A word for a pilgrim’s heart …

“I love the Lord because He hears my voice and my prayer for mercy. Because He bends down to listen, I will pray as long as I have breath!” Do I hear shouted amens around the world? That’s from Psalm 116:1,2, a psalm with some of my favorite passages because they describe my life. I’d love to quote them all here, but I won’t … I often am brought to tears by the chapter.

Death wrapped its ropes around me…I saw only trouble and sorrow…

Then I called to Him.

How kind the Lord is! How good he is! So merciful …

Let my soul be at rest again, for the Lord has been good to me…

And so I walk in the LORD’s presence as I live here on earth!

***

All of that to preface a story that fits well with our series on hope.

Five friends were vacationing in Maine back in October. One of the ladies gave each of us a gift before we ended the week. She had purchased small pewter scallop shells, each imprinted with a single inspirational word. The words were all different; we drew our shells at random.

Yes! A scallop shell. I’d just finished the edit of a book by a pilgrim who walked the Camino de Santiago in Spain (Stuck in the Weeds, by Paul Stutzman), and from his experiences I’d learned that a scallop shell is the symbol of pilgrimage on the Camino. I liked the idea of a daily reminder of who I am in this world, and so I’d been looking for a scallop charm to wear on a chain. This little pewter shell cannot be put on a chain, but it does the job of reminding me, lying on my kitchen windowsill, looking up at me each day with its Word.

Well… well. That’s about all I want to say about the last two weeks since Thanksgiving. Holidays. (When I say “holidays,” does that conjure up stress and emotional turbulence for you?) Called for jury duty. A computer that one day decided to go on strike. Illness. Oh, my. As my mom used to quote, “The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley (go often awry).”

That’s from a poem by Robert Burns, written way back in the 1700s. He was ploughing, and his plough destroyed a mouse’s nest.

Ah! doesn’t that happen to us? Just about the time we have things in life arranged comfortably … then something ploughs through. A plough breaks everything up. Turns everything upside down. The poet’s line concerns the mouse, but it could be describing us: “Oh what a panic is in your little breast!”

Yes, my plans for the whole month of December 2015 have been ploughed through…

So … as you have probably noticed … we are not yet done with our hope meditations!

But back to the scallop shell.

The word carved into it is RELAX.

Now, when I drew that shell, I was delighted it was a scallop shell since I’d been looking for one. And that word on it? Well, okay, the word was nice. But I was pretty relaxed at that time, and I didn’t think much of it. I was just happy to have a scallop shell to remind me I am a pilgrim.

Now, though, RELAX is going to be my Word of the Year.

At the end of two weeks of turmoil came a short little blurb a local businessman asked me to edit. The subject was on choosing a Word of the Year instead of making New Year’s resolutions. One word. A word that requires you to both change your thinking and your behaviors. A word to think about and put into practice every day of 2016. I’ve never been a resolution-maker or keeper…but a word of focus and action? That intrigued me.

And here’s my word on my kitchen windowsill! Looking at me every day. Carved into the symbol of who I am!

Yes, every day, this pilgrim is determined to relax. I think back over all of the hope we’ve discovered this year. All the promises given to us by our Creator, our Father, the one who saved us and saves us every day.

The one who the psalmist spoke of… This God, our God, who makes it possible for our souls to be at rest as we walk in the presence of the Lord every day.

Why would I not RELAX in the journey ahead, knowing who is walking with me and has made all these promises?

The scallop shell will stay on my windowsill for next year.

And the word is now carved on the heart of this pilgrim.

How kind the Lord is! How good He is to me!

And lest you think this is all coincidence…

Yesterday I got an email from a friend in another state. She knew nothing of the scallop shell or the suggestion of a Word of the Year. She knew only that the last two weeks a plough has gone through my life.

Her email included this line: “I will pray for both of us to relax in the Lord…”

Still learning to trust

The first text came just as I was getting dressed, not quite ready to appear in public:

Put your head out the door and look at the sky.

I peeked out the door, then threw on whatever clothes were within reach and grabbed my camera. Had to get outside.

Just then another text came from someone else: Sunrise alert!

sunrise alert

God was simply putting an exclamation point after what He had been saying to me that morning. He knows me well, and He knows the effect morning light has on me. And this morning light was spectacular.

The conversation with God had actually started the morning before when, in our small Sunday-morning group, one man — who is in a situation most of us can hardly imagine — expressed his deep faith in Jesus’ promise:

“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33).

Jesus says the highest priority of His disciples is the kingdom of God, seeking to live out His kingdom right where we are in whatever circumstances we are. The kingdom of God is what is to have our prime time, the fullness of our energy, the urgency of our thoughts. The Father knows what we need in this life—not only spiritually, but also physically—and it is “His business” (said this believer on Sunday morning) to provide that for His children. He is the Great Shepherd.

Ah. Our business is the kingdom. God’s business is providing the necessities for the lives of His children.

That started me thinking about how I spend my days. What always gets first place on my to-do list. What gets my morning time (my prime time) and what is saved for oh-whenever-I-have-a-few-minutes. I tried to imagine a bar graph that would show in stark, colored detail the amount of time I spend tending to what I think are “necessary” things in life (or worrying and thinking about such things) compared to the time I’m giving to life in the kingdom.

I confess, I’m almost afraid to look too closely at the detail of that graph.

This man’s testimony was yet one more nudge from the Spirit. I’ve been grappling with one thing in my life, one thing that it seems I cannot let go of. The Spirit says I must let it go and trust Him fully. Prying my fingers loose is so hard. I’ve grown up in a culture that argues against fully trusting God for all things. Our culture says we must be our own providers, our own strength, our own … can I say it? … our own gods.

Then, on the spectacular-sunrise morning, I read this wonderful verse:

“Don’t be afraid. Just stand still and watch the LORD rescue you today. The [enemies] you see today will never be seen again. The LORD himself will fight for you. Just stay calm” (Exodus 14:13).

That’s Moses, telling a frantic, desperate people that God would indeed protect and provide for them. Those people saw absolutely no way out of the predicament they were in. So God turned a sea into a desert road in order to rescue them.

Just after I read that story, along came an email directing me to a blog that ended with the same verses in Matthew 6 that I had been thinking about: “Seek ye first …”

And then came the sunrise. A gift from One who loves me and wants me to trust Him in all things.

So I would like to shout this from the rooftop:

THERE IS NOTHING LIKE STARTING THE DAY WITH A DIRECT PROMISE FROM GOD!
(Source: Elaine, from her rooftop, under sunrise skies)

Nothing, just nothing like it!

I cannot doubt today that God is in this place where I now stand and He intends to keep every promise He’s made to me.

Oh, Father, help my unbelief.

*

All my eggs in one basket

Aesop tried to teach us not to put all our eggs in one basket. I don’t think he was the first who advocated that, and he certainly wasn’t the last. Today, that old saying is often repeated in the business world, applied to everything from marketing to investments.  Some people even apply this “wise” advice to their relationships and social networks.

But Sunday morning, standing in church and singing the hymn, “Lead Me, Guide Me,” I realized that I must put all my eggs in one basket. It’s really the only way to find the life I want to live.

The first verse of that hymn begins, “I am weak and I need thy strength and power.”  The second verse declares, “I am putting all my trust in thee.” 

Aha. Exactly what I’m doing.  Or at least, I want to do this. I am trying to gather my eggs, one by one, and get them all into one basket: trusting God with everything. 

This old adage about eggs in one basket has been referred to as a “risk mitigation strategy.”  We’re advised not to put all our resources, all our energy, all our hopes into one place … just in case.

But putting all my trust in God is a “risk elimination strategy”.

Because where, oh where, is a safer place for ALL of our trust and our hopes? Our Father is the ultimate source of strength and power, He is the god of hope and the God of peace, He will never abandon His children, His love and mercy surround us forever. Who but my Maker knows what I really need? Who else can keep my lamp burning and change my darkness to light? Who else can release my feet from the snare? Who else can be such a shield? Who else is a forever rock of refuge?

My soul finds rest in God alone;
    my salvation comes from him.
He alone is my rock and salvation;
   he is my fortress, I will never be shaken.

Trying to gather all my eggs,

Amen

*

P.S. I had already posted this, then read Phil Cate’s post for this coming Friday … it’s also on trusting God … really hits home. Watch for it!

*

Scripture: Psalm 62:1-2 (NIV)

Eternal Rock — For All Generations

Trust in the LORD always,
    
for the LORD GOD is the eternal Rock.

Brown and gold leaves crunch underfoot as I walk out the sidewalk to see Grandson and Granddaughter off on their first day of school. They are taller. Another summer ended. Another year gone by.

Born in 1900, my Grandma Kate lived over one hundred years. We often talked of all the changes she had seen in her years, things like microwaves and washing machines and jet planes and televisions and telephones. How much life changed for the young mother who did laundry with a washtub and board and lived without an indoor bathroom!

And already — although I am nowhere near one hundred! — I see how much life has changed since my early years. My grandchildren know nothing about rotary dial phones, LP records, manual typewriters, life before computers. (A black and white TV screen must surely be a sign that something is not working properly.) Just as Grandma never dreamed that someday doors would “see” her coming and open magically for her, when I was twenty, I never dreamed I would be skyping, texting, and driving according to directions from a talking black box.

So I cannot imagine what life will be like for my adult grandchildren.

I do know that they will have within them that which yearns for God. Just as my grandmother did. Just as I do. Just as blue eyes and temperaments and dimpled chins and body shapes continue to appear throughout a lineage, so every generation, since the beginning of time, carries also the need of God’s love, His strength, and His protective refuge.

Even when we cannot name what we seek, we look for

          quenching water
          everlasting love
          welcoming home

My grandma was losing her sight during her last years here. But she had eyes that saw the Invisible, and I believe that eyesight grew ever sharper as the years went by. No matter what was going on in the world around her, she depended on the strength, stability, and refuge of the eternal Rock.

When cell phones are unknown to teenagers and when travel from one place to another is by means not even conjured up by today’s science fiction writers and when handwritten letters are seen only in museums — for as long as this earth stands and beyond — the eternal Rock will still be there.

In every generation, His hand of love holds those who come to Him. His love endures forever. We can trust in Him always.

Scripture: Isaiah 26:4 (NLT)