But How Does It End?

A friend and I were talking recently about the deep theological point of omniscience, you know, how God already knows everything and the devastating of the lack of omniscience in ourselves. I know you’ve had the same conversation before. See, I may not know everything, but I know you have had this talk before.

It’s the conversation that follows when something is ahead of us, job offers, proposals, children, test results, healing, or anything that requires us to wait. It is the monologue we deliver when something is upon us, pain, sickness and suffering, trial or temptation. That desire rises up inside us to just know how this all ends.

We tell our friends and we tell God, “I just want to know how this all turns out. I want to know how this is going to be used in my life. Then I will willingly walk through whatever He has for me.” I’ve been there. I’ve seen friend after friend arrive to this point. We are fine and content when the story of our lives is reviewing the setting, introducing the characters, building a background little by little. We are happy to listen as the narrative tells us about the ins and outs of our daily tasks and we happily read through happy times, feasts and family experiences, events and adventures. In fact we’d almost prefer there not be any talk of an ending in those cases. More words about those things, please, more pages, more time.

But onto the scene arrives a villain. Into the picture walks a problem. I am not trying to minimize the absolute horror and terror that can be written in to our lives. We lose loved ones before we think it’s time. We struggle with demons that won’t let us rest in sleep or in waking. We watch people fight battles we can not take from them. We have trials. Big, scary, painful trials.

Then our thumbs drag across the edges of the page flipping page after page, eyes skimming for a word to latch onto which will signal the description of the resolution and the explanation of the purpose. We hit the back cover with frustration, because there just aren’t the words. There aren’t words on the pages yet. They haven’t been written. But not just there. We look out to our friends, to our leaders, to our own understanding and ask why! What is the point of all this!?!? And our friends, our leaders and our own understanding have no words.

So we beg to know the ending. God, if you will just tell me how this turns out. God, if you will just tell me why this is in my life. God, if you…then I. And we flip back through the book hoping to see that lines are forming, letter after letter the answer will appear and we might see the future. But they don’t.

It is enormously frustrating!

A few months ago I heard this story.

“When John Kavanaugh, the noted and famous ethicist, went to Calcutta, he was seeking Mother Teresa … and more. He went for three months to work at “the house of the dying” to find out how best he could spend the rest of his life.

When he met Mother Teresa, he asked her to pray for him. “What do you want me to pray for?” she replied. He then uttered the request he had carried thousands of miles: “Clarity. Pray that I have clarity.”

“No,” Mother Teresa answered, “I will not do that.” When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.” When Kavanaugh said that she always seemed to have clarity, the very kind of clarity he was looking for, Mother Teresa laughed and said: “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”

This story was shared just days before I would come upon one of my own flip to the end times. Tell me what to do, God! Be clear with me! Send me a sign, a map, an angel who spells it out for me. But no, not clarity. Trust.

Back on that riverbank in that conversation I heard words come out of my mouth that I knew I’d need to write down. Not because they were particularly special, well formed and brilliant. Rather, because I know I will need to remember them later.

I told my friend to write down her story. To get a journal and write down this experience so that in a few months she could look back through her journal and see all that He has done.

But first, to know this.

When you ask God to write your story, when you allow Him to read it over your life….you already know the ending. It is going to be a happy ending. It is going to work out for His glory and our gain. Every. Single. Time. You can trust this.

I suggested she find a journal and on the front page write “And they lived happily ever after….what follows here is how it happened.”

Friends, it is advice I need to heed. I do not have some deeper knowledge of the future which gives me secret clarity or some ultra-faith that in unattainable to the masses. I sit on my own riverbank, in my car, on my computer, at my desk, on steps, in a friend’s office. The background to this situation changes, but the story is the same. I find myself explaining why God should let me in on the plan, why it’d be ok this time for Him to reveal more knowledge to me. And time and time again He leads me to the same sentence in my book…

They lived happily ever after.

And then He tells me to sit back and let Him get back to reading.

There is in this life or the next wholeness, happiness and healing beyond anything we can know here on this broken ground. There is hope and a future. There are plans to prosper us.  Do you know this? Do you?

Then you know the ending!

They lived happily ever after.

Now hush, child, and let Him read.

Invisible: Part 3

Things I ask God for….

1. To be skinny without effort.
2. To be wildly wealthy (which then I’d totally give bunches to other people, too.)
3. To travel the whole world.
4. To have my kid’s lives be free from trouble, but they develop all the qualities that come from facing adversity anyway.
5. To have a maid. Or like a team of maids.

However, here’s a nasty little truth. It’s not my favorite part of life…but I don’t always get what I want.

Before we find Hagar written about again in Genesis, we find her boy. Let’s read this short passage in Genesis 17: 17-22.

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“Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”

Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him.”
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We see that Abraham has grown to be attached and to love the boy. When God comes and tells Abraham that Sarah will bear the child of promise in a year Abraham speaks plainly to God, saying, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” Abraham loves the boy and would be happy to pass along his everything to him. God replies, recognizing his attachment to Ishmael, and assuring Abraham that Ishmael will great in his own right. God says in verse “As for Ishmael, I have heard you.”

There it is again.

Did you notice it?

Because this is so important.

God says “As for Ishmael, I have heard you.”
This is the life song for this boy. In his mother’s womb, he was named “God hears.” Abraham and Sarah wish to find a solution to their infertility. Hagar wishes to find freedom from her oppression. Abraham wants this to be his heir. God hears. He hears their concerns. He hears their wishes.

I imagine so sweetly as Hagar stands over a fire, her belly rumbling, knowing others are hungry, too. She calls out “God hears!” to let him know that food is ready. I see a pot of beans left on its side, evidence that a wild child had run by and not noticed the mess left in his wake, maybe thinking he’d just clean it up later and Hagar crossing her arms across her chest and grumbling, “God hears.” As the sun set and danger of the terrain begins to wake, she stands at the door to her tent and calls “God hears!” to come home to safety. She leans over a little boy breathing in and out, slowly, rhythmically, as he slumbers on his mat. “My sweet, God hears” she whispers, brushing his hair back and kissing his forehead.

God didn’t just send Hagar back into a difficult situation with a one time message that Hagar was seen by God, but He gives her and all the people around her a constant reminder that He cares about her, He cares about their concerns, their needs and wants. How many times a day did they hear it? How often did they really listen?

From before birth, Ishmael is a living example of what is written in Psalm 139 “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” The meat of that Psalm speaks to the fact that God sees us as individuals, sees us and we are unable to hide from Him, sees our physical bodies and our inmost soul as well.

But the other message in this passage is that being seen and heard by God, having that open line of communication where He understands our desires, does not mean that we get what we want all the time. It doesn’t even mean that we get what we want in what we think are the biggest, most crucial areas of our life.

There will be a time in every parent’s life that their sick child will look at them with glazed eyes and stuffy nose and say “But Bommy, I waaaaant to go to da barty. I’b fine. I beel so buch better already.” You look at them and you ache for them, because you hear them. You understand. But you know best, you know that letting them go to the party, allowing them to skip the rest they need and getting everyone else sick, will prolong their illness and will cost everyone else at the party too. Other people will have to stay home. Other people will have to miss work. Other people will have to miss school. It isn’t a kindness to say yes to every request. When you as a parent know better, you have to say no. Tuck that child in, tell them you understand their disappointment, because you do, you’ve been there, and make the most of a tough situation which feels like heartbreak for them.

There is a lot in this life that I want, things to make me and those I love comfortable and happy in the moment. There are things in this life that I plan for, hope and dream for. There is healing that I pray for and change, too. There is this mess of a nation I live in, that I just want God to step in and solve. I pray for that. I pray for fast fixes. But I’m ready for God to say, “As for that, I hear you. Yes, but here’s what’s going to happen.”

God’s saying “Yes, but…” doesn’t change the nature of the relationship. God is in the middle of a conversation where he renames Abram to Abraham and Sarai to Sarah to show change in who they were and the nature of their relationship. If there was a time for Him to say, “Your son who is already born, by my setting this new plan for this new plan in motion, I am changing things for him, too,” that would have been the time to do so. But God doesn’t say “I will now change God hears to God brushes off, or maybe God was distracted, or maybe God heard, but forgot and sort of doesn’t care what you have to say about this.” He says “I hear you.”

There are a lot of times in our lives where it is easy to feel ignored, to feel invisible. There have been seasons in my life where I have wondered if my prayers don’t float about in the air, knocking into the ceiling and then dropping back at my feet, unnoticed. Generally, this sense accompanies my not getting my way. But what change could there be in my life if I repeated daily the message that Ishmael carried for his family? Imagine the change there could be in your life, when you feel that God has stepped away from the conversation between you two, if you called to yourself, to your children and to others, “God hears.”

I’ll close with this as Thanksgiving approaches. At the end of A Miracle On 34th Street, the little girl, Susan, is crushed because Santa did not deliver what she’d asked for. She is in the backseat of the car and she is repeating over and over “I believe…I believe….it’s silly, but I believe.” She is sullen and a little sarcastic, but she is bolstering her decision to believe in Santa by repeating to herself a message, repetitive in nature, but designed to carry her through that big disappointment. In the end, Santa pulls through and she gets what she wants.

I do not mean to pretend that God is Santa, ready to give us our childish desires if we repeat a mantra, but I do want us to think that there are times that we can be carried through the way I imagine Hagar and Abraham were carried through because they were reminded day in and day out of this message that God had for them. The same message that God has for you and me.

God hears.
God hears.
Ishmael.
Ishmael.
God hears.

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Reflect

  1. What do you wish for?
  2. Do you find it hard to believe that God cares about your opinion?
  3. How do you balance being submitted to God’s will in your life with the truth that God listens to your wishes, hopes and dreams?

The Anniversary Of Delay

On this day, as Facebook reminds me, three years ago I loaded the big yellow truck in that picture to capacity, hugged dear friends and family, climbed behind the wheel, took a deep breath and turned the key.

To hear nothing.

Well, I think there was a binging. Bing, bing, bing. Or something of the sort. It was a not the truck is going sound.

We got out, called Penske and they sent out Ernie. He banged things and cranked things and grunted and sent my frined Libby off to Napa to get more parts. In his mumbling hillbilly dialect he said “I dunno but Penske oughtta be giving someone some money back on this rental.”   I hear ya, Ernie, I thought.

I also thought, this is confusing. God has called us to Virginia. We are packed and loaded. We are ready to go, but now…there is delay. Why? Is this some sort of sign and now I’ll have to drag everything back into our house on North North and just tell everyone at church and our family and friends that, oops, we heard God wrong?

In the days leading up to this moment, I’d prayed for provision. We’d agreed to make this move, responding in obedience to something bigger than us and we knew we’d be holding our breath and cinching our purse strings for some time. I did not put a lot of hope into the stories of people praying and money showing up. It all sounded manufactured. Never the less, I prayed for provision, suggesting ideas to God as of ways He could supply us with a little cushion. Maybe He could move in so and so’s heart and they’d just feel like they wanted to hand us 10 grand. Or the lottery, Jesus. Let’s win that.

But there I was sitting on the side of the street with a broken truck at the beginning of a journey which was going to be nothing if not financially demanding. I called Penske to get an update, which I supposed would be we would have to wait til tomorrow. The Penske representative let me know that they were sending over a new van….and a crew of guys to load all of our stuff from one truck to the other!

Then she said “And let me see what the total is after all that.”

Probably more, thought I, what with the crew. And the second van. And Ernie. “30,” she said. I was confused as to why we’d be paying….30-what? 30 hundred? That’s not even how normal people say it.

“Thirty, what?” I asked.
“Thirty dollars,” she replied.

Just like that, thousands of dollars for that move were redeemed. They once were lost, but then were found. I was in shock. I got off the phone before she could change my mind and we got on the road, somehow making it to VA with enough time to make it into our new home and more at ease handing over the first check to our new landlord.

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I drove home from Richmond last night and listed to a sermon given by Justin Siler, chosen because of the series title “Road Trip.” This summer God has done a lot of work in my heart on the drive from Richmond to Grottoes and this drive was no different.

Justin shared the story of the resurrection of Lazarus. Word comes that Lazarus is sick and Jesus replies that Lazarus’s sickness won’t end in death and what will happen will be purposeful to bring glory to God. He remains where he is and allows two days to pass. Then he announces to his disciples that they’re going to go to Lazarus who happens to live in Judea where just a few days before, those people had tried to kill Jesus. The disciples, particularly Thomas it seems, thought this perhaps was a crazy idea, but Jesus convinces them and they follow him, only to be met by Martha who is devastated and blaming Jesus.

“If only you had been here, my brother would not have died!”

Martha’s sister Mary doesn’t even bother to come out and has to be summoned to Jesus. Mary reaches Jesus and falls at his feet, weeping. She echoes her sister’s sentiment, that Jesus could have saved her brother, but he didn’t. He let her down. Something I haven’t thought of before, but this Mary, at the beginning of the chapter it notes she is the same woman who came and anointed Jesus’s feet with perfume and dried it with her hair. This is someone who has been radically changed by Christ and she is at the point of giving up. It is reassuring that even someone who physically touched Jesus, struggled to understand Him.

Then, in the sermon, Justin points out the part that I never hear anyone point out. It gets glossed over or only spoken about to show His humanity, but there’s so much more to it. Jesus wept. Not because of Lazarus and his death. Jesus is omnipotent. He already knew how that would turn out. He wept for Mary and for Martha, for his people and their pain. For their blindness, their inability to see what He could see. He felt and then he restored….he called Lazarus out.

Lazarus lived. Just as Jesus said, his sickness did not end in death. Death was just a bump on the road. And as Jesus said at the beginning of the whole situation, things happened exactly as they should to bring the most glory to God.

Justin spoke to those struggling with doubt, like Thomas and the disciples who are pretty sure going to Judea is inadvisable. He spoke to those facing a delay, like Martha who is positive from all the very clear signs that Jesus has let her down. He spoke to those enveloped in despair, like Mary, who wonder why they should show up for Jesus if He hasn’t shown up for them.

This sermon was painfully poignant for me. I was already knee deep in the reflection when Justin said these four words, words spoken to me maybe a month ago by Pastor Kerry, here in Va.

Delay is not denial.

That same spot in the journey, right at the foot of the mountain, every time this summer, I heard Him speak to me and there I was, preparing to began the upward climb. Once again, God spoke. 64West is quickly becoming holy ground for me.

I am responding to being called into ministry. It’s not unrealistic to expect that the call will go hand in hand with the complete and total revelation and fulfillment of what that all means. Or if not unrealistic, then it is at least understandable. But this passage and those words, delay is not denial, strike a chord with me.

God has spoken this message, saying what will be, and I can look here at this passage and see that my head is right when it tells me that I can trust Him even if the earthly symptoms are confusing. He will be good to His word to me as He was to His word over Lazarus. I have known these things, reminding myself of those truths while I walk through my days, holding tight to them when I wonder about starting my first class in the fall or think about suggesting to God that we get this show on the road. I truly do believe that the best path for me to ministry is His path, not my path and I am going to be amazed at what God’s going to show me in my delay. I truly am excited to see how He unwraps this.

I don’t want to spend my days sitting on the side of the road next to a dead truck or standing outside of a tomb convinced that all is lost. I want to trust that He will lead me each step at just the right time.

Death can just be a bump in the road.
Engine failure can be redemptive.
Delay can be the source of the greatest blessings.