My Son, A Burnt Offering

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“There can be no doubt that this possessive clinging to things is one of the most harmful habits in life… we are often hindered from giving up our treasures to the Lord out of fear for their safety.” A.W. Tozer

I often write about the journey. Because that’s just what I’m on. And not just me, but each one of us is on a pilgrimage of sorts… a spiritual trek through a temporary land. But personally, my journey doesn’t always feel so spiritual. For the temporal is what lies before me, swallowing me whole as the eternal dims in my view. It’s the tangible that I touch, and smell, and hear and taste. And so, what’s right before my eyes feels the most real to me. This is what I cling to. The things I can hold.

This week, I found myself facing something yet one more time. Something I don’t like to think about at all. But sometimes, it consumes me. Every fiber of my being is filled with terror. It’s the thought of losing my child. My son. My one and only son, whom I love. The fear began the day he was born.

I’m sure most moms face this fear, but with me, I think mine’s a bit irrational. Some may even say I’m high-strung. See, after my child was born, I didn’t know what to do with myself and couldn’t relax. I found myself creeping to his crib more than once a night to hear the sound of his breathing and to feel the rise and fall of his chest. And the poor guy couldn’t sleep. Probably because I used a sleep positioner so he couldn’t budge an inch. No, I didn’t want him to move at all.

Not only that, no blankets were allowed for some time. The thought of SIDS overwhelmed me, so I used a zip on blanket. Finally, when I relented and allowed a real blanket to share his crib, it had to be wrapped around him super snug, to the armpits only, and inside the positioner. I didn’t want it to come loose. See, I tried to bind my son and keep him from movement in hopes of warding off harm.

And then there was the video monitor. That was a necessity for I wanted to lay eyes on him anywhere, anytime. It comforted me to see him. All of this reassured me. The tangible. I’d touch him and hear him and hold him. Attached is the word I’d use. I was so attached to my son. And over time, he became attached to me.

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This week, it was an article on dry-drowning that tripped me up. And my goodness, I’ve traveled so far with this issue. I thought I was over and done with it. And yet, I read about a little one dying hours after being at a water hole. This horrified me. Immediately, my thoughts jumped to this coming summer… a future lake vacation and later, summer camp. My son will visit a lake two times. And water happens to be one of my greatest fears. I swim minimally so this is something I project onto my son. I fear for him when it comes to water play. And two days ago, the reality of dry-drowning (I won’t go into details) had me in a sheer panic. So, worry utterly consumed me. The article was before my eyes and tangible. It was real. And so, as I read the words, I became filled with fear and dread. Fear of losing what’s so important to me. My son. My one and only boy child, whom I love.

Amazing how God works. See, I read that scary article about dry-drowning but it was later that morning when I read something else. The second chapter A.W. Tozer’s book, The Pursuit of God, is called The Blessedness of Possessing Nothing. And within those pages, Tozer visited the story of Abraham and Isaac. So, just hours after reading about a child dying, God led me to this very issue through the words of Tozer. And through His very own words located in Genesis 22. Which happens to be a chapter in the Bible I try to avoid. Because it scares me.

One day, God called out to Abraham with instructions. I wonder if he would have replied so readily if he knew what God was going to say. For on the heels of answering God, “Here I am,” Abraham was told to sacrifice his son. And this puts chills down my spine. For God called out, “Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.” And although it’s not mentioned in Genesis, Tozer brings to mind the struggle Abraham must have gone through. He remarked on what a wrestling match it must have been between Abraham and God. And this is what brings tears to my eyes.

Do you think Abraham argued with God? Do you think he pleaded as Jesus did in the garden before He Himself was sacrificed? Did Abraham utter, “If possible, take this cup from me. But nevertheless, Your will be done and not my own?” How he must have writhed in agony and dreaded the following morning when he was to set off on a journey. Three days it took to reach the designated spot. Did each footstep fall heavier and heavier? Finally, the time arrived. And Abraham’s words to his fellow journeyers? “Stay here with the donkey. The boy and I will go over there to worship; then we’ll come back to you.” Worship. That’s what Abraham said.

Two days ago, I contemplated Abraham’s words. He was leading his child to an altar. His child was to be the sacrifice. And this is what he called worship. Abraham worshiped God in taking wood and laying it on the very back of the boy who was to be slain. The very picture of Jesus who, on His own journey to sacrifice, had to carry His own wood. Abraham carried the fire and the knife and walked on with his son to do the unthinkable. How Abraham must have inwardly wept when Isaac looked up at his daddy with trusting eyes… “My father.” In reply, “Here I am, my son.” The boy made inquiry… “The fire and the wood are here, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” Where is the lamb? Oh, Abraham’s heartbreak for he was staring right at the little lamb. How trusting Abraham must have been as he uttered, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” And that He did years and years later in offering up His own Son. His one and only in whom He loved.

The two walked on to the place God told of, and there, Abraham built an altar and arranged the wood. He bound his son Isaac and placed him on the altar on top of the wood. Do you think Abraham looked into his son’s eyes as he did so? Were they filled with tears? Were Isaacs? How could Abraham have had the strength to reach for that knife? I don’t know that I could have. I just don’t. But Abraham did. He reached out for it in order to slay his son. And this act… this offering of his son, His one and only son Isaac, whom he loved, is what he meant when he said they were going to worship.

No, it’s no accident I read about dry-drowning and the story of Abraham and Isaac in one day. Because through two separate sources, something was brought to the forefront of my heart and mind. See, I thought I already dealt with the irrational fear. Over and done with. Finished. But Tuesday morning, I knew a remnant remained within. So, on the floor of my bathroom I cried out and prayed to the God who hears. For I saw what God wanted me to… the blessedness of possessing nothing.

Abraham’s act highlighted this lack of possession. For in offering his son, he was releasing the hold he had on Isaac. Or rather, the hold Isaac had on him. See, Isaac had become too much of his reality. Abraham saw him daily. He touched and smelled and heard and held his son. And because he had been holding to him for so long, this is what Abraham held the tightest. Isaac replaced God. And so, God said stop. Give what you hold dearest to me. And this is what God says to me.

It’s true, I cling to my child. Always have. I’m over-protective. Because I think my overbearing manner will protect him. I think that if I’m with him, I can keep him safe. My eyes and hands on him. Touching him. Directing him. But what I know to be true is that the more I try to possess my son – to own him and keep him – the more I am possessed by him. My little one owns me in that he fills my thoughts. My heart. And I cannot bear the thought of losing him. Thus, fear. Thoughts of keeping this little boy of mine safe consume me. Replacing God. For my son is who I see daily. Before my eyes. He is my one and only, whom I love.

And so Tuesday morning, God got my attention. Again. He called out to me and said, “Pam! Take your son, your only son, whom you love, and offer him to me as a burnt offering.” And so, once more I tried to. On the floor of my bathroom. I wrestled. I cried out, “Take this cup from me. But nonetheless, not my will but Yours be done.” And so afterward, I offered my son. My only son. To God. On the altar of my bathroom floor. And in releasing him to God, my son’s hold on me is loosened. My grip is not as tight. For I realize he was never truly mine to begin with. For He’s God’s possession. So, in releasing what’s tangible, what I can see and smell and hear and hold, I am freed to grab hold of something else. The intangible. The unseen. By offering my son, a burnt offering, I find I am free to take hold of God once more. Once again, there’s room in my heart for Him. This is how I worship God.

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Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1

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Navigating Stones

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“The LORD then said to Joshua, “Today I have rolled away the disgrace of Egypt from you.” Therefore, that place has been called Gilgal to this day.” Joshua 5:9

The land belonged to the Israelites. God promised it to them and they simply needed to take it. But the Jordan river was an obstacle. So the priests carried the ark of God as they set foot in raging waters. And just as the Red Sea dried up years earlier, the Jordan River did the same. A miracle took place as the entire nation crossed the Jordan. Afterward 12 men were sent back to the middle of the river to take up 12 stones from among where the priests feet rested. Joshua commanded the people to set up the stones, standing stones, as a memorial to the day. And after crossing the river, the Israelites found themselves at a place called Gilgal, which means to roll. For that’s where God rolled away the disgrace of their past. The stones were a reminder. And so, Joshua commanded the people, “In the future, when your children ask you, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ you should tell them, ‘The waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the LORD’s covenant. When it crossed the Jordan, the Jordan’s waters were cut off.’ Therefore these stones will always be a memorial for the Israelites.”

Handwritten notes in my Bible show Gilgal to be “a place of worship, rest, no battle.” Basically, Gilgal is the place I find myself after crossing a raging river that once stood before me like an impenetrable wall. It’s where I find myself once I’ve given up the struggle, allowing God to fight for me. And it’s where I stand in awe and worship because of the might God displayed on my behalf. Gilgal is where I found myself at the end of January. For that’s when I realized I am forgiven. I accepted it and believed it. And that’s when the reproach of my past rolled away. In Gilgal. It was then, after crossing the raging river of my past, that I readied myself to move forward in order to possess the land God laid out before me. But first, a standing stone. Thus, the last blog written as a memorial to God’s activity in my life. It’s there so that when my children ask me, “What does this stone mean to you….” I can tell them.

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And then, last week. A fiery dart or a fiery trial, I cannot say as I found myself facing a new stone. But unlike a standing stone, this one could cause me to stumble. See, I had just sent forth words as a memorial to God. I wanted everyone to know the works of His hand… how He dried up the raging rivers of my past as I crossed over to camp out at Gilgal. And yet, immediately after setting up that standing stone, I found sadness. For I learned a loved one pointed a finger at me for the very thing I had overcome. Unbeknownst to me, a scarlet “A” had been thrust upon my chest. But unlike Hawthorne’s red letter, which stands for adultery, my “A” represents abortion. And I wasn’t even there to defend myself when words were spoken against me. I couldn’t open my mouth in defense for I hadn’t a clue as to what had been said months earlier. And this hurts because it was a loved one who spewed out the ugliness about my past to another loved one. But it wasn’t to build me up. No, it was meant to make me less. The very thing I overcame, my past, was used against me to cast a negative light in my direction. And so, a woman I deeply care for heard something about me from another woman’s quick lips. And last week, it felt as if a rock were thrown at me. A stone was cast in my direction.

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Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman caught in adultery, making her stand in the center. “Teacher,” they said to Him, “this woman was caught in the act of committing adultery. In the law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do You say?”  They asked this to trap Him, in order that they might have evidence to accuse Him. Jesus stooped down and started writing on the ground with His finger. When they persisted in questioning Him, He stood up and said to them, “The one without sin among you should be the first to throw a stone at her.” Then He stooped down again and continued writing on the ground. When they heard this, they left one by one, starting with the older men. Only He was left, with the woman in the center. When Jesus stood up, He said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, Lord,” she answered. “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus. “Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” John 8:3-11

Today, I find myself at a fork in the road for a decision has to be made. See, in his wisdom, King Solomon said there’s a time to throw away stones and a time to gather stones. And in reading his words, I know there’s a time for everything… a time for every purpose under heaven. And today, I need to know if it’s time. Is it time to hold the stone flung my way, or time to throw it out? And I can keep it if I want to. Oh, I can carry that rock as long as I want… even till it becomes so heavy that it bogs me down and I stall. In truth, that stone can easily push me back into the pit I so recently exited. It can roll right over top of me, if I allow it, sealing the door of my tomb. A rolling stone. Or, I can choose to let that stone roll right on by. Right now. Instead of gathering thrown stones of finger pointing and condemnation, I can gather the standing stones. Like the one I recently set up at Gilgal when my reproach was rolled away. I can choose to cling tightly to standing stones rather than trouble stones. The stumbling stones. The thrown stones. That’s my choice… to gather or to throw away stones.

In order to resume my journey with God today, I have to know how to navigate stones. For they lie all around me. And today, I choose to discard the stumbling stone that so recently rolled onto my path. Rather than trip over the rock that had my past written all over it, I lift my foot high and step right over it. One quick glance backward assures me I successfully made it past the hurdle. And so, once more, I cross what seemed impenetrable. And once more, my reproach rolls away from me. I move forward another step into the land of Gilgal. For I find myself at a place of worship. And a place or rest. No battle is necessary here. And so, once more I’m ready to carry on. It’s time to possess the land the lies before me… navigating stones along the way.

Very early in the morning, on the first day of the week, they went to the tomb at sunrise.  They were saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone from the entrance to the tomb for us?”  Looking up, they observed that the stone—which was very large—had been rolled away.  Mark 16:2-5

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The Visitation

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…and they will not leave one stone on another in you, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.”              Luke 19:44

How do you know when it’s time to leave your tomb? How do you know when it’s time to leave the past behind and move forward into your destiny… to embrace a new thing that God’s calling you to? I imagine that answer is different for us all, as God speaks to each one individually. But for me, it was after I recognized the time of my visitation. This is when I knew the time for walking forward drew near.

I consider January 31, 2014 as the day that God came down to meet with me. This was the time of my visitation for He entered my bedroom and met me right where I was. And there was a finality to what He said… “It is finished.” And so, I let go of my past. Finally. I gave up the struggle and accepted reality. Because I realized with certainty that I cannot save myself, which is what I had been trying to do for so long. And I could not rehash my past one more day, expecting God’s wrath to rain down for deeds done long ago. So that day, I just stopped. Everything. I realized the futility in trying to ward off God’s anger by being a good girl. Because in truth, I can never be good enough. Furthermore, His anger was satisfied by the work of the cross, which was completed long ago. And so, on January 31, 2014, I surrendered. I embraced the fact that I am a forgiven woman. That’s the day the old faded away, and the new shimmered on the horizon. That was the day of my visitation.

 “Is not Ephraim my dear son,
    the child in whom I delight?
Though I often speak against him,
    I still remember him.
Therefore my heart yearns for him;
    I have great compassion for him,”
declares the Lord. Jeremiah 31:20

In January, I came head to head with my past. I decided the time had come for me to really deal with two abortions I had when I was younger. Once and for all. And so, I turned to the familiar pages of Jeremiah because the weeping prophet’s words always seemed to speak directly to me about what I had done. But on the 31st, I saw something new. It was the above verse that caused an abrupt intake of air. Because when I let those words fall fresh, I heard Him. He confirmed everything I had doubted, for He said I’m really His. He said His heart yearned for me. Furthermore, He told me, “I have great compassion for you.” And it was there in that one word, compassion, that I recognized my visitation.

I had two abortions when I was younger. But because I buried that time in the sand and ignored my stuff for so long, it was always there with me. This fed into my fears. Especially when I had my own child. I was so scared for him… that I’d lose him. And then, I had two miscarriages. And in my skewed opinion of God, always working to gain His approval, I wondered if those miscarriages were punishment. I even wondered… two for two. Abortion + abortion = miscarriage + miscarriage. But on January 31, 2014, God couldn’t make it any more clear that I was forgiven. The past was dead and gone. Bear with me…

Jeremiah 31:20 moved me in such a way that I felt compelled to look up compassion in the Strong’s concordance. And it didn’t surprise me to find the word is interchangeable with mercy, as shown by the first picture below. In the second picture, you get an idea of just how many times mercy/compassion is used in Scripture. But it’s that last picture that brings a smile to my face even now. There you see Jeremiah 31:20. And in over 270 entries in the Bible, this is the only time you see it twice. 7355+7355. Double mercy. Compassion squared. I will surely have mercy upon him. But God was talking to me in January. He was extending mercy to me. Mercy + mercy. And that day I really dealt with my abortion + abortion. Because He told me I am forgiven + forgiven. Over and done with for He had mercy + mercy on me. Like He said, “It is finished.” It is finished.

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January 31, 2014 was one of the biggest days of my life. For it was the time of my visitation. God came down… to me. And He spoke to me through the words of a prophet named Jeremiah. And today, I’m not surprised to learn that his name can mean Yahweh Loosens [the womb]. For so much of my past was tied to my own womb. But that day, the past lost its grip on me. And unwarranted fears regarding my own womb were loosened. I was released as I released my past. It continues to grow dimmer in my sight. The future gleams brighter. For today I know… I am forgiven.

There’s a story in the 7th chapter of Luke that’s so stirring. It’s about another woman who recognized the time of her visitation. She, too, recognized the mercy God extended to her through Jesus. But the truth is, until January, I always identified with the “bad guy” of the story more so than I did with her. But now, the table’s turned. See, there was a Pharisee who held a dinner party and Jesus was a guest. And this woman entered and wept over Jesus’ feet. She washed them with her tears and dried them with her hair. She kissed them as she anointed them with oil. The Pharisee’s thoughts? Who does she think she is, and if Jesus were really who He said He was, then He would know what kind of woman she was. The Pharisee thought Jesus should shun her. But Jesus had something to say…

Jesus replied to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he said, “say it.” “A creditor had two debtors. One owed 500 denarii, and the other 50. Since they could not pay it back, he graciously forgave them both. So, which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one he forgave more.” “You have judged correctly,” He told him. Turning to the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she, with her tears, has washed My feet and wiped them with her hair. You gave Me no kiss, but she hasn’t stopped kissing My feet since I came in. You didn’t anoint My head with olive oil, but she has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; that’s why she loved much. But the one who is forgiven little, loves little.” Then He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” Luke 7:40-48

For so long, I was a picture of this Pharisee. Because I had been working for forgiveness. And I worked hard (in my own eyes) to be righteous. And so, blinded to my own depravity, I didn’t realize my need for a Savior. Because I thought I was pretty good. And since the bar was set so high for myself, I held it just as high for others. No one ever measured up, including me. And so there I was, a hard, bitter woman who lacked forgiveness in every sense of the way. I hadn’t received it, nor did I have any to dispense. Because just like I worked for it, I expected everyone else to, as well. And so busy was I at work, that I just couldn’t see the truth. I once was blind, but now I see, but it took years for me to begin to see. And that happened only as I lay in stillness, saturating myself with His word. And is was in the tomb of my bedroom where I finally saw the truth. Because I saw Him. And He saw me. And it was then that I knew my need. I needed Jesus. And when I comprehended my need, He was right there to meet me. Just where I was. He came down to my bedroom. It was the time of my visitation.

All this writing… all these blogs… this has been part of my journey. All of this the Lord has made me understand in writing, the work of His plans, by His hand upon me. Thousands of words have helped me understand my own journey. My own transformation. And the forgiveness I’ve received. And so, my past fades as the future becomes bright. Destiny calls out, for she who is forgiven much loves much. And this is the new thing I’ve been seeking. As I leave my tomb behind, God calls me to walk forward into the next leg of the journey, which is love. And as I walk in the love and mercy He’s lavished upon me, I will love much along the way. For this is what happens with a forgiven woman. It’s what happens when she recognizes the time of her visitation.

Because of our God’s merciful compassion, the Dawn from on high will visit us to shine on those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:78-79

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What the cave looks like.

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My goal is to know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, assuming that I will somehow reach the resurrection from among the dead. Philippians 3:10-11

The heart of my journey really began four years ago. That’s when I purposed to know God.  For my determined purpose at that time was that I would know Him, that I would become more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him, and that I would perceive and recognize and understand the wonders of His person (Philippians 3:10, AMP). Beautiful and inspiring words. However, I conveniently overlooked the last portion of that verse. The part about being conformed to His death. So basically, when Philippians 3:10 became my heart prayer, I didn’t fully comprehend what it was I was asking for. I didn’t realize that in order to know Him the way I wanted to, I’d first have to know His Son. Essentially, I’d have to first taste death. While in this body. The hope being that I would be resurrected here and now. And so, to know Him as I so purposed, I would have to rise from the dead just as He did. But that would have to take place here on earth.

I didn’t know this four years ago. And because God sent me to my land of promise after the above became my prayer, I thought I had already attained a resurrected life. For I was lifted up and on top of the world as I made my triumphant entry. But, in contemplating another triumphant entry, the triumphant entry, I can easily spot the differences. For He rode into town on a donkey. Me? I straddled a high horse as I made my entrance. He came to die. Me? I came home to live. Funny that He died and rose to eternal life, whereas I held tight to my life, resulting in a slow death.

At some point in the past couple of years, I realized I had to die to self. But you know, I really died long before then for I had succumbed to death in another manner. It’s the book of James that describes such a death with the rich man withering away in pursuit of his activities. And although my activities were not necessarily bad things, I just allowed them to consume me. Like being a workaholic. Or how about begin a perfectionist? Or trying to fit too many things into a schedule? Or one of my greatest loves is sleep. I could easily sleep my life away. But the thing I have felt the guiltiest about is how I handled the first few months after settling into our home here. My son was always up before me. My little four year old had to get me out of bed. And so, guilt assailed me. And yet, I could not seem to get my priorities straight. That’s when depression set in. And as we’ve all heard, sleep is a sign of depression. So more sleep ensued.

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This is what happened in my home. I slept. And felt guilt. And sank into such a rut. And the more I walked in my rut, the deeper the grooves became. Before I knew it, walls of dirt surrounded me growing higher and higher as I dug out my pit. And before I knew it, the last pile of dirt was thrown on top. And there I was… lying in a heap of guilt. In my own home, my sanctuary, my cave, my hide-out. It was here that I died a spiritual death for my bedroom became my tomb. But this wasn’t the end of my story. In fact, it was just the beginning of new life. For God didn’t let me stay where I was.

My life began to turn around in my bedroom. Because when I couldn’t stand myself one minute more, I relented. I began to set my alarm clock so that I would wake before my son. And before he stirred, I sought comfort from Scripture. In this room, my heart began to beat again as I sought to be near God. And within these four walls I finally came to terms with God and His ways. Here I came to know Him as I so purposed four years earlier. Yes, it may be true that I died here. But more importantly, it’s here that He brought me back to life. And it’s here that He bids me to rise today.

When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” he asked. “Come and see, Lord,” they replied. Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?” Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” John 11:32-44

A miracle occurred in Bethany when Lazarus, who had been dead for days, emerged from his tomb. No different than the miracle that took place in my bedroom. For though I entered it one way, over time, I came out differently. Transformed. And in looking back I can honestly say I am not who I once was. I may have fallen asleep and into a tomb of guilt, but I rise up a new creature. But, oh, I still slip up as evidenced by Mother’s Day. As a lover of sleep, the one thing I wanted as a gift from my family was a nap. A glorious lie-down. And so, I told my son… 99 minutes! Afterward, I’d play badminton. But first, my nap. So we set the timer on the microwave (thus the 99 minutes – if I could have made it longer, I would have). And I lay there. I drifted off easily, but awoke too soon. I heard little fingers on that timer. Beep. Beep. Beep. But not the normal timer. I heard a little sing-song voice say, “The timer’s off.” But I knew it was too early. No way had 99 minutes passed. So I told him, “It’s not time!” He decided to play I-pad on the bed while I dozed. Once, twice, twenty times more, I was jostled awake by his body as it jerked along with the characters of the game.  My own body shuddered with inward sighs. Then, the roar of a lawn-mower followed by a drone of a weed eater, both outdone by the blower. Loudness. My little one checked the clock. I heard a whisper, “Five more minutes.” Then his footsteps on the basement steps rivaled by the clacking of badminton rackets. “Three more minutes…”

No, I wasn’t a happy creature Mother’s Day afternoon. It must have been apparent as my little one looked down at me, “Oh, you don’t want to get up because you’re so comfortable?” My response was to flop over onto my back with my arm outstretched. “Oh no, she’s dead,” he said in a playful voice. But in hearing this, I arose. Because I am not dead. And I couldn’t deny it any longer… for when I heard the clack of the rackets, I knew my time had come. It made no difference that I really had five more minutes. Because when you’re called forth, you’re called forth. Kind of like with the tomb. It may feel like we need a few more minutes. But when it’s time, He calls.

As sure as I heard the rattling of the rackets on Mother’s Day, I hear Him now. He calls to me, “Pam, come out!” And so, it’s time. I remove my grave clothes and walk forward.

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The mouth of the cave.

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Therefore, brothers, be patient until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth and is patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s coming is near. James 5:7-8

One story I go to again and again is Elijah’s. And every time I read about this man’s wilderness trek to Horeb, I’m overwhelmed by a tender and merciful God. About a month ago, Elijah was brought to mind once more through a Beth Moore study (James: Mercy Triumphs). Beth touched on what happened before the desert journey… when God worked through Elijah, a man with a nature just like ours, in a miraculous way. When he prayed for no rain, it didn’t do so for three years and six months. But then, when he prayed for the rain to come, the skies broke open and watered the land. Beth highlighted his faith.

Elijah said to Ahab, “Go up, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a rainstorm.” But when Elijah said this, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Yet, he promised a downpour. He went up a mountain and bowed to the ground sending his servant off to check the horizon. Nothing. Seven times he sent his servant, finally to hear the report, “There’s a cloud as small as a man’s hand coming from the sea.” And so from this teeny, tiny cloud, Elijah gave warning, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Get your chariot ready and go down so the rain doesn’t stop you.'” What faith he displayed in forecasting a rainstorm when seeing only a tuft of cloud. Sure enough, after a while, the sky grew dark with clouds and wind, and there was a downpour. 1 Kings 18:46 says, “The power of the LORD was on Elijah…”

So, what happened? How could one who encountered God in such a way shrink back in fear? Because the next chapter shows Elijah wandering through Beer-sheba (desert). One verse describes Elijah running for his life, and yet another records Elijah’s request for God to take his life. “I have had enough! LORD, take my life.” That’s when he lay down to sleep. Elijah literally had a mountaintop experience with God, but slid down to the backside of the desert. And this is what moves me every time. An angel touched him and encouraged him. “Get up and eat.” A loaf of bread and a jug of water was provided for sustenance. Afterward, he lay back down. Again, the angel touched him saying, “Get up and eat, or the journey will be too much for you.” And so, after eating and drinking the second time, he was strengthened to walk for 40 days and 40 nights through the desert. To Horeb. The mountain of God. That’s where Elijah camped out in a cave. And it was there, he encountered God.

Now, tone is everything. I don’t know how God sounded when He called out to Elijah but in my ear, I hear tenderness. I hear compassion and mercy. I hear care as He whispers, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” And when Elijah vented, raging about his circumstances and the struggle, God let him. And when he railed about how alone he felt, God listened. But then, He simply said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the LORD’s presence.”

At that moment, the Lord passed by. A great and mighty wind was tearing at the mountains and was shattering cliffs before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Suddenly, a voice came to him and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”  1 Kings 19:11-13

Twice God asked Elijah, “What are you doing here?” It touches me for God wasn’t harsh. Rather, He gently reminded His servant of unfinished business through a softly spoken question. When Elijah heard Him, he roused and stood at the mouth of the cave. But he didn’t yet step out. It was as if he had one foot in, one foot out. And before stepping out, he voiced his complaint one more time. But God simply gave instructions. He said, “Go and return by the way you came to the Wilderness of Damascas.” Apparently, Elijah had spent enough time on the mountain. He had work to do, for he had rested, refueled, and was strengthened. After he encountered the living God, it was time to journey onward.

I think about Elijah a lot. Because I’m in awe that he could slip away… that he could stumble… that he could falter… that he could fear. But as the book of James says, he was a man with a nature like ours. He was only human. And when it comes down to it, I think Elijah was just empty. I don’t think he had in him what he needed to carry on. He had depleted his storehouse of energy and faith. And so, he had a layover in his journey. A time to rest and replenish. This is how I feel sometimes.

At times, I just need to quit what I’m doing. I make frequent stops for the bread of life and living waters, which are necessary for sustaining life in a barren land. However, after filling my horn with oil, I’m supposed to get up and go. I cannot tarry at the mouth of the cave. And today, I think this is where I am. I tremble at the mouth of the cave for I fear leaving the place where I last encountered God. But that’s where the walk of faith comes in. As Beth Moore said, it’s the law of the harvest. It’s easy to rely on God when He’s right there in your midst and you marvel as He rains down on your life. It’s those other times, the dry times between the rains, where faith gets exercised. And like Elijah needed faith to step out of that cave, I need it, too.

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This is Molly, my little cave dweller. I’ve written about her before as I contrasted the difference between her and my other kitty, Otis, who is a fearless traveler. But here lately, I’ve noticed a change in Molly. For where she once peered out of the mouth of her cave, our doorway, she now wants to go beyond the entrance. At first, she was timid and had to be near me. Not only that, I had to leave the door open. If it was closed, she ran back and stood there till I opened it. She’d scurry past me as she ran out of sight. But inevitably, she’d come back to the door so she could peer out again. And we’d do the routine all over again. Eventually, I began to leave the door open so she’d have a sense of security. But you know what, it was just this past week or so that she seemed to no longer need that security. I’ve closed the door and she doesn’t fret. Not only that, she ventures out of my line of sight. She doesn’t need to see me anymore to feel safe. Confidence dispels her fear. And in this, I rejoice. Yes, Molly may be well along in years (she’s fifteen), but her life’s not over yet. And as old as she is, she is just now learning to step out in faith.

Truth is, the mouth of Molly’s cave looks just like mine. And God already called out to the cave dweller that I am… once, twice, three times, or more. I heard His tender whisper over two years ago when He said, “What are you doing here, Pam?” But I tarried. See, the mouth of the cave is comfortable, one foot in and one foot out. It’s so easy to step back into my nest of security if I need to. But I hear Him anew, “What are you doing here…” And His question prompts me to rise for I know He bids me, “Get up! Go!” He’s given me instructions more than once. But a twinge of fear lingers. For if I venture out a few short steps, the door to my cave may close. And then, there’ll be no turning back. I’ll have to walk one step after another until I reach my next Mount Horeb. But this is what He wants from me… my steps of faith. The carry me from one mountaintop to another. And if experience has taught me anything, I know that the path may become dry and thirsty along the way. But as long as I continue to seek His face, He’ll show up. He’s near to those who call on Him. And you know, He hasn’t let me down yet. I am confident that when I can’t quite see Him and I’m at my driest, God will rain down on me once more.

Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the LORD, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you. Hosea 10:12

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What happens in the desert…

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The child grew up and became spiritually strong, and he was in the wilderness (desert) until the day of his public appearance to Israel. Luke 1:80

We’ve all heard it… “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” Basically, keep it to yourself… no one has to know about it, whatever it may be. But for a woman who wanders the desert, so to speak, this doesn’t quite apply. In fact, the opposite is true. Because if what God purposes to transpire in our hearts actually takes place, then we’re meant to take that with us. We’re not supposed to keep it to ourselves. This is epitomized by something Helen Keller said, “I thank God for my handicaps, for through them I have found myself, my work, and my God.” Amazing story… at 19 months old, Keller lost her ability to see and hear but through the tireless efforts of Anne Sullivan she learned to communicate. Not only that, she went on to be an activist and a writer. Wikipedia includes the following statement made by Keller, “I was appointed on a commission to investigate the conditions of the blind. For the first time I, who had thought blindness a misfortune beyond human control, found that too much of it was traceable to wrong industrial conditions, often caused by the selfishness and greed of employers. And the social evil contributed its share. I found that poverty drove women to a life of shame that ended in blindness.” In this last portion, Keller was referring to prostitution which often led to syphilis (a leading cause of blindness). So Helen Keller, a woman who traversed the desert so to speak, overcame her obstacle. And once she emerged on the other side, she didn’t keep what she learned to herself. Instead, her affliction became her life work. Her ministry. She was a living testament of beauty for ashes.

But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and grew. Exodus 1:12

The Israelites and their forty year desert journey holds a prominent place in my heart. But it was something I recently read that shed new light on their plight. It’s what took place before they even set foot in the desert. They were under Pharaoh’s rule in Egypt and because they were growing so large in number, he decided to oppress them with harsh labor. Their ruthless slave drivers made their lives bitter. Nevertheless, the more the Israelites were afflicted, the the more they grew. Hardship didn’t decrease this people as Pharaoh so intended, but rather, affliction increased them. They multiplied. Hardship did not stop the nation of Israel from spreading out. And over time, when life became too difficult, they voiced their distress. Their cries for help ascended to God and He remembered His people. At the right time, He interceded.

In steps Moses, who had been away from Egypt for forty years. By now, it’s no surprise that God appointed a wayward wanderer for His purposes. It seems as if Moses was a desert sojourner long before God appointed him as leader of His people. For when Moses first encountered God at the burning bush, he had been on the far side of the wilderness (desert). That’s when he came to the mountain of God called Horeb. Does it astonish you to know that Horeb means desolation or desert? At one time, I think that may have struck me as odd… that the mountain of God means desolate. I would have imagined the literal meaning to be glory or majestic. But now, I’m not so surprised. Because it’s becoming clear that seasons of desolation and barrenness are necessary for all of God’s people. Often, it’s that dry season that drives us to His mountain to begin with. We know that at our individual Mount Horebs, we can cry out and He’ll observe our misery and oppression and suffering, just as He did with the Israelites so long ago. We have confidence that He’ll rescue us in the same way. And when He does, we’ll have our own stories. Like Helen Keller, and Moses, we’ll be living testaments of beauty for ashes. Our affliction (even if it be a small one) will become our own life work. A ministry. But first, we have to traverse the desert to get there. On the backside of our deserts is where we find our God.

“You have stayed at this mountain long enough. Resume your journey and go to the hill country…” Deuteronomy 1:6

I just love that. You have stayed long enough… unfortunately, these words were spoken to God’s people before their forty year trek. He had rescued them from Egypt and performed miracles before their eyes. He was right there with them, the LORD God in their midst. And yet, when He said it was time to move on, they were reluctant. Their faith wavered when they saw the inhabitants of the land of promise. And so, fear kept them out. God’s promise delayed because of His peoples’ disbelief. But see, they should have been strong enough. They should have grown by this point. Spiritually, that is. Why the distrust when He proved Himself strong on their behalf over and over and over…

In steps me. I came home to live three and a half years ago and let me tell you, I thought I had arrived. For at that time, I had already served my time of slavery in Egypt and traversed desert lands (or so I thought). I found God (or so I thought). And when my foot made contact with home soil, with all my heart I believed I was emerging on the other side of barrenness into my land of promise. It was there for the taking… I simply had to reach out and grab it. I can’t tell you the shock it was when I realized this is not my land of promise, after all. How dismayed I was when I figured it out… the desert journey had just begun.

Now, I just have to laugh over my naivety. Because in looking back, it’s all so clear. I was Born and raised in this small town, but left at a young age. And when I returned, I thought I was a new creation. But I wasn’t, really. I was so much the same girl who left at 19. And so, what’s crystal clear today is that God brought me home to bring me back from the dead. For here He fills my lifeless form with spiritual breath. He covers me as a newborn babe and nurtures me as I feed on His word. And so, I begin to thrive under His care for He raises me up as His own. And the utter miracle (to me) is that I am being born and raised all over again. In my hometown. I’m growing up all over again where I did it the first time. The only difference is this one’s spiritual. Here I am, a 41 year old woman raising my own child while God raises me, His child. So often, I am in the very place my son is. God teaching me through the little one I’m teaching. Isn’t that amazing?

Here I grow spiritually strong. For in my hometown, I’ve traversed the back side of the desert. But you know what? I’ve also trekked up Mount Horeb. It’s a fact that I have encountered the living God. So now, only questions remain. Have I stayed on this mountain long enough? Have I allowed my affliction to transform me? Has what God purposed to transpire in my heart taken place? Am I ready to take what I’ve learned and use it for His good? Can I be a living testament… one of beauty for ashes. Like Helen Keller? And Moses? And the answer to all these questions… yes. I think, perhaps, it’s a yes. It’s time to resume my journey and go. Which leads to perhaps most important question. How strong is my faith? Do I trust my God enough to walk out of this desert? Because if I don’t, I won’t go any further. For the first step into the land of promise takes faith… just one step.

The miner strikes the flint and transforms the mountains at their foundations. He cuts out channels from rocks, and his eyes spot every treasure. He dams up the streams from flowing so that he may bring to light what is hidden. Job 28:9:11 

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The other side of motherhood.

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This picture makes me smile. Because she’s just like me. I don’t know how many of you are familiar with Seinfeld and the crazy characters the show portrayed over the years, but this girl sticks with me. I refer to her as the “frankfurter girl.” Because that was her ultimate breakdown. She would cry at the drop of a hat. Literally. And when she dropped her hot dog, tears ensued. She cried over just about everything. Another episode that hasn’t left me is the one where Jerry, the comedian, tried to be utterly serious and dark at his friend’s request. And it’s these two, the frankfurter girl and serious Jerry, of which I cannot help but see a resemblance to me. Way too serious and too much waterworks. Not enough joy and laughter. And I so miss my laughter. It used to burst forth from the depths of my belly. My mom even had to tell me to stop once. She thought I was choking. Often, I’d laugh so hard tears sprung from my eyes. But now, it’s another kind. Frankfurter girl tears. Evidently, I’m not as dry as I thought. But rather than springs of living water flowing from within, it’s wellsprings of tears that spew forth.

But you know, I already know why the tears. And I’ve known for quite some time now. Basically, I cry because dying is hard. That’s what I’ve been trying to do. Die to self. But it hurts. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do. And despite progress here and there, pieces of me still hold to what I consider my own. And as I read in the book of Luke, I find this is a killer. For whoever tries to keep their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life will preserve it. Holding too tightly to my wants, my agenda, is killing me. I’m snuffing the life right out of me and quenching the Spirit. And the fight has been lengthy. In truth, the battle began in earnest over seven years ago. Coincidentally, that’s when I had my son.

I love my child, it’s true. I ache over his own struggles. I long for him. And I’d do anything for him. At least I think I would. But in consideration of doing anything for him, I have to honestly say that I don’t think I have. Not completely. Because the truth is that at the birth of my child, someone else was birthed too. For an incredibly self-seeking woman drew breath the moment my precious, baby boy first drew his own. That’s when selfishness rudely inserted itself into my heart and soul. Which is so surprising. I always thought I was generous at heart, but the truth began to emerge in 2006. That’s when the very real battle of self began. It was then, when I had my son.

Before my child, I had no cares in the world, really. It was just me and my husband, and we did whatever we wanted. But then, there was a baby. And my son needed me unlike anyone had ever ever needed me before. And I just have to say, this was a bit overwhelming to me. For I’m not a natural. I didn’t slide gracefully into motherhood. I was terrified and couldn’t sleep for fear that he would stop breathing. And I was never sure of what he really needed. Never. I believe I spent that first year guessing. And juggling because I began to work from home. God blessed me with both a baby and a new home-based job within months but these gifts also became my biggest trials. It was hard to balance a new baby with work because it was always there in front of me. And being the type-A person that I am, I had my own ideas about how and when I should work. But nothing ever went according to plan. Every day was different as the cries of my hungry infant rivaled the blip of incoming work emails. And this is where darkness began to fall.

Those first years were hard and now I have so much regret. Because my little boy learned way to early what it means to be happy and sad. This was evidenced by a visit to my hometown when he was about two or so. I felt happy, so I called him to me for a kiss. Afterwards, he waddled over to his me-maw and pulled out his pacifier to say, “Mama’s happy.” Even at that tender age, he could tell when I was up. I can’t tell you how many times I wish I could go back there to get my priorities straight. How often I’ve wished I could undo things I’ve done. Or not done. Because now I see it clearly. Despite love for my baby, there was also the love for myself. And so, I began to cling. I began to construct, but walls consisted of agenda and structure and rigidity and organization. These flimsy walls never lasted. And because my wants seemed to fall by the wayside, I became stingy with my time. I began the game of comparison… my list of to-do’s seemed more lengthy than my dear husbands (at least through the inward glasses I wore). And resentment deposited its seed. Bitterness flourished while I diminished. As I said, I have regret. So much I wish I could un-do. Or re-do.

So many moments that started off like this…

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Turned to moments like this…

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And sadly, there’s no turning back time. But I do have today. Not surprisingly, I find myself in pretty much the same place. Almost eight years later, I’m still fighting the same fight… building flimsy walls made of agenda and structure and rigidity and organization. The only difference is the ping of an incoming work email is rivaled by the wail of a seven year old. But you know, there is knowledge. You do learn as you go. For I know that I’m the very one who boxes myself in. Today, I see that the self-imposed rules and timelines I’ve surrounded myself with will not hold me up. This semblance of a schedule I try to maintain actually contributes to my downfall. For the foundation and structure I’ve so carefully laid out is in fact unsteady. And clinging to these unsound walls paves the way to instability.

Today I have realization. I have clarity. And often, revelation comes through the face of the little boy who stares back at me. In him, I see me. Oh, he loves to laugh. He loves to be silly and his laughter wells up from deep within. Wellsprings of mirth. But also, there’s another side to him. There are frowns and creased brow. There are sighs. And my fear is that I’m turning him into a mini-me. Because I box him in. I impose my agenda and rigidity and organization upon him. And rightfully so, as I’m his mother. But see, I’m a type-A personality. And as I tend to do, I go over-board. This past Sunday the perfect example…

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit. John 3:8

It was picture day. Little league baseball boys all in a row having their picture snapped. But, oh, the wind. It was so gusty. They laughed and giggled as the wind made their eyes tear. They grabbed to their hats to keep them from blowing away. They were delighted. And sure enough, the wind blew hats half way across the field. I could hear my son’s laughter floating on the air as he sank down to his knees, grabbing the rolling hat. I went after him. I didn’t enter his euphoria, though. Instead, I focused on his grass stained pants. See, rather than embrace the moment and cling to the joy that was set before me, I saw only what had to be done. I saw how another load of wash would affect my carefully laid out plans. And so, I utterly missed the moment. What could have been a blessed memory becomes a dark spot in my past. Yet one more regret… one more time I wish I could have a do-over. Why, oh why, didn’t I just laugh with him?

You know, structure is a good thing. But if it controls you, it can have the opposite effect. If rigidity boxes you in, then it’s time to tear down the walls. And if life is snuffed out and the Spirit is quenched because things just don’t go your way, then priorities need to be evaluated. At least this is true for me. I know I am not meant to be boxed in. God wants me to be fluid, malleable, and yielding. It’s almost as if what God said to King David, He says to me:

Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’ 2 Samuel 7:5-7

God moves. His Spirit moves. And I’m supposed to be the same. He did not order me to construct my rigid walls. He did not tell me to box myself in by unattainable goals. And He did not say to chain myself to self-imposed rules and regulations. Because He knows that will be the death of me. The wrong kind of death… Spirit quenched. And because I hold to the wants and desires that drive my laid out plans, I am still holding to my life. I’m still battling myself. This is me putting myself first. Not my son. And if I say I would do anything for him, wouldn’t I do this one thing? Why can’t I just surrender? God help me.

Yes, it’s true. Dying is hard. It’s been a seven year battle. And there have been tears and failure… skirmishes lost. But the battle is not yet over. I still have today. Despite more regrets than I can count, it’s not too late. But rather than dwell on days gone by, I can live in the moment and look to the future. Because as my son wisely put it, “There’s no reset button.” And he’s so right. I may not be able to un-do or re-do what’s done, but I can surely redeem the time that’s left. For life remains within my son. The Spirit bubbles up alongside giggles of delight. Oh, he may frown from time to time, but he hasn’t lost his smile, or his laugh, yet. And the good news is, through him, I think I’ll find my own. I shall laugh again. A spring of living water flowing from within…

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