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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A Tale of Two Kitties

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I may or may not have two cats. One is safe in the house, but the other is nowhere to be seen. It was yesterday at 5:00 that he lay stretched out across my deck in the sunshine. He slowly washed his paws and looked as if he were going to take a nap. And, we left our home expecting to see him when we returned. But last night, there was no flash in the dark… no reflected light off his white tufts of fur. He did not bound up the back yard toward us, which was his usual routine. And so, this morning, my heart is heavy – wondering if I will see him again.

I can’t help but contrast my two kitties, Otis and Molly. For they are different in every way. Otis is young, and Molly is old. Otis is skinny and Molly is fat. He is full of life and energetic, and she is heavy and content to sleep. He delights us every day with his antics, while she is usually nowhere to be seen. He stays outside, and she stays inside. He is a lover of adventure, and she is a lover of the dark. He is highly visible, jumping and leaping and hunting and climbing. She stays covered and hidden and scurries and flees. He is fearless and she is fearful. Basically, Otis uses what he has, and Molly does not. And as of this morning, she is here… and he is not.

Yesterday morning, my pastor preached a sermon using the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25). And believe it or not, it’s my two kitties that bring this parable to light for me. See, although the passage stresses using money wisely to further the kingdom of God, it goes deeper than that. It doesn’t have to be money, it could be anything… the abilities and the talents and the gifts that God has bestowed upon us. And it was Matthew 25:29 that nearly knocked me over yesterday. Because it happens to be identical to a verse I pointed out to my husband earlier that morning – only it was Mark 4:25. “For whoever has, to him more will be given; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”  I told my husband, we need to embrace what we have! Little did I know that I would be hearing more about it at church. And I didn’t realize how personal the sermon was going to be… a message from God directly to me.

He also said to them, “Is a lamp brought in to be put under a basket or under a bed? Isn’t it to be put on a lampstand? For nothing is concealed except to be revealed, and nothing hidden except to come to light. If anyone has ears to hear, he should listen!” Then He said to them, “Pay attention to what you hear. By the measure you use, it will be measured and added to you. For to the one who has, it will be given, and from the one who does not have, even what he has will be taken away.” Mark 4:21-25

This morning, I wanted to see if Mark 4:25 is the same parable that I find in Matthew 25. But it’s not… and it’s the passage in Mark that really brought all this together for me. The parable in Matthew along with the book of Mark completes the picture, and what I find is Molly. She is truly a night-time kitty. Occasionally, you’ll find her during the day, but more often than not, when the sun rises… she’s gone. She’s just too skittish. Years ago, her favorite refuge was our bed. All you could see of her was a lump in the center where she had burrowed down deep under the covers. She stayed hidden. And today, you may catch a glimpse of her tail as she scurries down the steps to the basement. Or maybe if you peer under the beds, you’ll find her shining eyes staring back at you. Or perhaps you’ll find her in her newest hang-out, which we discovered recently when we heard a racket behind the closed doors of our closet. Yes, Molly is a lover of darkness, and will stay hidden most of the day. But, she is making progress. When it’s just me at home, she may venture out into the daylight. But generally, I’ll see her once the sun has set and quietness has settled on our home. This is when she emerges and graces me with her presence. And when I see her, I am delighted by her black fur, her huge eyes, and her big fat belly that nearly touches the ground, swaying back and forth as she scampers from here to there. She’s 14 years old now, so she hasn’t kept her sleek physique. The picture of her is from long ago…

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You know… I talk about Molly being a lover of the dark, but in reality, I am the same way. In truth, I have been clinging to the dark every bit as much as she does. I know this to be reality because not that long ago, God showed me something so hideous. Actually, it was just after I made the decision to take a break from blogging. I thought I knew why I was taking a step back, but now, I’m pretty sure I hadn’t a clue. For there was something within me I wasn’t fully aware of at the time. See, on August 1, I said to myself, no more writing! But it was not till August 2 that God revealed what lie beneath…  and that is what needed to come to the surface. For as the Lord says, nothing is concealed except to be revealed, and nothing hidden except to come to light…

Through the course of my blogging experience, I have often referred to my struggle with darkness. I’ve surreptitiously referred to it as an issue, a pattern, or even a stronghold – always careful – always tiptoeing around the word sin. But sin is sin, and darkness is darkness, and the pages of Scripture leave no trace of doubt in my heart:

The one who says he is in the light but hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother remains in the light, and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness, walks in darkness, and doesn’t know where he’s going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. 1 John 2:9-11

This is the truth about God & me. I love Him the best I know how. I have been seeking Him the best I know how. But there is a part of me that I’ve been holding back… clinging to the hate that resides deep down. I have been stoking the fire for years. And as long as I hold to hate… there will be darkness. This is what I’ve been trying to process for the past three weeks. And for the life of me, some stuff remains in my heart. I’m trying… I really am. And so, I am like Molly… my black kitty who is a lover of the shroud of darkness. She hides out and runs away. She stays concealed, because it’s safe to her. The bulk of her life has been spent in darkness. And me, too…

And then there’s Otis. I don’t know that he’ll return to me and my heart aches. But you know… in one short year, he has lived a full life. He has lived so much more than Molly, for he has experienced a world she will never know. This cat called Otis has embraced life. He has let his light shine in view of anyone who would give him audience. He used what God gave him… with claws as sharp as needles, he scaled great heights and saw further than Molly ever will. With legs as fast as lightning, he covered distances that Molly will never know. With courage the size of Texas, he explored the wilderness behind our home… woods in which Molly will never travel. With the fury of a skilled hunter, he took down countless foes and laid them as gifts upon our doorstep. Otis was a burning lamp, and he did not hide his light under a basket. He used what he had. And Molly? Why, she hides herself away, nestled down in the safety of her darkness – which is her only reality. Molly may never embrace the light, but Otis fully did.

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And then, there’s me. I am a work in progress. So much like Molly, but with all my heart, I want to be like Otis. Like him, I want to embrace the light. I want to shine the light. And more than anything, I want to use what God gave me. And so, not long ago, I ventured out. But too quickly, like a scared animal, I tucked my tail up under my body and retreated back into hiding. But alas, there are truths that must be shared. There are things within me that must come out. For they’ve been there so long – buried deep, festering and brewing and bubbling in the dark. But like a volcano erupts forth in violence, so has my heart. And ever since, the lava of wrath has been pouring forth – emptying itself so that no darkness remains. Everything I thought better hidden… everything that held me captive… has finally presented itself to the light. See, I have been chasing the light. I’ve been writing about it, and reaching for it. And now, I can really see…

I thought that morning light had fully broken over my soul. But like one who emerges from the heaviness of sleep, I rub my tired eyes and face the truth. And now I know… what I thought was the fullness of morning light was really just the faintest glimmer of the dawn. But morning light is on the horizon. The darkness of hate shall be left behind. And Otis? He may turn up yet. For he may be out there right now… simply using what God gave him to use… a lamp shining bright.

Everything exposed by the light is made clear, but what makes everything clear is light. Therefore it is said: Get up, sleeper, and rise up from the dead, and the Messiah will shine on you. Ephesians 5:13-14