The Mountains Among Us

The day we left the mountains behind us broke his heart a little. We drove away with all our possessions crammed in a moving truck and said goodbye to those majestic peaks. It was all he could do not to sob like a baby heading up the canyon and away from our home as we knew it.

Mountains are his thing. Growing up in the flatlands of Kansas as a kid, he found himself in the mountains when he left home as a young man. He built trails, he led trips, he hiked up to the places where the oxygen is thin and makes your lungs burn with every step. He even donned a backpack and trekked for weeks in a place so remote it literally hadn’t been mapped. There aren’t many places left like that. Fresh ground never trod by man’s footprint. Places where a man can conquer the world simply by stepping forward into it. 

The mountains called to him, and he went out into them. Exploring and finding himself, his vocation. He would return from his explorations bent on etching out a living from the crags and cracks that loomed high above his head. He learned that a livelihood could be made from photographing an adrenaline rush. That entire budgets existed to show off the grandeur of the streams that flowed from the hallowed peaks down to the mighty oceans. The mountains–they became his destiny. They were his food. They were his religion. They marked his identity and gave him a purpose to pursue something greater out there in the Wild. 

The mountains shaped my husband and called out something within him that nothing else ever will. And he misses them, I know. 

We left the mountains behind for the rugged shores of a great big lake. It’s beautiful here. And cold. No fast-paced city at the foot of a lofty range. The country sky is our night scene now. There’s no real skiing or climbing. We have state parks and scenic views. The gardens are breathtaking and the winters have an untamed raw beauty all their own. Summer is heaven at the lake. Trees tower overhead, bluffs poking out into the rippled waters below. The people are honest and kind. And our family is here too, so he’s learned to morph his business into something that survives the rocky shores and lush forests of our new home.

Some would say he went soft. Gave up a life of freedom and adventure for the chains of a family. He collected a wife who doesn’t earn an income and a lawn that needs to be mowed. He’s got four kids, with appetites and needs and little legs that can’t go fast. Can’t go far. Certainly can’t climb up to those high places where he once stood surveying his life, the world literally at his feet.

And he’s ok with that.

You see, out there in the wilderness my husband discovered what so many men have missed on their coming-of-age treks through the woods. As a young man he may have found himself in the mountains, but he did not lose himself there. While he may have left behind a scenery so special to him, he took along the lessons of that landscape. 

Now he looks out on a different vista, fraught with all kinds of new challenges to tackle and majesties to behold. In one direction the view sweeps off into the future, four little peaks, all uncharted. All untamed. Each day the sun rises on these glimmering little mountains, promising adventure, treachery, and hope for the years yet to come. And though the journey is slow and the slog is long, he knows the thrill of making it to the summit. That’s what keeps him going on this path of fatherhood. The climb he is on now is one that will make him a real man, one who can lead generations onward into the unknown, laying down his own rights for the benefit of those who come after him. These four peaks are the toughest terrain he has ever tackled and the most rewarding footprints he’s left behind.

 

And at their center stands a mother mountain, the one landscape he must learn to navigate so well, he could do so with his eyes closed. It will take a lifetime to map her out. To learn her highs and lows, her vulnerable spots, her rocky slopes, her glowing meadows where her heartbeat can be felt underfoot. The mountains may have called him out, but she calls him home.

They say there aren’t many uncharted, wild places left in the world where a man can really go searching and find himself. But my husband would disagree. For him the most life-changing mountains are not the ones he left behind, but ones living, breathing, and rising up in his midst. He would say it’s  the mountains among us that make us who we are.

And as I watch him traverse his way through life, really it is him who has risen up, becoming a mountain himself. A man of enduring resolve, an icon on the frontier that is our family, and a majestic pointer to the One who’s glory he reflects. 

A Mother’s Prayer

The Lord bless you, and keep you,

The Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious to you.

The Lord turn His face toward you, and give you peace. Num. 6:24-26

My His blessings rest upon you and a thousand generations, for your family, and your children, and their children, and their children. Generation after generation.

When you wake up, when you lie down, when you go out or come home, when you cry in pain or laugh in delight, know that He is with you. Always with you.

May His presence go before you, behind you, and beside you, surrounding you forever, and filling you deep within. He is for you, like I am for you.

May He show you His face, and turn your ears to His voice. May you know Him, may you seek Him, may you find Him, and may you love Him.

In your triumphs and your failures, in your weakness and your victories, in your wandering and your resting, He is working goodness for you.

Dwell in His lovingkindness, search out His wisdom, walk empowered by His breath, rest in His promise.

Yahweh, bless them. And keep them. And make your face shine upon them, and be gracious to them. Please turn your face toward them, and give them peace. Let your favor rest upon their shoulders, generation after generation, to their families, and their children, and their children, and their children. May the legacy of the gift and inheritance of renewal be to them a promise that endures and a blessing that multiplies. Give them a home and a life in the realm of your glory, a house along that mighty river of life, and a spirit made whole.

 

 

 

*Portions of this prayer were inspired by Kari Jobe’s song, “The Blessing.” Highly recommend!

The Wilderness of Coronavirus

The weight of weariness is heavy.

Four of my friends have experienced panic attacks this week. Another two reported they cannot get the medical care they need for painful, urgent issues due to medical staff furloughs and decreased appointment slots. Some people in my community are struggling to manage two or even three businesses, without childcare for their kids all while being prohibited from actually operating. I have friends who are still waiting on stimulus checks and others who have yet to see payment for the unemployment they filed weeks ago. And this is just in my town.

People around the globe are exhausted, scared, and angry. They don’t know what to do amidst the trying times we find ourselves in. They’re worried for their health. Their lives have been completely uprooted; their livelihoods in serious jeopardy of permanent collapse. Government aid has fallen short while local elected officials sit powerless to do much of anything under the current orders. For one reason or another, everyone is afraid.

Yes, the weight of weariness is heavy. When the system you rely on collapses and all the things you hoped would come through for you don’t, the shadows get long, the road ahead becomes confusing, and even sleep deprives you of rest.

My friends are praying people. They cry out in their exhaustion and anguish to a God they know loves them, hears them, and provides for them. But He couldn’t feel further away. They emerge from reading the Psalms with the courage to face the day, only to have their peace snatched up and their hope fainting within hours of closing their Bibles.

Their hurt is stingingly real. Their pain is long suffering. Their confusion is justified.

And their God is deafeningly silent.

It reminds me of Elijah, weary and outrunning death at Mt. Horeb.

And the word of the Lord came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

10He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

11The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks 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. 12After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

14He replied, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.”

15The Lord said to him, “Go back the way you came, and go to the Desert of Damascus. When you get there, anoint Hazael king over Aram. 16Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet. 1 Kings 19: 9-16 NIV

Ah, that still, small voice, calling at the edge of the cave. But it is not the comforting sweetness we might expect. In his weariness Elijah loses sight of the plan to the point God removes him from his vocation as prophet and sends him home.

In this time of great trial and despair, perhaps we too are like Elijah. In our searching for answers, have we missed our God passing by? Have we looked for Him to change our circumstances or remove our burdens, even while faithfully doing the work He appointed us to? Have we cried out longing for Him to take away our pain and bring justice on our enemies without the wisdom to see how He works?

To my suffering friends, my heart is burdened in heaviness for you. What our world is facing is unfair on so many levels, with human evil at every one.  But to attempt to offer you cheery answers would be to fail you now. And so I can only sit alongside you in your suffering and offer this ancient story of a broken man in the wilderness at the foot of a mountain.

The truth of this story is that so often our Maker does not remove our hardship, even for his most trusted partners. He never promised to rescue us from our circumstances. Rather, He promises that no circumstance could ever change His plan to rescue us. And He asks us to be faithful regardless.

“Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel—all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him.” 1 Kings 19:18

Our God will never relent on His people. Even in the face of unspeakable horror, He is faithful to His plan to restore His Kingdom.

So we may bleed out. We may suffer oppression, disease, terror, and heartache. We may fight the vicious monsters, and we may even lose the fight. But take heart if you can, because God has not lost His fight.

When the global system collapses, famine breaks out, plagues fall on the entire world, poverty threatens our children, and imprisonment and warfare linger on the horizon, His Kingdom is still at hand. And we are still His. (Gen. 37-50)

And so like true exiles, we must seek the peace of Babylon to the best we can. Live in harmony with our neighbors, take care of those who need us, breathe out kindness and generosity, and if the day comes and we can no longer abide under the law of the land, we remain faithful knowing only evil is burned up in the end.

Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.” Jer. 29:7

Weary friends, I will not fling another out of context Bible verse of hope at you. But know that your burden is not unseen. (Gen. 16:13) Your wilderness is not desolation. It is where your God will meet you and teach you how to be His own. (Ex. 40:38)

There’s Enough

Lately the entire world seems to be running out of things. At first it was the toilet paper. Carts so overloaded with the stuff that entire warehouses ran out in minutes. Then it turned more serious with food shortages. Bread, eggs, frozen pizzas, and cleaning products–all the basics in low supply. Last week the headlines turned to the shortages of masks, gloves, ventilators, and oxygen tanks. Experts predict that next the terrifying deficit will be hospital beds, doctors, and God forbid, morgues. Leaders are slamming other leaders; not enough medical help, not enough federal aid, not enough money.

If you are not working in an under-resourced hospital or other essential service that’s squeaking by on the bare minimum to keep things running, then you are probably one of the millions of Americans truly stuck at home with no job, no paycheck, and no idea of when those things will return.

Both as a nation and a world, we’ve come up painfully short. We are short on hospital space, lab technicians, and tests. We are short on ideas. We’re short on cash, and we’re short on time. To address one problem only worsens another. We either doom people’s lives or doom their livelihoods.

Our knee-jerk reaction during times of crisis is to protect ourselves. All it takes is a walk down a Walmart paper goods aisle to see that. We look for ways to keep our own families safe. In the face of scarcity, we stockpile. Turned inward, we conserve what we have, and damn others when they get in our way.

It’s easy to see the world through the lens of scarcity right now. However, as a follower of Jesus, that lens doesn’t fit in what should be my frame.

The worldview which supposedly defines me is one of abundance. God plants a garden. He gives it to humans as a generous gift and tells them to eat freely and go make more of it. An astute reader will notice an undercurrent of unrestricted fruitfulness–of endless resource and bursting potential–that runs the whole length of the Bible. And while we’d like to think in times like this that sin has messed all that up, Jesus himself operates under the worldview that there is enough.

For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on…Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap, nor gather into barns, and yet, your heavily Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they…If God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you?…But seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matt. 6: 25-33

The truth is that humans love to dwell in worry. We love to think of ourselves, worry about us and our clan, and take advantage of things to get the upper hand.

In the mind of Jesus this is how the world works, but it’s not how the Kingdom works. In the Kingdom, there is enough. There is a generous Giver who bestows everything lavishly on everyone. There is a cloud that rains down manna, a rod in the hand of an old man that parts the sea and swallows our enemies. There is a garden and a tree, and a new Vine bearing enough fruit to feed the entire world. We can’t see it, but it’s here. Jesus told us the Kingdom is at hand. Abundance is at hand.

In this time of global crisis where everything is scare, I’m challenged to wake up and look at the world through this lens of abundance. But when people are separated from their loved ones or when the system we count on collapses under the pressure, this becomes a hard ethic to embrace. When the paycheck stops and money is weeks away, what are we to do?

And I am no saint here. It wasn’t long ago that questions like these would have sent me into a panicked frenzy. In my own home right now, this virus is affecting our family. Our source of income is on hold, and we have no idea when that will resume or what damage this shutdown will cause. Like many we are healthy now, but for how long?

And so our grim situation creates the atmosphere the world is currently running on: anxiety, desperation, and fear. But in my spirit I am wrestling against those natural responses. While all very real, they are at odds with my new humanity in Jesus. When the world tells me there isn’t enough, He calls me to live in the abundance of the Kingdom.

Brothers and sisters, I will not downplay the gravity of the COVID-19 situation. To do so would be a grossly insensitive and frankly, unhelpful, move. Instead I urge my fellow Jesus followers to see this as a time to dig in. It’s a time when we are called to live by Kingdom rules when the Kingdom is hard to see. We must choose to live as though there is enough, even in scarcity.

This means radical generosity. It means unwavering trust. It means purchasing the extra bag of groceries for a friend or assisting a neighbor when they’re in need. It means leaving a larger tip, being unusually inventive, choosing to exercise extra patience with our families, and spending the extra ten minutes at bedtime going to war in prayer for those on the front lines. It means we reach out wherever we can, however we can, as often as we can. And it means that when we are down and out, we lay down our shame and guilt and ask for help.

Kingdom living takes grit. And grit is hard to come by when the tragedies once on the other side of the world are now pounding relentlessly on our doors. But Jesus words echo loudly in my mind. “You of little faith!” Matt. 6:30

It is with great faith we must step forward into the Kingdom. We live by its rules and hold fast to the truth that our jobs, our money, our children, the food in our pantries, the gas in our cars, and the very breath in our struggling lungs is a gift. An abundance mindset should define us all; it should be the light in this uncertain time. May we have the faith to give freely and use our resources wisely, trusting that the God who provides for the birds provides for us. Because in the Kingdom, there is enough.

Shelter in Place

I woke up today feeling as though I live in a novel. Some historical fiction piece set in the wartorn 1940’s where people have to dive into a bomb shelter, not knowing if the world will be there when they emerged the next day. Or maybe its more akin to a sci-fi thriller where civilization survives a biological event of epic proportions when everything around them is contaminated. The truth is that neither of those two scenarios are far from the reality I woke up to today.

Today our governor shut down everything nonessential in our state and ordered everyone to stay home.

Our world is in the midst of an unprecedented crisis. Things I’ve only ever seen pictures of in history books are now my daily concern. Take the empty grocery store shelves. Basics like bread and eggs are in short supply, and I had to swallow a lump of guilt as I took the last two packages of tortillas last week. Local businesses have shut their doors, many truly worried that they may never open them again. Office buildings sit empty, all the workers sent home. Our schools are closed. Our gyms are closed. Our churches are closed.

Meanwhile people on the other side of the world are dying terrifying deaths, alone, separated from their loved ones. And they say it’s only a matter of time before we see that here too. To open everything back up–to go on with life– would mean putting countless lives at significant risk. But to shut life down means many people will never recover from the severe economic repercussions of our current reality.

And so we find ourselves in Psalm 23, a shadowed valley with mountains of ruin on either side. There is no good choice. No right way to tackle a pandemic–everything has a consequence and everyone thinks they are right.

Even though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil.

For those like myself, the irrepressible urge to help others is the worst part. I want to save every small business. I want to pray for every sick person, hand a cup of coffee to every exhausted medical worker, and make every weary trucker and grocery clerk a sandwich. Instead I slap on a smile and work hard to keep my own little people busy and entertained as we pass the time away. But deep down, my heart is breaking for the loss and hatred that is tearing our world apart.

How do we respond? What do we do when “shelter in place” is our only real option? I find myself looking to the ultimate shelter.

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the LORD “He is my shelter and my refuge. My God in whom I trust.” Surely He will save you from the fowlers snare and from the deadly pestilence. He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find rest. His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Ps. 91:1-4

God does not promise that we will never suffer or live without times of dire uncertainty. He does not promise an easy, carefree existence. But He does promise life–abundant life–that no virus can take away. He provides a shelter that no state governor can match; a provision that makes a trillion dollar federal bailout look like a foolish joke. And He promises a salvation no human could ever acquire on their own.

To be fair, now is not a time for flinging Bible verses at scared or bitter people. It isn’t a time to pat friends on the back and say God’s going to make it all better.

But for those who follow Jesus, it is a time to genuinely trust–to go all in with our faith–and live in the abundance, prosperity, generosity, and healing that Jesus demonstrated to His followers. Because when God strips away every cure, every security, and every mortal attempt at hope, the only thing left to cling to is the everlasting promise that our King will return to rescue His Kingdom.

So hold fast, my friends, wherever you are. Have courage. Be kind. Shelter in Him.