Wednesday, November 30, 2011

How The Leaves Sing

The calendar promises a few more weeks before Winter descends, but the last day of November dawns and I feel Autumn slipping quietly away.

There's a tree in my garden whose name--Koto No Ito--it means "strings of a harp."  And I might've thought this name was only a description of the leaves in all their finely cut glory, draping like strings from delicate branches.

But then Autumn comes and the leaves begin to sing with a beauty that haunts and I see what this name is really about.  Because this tree might not make a sound, except when the wind dances through it's branches or the rain drops softly against leaves.  But I hear it now, the way these strings of a harp are whispering the lilting song of hope.

I might feel a bit of sorrow watching all these leaves drift down to an earth that will swallow them in darkness, return them to the dust from which they were born.  But I listen to the singing first, all this beauty emerging and descending, and I hear it clear as the notes of a harp.

God, He's here in the changing the of the seasons, carefully laying to rest what will give birth to new life when the light of Spring returns.  And it's okay to grieve what's been buried, but we don't grieve as if there is no hope.

Because there is Hope.

And we'll see Him most clearly when we let Him plant all our pieces in the dark of life's soil and wait for the emerging He'll bring.

So as Autumn gently takes her leave and Winter creeps in to cover and darken and silence, I listen to the leaves singing His song and I choose to lay it all down.  Because what's buried in Him is never lost and what's withheld from Him is never the life we're meant to live.

And that life He's made for me?  It's the only one I want to live.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

When You Want to Make the Words Your Own

My Psalm 121

The mountains rise high
The road stretches long
And courage drains away
Straight into the ground

You've laid out the path
And I've said yes to the journey
But the fear of what's to come--
It can weigh down a whole life

Who will help me stand
Under the weight of all this fear?
Who will give me strength
To walk the hardest road?

It's You, isn't it?
The One Who made me?
You're my Protector
My Deliverer, my God

You're the One Who
Stands Watch through the night
You're the One Who
Steadies me with every step

You're the One Who
Shelters my soul
From all the raging storms
And the quiet battles within

There isn't any need
To wait for help to come,
Only to whisper Your name
And find You're already here

So I'll fix my eyes on You
And let the fear fall away
Because You're my Protector
My Deliverer, my God.

{If you missed my musings on Psalm 121 from earlier this week, catch up here}

On this day, the Day of Giving Thanks, I'm whispering deep thanks for the One Who stands watch through all the dark hours of a life, the One Who holds each of us in His Hands no matter how long and treacherous the path, the One Who covers us with Himself in every storm we face.  Yes, this God Who made us, He is our Protector, our Deliverer, our God.  And, oh, there aren't enough words in this whole wide world to sufficiently thank Him for that.

Much grace to you, Dear Friends.  You are each a gift to me on this journey and today I am giving thanks especially for you.  May our God be near and His Grace overflowing on whatever path He is leading you.

Monday, November 21, 2011

When You're in Need of Protection

God asks for the hardest thing and it's not until I speak it out loud that Fear comes and steals the breath and every last bit of courage I have.  The imperfections glare and everything that might have worth seems too small to matter and this time I'm certain God's asking too much.

It's not that I've forgotten all the Truth Treasures from Psalm 121, that second stair in the upward climb I'm making through the Psalms of Ascent.  It's just that I haven't let them take root yet in the soil of my deepest self--that place where everything's laid bare and there's no way to stand up under His gaze except to choose Grace and let Shame be washed away.

So I pull out the book again, try to take hold of Him instead of all this fear that's draining the strength right out of me.

Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the hills--
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip--
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The LORD watches over you--
the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The LORD will keep you from all harm--
he will watch over your life;
the LORD will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.

I can hardly read through the first few lines because there's a soundtrack in my head playing the song I learned a lifetime ago with those very same words.  And I remember that year God found me beside the ocean and ripped my heart wide open with longing for Him--the One I'd known all my life and yet somehow never really knew at all until then.

And I might've sung that song with every last fiber of my being and I might still hear that melody every time I read this psalm.  But it's not until I'm standing here in the middle of the Psalms of Ascent that I realize what these words really mean.

I might've thought the psalmist was looking to the mountains to find his God.  Because all that beauty on the horizon?  My heart always find a path straight to the Maker when I fix my eyes right at the sky's beginning.  But now that I'm holding these words up in the light of their surroundings, this is what I see:

Psalm 120 [the first Psalm of Ascent] unfolds with the pilgrim still in his remote location, lamenting his living conditions and longing to be near the house of God.  Psalm 121 immediately follows, painting in beautiful brush strokes the image of a traveler on his journey.  He looks at the hills in the distance, wondering and probably even fearing what might be on the other side.  He anticipates the long, arduous journey ahead and, like all of us, wishes he could arrive in the blink of an eye rather than feel the effects of life on the road.
~Beth Moore, Psalms of Ascent

And isn't that exactly where I find myself today--eyes fixed on the long journey ahead, courage slipping away because of the mountains He's asked me to climb?  And aren't I standing here with the fear weighing me down, asking Him, asking myself, asking anyone who might know--where will my help come from?

This psalm might be a few thousand years old but I know it now that it was written for me, for this path I'm on and this fear that holds me back.  And that question I'm asking way down deep?  The answer's right here:  My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. {Ps 121:2}

Then I read this whole psalm in its most literal translation from the Hebrew and the answer jumps clean off the page.

Psalm 121
I lift my eyes up the hills.  From where does help come to me?
My help comes to me from Yahweh, who has made heaven and earth.
He does not let your foot waver, your keeper does not sleep!
Behold, neither sleeps nor slumbers the keeper of Israel!
Yahweh is your keeper, Yahweh is your shade above your right hand!
By day the sun does not strike, nor the moon by night.
Yahweh protects you against all harm, he protects your life.
Yahweh protects your going out and coming in from now on and forever.
~Hans-Joachim Kraus translation

The two brief Hebrew words translated "Yahweh is your keeper" comprise the overarching message....  58 syllables (in Hebrew) precede the phrase translated "Yahweh is your keeper" and 58 syllables follow it....  The central placement of the phrase "Yahweh is your keeper" was not enough for the inspired psalmist to make his point.  He repeated forms of the word translated "keeper" numerous times, both prior to and following the phrase....  [The words "protect" and "keep"] come from the root word transliterated shamar, meaning 'to keep, guard ... to preserve, protect; to watch.'  Many of our English versions translate different words to make the reading easier and less repetitious.  The psalmist who penned this song wasn't interested in varieties of words....  He intended to hammer a point over and over again, repeating it until we got it.
~Beth Moore, Psalms of Ascent

The LORD is my protector.  The LORD will protect me from harm.  The LORD protects my life.  The LORD protects all my comings and goings.  Who wants to change the words when all that's really needed is to recount the Truth until there's no holding us back from the path He's called us to take?

There's one more question on the page of this book I'm working through and it's clear that this is the one that matter most of all:  What is God saying to you today?

And there are too many days when I can't hear what He wants to tell me, but this day isn't one of them and there's nothing I can do to stop His voice from cutting straight through all the fear.

Wherever this road takes you, I'm going with you.  Wherever you end up, I'm already there.  And every step you take along the way?  I'll be your protector, your defender, your God.  Now--will you come with Me?

Maybe the long journey begins with a single word but it never ends there.  Because there's always another chance to turn around and go back or stay where we are and refuse to move forward.  There's always another chance to say no to whatever He's asked.

But that means there's always another chance to say yes.  And it might take me weeks to find the courage for every one of these steps.  And I might have to fight a war against Fear and Exhaustion just to stay this course.  But, oh, I'll do whatever it takes to say yes to everything He's asked.

Because who wants to take a different road when this is the one God's on?

Maybe I'm not ready yet to pen my own Psalm 121, but I'm ready to say yes again.  Because it's all I have and it's all He asks and I'll say it as many time as it takes.

Because God's on this road and there's no where else I want to be.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

How To Begin The Long Road

They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

And it's true.

But sometimes I wonder if it takes a thousand tries just to make that very first step.

Still, I've set my heart on pilgrimage, so I pick up a pen and open the book that's leading me down this road, leading me to Him.

I'm about to make the slow climb through the Psalms of Ascent but I read the first one and find myself lost before I've even begun.

Psalm 120
I call on the LORD in my distress,
and he answers me.
Save me, O LORD, from lying lips
and from deceitful tongues.

What will he do to you,
and what more besides, O deceitful tongue?
He will punish you with a warrior’s sharp arrows,
with burning coals of the broom tree.

Woe to me that I dwell in Meshech,
that I live among the tents of Kedar!
Too long have I lived
among those who hate peace.
I am a man of peace;
but when I speak, they are for war.

The first line resonates deep--but the rest?  I wonder where He is trying to take me.

I might hear a voice whispering that I'll never understand, that I've misread His leading, that I should just turn and walk away.  But I haven't made a thousand tries yet, so I push aside all the resistance and listen to a woman who has gone before:

The Psalms of Ascent begin with a distress call.  Not a bad place to start a journey.  Sometimes the best motivation we'll ever have for going someplace new is distress over someplace old.

Note how much ink the relatively brief first Psalm of Ascent gives to the psalmist's complaint about liars.  You'd have to live under a rock not to be hurt sometime by another person's deception.

The Psalmist began his pilgrimage by giving way to a classic "woe to me" moment.  Before he could make future progress, he tried to take present stock.  Though the two place names are foreign to us, what Meshech and Kedar represent certainly is not.  The psalmist meant that he was a long way from home and from where he wished to be.

~Beth Moore, Psalms of Ascent

Now it's my turn to pen a psalm of my own, record my journey's beginning with words and hope and courage.  But I struggle for days, a week even, to refine thoughts with Truth, cut away all that distracts from the story He's writing.  And when I finally step back to see what's come of all this wrestling, it's clear that there's no paraphrasing here, only an echo of the psalmist's heart by a fellow pilgrim on her way to meet with God.

My Psalm 120

Broken on the floor,
I cry out to the One Who
Sees and Hears and Is:
"Oh, my God, deliver me
From the lies I've whispered
To my own soul--
Lies that have left me here
Alone and afraid.

For too long have I lived

In the City of Not Enough,
Made my home among
Responsibility and Expectation.
How I yearn for You,
Oh, my God,
But when I try to reach You
I can't break free from
The chains of my own making.
Is there no hope for me?

But my God sees
And He hears and He is--
And He says, "Come."
It takes everything I have
But it's all He asks
So I take His hand
And I say, "Yes."

At the rate I'm going, I'm starting to think this road might really be a thousand miles after all.  But He's speaking and I'm listening and together we're going wherever He wants to take me.

Because maybe the long journey doesn't begin with a single step.  Maybe it really begins with a single word.


{I'm slowly working my way through Beth Moore's Psalms of Ascent study and trying to share my journey with you as I go.  I pray that you will find nourishment here for your own pilgrimage--and please feel free to ask any questions or share any thoughts you have in the comments.  Grace to you, Friends.}

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

When The Journey Is Hard

I'm just driving down the road when I see Him there on a street corner.

It's a Japanese maple tree all aflame with Autumn's glory, but there's no denying the glimpse of God right there for everyone to see.  I can hardly bear to pass by and I raise one hand to the sky with a heart aching for Him and a soul murmuring praise.

In my mind, I'm reaching for a journal full of thanks--because isn't this what it's all about?  Finding God in the smallest moments of a life, counting every last piece of Grace until there's no doubt about His love, His goodness, Him running through all our days?

But the journal's out of reach, buried somewhere in a drawer back at home.  It's been too many weeks to number since I've recorded God in those pages and now I'm driving right by Him and I'm nearly beside myself with longing.

He hasn't been absent these last months and I haven't been blind.  I've pressed my face against the glass when the sky's all lit up with His beauty and I've closed my eyes to listen to His breath rushing through the trees and I've whispered thanks for all the ordinary moments full of an extraordinary God.

But there's been no strength to pick up the pen and etch His Grace into memory.

Life's been heavy for weeks now, responsibility and expectation pressing in.  And me, I've been giving it my all just to keep breathing in and out.  But some days, most days, today--it feels like more than I can do.

I watch Him in the rear-view mirror and it's then that I hear Him speak and I know what has to be done.

Because vulnerability might come naturally for me but it doesn't come without a price.  And it takes every last bit of courage and strength I've got to write my soul on a page of the world, let all the cracked and wounded places unveil His glory.

And sometimes I have to pull the curtains closed, let it be just Him and me for a while.

So I drive home that night and I stop reading other people's words and I stop writing words of my own and I let the whole world fall quiet.  I turn my attention to long-neglected things and I rest and I breathe and I find a way to just be.

But it's seven days later when I sit down to gather words and thoughts and I find what I feared the most.  The words are gone and I can't speak and suddenly there's no rest in all this silence anymore, only a loneliness that leaves me grasping about.

I might wish I could fill up all the emptiness with other people's words, but I've been here enough times to know it can't be done.  I'll just be drowning out my fears, drowning out His whispers, drowning out everything that matters most.

So the days of October slip quietly away and I wonder if anyone notices the void I've left.  And maybe I'm afraid that it doesn't matter if I've lost my voice but maybe I'm more afraid that it really does matter.  And maybe I don't know how to be who I am when a piece of my soul seems to have dropped clean out of me.

But somewhere in the midst of all the silent days, I feel Him nudging.  And I open up a book that's sat on the shelf for two years and I turn on the audio recording and I listen to the words of a woman who loves God with her whole life.  I'm not sure if I've the strength to take it all in but it's only a matter of minutes before the loneliness fades and I hear her talking straight to me.

When we're overworked, over stressed, and under rested, we're left with a heaviness of spirit.  We're left feeling down and we're not even sure why.

And then she asks this:  How many of us just want an invitation to go up?  Up to the next level with God, up to His temple to worship, up out of the pit we find ourselves in?

Maybe I'm not raising my hand but I'm saying Yes! with my whole being and it's in this moment that my gratitude overflows for all the silence and the loneliness and the fear that's found me here.  Because God's been here, too, and I've heard Him and He's extended the invitation to go up and, oh, how I want to go there with Him.

The first days of November arrive quiet and cold, and my mind's still wrestling through this verse from the Psalms:  Blessed are those whose strength is in You, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage {Psalm 84:5}.

And this word blessed it really means "happy" and I keep saying it over and over in my head.  Happy are those who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.

This whole life is a journey to some place we've never been.  And it's a long, hard climb to grow and heal and become.  And God, He wants more for us than we've ever dared to want for ourselves.

These last months and years of a life, I've been a pilgrim pressing on to find God in all the places I didn't expect Him to be, to understand once and for all that He loves me and who I am is enough and nothing will ever be the same again.  I've traveled a long road and the burdens have grown heavy and my strength has drained right into the soil of this path.

But He showed up in a maple tree beside the road, whispered for me to let it all go and just be.  And I might've thought it was my body that needed rest but I know it now that it was my heart in need of being renewed.

Happy are those who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.

My heart, it's set on pilgrimage again.  I'm choosing to grow and heal and become.  I'm choosing to take hold of Him with every bit of strength I have and move forward.

And it's 19 days since the silence began when I pick up a pen and etch His Grace back into the pages of my story....

1095.  Glimpses of God on the street corner....
1096.  Beauty calling me to worship Him....
1097.  Heart aching for more of God....
1098.  Hearing His whispers....
1099.  Time to rest, breathe, be....
1100.  Silence...
1101.  Emptiness leading me to the Only One Who fills....
1102.  Words of a stranger, speaking Truth I need to hear...
1103.  His invitation to go up...
1104.  Pilgrimage...
1105.  A heart set on Him...

Maybe I'm still finding my voice, but God, He's never lost His and He's the One writing all this into His Glory.  I don't know where this road leads but He's asked me to come and I'm saying yes because He's all I want and I'll go anywhere just to be with Him.

We're all pilgrims in a world that isn't home.  But we're not in this alone and He's taking us to a life more beautiful and glorious and full of God than anything we've ever longed for.

Yes.  Happy are those who have set their hearts on pilgrimage.