The Place that Feels God’s Absence

This morning I read Psalm 81, and I learn all about how the Israelites were tested “at the waters of Meribah.” If you read in Exodus 17, you find a people dying of thirst. The Lord instructs Moses to strike a rock, and water gushes out for the people. He calls the place “Meribah” (which means strife or contention, because the Israelites complained to God), and says it’s because they tested the Lord and said, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Is the Lord among us or not? 

What a paramount question as we face circumstances that bring doubt or worry! Is the Lord among us or not? Because if He is, then, well, He can do anything.

I’m thinking of what it must have been like to sit there, dying of thirst, with only a rock before you. Can you imagine? A rock. An impossible means of satisfying thirst. Yet God was there, and that made all the difference.

But still, they needed water, and all they had was a rock. I think of all those times I really needed something, and God brought the opposite sort of experience that, of course, ended up opening into even greater abundance than the thing I wanted in the first place. The rock He gave–that immovable block or impossible situation–brought forth the thing I needed.

But at first it just looked like a rock. It felt like God’s absence, not His miracle-making presence. Oh me of little faith!

I continue reading until the end of Psalm 81, and here God says that, if the Israelites followed him, he would provide. He says: “You would be fed with the finest of wheat; with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”

The rock again. But it’s honey–not from the hive–but from the rock. How strange. Can honey come from a rock? No. Can water? No.

Yet God is there, and that makes all the difference. Is the Lord among us or not?

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Her Secret to Being a Great Mom

I’ve made a new friend at Parent Pick-up from school. Parent Pick-up is one of my favorite parts of the day because we all huddle there by the school and solve all the world’s problems in those ten minutes before our children come tearing out of the school like hungry wolves.

I’ve been admiring this one particular mother of three very young girls for some time now. She’s consistently enthusiastic, patient, encouraging, and funny. She carries one child on her back in a fancy pack; one she pushes in a stroller; and one holds her hand. I think she actually may have another child somewhere. This woman represents everything I could never do! So I watch her. I watch, and I learn.

A few weeks ago, I just blurt out, “You have to tell me the secret of how you are such a great mom!”

I’m waiting for a list of books I must read, therapists I must visit, Bible studies I must join, or some supplement I must go into debt over. I fear she’s going to tell me about more prayer groups, expensive housekeepers, boot-camp gym commitments, a gluten-free diet, or her educational afternoon craft schedule.

She turns to me with an alert smile and says, “Afternoon coffee.”

“Really? That’s it?”

“Yes,” she says, but then she leans in with narrow, warning eyes. “But you have to be careful. Too late, and you won’t sleep at night. Too much, and you won’t sleep at night. You have to get it right. This is very important.”

Just when she’s about to lose her mind, she delights in her afternoon cup of coffee. I’m so happy I clap my hands together like I’m now one of her children. I had forgotten about afternoon coffee! This I can do! This I know how to do! 

I pour myself a cup after school, and that night, I hardly sleep. The next day at Parent Pick-up, she approaches me with the seriousness of a doctor and says, “How did it go?”

“Too much,” I report. “I need to go down to half a cup.”

She nods knowingly. “Yes. Or have it earlier in the day. You’ll figure it out.”

I will.

One day, I’ll get it right. One day, I’ll pour that perfect amount, at the perfect time, that will give me the energy I need for another afternoon of snacks and homework and cleaning and drama and dishes and dinner. If not today, then maybe tomorrow. I’m just thankful that at least one great mom’s secret had nothing to do with working harder and everything to do with coffee.

This is something I can laugh about over a nice little cup of afternoon coffee.

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Just Psalm 86:5

This morning I read this in Psalm 86:5:

“For you, O Lord, are good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love to all who call upon you.”

It’s a verse I’ve read over and over again and underlined in my Bible, but today it strikes me anew. In my Hebrew dictionary, I read that the Lord is good and “ready to forgive.” I think of God, positioned and alert, just waiting to forgive. Just waiting!

I think of the great word abounding. Just abounding in a persevering kind of love that puts up with all of my shenanigans and wanderings.

What a great promise to hold in my heart today! I know a good and forgiving God, a God who abounds in steadfast love when I call upon Him.

What more do I need to know today? Just this.

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A Different Kind of Bright

Last night, we drive through an actual snow squall. Sudden, violent, zero-visibility, scary: you get the point. We arrive home safely to news of canceled church due to continuing snow and wind chills of -20. We stay in, snuggle up, and bake. I mention that it feels like we are living like the Ingalls family in The Long Winter, only it’s Centre County and not South Dakota. How did they survive?

It’s so cold. It’s so harsh.

But by mid-morning, we notice–once again–the brightness of a winter sun. Outside, we hear the wind against the garden gate that cracks and thuds against the house. Inside, we’re lit up with all kinds of warmth and all kinds of light.

This kind of bright makes the shadows of winter so beautiful in the backyard. Every tree’s limbs vein across the snow. It’s our kind of Long Winter, and we are doing just fine.

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Cleaning Day in Our House

I do love the routine of Saturday mornings and cleaning. It gets us ready for a quiet Sabbath and a fresh, new week. I also love that cleaning is a change of pace from thinking, grading, and writing. It’s a different kind of work. When the whole house is finally clean, we settle in to enjoy the new week. We’ve dusted, shined things with vinegar water, vacuumed, scrubbed, and organized.

And we’ll do it again next week. In the meantime, it feels so good to have a clean little house.

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Stomach Bug Advice

I woke up in the chilled night with the stomach bug. My first thought was that I was thankful for the timing. Last week I was traveling and next week I’m speaking. So I stretched out on the bathroom floor and was thankful, drenched with tears and sweat, for the timing. 

Then I did nothing. Nothing. I sipped water and Gatorade all day and took strange, feverish naps.
I texted people to gather my children and keep them until my husband arrived. I canceled class, thankful that it was a peer editing day and not a lecture day. 
That’s all you can do. Cancel everything and thank God that this might have been another day–on a plane or a stage. 
This time around, I’m less dramatic and more thankful. I’m in bed thankful for a quiet home, a warm bed, and friends. 
Good night!
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-20 Wind Chill

I’ve been reading all the about -20 degree wind chill warning for tomorrow morning. We’re warned about frostbite that takes a mere 30 minutes to damage exposed skin. We’re told to wear hats and layers and gloves because the wind will steal our body heat so quickly. This is no joke. This is dangerous.

We must insulate! We must interpose! 

These verbs mean to place something as a barrier between two things, in this case, me and outside air. The deadly combination of wind and cold is serious here! We aren’t made for this kind of deadly dance. Our skin cannot handle it. We will die out there. It is, like the national weather service warns, deadly. 

It feels humbling and strange to realize our own frailty, to know we need protection. Against the reality of wind and cold, which man cannot tame or control, we feel small as we huddle together, wrapped up.

We aren’t the strongest or the most powerful thing. We like to think we are, and then, the wind comes.

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A New Kind of Living with Flair, An Even Deeper Joy

As I continue to blog day after day, I’m discovering something so interesting in the harsh Pennsylvania winter. In years past, I focused so much on redeeming and elevating my circumstances. Everything about living with flair has been about finding beauty in common things, discovering mystery, and worshiping Jesus through the wonder of my environment. 

It was always, “Look! Look at this wonderful thing that reminds me of God! Look at His mysterious ways, and let’s worship Him because of this snowflake, this Northern Cardinal, and this bare oak tree!”

That discipline made me exceedingly happy and brought structure and purpose to every single day for the last 1,790 days. It healed my brain. It changed me. The darkness left. I’d recommend this practice to anyone.

But lately, the environment–no matter how full of mystery and wonder–isn’t as satisfying as Jesus himself. 

For five years, I looked outside of myself to see God in everything; this month, I’m going deeper inside of myself to find that inner fortress, that soul refuge, where the Holy Spirit resides. In other words, I’m not needing to see beauty everywhere because God is the beautiful thing. This means that, sometimes, the circumstances might not produce a wondrous narrative or reveal any kind of beauty. Maybe they cannot. Maybe they should not.

I think of what I’m hearing on the news and the suffering across the globe. I think of persecuted Christians who do not–and will not–have the luxury of considering the gentle snowflake today. Hurting and dying people will not hear the gorgeous cry of the hawk or interpret the beauty of children skating on a frozen pond, their laughter ringing like sleigh bells across the landscape.

Is life any less wondrous? Is there a secret dwelling place in the heart that makes what’s happening around us unrelated to our deepest joy?

My circumstances no longer depress me or put me into despair–or, on the other hand, create the kind of joy I used to feel. The new disposition of my heart means I think about God’s truth and His great character. I’m worshipping Him in the quiet of my soul and rising out of whatever is happening, good or bad. It’s a deeper kind of living that I’m experiencing, a new kind of living with flair.

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Advice for an Organized Mind

My friend tells me that she chooses one day of the week and spends 6 to 10 hours on all her least favorite, most annoying tasks. On that one day, she accomplishes everything she must do but does not want to do. Because she devotes this one day to these undesirable tasks, it frees her mind for the rest of her work week.

Otherwise, these tasks clutter her to-do list all week long. They tyrannize! They demand!

I nod my head in agreement because that’s the only way I have peace of mind about my housecleaning. I only clean on Saturday mornings because that way, for the rest of the week, I’m not worried about it. If the bathroom is dirty on Wednesday, I don’t think about it; that’s Saturday’s task. If the floor needs scrubbing on Thursday, I don’t let it nag at my soul. That’s for Saturday morning.

More and more, I’m meeting successful and organized people who compartmentalize their weeks. With this kind of organized mind, I can only worry about my manuscripts, for example, on Tuesday and Thursday and my grading and course preparation on Monday and Wednesday.

I’m thinking more and more about freeing up the mental space to work better and more enjoyably. Designating days for certain tasks means I’m not controlled by their perceived urgency. I push it aside and out of my brain; this task is for another day.

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Intense Observation

I’m flying home from a trip, and the woman beside me discusses her profession. She’s a criminal investigator who has become an expert in observation. She’s highly trained to notice patterns and inconsistencies in a person’s mannerisms. She’s also trained to gather incredible amounts of personal information about a person within a few seconds of meeting them.

Within a few seconds!

“For example,” she tells me. “I can tell you many things about you just by the kind of purse you carry, your glasses, your nails, your body posture, and your hand gestures.”

She tells me that I’m trustworthy, organized, confident, and warm.

“How did you know that?” I ask her.

“You touch people when you talk to them. You touched me on my elbow and then on my arm while you were talking. That tells me you are comfortable with yourself and with others right away. You are someone with great interpersonal skills.”

Then, since we have two hours left on the flight, she trains me in the fine art of detecting a lie. She remembers every thing I’ve said to her and the way in which I communicated information to her. She points out my verbal patterns and mannerisms. She explains that when someone is lying, they simply break the established pattern somehow. “I’m always looking for an inconsistency or a break in a pattern when I’m investigating a witness.”

She lets me practice on her, and I’m able to detect subtle lies by her change in tone, posture, or sentence patterns.

Then, she tells me that criminal minds know how to quickly find vulnerabilities in people, and they manipulate people based on what they feel most insecure about. I think of my own insecurities and pray that God strengthens me against any kind of manipulation.

As our plane nears our destination, I comment that I wonder what life must be like for her to be trained in such intense, alert observation. All day long, she intensely observes. That’s her whole life; it’s just how she lives. She’s reading everything in her environment all the time. Everything means something. Everything contributes important information for her.

“It’s fun!” she says. “I love it! I learn so much!”

I’m suddenly observing everything I can and learning more than I thought I ever could about people. The criminal investigator says goodbye, and I suddenly wish I could go back to school and learn a whole new field. I want to see the details of my world as contributing important information. I feel more alive and more present. I feel so curious and awake, even after the longest day of travel.

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