Tuesday, July 17, 2012

And The Rains Came


This morning I am sitting in the quiet of my sanctuary and I hear the rain coming down outside. Slow and steady. Hard enough to saturate the cracked ground, steady and consistent enough to penetrate the hard soil. The rain barrel will be full.

My youngest daughter started praying for rain weeks ago. Bold and mouthy she asked God specifically for rain—imitating Honi* she sat down on our front sidewalk and decided she would wait there until the sky spilled rain.

And the rains came. Sparse and scant. But it was enough to slick her hair to her head and dampen her clothes to her skin. She sat there for a long time and we laughed with her and she waited. She danced in the rain on the sidewalk (same one I danced on years ago) and I joined her. We frolicked and held onto each other. Laughing and forgetting to be self-conscience. Later in the evening she decided to get out of her comfort zone and she danced in the middle of our road. I could see her head over the tops of the cars from my place on the front porch steps.

She had prayed for rain. Asked God to send it.

The whole summer has been an endless succession of baking temperatures. Off the charts heat. Two weeks or more of temperatures in the triple digits.

Our front porch was often vacant because of the smothering heat. Even the early mornings proved to be too warm to enjoy a leisurely breakfast. We stayed inside. Shades closed. Lights off. Anything to reduce the temperature and help the air conditioners as they labored.

But she asked for rain and since that night we have had many rainstorms.

You have to learn to ask for rain.

I hadn’t fully recognized how hot and dry my life had been in the past year.

Circumstances melded together and created some long stretches of intense heat. It was a season of survival. A time of one new element added to the story after another. Major life changes—in rapid succession. A year of a sometimes grueling and demanding schedule.

I didn’t realize I was longing for rain.

Until my daughter sat on the sidewalk and asked God to send it.

Until she risked looking like a fool in the asking and the anticipation of expecting Him to send it.

And I wondered: was my faith still in a place where I was willing to look like a fool? Was I in a place where I could and would ask God for something and expect an answer? Where had I misplaced my child-like faith in my Father to do things beyond the ordinary? Against the grain? Outside the confines of the box I have gradually put Him in since I became an adult? Am I willing to look like a fool? Am I willing to take a risk—is it a risk if it really is a sure thing? Is depending on the character of God a risk? If you don’t know him or only know of him you might answer yes.

I looked at her sitting on the sidewalk. And then I watched her dance in the road. She prayed and expected God to answer. Not out of arrogance. Not out of entitlement. Not out of ignorance. But she asked out of a place of trust. Trust in who she knew the Father to be. The only risk for her was being willing to look like a fool. She took that risk.

And the rains came.





*Honi's story comes from The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson.























Friday, July 6, 2012

Hope Floats

One of my favorite movies is Hope Floats with Sandra Bullock and Harry Connick Jr. I have watched it way too many times, but I really watch it only for a few reasons: the relationship between Bernice and Birdee, the just breathe scenes on the boat and dance floor with Bullock and Connick and the one line that you almost miss—hope floats.

Birdee Pruitt: Childhood is what you spend the rest of your life trying to overcome. That's what momma always says. She says that beginnings are scary, endings are usually sad, but it's the middle that counts the most. Try to remember that when you find yourself at a new beginning. Just give hope a chance to float up. And it will...           Hope Floats, 1998. Twentieth Century Fox

I never understood that line. For a long time I couldn’t wrap my arms around that concept. Hope was still under the surface in my life. I just didn’t get it; I didn’t know what hope looked like. I watched the movie just to hear Birdee say that phrase.

But God is always far ahead of us. His orchestration is already ripples and ripples beyond what we can ask or imagine. At that time I didn’t see hope floating among all the debris and rubbish. During the year of my forty-first birthday I began to see hope bobbing on the water. Briefly at first. Only glimpses in my peripheral vision. Then the debris began to move and sink and I began to hope.

Hope does not disappoint us—hope floats. When all else falls in the water and the weight sucks it to the bottom, it is hope that floats. Hope, any at all, will rise to the surface and float. It will hover on the top of the water. Because real hope (not hope-wishing) is backed by God.

Hope reminds me that the Father is going to keep remaking and cleansing me until I rise to the top. Even when I keep getting it wrong, when I keep missing the mark, when I really realize I am a mess, when the wrong words leave my mouth, when my attitude is warped, when I fail to listen, when I am reluctant to obey, when I am afraid to speak, when I hesitant to intervene God still pours his love into my heart. That is hope. 

He loves me still. Amazing.

When I study Scripture I tend to pull out phrases and words. I dig and mine them attempting to excavate gems or hit a seam of coal. And Romans 5:5 was being made manifest in my life before I even noticed. Now I cling tightly to the seam of its precious truth.

And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us. Romans 5:5

God—Notice who is doing the pouring here. God. Not my children, not my husband, not my friends, not my co-workers or my church body. God pours. My God. And he is dependable and faithful.

Poured out—Notice the deep sense of lavishness here, no holding back, no conservation. God isn’t stingy with his love. It isn’t measured out in rational portions. He does not mete or dole out his love with caution because it might run low or be depleted. God doesn’t hesitate; he just pours.

His love—Notice what he pours. Love. Not punishment. Not condemnation. Not wrath. But I fear we have diluted this word love until it is nothing more than a romanticized fairy tale. This is not completely accurate because even in the fairy tales there is the presence of enduring, pure and strong love. Sacrificial love. The undercurrent of our culture’s definition of love is that it allows you to be true to yourself (whatever that is supposed to mean), that it doesn’t have to say it is sorry, that it doesn’t have to go out of its own way, that it doesn’t have to be accountable, that it only has to give until it gets uncomfortable. Listen, this is not God’s love.

Into our hearts—Notice where he is pouring this strong, real love. He pours it out on us, his children. God pours his love into these frail, dirty containers. He pours his love into these hard, stone-like vessels. He pours with a generous hand on the Body of Christ—his people. The ones called by his name and by his purpose. Our hearts become the receptacles for his lavish love. This should compel us to go and do likewise.

By the Holy Spirit—Notice how he does this. Through the Holy Spirit that he gives us. He sends this Spirit to show us truth, to counsel us, to remind us of what the Father has said and to walk beside us. The Spirit doesn’t just visit us; no, he comes to abide in us.

Now, when the debris and rubbish begin to fill my small creek the Spirit reminds me of what God has done in the past. He reminds me that I will see God’s hand move on my behalf. I may not see it immediately or clearly at first, but I will see. And in my peripheral vision a light will begin to bob on the surface of the water.

And I will be reminded that hope floats because of God’s remarkable, indefatigable, limitless love.











Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Pregnant Hope


Every day last week the temperatures edged into the triple digits. Intense heat. Moving outside felt like stepping into a stone bread oven—the heat waves danced, undulating like a mirage in the desert. Oppressive and heavy. This heat is a robber. It steals energy, it seems, from the very marrow of the bones.

We had just finished dinner and decided to move out to the porch. The heat was dissipating because rain was falling somewhere. The scent was moving in the air, and the breeze was fluttering over the tops of the tomatoes and across the expanse of the porch. And the heat began to move away, carried by the breeze and it left fresh, crisp air behind.

Three of my four daughters were here. One of the highlights of my days is when I manage to get all four of them in the same place at the same time. They are all grown now and so this doesn’t happen as often. Two of them are round with child—incubating two precious little boys who will change our lives completely, utterly.

And that is how the night felt. The waiting for the rain mirrored the waiting in pregnancy. This waiting is a beautiful and tiring anticipation of something good and wanted and needed. Something longed for.

Lighting flashed and sparked against the sky. Thunder grumbled and quarreled in the air. And a few drops began to fall. My third daughter was standing on the front porch steps, one level down, watching the display. I moved in behind her and put my arms around hers, and laid my chin on the top of her head. It had been a long, long time since she had fit in that place. Under my chin. In my arms.

For a brief time I stood behind her and rubbed her arms and kissed the top of her head as I used to do when she was a little girl. Contentment swelled in me and opened up the very cells of my being. I didn’t even want to twitch for fear she would move away and the moment would be gone. I hoped it would lengthen and spread like the wet places on the sidewalk.

Later I sat down on the front porch step and my husband came and sat in front of me—this giant of a man leaned back against me and we braced each other. (We do that—brace each other when we need fortification, carry each other when the other is weak or tired, hold each other when we are fearful or agitated and love each other even when we seem or feel unlovable.) We perched on the edge of those steps for a long time watching the stormy night sky. Both of us were listening, waiting, anticipating.

Hoping.

Doesn’t our culture’s definition of hope seem like a funny thing? Often it is flighty and frivolous—like wishes on tilted birthday candles or fluttering dandelion seeds. Hope seems unsubstantial—like elusive shadows or invisible longings. Ethereal and airy. Not the stuff of this earth.

We were hoping for rain. We watched the sky and listened to the storm, but there was little promise in it. But we hope-wished anyway.

I hope-wish for a lot of things. But this kind of hope is not enough.

I want the kind of hope my daughters have right now. Their hope is not seen; their sons are tucked away and are being knit together within them. My daughters are hoping that their sons are developing, growing and lengthening. There’s evidence for this hope. These tiny little boys kick and turn and shift much to their mothers’ discomfort. But my daughters can’t see them, but they hold within them a very real hope that these little boys will arrive. They do not have their sons yet, but they are waiting for them and anticipating them. It is not a wish. It is hope.

Pregnant hope. Swelling, growing, expanding , enlarging.

Someday I know that the rain we need will come. Eventually the conditions will be favorable and the wind currents and heavy clouds will bring the much anticipated rain.

Someday in the future my daughters will recognize birth pains. And they will begin to count the minutes between them. The time span will decrease and the pains will increase. They will need to hope no longer. It will be upon them. Their hope will be in their arms.

Someday the answers I pray for will come. The conditions will eventually be favorable. Right now I can’t see the answers. I can’t find the solutions. I can’t drum up the resolutions. And I start to get discouraged. I begin to be weighed down and burdened. Right now my wisdom seems folly, my strength seems puny, my intentions weak, my abilities inadequate.

But I have hope.

I am waiting for my God to answer. And this waiting is a beautiful and tiring anticipation of something good and wanted and needed. Something longed for.

A pregnant hope.







Romans 8:24 NIV
…but hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Waiting for the Rain

There’s been no rain here in weeks. Our yard is brown and straw-yellow and the blades of grass crunch under your shoes and stab your bare feet. The tomatoes and azaleas are vivid green only because I water them daily.

I started with the rain barrel. Every morning I dipped the bucket in and tipped it and let the water pour in and fill. I pulled up water that had sat for days and days. It was dark and murky. Stale. Stagnant. Full of stink.

Jeremiah’s cisterns.

But it was water. It was wet. So, every day I pushed the bucket down and watched it fill. Then I leaned to one side and carried the bucket and poured the earthy-smelling liquid on my pampered tomatoes. The rain barrel’s level has been depleted bucketful by bucketful. My arm is no longer long enough to reach down and retrieve it.

This week I have gone out every morning before the heat of the day and resorted to using the water hose. I turn the nozzle to shower, attempting to imitate real rain, and water my gems. Standing in my bare feet I spray until the ground is saturated. Until it is dark and moist. The stalks straighten and the leaves revive. I come back the next morning and the ground is pale and dry and the plants are deflated. I spray again.

The plants have survived because of the rain barrel. They have continued to grow and put forth fruit because of the water from the hose. But it is rain from the heavens, coming down from above, that will make them explode in vibrancy of color and heaviness of foliage and fruit.

They are waiting for rain. A release and refreshment from the heat. They need a clean, clear drink of water that permeates and saturates the hard crust of ground that surrounds them.

Isn’t that where we find ourselves sometimes? In the middle of a season of intense heat? Planted in hard, dry ground? We are in the midst of change, pain, worry, frustration, fear, fatigue and confusion.  We are right in the middle of it all and we know that going backward will be just same as going forward, so we trudge onward.

But we are thirsty. So thirsty. Depleted. Dehydrated.

We know the water from the rain barrel is water. It is wet.

But we long for a drink. Just a cold, cold drink of water.

This week there is someone in your life who needs a cold drink of water. This is not a maybe. Not a perhaps. No, there is someone. And they need someone, us, to come to them and offer a cold metal dipperful or a cool pottery cup of fresh clean water.

They may even need us to hold it to their mouths for them.

They have been drawing from the cistern. They have been dipping their buckets, but perhaps, their arm is too short to reach the dregs of water in the bottom. And dregs are gritty in your mouth. Really, they leave you thirstier than before.

These precious people need a kind word, a warm hug, a gentle nudge, a simple prayer, a squeezed hand, a quick wink, a chosen verse or a short note.

They need a drink of water. They don’t need more cistern water. They need a drink from the spring of living water.

It’s hot out there.

They're waiting for the rain.


Go give a cold cup of water in His name.

Go.


Jeremiah 2:13
Mark 9:41