Striving.

We are a people who avoid quiet.  Surrounded by distraction, we refuse to put away the noisemakers.  At least, I do.  Every device I could want is at my fingertips, offering information and entertainment along with education and spiritual encouragement.  I wander aimlessly between them all without an end goal in mind.  The screens glow invitingly as little red drops of blood appear, the tiny numbers reminding me of unread messages, unchecked notifications and, more often than not, unwasted time.

iPhone, notifications, email, gmail, phone, inbox, messages
I remember the year before my first child was born.  I remember the house being so quiet, feeling so sad and empty in my longing to be a mother.  We didn’t have cable TV or cell phones, yet, and the house was usually clean: laundry put away, dishes done, bed made.  I wasn’t a neat freak but I didn’t panic if someone showed up at my door unexpectedly.  I cooked and visited face-to-face with friends and enjoyed deep, unhurried conversations.   I remember feeling so close, yet so far, from being a mother as we waited to be chosen by a brave and selfless young woman and confiding to my husband, through tears, that I was just so tired of our house being quiet.

I can’t help but wonder, if my impending motherhood were happening today, would I have that same problem?

The recent years have found me longing again, but this time it is different.  Now, I long for quiet.  Not in the absence of children but in the absence of haste.  Hundreds of emails to be deleted, most of which will remain unread.  Invitations to this or that online group/party/sale that demand a reply.  Reminders that I have not responded, paid that bill, or kept up with the latest information or update being emailed about the upcoming events to which I am committed and, darn, I missed the attachment because I didn’t scroll all the way down. I was in a hurry and just trying to make that drop of blood on my screen disappear.  Too many televisions allow us to be in too many different rooms, board games are left untouched. Netflix binges suck hours of our lives away and I am sad.  There is noise everywhere…from speakers and screens and headphones and my own weak mind being too easily distracted and then frustrated by the feeling of just not having enough time to get it all done.

I struggle to have what I long for.  Quiet.

Cradle to cross, advent, Ann Voskamp, wreath, candle, flame
But the book of Isaiah says, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”  (Chapter 30, verse 15)  This was spoken to a people who had been gifted the Sabbath, a gift that we as followers of Christ are offered each and every day.  (Hebrews 4:9-10)  A Sabbath rest for the people of God.  Doesn’t that sound lovely? Freeing?  What does that look like today, in a world screaming, “Check me, read me now, watch me all weekend?”

“Quick, take a picture and post it!  See how many likes you get!”

“Oh, yes, that one needs to be shared.  What a great idea!  It would be a shame to keep that word of wisdom, political opinion, recipe or parenting tip to yourself.”

Is there anything wrong with any of these things in and of themselves?  No, of course not. But when I struggle to find five minutes with Jesus, when I groan as my alarm sounds because I wasted an hour of sleep to read just one more post, then something is very wrong.  In my self-created haste I become weak.  Weak-minded, weak-bodied, weak-willed.  I set my alarm later and later and hit snooze one more time.  I fail to plan meals, leaving us in the unhealthy habit of eating out too many nights each week because of the busyness of sports and dance.  My Bible lays unread on the table next to the sofa because I flipped on Fox News before opening it last night and never actually read the words right in front of me.

Words of life drowned out by reports of death.  How ironic.

In quietness in trust shall be my strength?  What is God trying to teach me?   Here I sit, on my beloved front porch so aware of the singing birds and the bright sunlight filtered down through the tall trees after a solid week of torrential rain and dark clouds.  The Knockout Roses that I planted by the road last summer are blooming.
Rose, yellow, knockout rose, white, bloom, spring
The air is so clean and my daughter sits next to me, in her pajamas at 3:30 in the afternoon, excitedly planning our beach trip for her sixteenth birthday.  Earlier I gently removed the now-empty bird’s nest that had been built to raise three chicks to adulthood this spring, marveling along with my children at the perfect, intricate design with which the mama bird built it. 

Egg, bird, nest, spring, robin, sparrow

It was sturdy yet soft and placed in the top of the Easter wreath on my front door, away from the winds and rain.  The babies have flown off and the nest stood empty except for one, tiny unhatched egg.  (And my front door was filthy!)  As I worked and cleaned and my kids chattered about me God spoke truth to my heart.  Little proverbs gifted to me in those quiet and long moments of wonder.  God has given us such beauty and grace in the everyday gifts of nature and family, yet I frequently allow the noise to throw a wet blanket over them and become numb.

I am weak.

How do I deal with the noise?  How do I find strength and practice this faith God has given me?  It is not going to be in throwing every device into the swimming pool and “going Amish” as I have often threatened to do.  No, it is going to be in seeking Him first.  FIRST.  It is in the discipline of rising early and putting boundaries on the noise.  It is not about self-imposed rules, but seeking relationship.  It is in forcing myself to be quiet and listen when everything in my head screams, “The laundry! The dishes!  Have you not seen the emails piling up?  Don’t you just want a little background noise?”

My goodness, no.  The constant hum of noise has numbed me. It has sucked time away that I will never be able to get back.  I need quiet, even when my flesh seeks to avoid it…especially then.

“So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”

Such power in those words, such conviction to my heart.  But read on…

“Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.  For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”  (Heb 4:11-13)

Resisting rest leads to disobedience.  Refusing to be still and soak in the words of our Father in Heaven leaves us weak because we fail to allow God to do Holy Spirit Surgery, convicting us of sin and revealing our weaknesses.  A life of haste and busyness results in my inability to be teachable and my tendency to fall prey to the subtle lies of the enemy.

Strive to enter that rest?  I never really understood why resting would be something we had to strive for, but now I do.  I strive for many things…knowledge, peace in my home, to teach my children well, to keep the house somewhat sanitary.  But rest?  Entering Sabbath rest requires true strength.  It is, in fact, where strength is found.

In quietness and in trust shall be your strength.  

Lord, make me strong.

 

 

 

Of Knots and Grace

Last weekend my husband and I flew out to Denver and spent two days loving on Jay and Ashley.  I don’t know what I expected, but what I experienced was more.  More love, more laughter, more tears, more glimpses of God and grace.  We landed on a sunny day and took a rental car across the flat roads leading to Denver where we found the Craig Hospital.  We met precious new friends who have been the hands and feet of Jesus for our dear old friends and walked through the hospital doors.

To holy ground.

They were making cupcakes.  Jay, seated in his wheelchair, surrounded by his four daughters and all the excitement over measuring cups and sprinkles.  Ashley, turning from a conversation and catching my eye and me fighting tears as I finally got to hug my young friend who I have just longed to mommy for the past nine weeks.

Wheelchairs of many shapes and sizes lined the far wall.  An air hockey table was in the corner.  Lots of open space, plenty of room to navigate and play around whether you walk or roll.  And laughter.

I don’t know the spiritual condition of any of the Craig staff, but I can tell you that the Lord is very present in that place.  Everything is so intentional, the goal being independence and life and finding joy again.

But boy, is that journey hard and painful.  Without going in to details, (You can read their words here if you want to know more) Jay fights for every milestone.  Nothing is easy.  Nothing is not accompanied by pain.  Yet he perseveres and fights and gains ground every single day. He laughs and cries and parents and loves and God is honored in it all.  To know the Rapleys is to see Jesus at work and realize that God is good even when we cannot make sense of our circumstances.  His love for us is fierce and He fights for us even when we fight against Him.

We all suffer.  If you have not, brace yourself because it will come.  Some of our suffering is private.  It may be within the walls of our home or in the battlefield of our minds.  It may be from outside sources, people who have determined to pick at you until you fold in defeat or from the vice-grip of trying to survive the bills coming in faster than the money.  It may be self-inflicted because of poor choices or it may be the result of what appears to be a random accident, like in Jay’s case.

He did nothing wrong.  He was just walking his dog.  Yet here he is, navigating this sudden suffering.  But in the midst of suffering the beauty emerges.

It is in the friends back home, happily packing up Jay and Ashley’s belongings to they can move into their new, wheelchair-accessible, house when Jay is discharged.  It is in the community of faith, Kristin and Mark taking on a huge supportive role and thousands of believers backing them in prayer, gifts, texts and love.  It is in Jay’s brother, Eric, who consistently encourages him and faithfully makes the drive to visit and be a support to Jay and their parents.

Their parents….There are no words to describe these precious people.  They have dropped everything for their son and his family.  They have walked away from retirement, taking on the role of parent and teacher for their four little granddaughters in order for Ashley to be by her husband’s side and for their girls’ lives to be as normal as humanly possible.  They have done this so beautifully and fight through the fatigue and grief in order to serve their family.  I can only imagine the treasure being laid up for them in Heaven at this very moment.

As I process what I saw over the weekend, I remember a conversation we had about how God is weaving a beautiful tapestry out of Jay’s story and right now we are all on the back side.  We can’t see the picture.  All we see right now is a tangled mess of knots.  It makes no sense.  But the Weaver is at work.  He is carefully and lovingly creating a picture, a huge and intricate work of art, that will be fully revealed in eternity.  He is using His people as instruments, needles and thread and the stretching loom, to construct a garment fit for a King.

Our King.

Jesus, who suffered for us and identifies with Jay’s suffering.  He walks with Jay now, today, giving him strength moment by moment and reminding him of who he is and whose he is.  He is not surprised nor shaken by Jay’s accident because He has shown over and over again that He had everything lined up, positioned perfectly, to provide for the needs of Jay and Ashley and their family.  He surrounds them with grace in the midst of the knots, promising that when He returns and makes all things new,  it will be worth it.  Nothing is wasted.   He will, one day soon, flip over the finished tapestry and, in the center, will be His masterpiece…Jesus holding Jay by the hand as they walk together into Glory.

Pray for Jay.  Pray for a miracle.  Pray for strength and joy and protection over their minds and bodies as they all work so hard to learn this new way of living.  For more specific prayer needs, you can visit their Caring Bridge site.

 

Phillippians 3:8-11  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.