Mountains and Valleys

I have a beautiful memory of a trip to Colorado.  The snow was falling as I landed in Denver and it continued to fall as my hosts drove me up the mountain to the retreat facilities.  When the late night session was over, I stepped out of the worship center to go to my cabin.  What I saw stopped me in my tracks and took my breath away.  As I had been speaking the snow had stopped and the sky had cleared so that now a full moon shown down on the new-fallen snow.  I’m not enough of a poet to try to put into words the exquisite beauty of the scene before me.  The presence of God was palpable and I couldn’t stop praising Him for letting me experience this small glimpse of His overwhelming beauty.  That night I had a mountain-top experience in every way.

After that night I fully understood why Peter, James, and John wanted to stay on the mountain after they witnessed Jesus’ transfiguration.  Being on the mountain top is a truly glorious way to encounter God.  But I also have experienced the beauty and grace found in the valleys.  Most of us would rather not have to face those “valley” times where our hearts are broken and we feel overwhelmed by hardship, struggles, and trials.  But our wise, loving God knows that we need those valley times to help teach us to appreciate and celebrate the mountain tops.  He also knows that the richest, greenest, most nourishing grass grows in the valley and not on the barren rocky mountain tops.  The same is true of life.  Some of the best opportunities to experience the all-sufficient grace of God are in the valley.  It is there that we get to know the intimacy of having no one left but Him – only to find out He is always enough.  In the valley we have opportunity to discover the peace that passes all understanding in the midst of turmoil.  In the valley our trust is developed and our faith honed so that when we come out on the other side, the image of Christ within us is clearer to see.

Most of us acknowledge that going through the valley is inevitable in life, but what we need to learn is to not give in to our natural desire to run through the valley as fast as we can.  We need to learn to put our hand in God’s hand and let Him lead us beside still waters and into green pastures.  We need to trust His timing.  Instead of running, we need to walk slowly or even sit for a while and let God nourish our souls with His grace as we rest in His presence.  We can be assured that He will never leave us, but will bring us through the valley and then lovingly lead us up to the next mountain-top.

Rev. Charles Stanley used this example in one of his sermons:  He said that sometimes in life we find ourselves on a mountain-top spiritually and we are comfortable there obediently serving God.  However, there is another mountain that is bigger and higher than the one we are on – one where we can experience more of the fullness of God and He wants to take us there.  The catch is that to get to the higher mountain, we need to go through the valley.  So instead of running from or through our “valley” experiences, let’s embrace the opportunity, receive the grace, learn from God, depend on His presence, and then move on to that higher mountain-top.

Remember these two familiar and precious promises: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  Hebrews 13:5b

Have a blessed week whether you are on a mountain top or in the valley.

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Waiting

It was December 14, 1973 and I was waiting.  After three miscarriages, I was very pregnant with the child that would be our only son.  The term “great with child” was an understatement with me.  Being only 5 feet 2 inches tall, there wasn’t much expansion room for that sweet child to occupy so I was about as wide as I was I was high.  Even so, I felt profoundly beautiful.  An absolute miracle was taking place in my body and I rejoiced in it.  I felt so close to Mary, Jesus’ mother at this time.  But in spite of all those positive feelings, I was ready to have this child come out to greet the world!  I was waiting with eager expectation.

 

My friends at church told me that most babies were born on the full moon.  That year December 13-14 were dates for the full moon so I went to bed the evening of the 13th just knowing I was going to be a mom the next day.  The 14th dawned bright, sunny and warm (we were living in San Diego) and I waited all day for my first-born child to come.  He chose not to do so.  So I waited the next day and the next and the next.  I waited for two more full weeks before Jeff DeHeer decided to make his appearance.  Right from the beginning, he asserted his will and did things his way.

 

Let’s face it, waiting is hard.  Since our culture specializes in instant gratification, many of us are not very good at it.  But so much of life is waiting.  We wait to grow up, to go to college, to get married, to get a job, to start a family and the list goes on and on.  Waiting is especially hard if the future is unsure or if you are seeking God’s will for your life and He seems silent.  We’d almost rather have a “no” answer than a “wait.”

 

But I would like to suggest that waiting doesn’t have to be so torturous or difficult.  My dear friend reminded me of all of the people in scripture who had to wait for God to reveal His plan – Noah, Moses, Ruth, Ezekiel, Paul, and even Jesus Himself to name a few.  I call these periods of waiting “desert times.”  These can be times of great blessing because usually when we go away to that desert of waiting, the only companion we have is God.  It is in the desert we discover that He is enough.    If we choose to, we can also discover that these desert experiences are excellent opportunities for God to further work out His story in our life.  We might think, “This is as good as it gets” or, “there just couldn’t be more garbage to deal with,” only to discover God wasn’t finished developing His character in us yet.

 

We needed to wait in the desert for His grace to work in and through us.  When I first started speaking I loved it so much I immediately wanted to be fully employed speaking all over the world and very famous.  Of course, I was not ready for that spiritually or emotionally nor was God done writing my story.  Since that time, His grace has been revealed in so many more ways and with such power that the story I have today is more God-glorifying and effective.

 

I would like to suggest that we all work at embracing opportunities to wait on the Lord, to receive these desert journeys as occasions to spiritual growth and discipline.   When we choose to wait for God’s perfect timing in our lives, we express our loving submission to His will.  We offer Him something He cherishes, our obedience.  When we spend time waiting for God, our faith has an opportunity to mature, our trust is strengthened, hope is realized, peace fills our souls, and we discover true joy.

 

So I invite you to come to the desert of waiting with me whenever God lays it before you.  Let’s not fight against it, complain about it, or run from it.  Let’s celebrate being in the presence of the One who loves us more than we can comprehend.  During the last week of my husband’s life, we read Lamentations 3:21-26 (I encourage you to look it up and underline it) as we waited for the end to come.  In this desert place, we found the hope, love, compassion, faithfulness, and peace God promised.  Dear one, may your times of waiting become times of blessing as well.

 

Arms Wide Open

I have a custom or practice of doing what I call the “happy snow dance.”  The way it works is at the first snow of the year or in the case of a really good snow fall (and by that I mean lots and lots of snow), I toss my head back with my face up to the sky, throw my arms out wide and dance around in pure joy for the gift of snow.  When my granddaughters were really small I used to take them outside to teach them this delightful ritual, but since they no longer live here, are mature enough to be embarrassed by this behavior, and since it looks ever so slightly strange to see a 64-year old grandmother prancing around the yard with such a display, I now do my happy snow dance inside where only my two cats think I’ve lost it.

Earlier this season when the first snow fell, and I Facebooked my friends suggesting we all do the happy snow dance together, I received a wide variety of responses.  Needless to say there are many who think I am certifiably crazy, but a few souls (ever so slightly demented like myself) took me up on my invitation to celebrate with wild abandon.

My inspiration for the happy snow dance came from Snoopy, the Peanuts cartoon character.  Hopefully, you can recall images of Snoopy dancing.  What I saw in that silly dog’s dance was the ability to abandon one’s self to the pure joy of being alive and celebrating the moment for all it’s worth.  Children seem to be able to do that quite well, but we adults lose it somewhere along the way.  We get so busy doing, becoming and achieving that we forget how to live in and enjoy the moment.  We lose the ability to toss our head back and open our arms wide to receive all the gifts of grace God wants to lavish on us.

This last year was a difficult year in many ways – particularly as I witnessed my beloved husband getting sicker and sicker and then dying.  But the amazing thing is that every step of the way we both determined to open our arms wide to receive all the good and perfect gifts God wanted to give us along the way.  And there were way too many to mention here.  As I adjust to being a widow, I am choosing to live life with arms wide open so that the grace of God can continue to flow.  I have been comforted, strengthened, upheld, and filled with peace, hope, and joy.  And I am choosing to celebrate each day for the gift it is.

I don’t know what you have experienced in this past year and none of us know what the future holds, but I would like to suggest that all of us toss our heads back as we gaze up to the One who loves us so much, open our arms wide to receive His lavish love, and then dance like crazy (even if you are Dutch) in celebration of this wonderful gift of life He has given us.

I would like to invite you to respond by sharing with all of us how you have experienced God’s gifts of grace so that we can celebrate Him together.  Let’s live with arms wide open and celebrate life with wild abandon!

Tale of Two Cats

I have two cats.  That fact alone is enough to make some of you cringe and some of you go, “Aaahh.”  But the fact of the matter is I do have two cats.  I am not quite the “crazy cat lady,” but I am about one step away from becoming one.  I talk to them as if they are my babies.  I spend much of my time letting the cats out, letting the cats in, letting the cats out, letting…well, you get the picture.  Another good size chunk of my time is being sure their little cat bellies are full and happy.  Every morning I either get a kitty ballet or a kitty opera.  It all depends on how long they have had to wait for breakfast.  If I don’t wait too long, they do a graceful little dance around my feet designed to trip me up, but if I wait for what they consider to be too long a time to feed them I get a full blown cat opera with arias and all.  Despite all this I love those two critters and they bring me much joy and comfort.

They also have taught me something about myself and my relationship to God.  The male cat, Buster, is white with tortoise markings, has a short stubby tail, and a personality that doesn’t quit.  He is most definitely “alpha cat” and even thinks he is one rung above me. He is almost like a dog in his need for attention and belly rubs.  The neighbors all love him and have even sent me notes thanking me for “hosting the neighborhood cat.”  Neighborhood kids knock on the door and ask if Buster can come out and play.  He is a piece of work.

The female cat is Isabelle or Izzy.  She is mostly black with orange and white flecks in her fur, a delightful little orange chin, and long graceful black velvety legs.  She is very frightened of strangers and feels that if she doesn’t know you, you must be the spawn of Satan.  She, however, is very loving and gentle with me.

When I was laying on my back for months on end a few years ago after my back surgery, these two animals kept me company, entertained me, and taught me.  I noticed that Buster would jump up on the bed and then onto my chest, stick his face in my face, and demand that I rub, scratch, or pet him.  It was as if he was saying, “Here I am.  I love you.  I want to be with you, but even more I want you to use those God-given hands and take care of my needs.  You have opposable thumbs, use them!”  He made it very clear that if I was going to enjoy his presence, I needed to give him what he wanted or he wasn’t going to purr.

Isabelle on the other hand, would jump up on the bed and gently lay by my side and start to purr.  She demanded nothing from me.  It was as if she was saying, “Here I am.  I love you and I just want to be with you.  You don’t have to do anything, but if you want to, I’m close enough that you can be comforted by stroking my soft fur.”  She just wanted to be with me.

As I lay there thinking about these two, I realize that we are so much like Buster when we come to God in prayer.  Yes, we want to be in His presence because we love Him, but usually come with a long list of things He can do for us.  After all, He is all powerful, almighty God, Creator of the universe.  Surely, He can meet our needs.  I’m not suggesting we stop going to God with our requests.  No, not at all!  He loves it when we come to Him and He delights in answering our prayer requests.  I just wonder if we need to be a little bit more like Isabelle and sometimes come into His presence just to BE with Him.  No requests, no demands, just loving Him and being loved by Him.

One of the prayer practices that I adopted a long time ago is what I call my “cuddle time” with God.  Every morning before I get out of bed, I spend time just being with Him – recalling scripture passages that speak His words of love into my heart and life and telling Him how much a love Him.  May I suggest that as we begin this new year, we make an effort to be a little more like Isabelle and simply enjoy loving and being loved by our Abba.  Let’s determine to embrace Psalm 46:10 and “Be still and know that I am God.”