground and dies, it remains a solitary seed. But when it is planted, it produces in death a great harvest.” (John 12:24 The Voice)

This Seed, called Jesus, endured vile abuse and death. His body was not dormant; not in some inactive state of reduced metabolic activity. He was actually dead. For three days His corpse lay cold in the darkness of the grave.

Then in the hidden depths, a supernatural germination occurred; a transformation from earthly body to glorified. Life shed the husk of death, bursting forth like a fresh green shoot. Stale air was stirred with an intake of breath, the whisper of a burial shroud discarded on stone. The Seed, planted in death, was now unleashed to begin a great harvest.
“But God raised Jesus and unleashed Him from the agonizing birth pangs of death, for death could not possibly keep Jesus in its power.” (Acts 2:24)

Because of His resurgence after death, we too are given opportunity for new birth. But not without dormancy. First our spirit, that part made to be responsive to God, is dormant. Muffled in darkness, cold to His breath of life upon us, sin’s inertia keeps us stuck in the dirt. When a crack of light seeps into the darkness, we begin to rouse, to stir to the hardly believable possibility of life beyond this confining skin. The agony of cracking open the dry shell of our earthly existence is a small but necessary death. Offering the brittle roots of brokenness to God, we minutely share in His crucifixion. It is what is necessary to absorb the life of Jesus into our own, thereby living anew.
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20 NIV)

Without dormancy, the amaryllis would not bloom again. Without the death of Jesus, suffered willingly so we might be restored to God, we would never bloom in new, eternal life with Him. “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15)

 

 

 

 

Looking for the One

lightning-caspian-sea_57275_990x742I think I was always looking even when I did not know who I was looking for. Like any child, my days were spent doing small things in my small world but I remember a vague yearning, a searching for something outside myself. Lying on my back in the grass, gazing up into the limitless blue sky, I wondered who had made it all so beautiful. Surely this amazing world had a Maker and if the Maker made the world, then he made me too. So I went looking for him.

The cardboard Jesus stuck on a flannel board at Sunday School hardly fit my idea of a Maker. His pristine robes and benign expression belonged to someone who appeared too mundane to explode a universe into being, no matter what my teacher said. So I kept on looking.

I looked within my family and friends, but their love stayed on the plane of earth, imperfect and variable. I looked for the ultimate answer in education and knowledge, but came away confused by too many contradictory ideas. I ran fast after romantic love, thinking all questions would be answered through the heart, but found it to be a tender organ, quick to bruise and slow to heal.

The gravity of this world held me down. My eyes saw horizontally, my time taken with looking after my physical needs day after day. Yes, I was looking, but through squinted eyes, instead of opening them wide to the reality of a Maker who is Messiah, the anointed, God with us. I didn’t bother to look up, to raise my eyes to the Risen One, to recognize that death had no hold on Him.

Years later when the words of God took on life for me, I saw my seeking self in the women who came to Jesus’ tomb after his burial. They expected to find an earth-bound Jesus, no longer reachable, his body cold and gray in death. Reality was much different. “The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.’ ” (Matt. 28:5-6 NIV) They were looking for the living among the dead, as the angel said. But Jesus was not there. He was alive again! And later he appeared to them in the flesh.

It wasn’t until the painful weight of this world pushed my face in the dirt that I truly looked. Looked up with sin-caked eyes, desperate to be loved no matter what, yearning for a life beyond this. Looked up because to look down meant death. Looked up to discover a free, forgiven, forever eternity with Jesus, the lover of my soul. He once said, “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:40) When I believed, then I discovered He had been looking at me all this time, waiting to welcome me into His embrace.

I am still looking, but not because I am still seeking. I have found who I was looking for all my life, even when I did not know who He was. I am looking to Jesus now because He is beautiful to me, in His perfection, in His power, in His compassion. And I will never stop looking.

“Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12)

 

 

Sojourner

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA History thronged around my senses as I walked the grounds of Ukraine’s Kiev Pechersk Lavra, or Monastery of the Caves. The story of this Eastern Orthodox Christian monastery began in the 11th century when a missionary monk settled in a cave overlooking the Dnieper River, and a community of disciples soon grew. The ancient monastery complex I toured is a World Heritage site and a national historic-cultural preserve. Its architecture and history are impressive but what impacted me more was the sense of the brevity of life in the scope of time.

Entombed in glass and draped in heavy brocade, the remains of long-dead monks rested in the catacombs. The sweet scent of the beeswax candles we carried could not mask centuries of decay. Above ground, we gazed up at elaborate, gold encrusted edifices built by hands long stilled. From a reverential distance we viewed gilded portraits of religious clerics of ages past, our heads respectfully covered.

What thought did I come away with? That we are all sojourners. temporary visitors. No matter what is done for posterity, what mark on history, what preservation of beliefs is attempted, we are all here for a brief span of time.
“Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were.” (Psalm 39:12  KJV)

If any earthly place of my experience exuded an air of permanence, it was the Pechersk Lavra, historical jewel of Kiev, Ukraine. Citizen of a country less than two centuries old, I had never been exposed to a place so steeped in history. Yet my visit there served to remind me of the biblical truth that all those who walked these caves and hallowed spaces were but sojourners, in spite of their attempts to make an enduring mark.

God has set eternity in the human heart (Eccl. 3:11), an inborn sense that there is more to life than what we experience here on earth. Those who do not have an eternal perspective make every effort to leave their mark on the world they leave so quickly behind. All of us with eternity in our heart will leave this earthly existence for another place, with God or without, making us all sojourners. But those who believe God’s promise of a life to come with Him live according to that sure hope.

“Now therefore you are no more strangers and sojourners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” (Eph. 2:19  KJV)

After seeing many wonderful sights, my sojourn in Ukraine came to an end and I returned to my own home where my family, friends and community welcomed me back  to the place I belong. Sojourners know their current reality will end someday and they will move on to a more permanent abode. I want to sojourn well, make good use of my time in light of eternity, but, oh, how I long for my forever home with my Savior!

Beyond the Garden

Hatley gardensA garden offers up its secrets generously, whispering renewal in scent, color, fruit and loam. A quiet garden, when listened to carefully, teems with stems stretching, buds unfurling, roots reaching deep; a cacophony of life discerned below the surface of hearing. When I walk in a garden, some primal echo of perfection and innocence resonates within me.

 “The Eternal God planted a garden in the east in Eden—a place of utter delight—and placed the man whom He had sculpted there.”(Genesis 2:8 The Voice)

In the song of soughing breezes in tall aspens, Eden beckons.
Cool grass beneath bare feet marks a path to Paradise.
The very breath of Heaven sighs from sweet roses.

In a garden I begin to remember a place of utter delight. And just when that ancient memory stirs within, death overshadows. I see the weeds, smell the decay, know the serpent of sin hides beneath the leaves, waiting to deceive. In the cool of the day God walks in the garden of my soul, calling, “where are you?” Naked and ashamed, I have allowed perfection to be marred. But not beyond hope. Because there was another garden.

 “At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid.” (John 19:41 NIV)

In the shadow of the hill on which Christ was crucified grew a garden belonging to a rich man in whose own tomb the body of Jesus was laid. From the stark, sun-baked heights of Golgotha, Jesus was brought down to the cool, sweet air of a garden grove. By law he should have been given a grave with criminals outside the city. Instead he was returned to a garden, much like the place where the ancestors of those who crucified him were created.

The kernel of his dead body was pressed into the tomb, like a single seed into dark soil. For days it lies buried. Then a supernatural germination occurs; a transformation of earthly body to glorified. Life sheds the husk of death, bursting forth like a fresh green shoot. And because of the death and resurrection of this sacred Seed, many will live to know perfection in eternity.

    “Because I live, you also will live.” (John 14:19)

In a garden, the cycle of life/death/life speaks to me of deeper truths. When the earth appears lifeless in frozen midwinter I remember the garden in summer, alive with flowers, trees and birds, and know I have been given the sure promise of new life with Christ. Someday the dead shell of my body will be laid in the ground, but my spirit will thrive forever in a place of perpetual bloom. Paradise found because of a singular Person given in perfect sacrifice.

“For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.” (Isaiah 61:11)

Psalm of Mary Magdalene

MaryMagdaleneYou told me in Galilee this would happen to you.
Suffering, rejection, death … rising up?
Forgive the doubt which deafened me.
I did not want to know what bitter cup you had to drink.
You only spoke another parable, so I told myself.

Story became cruel truth when I saw you nailed to a cross,
your arms stretched taut in agony, never to embrace again.
I watched and wept distraught through midday gloom
As you were torn from me like a veil from my face.

Those many days I walked beside you,
prepared your food, sat with you by firelight,
I did not know your body held my own Messiah.
My deliverer from demons, discerner of my thoughts,
all I knew was that you loved me.

When I saw your lifeless body laid in a tomb, you were lost to me.
Myrrh and aloes imbued with tears, my last offering.
Death rolled its stone between us,
crushed all but memories of how you loved.

In mourning I came sleepless through gray dawn
to your empty grave awash in angel light.
“He is not here; he has risen!” they told me.
I cried until you said my name.
My heart knew, before my eyes beheld you.

I was the first to see your wounded feet walk again,,
once cold in death, now warm beneath my tears.
Behind me gaped your empty tomb.
Love stood before me, whole, alive.
I should have known, Rabboni, you would find a way.

Resurgence

aurora-borealis-svalbard_58917_990x742

Here in winter, the days seem to finish before they have barely begun.  I wake to a frozen world, stark trees immobile in iron-hard earth, all swathed in layers of snow. The only movement is ice crystals glittering in pale dawn light. Before I know it, the blue twilight hour creeps in and it is time to draw the curtains. I find it hard to imagine this same earth green with life, birds flitting through leafy trees, the scent of flowers carried on a warm breeze. It will happen though. In the timeless rhythm of the seasons spring will come to thaw and warm and cause new life to grow. And so I am reminded by each new day, each new season speaking the word — Resurrection.

Jesus Christ did not just appear to be dead after His crucifixion; He actually died and was buried. Then the stale air of his sealed tomb was stirred by an intake of breath after three days of stillness, the whisper of a burial shroud discarded on stone.   

Resurrection. The act of rising from the dead; the state of one who has returned to life. “I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified,” said the angel to the women at the tomb.  “He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.” –  (Matt. 28:5-6  NIV)

I hardly dare to write the word, it so fills me with awe. But I need to be reminded, as my God well knows, so He revives the day after the death of night. In the depth of winter He suspends life then stirs the sap to run again in spring. He causes a kernel of wheat to fall to the ground and die so it can generate many seeds.

So why am I confounded by the necessity of my fleshly self dying to the things of this world so it can be resurrected to a life gradually being conformed to Christ? I am not speaking of salvation, my rebirth given me because of Christ’s sacrifice. This I will never lose or need to do over. It is my permanent position — a never-to-be-abandoned child of God. But every day, death is confronted. Death of greed, death of anger, death of envy, death of carelessness. I have the choice to give free reign to these sins, acting as though I am still in the grave of my old nature, or to step out of the already opened tomb into the fresh air of a renewed life with Christ.

“If you have heard Jesus and have been taught by Him according to the truth that is in Him,  then you know to take off your former way of life, your crumpled old self—that dark blot of a soul corrupted by deceitful desire and lust— to take a fresh breath and to let God renew your attitude and spirit.  Then you are ready to put on your new self, modeled after the very likeness of God: truthful, righteous, and holy.” – (Eph. 4:23 The Voice)   

Resurrection. There is pain in the death throes of my old nature grasping for a chance to assert itself. Sometimes it will win a brief skirmish, but the final battle is already won. I am unbound, like Lazarus — the grave clothes of sin stream away from the warm flesh and pumping blood of my new nature. I hear the voice of Jesus call me, “Come forth!” And I go to Him who is the Resurrection and the Life.

From the Cave

While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. – Luke 2:6-7
After the rude, bustling crowds of Bethlehem’s streets, the quiet of the cave was a relief for Mary and Joseph. They had to share it with pack animals belonging to the guests of the inn, however its irregular shape provided a small cove apart from their stamping feet. Joseph quickly made a makeshift bed of hay and blankets on the rough rock floor for Mary to lay down. Like a nesting bird she bunched the bedding up against the cool dry wall of the cave, then squatted with her back against it. Another contraction came hard. She arched against the immovable rock, spreading her arms for handholds in the crevices.
Joseph moved around a stony outcrop to give Mary some privacy, but not too far in case she needed him. His heart pounded at the sound of her groaning. Is this truly where Jehovah wants His son to be born? In a stable, a cavern in the side of a hill, full of smelly beasts? But it was peaceful, with the soft sounds of the animals giving company and their bodies warmth. Why not a cave? A space in the earth hollowed out by his Father’s own hands could well be the most fitting birthplace for the Son of God.
Mary gave a piercing cry, then silence, finally broken by the thin wail of a newborn baby. When she called to him, he found strength in the stalwart walls of the cave beneath his hands, his legs unsteady as he came to see the child for the first time.
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On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. Luke 24: 1 – 2
Several women came early to the tomb where Jesus’ body lay, an enlarged limestone cave on a hillside near Jerusalem. Mary Magdalene placed her trembling hand on the round sealing stone rolled off to the side, wondering how it came to be moved. She cradled the jar of embalming spices more tightly, then crouched beneath the low entrance way. The air of the cave came to her as a cool breath, slightly scented, though strangely without the stench of death. Dawn’s weak light crept across the ocher floor, revealing an empty ledge where his body should be. The women behind her gasped but Mary stood silent, taking in the empty strips of burial linen and bloodstained head cloth folded separately. Why had his body been taken?
As the question formed in her mind, a man suffused in light appeared before her. She fell to her knees on the rough floor, covering her face. “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen!” Risen! He had escaped the confines of this cave and of death. The stone was rolled away, not for him to leave, but for her to see …. He is risen!