Of Dreams and Prayers

Southern Botswana is an arid place, especially in late July—their winter. A vibrant blue sky devoid of clouds greeted us each morning.  After about 3 days, I asked the team of Bible translators that I was working with, when the rains would come. It was obvious that they didn’t expect rain for at last another month. Rain is a symbol of blessing and in a society that relies heavily on  ranching it is an obvious necessity. Their word for rain—Pula—is a word they shout as a chant of encouragement or empowerment. Interestingly they have also named their form of money pula.

I love rain, both because of its symbolism, and because I grew up in the rain forest, so it reminds me of home. Every time it starts to rain, I have the urge to run outside and skip and dance! Water falling from the sky, landing on my skin feels like a kiss from my Father.

So I began to pray for rain before I left Botswana. I knew it was out of season. I knew it would be a miracle if rain came. I knew it would be celebrated by the community as a blessing. It seemed like a good thing to pray for. After all, God is in control of the weather, and he delights to give good gifts to his children. I prayed daily, several times a day for rain. And sure enough, clouds began to appear on our sixth day in Gaborone. They gathered to create full cloud cover by the evening of our ninth day. I was beginning to feel confident that God was going to answer my plea for rain. I felt like a kid waiting for Christmas!

That night I had a dream. I was gathering with some of our team members to get to an event we were supposed to attend. We were rushing and as is common in dreams,  many things went awry or changed so  that we couldn’t seem to complete our task and get to the event. When we had finally finished everything and were back at our hotel, I looked out the window and saw that it was raining hard! And it had been raining for awhile! It dawned on me that in our distraction and busy-ness I had totally ignored the very rain I had prayed for. I rushed outside to stare up at the sky which was beginning to clear, and I thanked God for sending the rain.

As I awoke, the significance of the dream sank in. I’m not likely to miss rain in the desert, but how often do I miss his miracles falling down all around me because I’m so focused on how I plan for him to answer. Do I recognize His hand and thank Him when the rain comes in different ways than I expect? Or out of time?  When God says no or not now do I forget? Do I miss his answers for all my headlong rush into the next thing?

With these probing questions in my heart, over the next several days, I began to look for and see His answers falling like raindrops in the dust! The prayers for safety, health, and energy—answered. The prayers for unity as a team—answered. The prayers for His blessing to just seep out of us to everyone we came in contact with—answered (most specifically in a couple of the hotel staff who really connected with us, came to visit with us during breaks and asked for Bibles from the workshop!) The prayers for wisdom facing challenges—answered. The prayers to stay the enemy’s efforts to thwart our work—answered. So many miraculous drops watering our souls, watering our team, watering His Kingdom!

I guess my perfect ending would be to announce that on our last day it poured rain—literal rain! But it didn’t. God said no to my prayer for actual rain in Gaborone while we were there. Maybe my perfect ending isn’t the best ending after all. Maybe the rain of a dream that reminded me to focus on Him and His good gifts, is better than anything I was actually expecting. Maybe, just maybe, he really does send rain in ways I far-to-often miss.

God’s Perfect Design

Our last day in Botswana; actually our flight leaves in the afternoon. The Bible translation workshop has been completed, and although I’m exhausted I feel more alive than ever. It’s as if God’s hand has physically moved among us for two weeks, and I’m in awe of the way he works. Our host, Jacob, has offered to take us on a drive out of town to a rocky hill where we can climb up to a famous cave.

As we cruise along, the sun rises on the dusty fields clothed in brown tufts of grass, with an occasional squat tree. It is an African panorama just like the storybooks. “This cave we are going to,” Jacob tells us, “Is famous because when Dr. David Livingstone came to our country to preach the gospel, he met with the chief of the village who lived below the cave. The chief listened to Livingstone’s story about God and how he had sent Jesus Christ to be our Savior, and when he was done, he told Livingstone, ‘It’s a good story. I like it. But I can’t believe it. We already have a god. He lives in that cave.’ And he pointed to the rock cave in the side of the hill where we are going. Then the chief told Livingstone, ‘The only way I could believe your God, is if you go up into that cave and come back out alive. Then I’ll know your God is the true God above any other. Livingstone looked at him and said,  ‘Very well. I will not only climb up into that cave, I will spend the night in there. And when I come back, you will know that my God is the true God, and that my gospel is the true way for man to come to God. The chief agreed, and off Livingstone went. Sure enough, when he came back the next day unharmed the chief accepted the gospel message and immediately became a Christian. Not only that, he used his influence over the community and soon most of them had also believed the gospel. These were the first converts in Botswana!” Jacob finishes the story, a note of pride in his voice
Then he adds, “This is my village; that chief was the chief of my tribe. Our people were the first to believe the gospel!”

“What!” I exclaim unable to suppress my excitement and surprise. “You mean to tell me that you and your family are the living fruit of Dr. Livingstone’s ministry here? And God’s plan more than one hundred years ago to prove himself more powerful than any god of that cave, has produced a harvest I’m witness to?”

Jacob nods with another chuckle. “Yes, it’s true. That’s how it happened.”

I sit back and watch as the glow of the morning sun brightens. An intersection and we turn left. Rocky hills crop up on the right, and then Jacob is easing the truck onto a dirt path. The cave, looms several hundred feet above us in the side of a huge rock outcropping near the top of one hill.

This is where God gave the gospel a foothold in Botswana. And now more than one hundred and fifty years later, our ministry of Bible translation is possible because of the legacy of Dr. David Livingstone. This cave, an enduring phenomenon of creation, is suddenly so much more. It is a marker to God’s faithfulness, a reminder that His Word runs through all the earth.

My mind flashes forward in time, as I try to imagine what God might have planned in the next one hundred and fifty years, and how our simple acts of obedience sown in the dusty soil of Africa might produce fruit for eternity.

His Ways are Beyond Understanding

I came to Botswana to be part of a Bible translation workshop. I’m here to work with four language groups in learning translation principles and getting God’s Word into their languages. And we’ve had a pretty amazing time doing just that. God has given us strength to persevere through set-backs; He’s answered prayers for healing and health; He’s grown the understanding and desire of translators to get the job done; and on Saturday evening we celebrated the completion of four New Testament books into one language, portions of the gospels in two others and a series of 25 Bible stories into another! That’s a lot to complete in just eight days! I was ecstatic as we celebrated God’s goodness and getting to be part of His Word “running to the nations.”

Sunday was our day off. We had accomplished what we came for, and we were going to rest and enjoy God’s creation on this day. Several of our team decided to hike up a rocky hill in the area that offers a beautiful view of the city. Although I am usually an adventurer, I just didn’t feel up for the climb and decided to decline.  So three of us, Tony, Celma and I, decided to visit a game reserve here in Gaborone instead. We had spent about an hour in the park, enjoying some amazing animals and nature vistas, when our driver pointed beyond the fence and said, “What’s that?”

Looking over, we immediately saw a person lying in the dirt. He was on the other side of the fence that surrounded the reserve. We called to him and honked our horn but got no response.

Without actually making a plan or even knowing what we were doing, we all got out of the car and walked over to the fence, shouting and whistling to try to get a response from him. None of us felt like we could leave without making sure he was all right, but we weren’t sure how we would get to him since the fence was rather high had what looked like electrical wires running along the top of it. Tony commented, “This is why we aren’t on that hike today. God sent us here.” With that realization, we began to discuss getting over or around the fence. Celma pointed to the bottom of the fence where the dirt was soft. “I think we can lift this enough for someone to get through.” That was the extent of our planning. Without any more conversation, three people began to pull up the fencing and I wriggled underneath, avoiding as much as I could the thorns and briars that littered the soft earth beneath me. Picking thorns from my hands and dusting off my jeans I headed over to the crumpled form. I kept wondering what I was supposed to do. What if he were dead? Is it weird to not want to touch a dead person? I wondered.

Bending over him, I shook his shoulder and spoke firmly, trying to wake him up. No response. His should was bony and completely slack. Everything about him seemed emaciated. I stood up and called to the others, “He’s gone.” But as I called out, I saw him tremble. Bending over him I spoke again and with a sudden start he pulled himself into a crumpled sitting position! He was young, maybe early 20s. And he was so week he could hardly move. I started feeling for his pulse and looking for signs of disease, trauma, or injury. I couldn’t even get a pulse neither in his wrists or along his neck. I couldn’t smell any alcohol on him, or see any signs of trauma, no bruises, broken bones or abrasions. I started talking to him, not sure he could even understand me, as he was completely unresponsive. The one obvious problem was that he was very dehydrated. Thankfully we had one full water bottle still with us. So the driver managed to get under the fence and bring me the water bottle while he called the police.

I knelt over him and tried to hold the water to his lips, just thinking maybe a few drops would drip into his mouth. But when he felt the bottle against his lip, he jerked his head so he could receive the water and swallowed. It was only after he drank the whole bottle of water, that I was able to get a pulse. It was weak. His chest barely moved as he took air in. But I began to think he might live!

For some reason, I can only define as God giving me direction, I kept thinking about how human touch has a healing effect. So I pulled his head into my lap and began to gently rub his head and cheeks, running my hand down his arm and telling him how much God loves him. He did not seem to have the awareness to want to live, so I kept telling him, “God made you and you are precious to him. He loves you so much he sent us to help you so you would not die here alone. You need to want to live, because God wants you to live. God loves you so much he sent Jesus his only Son for you. You need to live so you can hear about that….” etc.etc. And even though I don’t usually cry in crisis, tears streamed down my face. I sat cradling his head on my knee, and cried His Father’s tears over him.

Getting help for this man proved to be a long and tedious process, with many other obvious movements of God’s hand through us. Eventually he was able to be treated at the hospital. I found out today when I called to check on him, that he has mental disabilities and likely had wondered off without his family knowing it.  After being treated at the hospital, he was released to his sister.

Now I know within myself, I’m not a typically merciful or compassionate person. I don’t mean I can’t be kind. It’s just that I would prefer not to touch sick people. I don’t find myself running toward ministries or needs that might get gross or germy. But God gave me the gift of his mercy right at the point where I needed it.

As I reflect on this crazy experience I see how God moved in our little team of three to work together without even having to make decisions or define roles. We all felt a sudden and certain empowerment from God to do exactly the one next thing.  We came to Botswana with a plan to work on Bible translation for the tribal languages of this country. And God graciously provided for us to do that. But when we thought we were finished, God had more, more of himself to give, more of us to mold, more lives to touch with his love. I stand in awe of Him. His ways are truly beyond understanding!

The Servant of All

Luke 9:46—And an argument arose among them [the disciples] about who among them was the greatest.

Oh, what a common struggle. We may not argue in words as the disciples did, but we most certainly do in our actions. I think often the real question, the real problem for us is who is the least among us. We may accept that we will not be the greatest; but to be the least? Certainly not! I can accept being someone in the middle of the “pecking order.” But to be last? It is the most lonesome, empty place to be. The child who is last to be picked for games in the school yard. The athlete who crosses the finish line behind everyone else. The team that goes 0 and 16 for the season. No one wants to be last.  Last is for losers.

Then Jesus comes, wrapping a towel around his waste, and stooping to wash the caked mud off our feet. The job of the least. And Jesus takes it. The lowliest servant in the household is initiated by this menial task. It is the most demeaning and humiliating chore. And yet Jesus receives this position as a mantle of honor. With a grace inexplicable, Jesus enters into our midst, and knowing that he is indeed the greatest, he bows before the man he has made from dust, washing the earth from man’s feet. Jesus, with a dignity ironic to the task, kneels, and gently massages the callouses, his hands strong, and sure, his head bowed over the task.

But I am Peter. Shocked at such an awkward display of love, I jerk my feet back from his reaching hand. I would not be the least. But I cannot stand to see my Lord in that place. I cannot let him bow before me! I know it is wrong! I am cut with shame, and I bleed resentment. “No Lord!” I cry out. “May it never be! How could I let you wash my feet?”

His eyes meet mine with tender humor. As if calling him Lord will restore his rightful place. As if sparing him my dirty feet, will right the wrong. His rebuke is firm, yet spoken with a kindness that draws pinprick tears to the corners of my eyes. “Child, holding back this one thing from me, you deny me all.” And I crumble, suddenly longing to be bathed head to toe in Him. Sure that I want nothing more than to receive His cleansing hands. Sure that love has never beckoned me with such power. Sure that I will never be the same.

Laying aside the towel as the task is finished, Jesus states the obvious. “I have just set an example for you; just what I did, you should do for one another.” I can hear his previous teaching echoing in my ears: “If anyone wants to be first he must be last of all, and a servant to all.” That is what he is. That is what he has done.  He has made foot washing beautiful. Now he wants to do that through me, if I will only let him.

Addictions and Total Satisfaction

I’m reading a book right now called Spark written by a medical doctor, on the positive affects of exercise for every single aspect of life. He has been explaining in detail the amazing changes that occur in the brain as we exercise! Several studies and sample cases he tells about in this book, demonstrate the power of exercise to mitigate the effects of chemical disorders such as ADHD and clinical depression, as well as chronic pain issues, and perhaps most amazingly addictions. Some of his examples are a bit extreme, and it feels as if exercise might take over the lives of the individuals in these stories. So at one point he discusses the question, “Can you become addicted to exercise?” From a medical standpoint this is apparently extremely rare, and almost never with adverse side affects, so his answer is, “Maybe, but it’s certainly nothing to worry about.”  

This got me thinking about addiction as a condition of the human existence. At the risk of sounding simplistic, I think we are all addicts. Our nature, created in the image of God was designed for total satisfaction in Him. And when sin entered the world through our forefathers, Adam and Eve, that desire for total satisfaction was turned inward. As a result, we are junkies, seeking the pleasure of self. I don’t mean to overlook the medical qualities of a chemical addiction, or the hormonal imbalances in our bodies that make some of us more prone to that kind of addiction. It’s true that some addictions are worse than others—in how they affect our lives—but ultimately, every addiction has the traumatic consequences of leaving us empty because nothing we try will fill that gaping hole designed for total satisfaction in Him. Add to that the spiritual consequence of being a robber of God’s glory instead of a partaker in it, and it’s obvious that any worldly addiction of any kind is dangerous and awful.

But, since we are created for a total satisfaction in God Himself, can that addictive tendency in all of us be reformed towards desire for him?  Yes! That’s what Paul is talking about when he reminds the Philippians, “It is God who is working in you, giving you the a desire and power to do what pleases Him. A desire that grows the more time we spend with him. A desire that fills us up with joy and satisfaction. A desire that fulfills us. Indeed in Jesus is the only place we can both be fully satisfied and constantly longing for more. That is what the Psalmist is talking about when he says,”As a deer pants for the waters, so my soul longs after you.”

Recently I have experienced this growing satisfaction with continued longing in the area of prayer. About a year ago, I felt the Lord compelling me to sit quietly before him in prayer for just 10 minutes each morning. I am a mover and a doer. I pray constantly, while constantly moving. So even ten minutes of just sitting still in prayer—with no list or required items to pray for—was a challenge. I sat, and I prayed for whatever came to mind, and then I glanced at my watch, and around the room, and then back to the ceiling, and asked, “What else, Lord…” And waited. So for the first month or so I plowed through my ten minutes like this—wanting to obey, wanting to learn, but finding myself losing attention about half way through. Then somewhere along the way—and I honestly can’t say when—I stopped losing interest or running out of things to pray for, and ten minutes seemed hardly enough time to sit quietly with the Lord. So I decided to get up earlier which would allow more time, and then a little more time to sit with Him. Time after time, I have sat in the silence of the early dawn hours, and found that it’s not enough! Ten minutes used to seem like forever! And now triple that is not enough. Fully satisfied and longing for more. That is the beauty of finding total satisfaction in Him. I am still a novice on this journey. I pray and I listen and I learn. And I know it’s not just about more time. I know there’s more. And I’m waiting for that more to be realized. I’m panting for more, even as I drink in the depths of His present work in my life.

Divine Convenient Church

Marshall, Roman and I were driving through town today when Marshall read the name of a church as we passed, “Divine Convenient Church” He said. And then he burst out in laughter. Roman and I were cracking up too. What kind of name is that for a church?

I said, “Maybe it’s Divine Covenant Church.”

Marshall nodded. “Yeah,” He answered. “I figured I had read it wrong, but it took me a minute to realize what it actually said.”

I was still chuckling. “What is wrong with a church named convenient?” I asked. “I mean it’s obvious we all know that isn’t an appropriate name for a church. Why not?”

Roman was quick to answer. “Because church isn’t convenient. Who thinks getting up early in the morning on Sunday is convenient?”  He is right. Church isn’t typically what we would consider convenient.  And that made me wonder how well a “Divine Convenient Church” would do. In our culture where a high priority is placed on convenience, maybe that name would develop mega-status quickly.

Recently, I have been become aware of how impatient I am over so many things—from little issues like how long it takes to check out at the grocery store, to bigger things like projects at work, or Joel’s neck pain. I am just impatient! I want things to work. And I want to fix what doesn’t work. I need convenience. Who has time for complicated! Maybe what I need is a Divine Convenient Church.

You know a church that fits my schedule, meets my needs, makes me happy, helps solve my problems, all with a touch of the divine! Maybe it could serve food for the family on nights when I don’t have time to cook. And maybe it could offer childcare for days when I need to get work done and have nothing to occupy Roman. Maybe it could help me pay my bills, have a car wash while I worship, and free concerts on week ends. Maybe it could discipline my children for me, teach my son to drive, help the boys with homework, and offer lawn care services. Now that would be convenient!

Somewhere in the back of my mind a still small voice is whispering something about patience and the fruit of the Spirit, about love and long-suffering and selflessness. Maybe that’s the divine part breaking through the facade of convenience. Maybe  it’s not convenience I need so much after all. Maybe it’s more reliance on Him.

The Urgency of Expectancy

Last week I shared a bit of what I’ve been learning about the difference between impatience and expectancy. Expectancy is a charged wait–anticipation for what God is doing. Expectancy is wide-eyed, ears pricked, neck craned, eager focus on God and His kingdom.

This morning I had coffee with a young college student from our church who is headed on a year-long mission trip to a volatile part of the world. She explained how when she had visited this same country less than two years ago on a short-term trip, the political climate was so much calmer than it is now. And then she said, “That’s why I can’t wait till I’m finished with college to go back. The situation is declining. We don’t know how much longer we have to proclaim Jesus to those people. I can’t wait. I have to go now, while there is still a chance.” My heart resonates with hers! I feel the urgency of expectancy too. The more we see Satan’s hold on this world, the more urgency we feel to express the liberation of Christ.

John the apostle reminded his spiritual children in 1 John 5, “We know that we are the children of God, and the world is under the control of the evil one.”  That verse encapsulates the urgency that is upon us. As children of God, we see the world under the control of Satan; we see the slavery of wickedness, both of those who suffer in bondage and those who fight to keep them there. They are all bound under the control of God’s enemy. As children of God, we know what it is to live in His freedom. The urgency to share this peace, this freedom should characterize our lives.

If I am expectant for God to work good in my life–in the personal concerns for health, for wisdom in ministry, for faithfulness in parenting–then I can certainly be expectant for God to work good in His world! And part of that expectancy is being a willing, eager vessel for expanding his name and his renown.

I’m so thankful for the urgency of God’s Spirit within  my friend driving her to defer a year of college so she can go and minister in a dark and potentially dangerous part of the world. I’m proud of her expectancy for God to work His good in every aspect of this trip. She doesn’t hold tightly to the temporal, because she is too busy holding tightly to Jesus.

There is no room for the self-focus of impatience when we are living in active expectancy. Expectancy is Christ-focused, and this focus fosters urgency. Urgency then moves us out of our comfort zones, out of our safe places, out of our own expectations of reality and into  the expectancy of what God is doing to wrest souls from Satan’s kingdom and bring them into His glorious presence.

Impatience Versus Expectancy

I find myself falling prey to the “now culture” we live in. Everything is fast, break-neck, immediate. Texts travel from my phone around the world in an instant, and time differences notwithstanding, I can get an answer back from my team in another instant. At the the stroke of a key, emails disappear with a whoosh, and land in my associate’s inbox in Florida, or across town, or just down the stairs on my husband’s laptop. I drive through Chic-fil-a for their free breakfast on Tuesday morning and spend fewer than 5 minutes in line, and less than a minute between ordering and picking up my hot, yummy breakfast at the window. I hop on an airplane one evening and arrive across the world the next. I often joke with my kids that I’m a time traveler since I leap about 12 hours forward in time on my trips to Asia.

The problem is that all this immediacy keeps me racing, expecting, demanding. FAST is the order of the instant! And I often find this attitude creeping into my relationship with the Lord, specifically in my prayer life.

I pray for good things, healthy things, his hand healing relationships, his power and presence evident in broken situations, healing for Joel, healing for my friend with cancer, spiritual wisdom for my missionary friends around the globe. But I wait, and wait. I pray again. I wonder why something isn’t happening. I wonder why I’m still waiting. I know God is good. I know he is all-powerful. And I know he is working good in my life. So why all this waiting?

Recently I was talking to a friend about prayers that seem to go unanswered. She looked at a tree in my yard and commented, “It’s just that we don’t have the patience to wait for the oak to grow. I mean when I think of how long God designed for that tree there to take for growing strong and tall, I realize that he isn’t always about the fastest route.”   I know she’s right. I see it in so many stories in the Bible. God’s promise to Abram took decades, centuries, more than a millennia to fulfill. God’s choice of David as king took decades to become a reality. Moses wandered on the backside of the desert for forty years after his first blundering attempt to defend his people. And then God showed up and called him forth out of his wanderings. There are more. So many more stories of long waits, punctuated by God’s purposeful presence and direction.

In my own life I am learning to walk the ridge poll between impatience and expectancy. Impatience demands. Expectancy asks. Impatience whines. Expectancy rejoices. Impatience manipulates. Expectancy holds out open hands. Impatience breeds discontent. Expectancy breeds anticipation.

I long to live my life in expectancy, asking for His will, rejoicing in His movement,  holding out open hands and anticipating His ultimate good in my life, in our church, in our city and indeed in the world.

Wisdom–Where to Find it and How to Live by it

We celebrated Marshall’s high school graduation on Sunday! 
At this momentous time in Marshall’s life it’s no surprise that our house is filling up with graduation cards packed with witty, insightful and sometimes emotional words of wisdom.  Challenging words about a future of adventure and focus. Encouraging words of praise for the successes achieved to this point. And, of course, comical words of random advice.

Wisdom—what is true wisdom? Where do we find it? And how do we live by it? These are the questions I am again pondering as I watch Marshall step into a new era of his life.

I found an insightful story about Daniel and his three friends in the midst of captivity in Babylon that really captures the answer to these questions.

King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream. He knew it was significant but he couldn’t remember what it was. He told his wise men that they needed to tell him his dream and then explain its significance. When none of them could do this, he decided they weren’t so wise after all, and must be put to death for their inadequacies. But then Daniel, a young Jew who had been assigned to train as one of the king’s advisors and had already won respect, heard about this. He went to the king and asked for time (which the king had already refused to give the other wise men) to pray and seek God’s answer to this problem. Amazingly, the king granted his request. Here’s what happened:

“Then Daniel went home and told his friends Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah what had happened. 18 He urged them to ask the God of heaven to show them his mercy by telling them the secret, so they would not be executed along with the other wise men of Babylon. 19 That night the secret was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven. 20 He said,
“Praise the name of God forever and ever,
    for he has all wisdom and power.
21 He controls the course of world events;
    he removes kings and sets up other kings.
He gives wisdom to the wise
    and knowledge to the scholars.
22 He reveals deep and mysterious things
    and knows what lies hidden in darkness,
    though he is surrounded by light.
23 I thank and praise you, God of my ancestors,
    for you have given me wisdom and strength.
You have told me what we asked of you
    and revealed to us what the king demanded.”

Daniel’s example challenges and inspires me. When faced with a life-threatening situation, he did not cower.

  • Instead he boldly went to the king and asked for time to consult the one true God.
  • And then he went to his friends and urged them to pray.
  • Finally, he himself begged God for wisdom to offer an answer to Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel saw wisdom as a gift that only God can give. But he also saw it as something God mercifully does give to those who ask, which is exactly what James (Jesus’s half-brother) tells us in James 1:5. “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.”  Finally, to Daniel, living by wisdom, meant praising God for his revealed truth, and then using that truth to further God’s glory. He went to the king, told him the dream and its interpretation, giving God all the credit, and assuring the king that the future events were indeed designed by God. And Nebuchadnezzar responds with, “Truly, your God is the greatest of gods, the Lord over kings, a revealer of mysteries…” Daniel’s choice to live by God’s wisdom, expanded God’s name and his renown in the middle of a pagan kingdom!

That’s the kind of wisdom I want. That’s the kind of life I want to live. And it’s the kind of life I want for Marshall as he steps out into a whole new era of life.


It has been nine years this month since Joel came under investigation for his crime.  Nine Years—nearly a decade of grief and growth, sorrow and joy, despair and hope, loss and beauty.  Lawyers, court dates, confessions, sentencing, jail, prison, half way house, prison visits, moves, rehabilitation programs, family reunions, adjustments, counseling, probation—all mixed in with rearing children, working, serving, missions, travel, relationship building, chronic illness, and a million other facets of life. It’s been an unpredictable, impossibly difficult, unbelievably packed nine years!

“I feel like our life is just a movement from one difficulty to another,” I admitted  to an old friend. I don’t say that to be pessimistic. I struggle with putting those feelings into words—I want to be honest about the difficulties in life, while still acknowledging God’s active presence and grace at work in us.  Over these   years, God has taught me that when I acknowledge the hurt, laying it out before him, I open the door for His goodness to be exposed. I have come to see His beauty in new places and new ways. So I find that naming my pain, calling the long road we’ve traveled arduous is a milestone for me. His grace at work in us is made evident when we acknowledge our own neediness and grief.  

For me, acknowledging the difficulties, the grief our family has experienced as well as the stress of Joel’s present physical pain, is a part of offering my God a sacrifice of praise—the sacrifice that truly honors him. A sacrifice means it costs something. Praising God in the middle of trials is costly. Praise expresses a hope from a Source outside of myself.  And so I give thanks to God for these past nine years. I praise Him for the evidence of His love in the midst of grief. Because as I reflect over these past years,  it’ s not the difficulties I see the most. It’s actually His faithfulness. It’s the hope that comes from knowing a God who gives joy in the mourning. It’s the expectation of “his goodness in the land of the living.” It’s anticipation we have for His ultimate glory because he is the one who “redeems our lives from destruction.” It’s the joy of the Lord as my strength!