on the road to glory

The approach of Christmas has been quick and quiet this year.

I have heard, from the many mourning souls who have walked the path of grief before me, that it’s quite normal for holidays to become difficult after a profound loss. And while I do immensely look forward to being at home with my family as I have been for twenty-four Christmases past, I know that when I arrive, one seat will be empty. One familiar and beloved voice will be silent.

Maybe it’s even more profound because I last saw my Grandma B on Christmas Eve a year ago; I hugged her goodbye for what I didn’t know would be the final time after we had all enjoyed our traditional family dinner and Christmas cookies and conversation. She passed away very suddenly and unexpectedly shortly after the New Year.

I know myself: I like to be prepared. I seek out others’ testimonials and experiences of grieving so that I’ll have a better chance of knowing what to expect. I even try to worry about every single possible outcome so that I won’t be caught off guard if the worst happens. In fact, one thing I’m wrestling with the most as Christmas approaches is the fear of being traumatized so very unexpectedly again, since everything about this time of year now brings the memory of that trauma to the forefront of my mind.

But I think - slowly - I’m beginning to learn that for some things, there is no adequate preparation. No one can tell me exactly how it will be. No one can predict exactly what will happen. There are no preventive exercises that can steel me against the pain of loss.

We don’t get to practice this ahead of time. There’s no test drive for our lives. There is only living.

There’s only the choice to keep walking, even when the path winds deep into the valley of the shadow and our surroundings become unrecognizable. There’s no recharting our course and there’s no turning back.

But there is a Guide, a Good Shepherd, who will gladly walk it with us.

One of my favorite passages to meditate on and still my soul when my life roils with uncertainty is Psalm 23:

The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

the road to glory through the valley of the shadow.jpg

Yahweh tends me - I have no need for anything more. He gives me such abundance and such peace that I can truly be at rest. He refreshes my being. He walks faithfully with me on the road that will bring Him glory.

Even when I find myself in danger and darkness, I need not fear harm, for He is with me. His correction, direction, and protection are my comfort. He gives me the courage to face my foes; He acknowledges and gently heals my pain; He blesses me with more than I can hold.

I know that His goodness and His covenant love will never let me go - and when this earthly journey ends, I shall dwell in the safety of His presence forever.

Consider this: shepherds were nothing special in the time of the Bible. They were poor and nomadic and spent their days and nights with animals known chiefly for their helplessness and frailty. Yet that’s what Jesus came to be for His people: A shepherd. The Good Shepherd, the One who lays down His life for the sheep.

He’s not put off by our fearfulness, our flightiness, our helplessness - He knows that these are all inherent traits of sheep. He doesn’t treat us harshly when we become afraid in the valley or punish us for hesitating to face our enemies. He knows us, all the way down to our deepest fears and greatest weaknesses. So He just gently speaks, and keeps leading us toward life.

“I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me. . . . My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

John 10:14, 27-28

I don’t know the way forward, but He does, and though I’m only a helpless sheep walking a treacherous path, I know that He goes before me as a warrior, a rescuer, and a comforter. . . and I know we’re on the road to glory.

my thanksgiving offering

At the beginning of this year, I wrote here that my goal for 2018 was to live in a state of thanksgiving, such that none of God’s grace to me would go unnoticed, and none of the days He gave to me would go half-lived.

I did not know that task would be so difficult, but at the same time so life-giving.

I had no idea what I would be asked to endure.

How does one bring a grain offering to the Lord when there are no grits of new growth, no early ripened things, no fresh heads of grain and no unleavened bread to offer? What do I bring Him when my hands are empty and the year is famine?

But there is an element of the grain offering (also known as the thanksgiving offering) that doesn’t depend on my situation or the state of my harvest. It doesn’t need the rains to come at the right time and it doesn’t rest on whether I’m faithful and honest enough to see it and bring it before God. It’s something entirely outside of my control - something I didn’t grow or earn or create.

Every grain offering of yours, moreover, you shall season with salt, so that the salt of the covenant of your God shall not be lacking from your grain offering; with all your offerings you shall offer salt.

Leviticus 2:13

Even when I come to the altar with nothing, there’s still something in my hands. There is still something to offer back to God with a heart of thanksgiving.

Salt.

“The salt of the covenant of your God.”

In ancient Hebrew culture, salt symbolized loyalty, faithfulness, and commitment. Even today in Arab cultures there is a saying when a friendship, marriage, or contract is sealed: “There is salt between us.” And when God chose to enter into relationship with the people of Israel, and later with His Church through Jesus, He made a covenant with us.

The salt sprinkled over the grain offering is a reminder that He is faithful to that covenant, to His Word, to His character.

It is nothing of my own, nothing I cultivated, nothing I deserve. But even when everything else is dead and empty, I have this to thank God for - the salt of His covenant with me, the reality of His everlasting faithfulness to me, and the love that will never let me go.

When my circumstances are not what I hoped or planned or expected, God is still who He said He is, still where He said He would be, and still doing what He said He would do.

If this year has taught me anything, it’s that there is never an excuse to not give thanks. Things are never bad enough to negate the goodness of God. Living for Him is never “too hard” - not in light of what He suffered for me.

O come, let us sing for joy to the Lord,
Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation.
Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving,
Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.
For the Lord is a great God
And a great King above all gods,
In whose hand are the depths of the earth,
The peaks of the mountains are His also.
The sea is His, for it was He who made it,
And His hands formed the dry land.

Psalm 95:1-5

When my circumstances are not what I hoped or planned or expected, God is still who He said He is, still where He said He would be, and still doing what He said He would do.

He is enough

He is enough

I've been stuck in should's trap for a few weeks, trying to navigate this calling to teach and just so overwhelmed by the size of the vision. And the inevitable byproduct of living by "should" is that I grow discontent, anxious, guilt-ridden, and useless to the actual work that God desires to do through me - because I'm so busy running around trying to make all the "shoulds" happen.

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