A highway in the desert

IMG_4741

“The spiritual function of fierce terrain…is to bring us to the end of ourselves, to the abandonment of language and the relinquishment of ego. A vast expanse of jagged stone, desert sand, and towering thunderheads has a way of challenging all the mental constructs in which we are tempted to take comfort and pride, thinking we have captured the divine. The things that ignore us save us in the end.”~ Belden Lane in THE SOLACE OF FIERCE LANDSCAPES (buy it on Amazon,  it’s worth it)

A voice is calling, “Clear the way for the LORD in the wilderness; Make smooth in the desert a highway for our God.” Isaiah 40:3

“Nature never taught me that there exists a God of glory and of infinite majesty. I had to learn that in other ways. But nature gave the word “glory” a meaning for me. I still do not know where else I could have found one.” C.S. Lewis

A person can have a profound encounter with God anywhere, because God is everywhere; but my time in the desert taught me something I don’t think I could have learned any other way. There is a quiet majesty and power there that speaks in the silence. There is a holiness in the sudden rain that comes after the merciless scorching heat of the summer. That rain feels like grace.

The extremity of its character alone simutaneously punishes and rewards like the pillar of smoke and fire God showed up in while guiding the Israelites through the desert. It says, like God, “Keep your eyes on me and you will get through this and reach the promised land. Take your eyes off the trail to your own destruction.”

The desert is just that drastic and following the rules leads to life or death too. In order to live in the desert, you have to obey some very simple rules:

Never find yourself without water.

Know which snakes and insects are poisonous and which ones are harmless.

If you get stuck in the middle of a dust storm while driving turn your headlights off.

The vastness and stark beauty of it makes one feel very small and vulnerable in a way similar to being in the ocean where you can’t see land. Or caught in a thunderstorm in the Sierras.  You wonder how any species could survive, plant or animal, yet somehow they do. The quail lead their microscopic chicks straight out of the nest and along the rocky ground. Sometimes they start with ten and end up with three.

And in the summer it feels like a place of death. You run from one building to the next, you look for the one shady spot someone just pulled out of. And summer seems to last forever. And then one morning in November you are rewarded with coolness and it’s like being born again.

I believe there is a reason for the wandering in the desert and not anywhere else. The harsh landscape makes it easier to know you depend solely on Him, and that goes for physical wandering and also the other kind; when you’re wandering in the “dry spells and deserts of life.”

But there is always hope in every kind of desert you may find yourself in. That in time, He will bring you to the other side. The cactus wil bloom again, life will appear where there was none. You will feel the cool breeze once again and know that you have made it through.

IMG_3760

 

Winds of Change

 

IMG_5196

I laid in bed listening to the hum of traffic out on the road. I wanted to revel in the sameness of things the way they’ve been for the last 11 or so years for a few more minutes. To let the cocoon of the wonderful comfortable rhythm of days the way they’ve been wrap itself around me for a little while longer. I am aware that today is different. Today my retirement may be accelerated. The plan might be kicked up a notch. 

Today is the day the email will drop, the one everyone at work has been waiting for. The one that will announce the changes and what if anything it means for us here in Arizona. What it might mean for me. My work phone is on the charge by my bed. Usually I shut it off all weekend. But this morning, I wanted to see the message first thing.

Funny isn’t it? How you can pray and pray for something and then when it comes down to maybe actually having it answered, you dig your heels in at the last and a little part of you is afraid that it may not happen and also afraid that it will.

This is what I saw when I finally opened it:

“You are eligible to participate in the Enhanced Retirement Program (ERP).” And then a long explanation about restructuring and reinvesting and growth in the company.

All I kept thinking is how amazing God is. Just when I decided to retire at the end of year, this comes in. And it’s a good offer. The timing leaves me in awe once again of how He works. All the times I prayed, and cried and wondered if I was doing the right thing by staying. And later, in prayer in my little shed, this is what my devotional said:

“Circumstances are in flux, and the world seems to be whirling around you. The only way to keep your balance is to fix your eyes on Me, the One who never changes. If you gaze too long at your circumstances, you will become dizzy and confused. Look to Me, refreshing yourself in My Presence, and your steps will be steady and sure.” Jesus Calling April 25

All day long the wind howled between the houses as if to mimic change blowing in. It picked up strength mid-morning and never wavered. My allergies kicked up something fierce. Elaine came home looking like she’d been in a war. She said driving the bus was like wrestling all day. And then she had to wipe boogers off the seat and window…….

At the end of the day, the wind finally stopped. I sat out for a little while on the little deck, wondering about the road ahead. I can relate to Mary in Scripture when it says, she “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” I spend a lot of time pondering things in my heart. I guess that’s what writers do before the words make it to the page.

Today, I stand amazed at all He’s done and continues to do in our lives. I may not know all the ins and outs of how it’s all gonna play out, but I know He’s with us. And I know He’ll never leave us. And He won’t leave you either, my friend.

He’s in it for the long haul.

 

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.”  Philippians 4:12

This morning in prayer, all I heard were the cars zooming behind the house. I ached for quiet. The kind of quiet you find in the country, or sitting at the base of a massive redwood with only the wind sighing above. Everything in my brain is noisy lately.

It is cooling off some, and for that I am very grateful. Here in the desert, it’s hard to remember what season you’re in. I forget what month it is. It feels more like Spring than Fall. The garland I strung, along with the fall wreath of yellow and orange and brown remind me that it’s near. That other places have crisp mornings with the promise of frost, crunching leaves underfoot.

I couldn’t hear the birds over the cars either.

I longed for the company of a quail or mourning dove. But then I sensed God saying……”Do you come out here to seek me or hear the birds?” I thought, “Well, to sit in Your presence of course, but the birds are a nice touch.” Maybe He allows distractions, and maybe He even sent the birds away for the morning.

And maybe I needed to be reminded that life, and prayer, are sometimes as dry as toast.

And it’s perfectly okay.

Because wherever He is, there is beauty and truth, and everything we need.

He is all I need, more than enough like the song says. Somehow, by His grace through the years I have learned this secret. To open my eyes to the extrordinary in the ordinary and lift out the miracle that resides within. All around us are people who need a miracle, and we can give it to them.

Because He has called us “friends.

And the thunder rolled……

“Thus says the Lord……Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you shall find rest for your souls. But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ Jeremiah 6:16

As I read the words of Jeremiah this morning, reflecting on the wrath of God poured out on a disobediant people, I felt a chill crawl up my spine. Jeremiah had the unpleasant task to be the mouthpiece of God to Israel.

“My soul, my soul! I am in anguish! Oh, my heart! My heart is pounding within me. Because you have heard, O my soul, the sound of the trumpet, the alarm of war!”

Just then, as if ordered by God himself to put a little emphasis on His own words there was a terrible clap of thunder and I almost jumped out of my seat! The anger of God is something I never want to experience personally.

It is easy to feel a little “puffed up” as the Apostle Paul put it, when we read about all those rebellious things the Israelites did, how they strayed from God to worship foreign idols, statues that could neither talk walk or breathe.

How could they, we wonder? After God himself came down in a visual form…..a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day? After all He had done for them? And all along, there is a loving Father who wants His people back. He longs to love and cherish them and yet they push Him away.

There was another loud clap and in my mind I remembered all those times when I myself have push God away, thinking I knew better….thinking the plan I had for myself was better than the one He had for me. And yet, His mercy and love have pulled me back, over and over again. Not once has He ever refused me.

Oh how He loves us…….His mercy calls us back, new every morning.

As with all things of nature, it thrilled me no end, that clear and powerful reminder. It reminded me this morning who is in control, and it is most definitely not me.

To watch a lightning storm is to watch the finger of God touching down on the earth, and to hear His voice in the thunder a gift, a marvelous thing.

His power, my weakness.

What He said

No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. Romans 8:37

I had a rough start this morning. I was feeling under the weather, but I successfully made it out the door. I have one more day and then I get on a plane to go see friends and family and one little girl who has been very excited that I am coming. Every day for a month she has been asking…..”Lori come today?”  It is somewhat bittersweet……it is hard to leave when I know how difficult it will be without me here. But I have a very gracious friend, and she knows how important it is for me to be there too.

I gave out a relieved sigh as I got in the car and buckled in. I slid the CD into the player, the one I picked somewhat blindly since I didn’t have my glasses on. As the notes filled the car I felt the beauty played by Phil Keaggy flow through my soul. Healing…..incredible, the power that music has to heal.

As I watched the light fill the sky and turn it every different shade of violet, I remembered what I heard last night from Ellen Johnson, president of the American Atheists,  as interviewed by Barbara Walters.

“Heaven doesn’t exist, hell doesn’t exist. We weren’t alive before we were born and we’re not going to exist after we die. I’m not happy about the fact that that’s the end of life, but I can accept that and make my life more fulfilling now, because this is the only chance I have,” she tells Walters.

No, I thought, I don’t accept it, absolutely not.  And everything I see and hear and feel around me tells me otherwise. This is the tip of the iceberg, my friends. And to me, this morning, Heaven felt more real than anything else. And besides, as Elaine said, if we are wrong, then we have simply lived a good life, but if she is wrong……I said, “Yeah, it’s gonna be a very long eternity.”

I have seen people die with Christ, and I have seen people die without Him, and I can tell you this for sure. The ones with Christ have the lights of Heaven reflected in their eyes when they go, I have seen it myself.

I believe the proof I see all around me, and I take Jesus at His word that Heaven is very real indeed. When people ask me what I believe about Heaven, all I need to do is point to Jesus and say…”What He said.”

This is only the beginning.
“But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,”What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him” 1 Corinthians 2:7-9

Full bodied praise

I love them that love me………and those that seek me early shall find me. Proverbs 8:17
This is when the rubber meets the road…..summer is digging in it’s heels and we are no longer greeted with cool mornings. We have to dig in too. And it’s not all bad. The desert makes you tough. It’s already hot and sticky in my prayer closet this morning.
As I finish my prayer time, I am ready. I live the words as I put on my shoes to make my trek around the park. “No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:27
As I walk, feel my body move, I am so thankful I can do this. I think of dear Briley and Kathryn whom I sit with when I volunteer in the Extrordinary Life kids group, bound to wheelchairs. I think they are the real heroes, they, and their dear parents.
I pick up my pace and think of an old Glen Frey song I played a lot when I worked out……..for those of you under 40, he was one of the Eagles……the words come back and the years fall away:
I’m outside runnin’ in the mornin’ sun
No matter what it takes, I know I’m gonna get it done
I’m pushin’ up the hill, fightin’ through the pain
Everything to lose, everything to gain
I know I’m on my way, I’m on my way to number one

Feelin’ good, gettin’ tight
‘Cause I’m livin’ right, livin’ right
Up in the mornin’, asleep at night
I’m livin’ right, livin’ right

Out of the darkness, into the light and I’m
livin right, livin right.
I thought of the worship leader yesterday and what he said, why he wears no shoes when he is up there leading the music. He says it reminds him that it’s Holy ground he stands on, and it is a way of keeping his focus on the Lord and not on all the people. He said he sees the ones sleeping, and the ones playing games on their Iphones, the halfhearted worshippers.
“For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them.” Matthew 18:20
He is right, the ground is Holy.
The sweat is pouring down now, and I hear the words of Mercy Me singing…….
Separated until the veil was torn.
The moment that hope was born
and guilt was pardoned once and for all.
Captivated but no longer bound by chains
left at an empty grave
the sinner and the sacred resolved

And this is it, this is full bodied praise, right here and now. How right he is, the ground here is Holy. I think, this is what keeps me going. He keeps us, day after day. We have the strength to get up and do it again somehow, carried along by His Spirit.

This is the promise I cling to, and its true: “The Lord preserves all who love Him…..” Psalm 145:20

Counting the gifts and the promises today, with these fine folks…….

I love you God, but…….

“Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God…….Exodus 3:1

“I love you, God…..” But after I said it, I could hear how it sounded to my own ears. What must it have sounded like to God’s? I was weary of myself so I could understand how He could be weary of me. Of my same prayers…….my same requests. I was feeling like a bad actor before a Holy God. And the act of sitting out there felt like a charade this morning.

Here I am Lord, again. Don’t you get tired of me Lord? I would if I were you. It was a prayer, but there was a “but” behind my “I love you” that didn’t belong.

If I knew how Holy the ground was beneath my feet, these Teva sandals would be off my feet in a New York minute. The truth is, sometimes it is just hard to feel the Holy when we are down here on what feels right now like a grubby little planet. The dirt and debris has piled up near the door from yesterday’s dust storm and I stepped through it to make my way to Him, to the place of our morning meeting.

I’m still the same old me. I have not lost the ten pounds I wanted to lose by the trip to California in July and the month is half over. I will shock everyone with the blinding white of my skin when I put on my bathing suit. I also need to dye my roots.

And today my prayers sounded more like exasperated sighs than reverence for you.

I wasn’t feeling it today. But I know better now. I have learned you can’t always trust feelings. I am, however haltingly, learning to trust Him.

I turned where He directed, to the story of Moses. I wanted to read about the bush that God lit with Holy fire and it didn’t burn up. And then God taught this slow learner another lesson. He showed me that Moses was a big bundle of inadequacy and nerves and fear just like me…..

The words were truth…..leaping out through the pages. Moses was just like me. Over and over again, he tried to convince God of all that he wasn’t.

But Moses protested to God, “Who am I to appear before Pharaoh? Who am I to lead the people of Israel out of Egypt?” 

God answered, “I will be with you.”

And later on……after God explained all the wondrous signs and miracles He would do, Moses protests once again……“What if they won’t believe me or listen to me? What if they say, ‘The Lord never appeared to you’?”

Lesson number two came when God told Moses to grab his staff which has now turned into a snake.

Sometimes you have to grab hold of that snake before God produces the miracle.

Moses then proceeds to work on God’s last nerve, and boy don’t I do that every single day?

Yet God is so full of love for Moses that he produces some help in the form of Aaron. Then the tears came and once again my love for God was as real as the flame in that bush. And there was my prayer, and this time it was real…..

And no buts about it.