Monday, May 30, 2011

Redemption Rising

The sea wind whips around my body, laced with salt and sun. I turn my face toward the gust of ocean perfume, letting it rush into my wet eyes and tangled hair.

A young mother walks by, quieting her crying baby, handing him the leash that pulls her waddling dachshund in her wake.

She looks at me for a moment, and I wonder if she wishes she looked so calm, so easily caught up in this sea-song of grace.

Her son whimpers, and she walks on, tied to the rhythm of baby’s cries, doggie’s waddle, and a checklist that keeps on drumming to the steady tick tock of a time that never slows.

I watch her disappear beyond the climbing jasmine and sailboats, and I’m aware that the song pounding in my heart doesn’t match the calm etched on my face. It swirls, like the eddies beyond the weatherworn docks, and surges like the waves that smooth the wind-tossed sand. 

Its melody is sorrow; its harmony is loss.

My salty eyes sting and I gulp hard, tapping my feet to the drum of the wake, trying to will my spirit to dance in time with the sea. But this inner song swells; rising like the tide, swallowing the stillness the wind carried to me.

There was a time, not very far off, when my spirit sang a different melody. I tried to transpose its symphonic score into words so I could always remember God’s faithfulness, his song-inspiring goodness. Like the Israelites, who sang Miriam’s Song after crossing a split sea, declaring the good things God had done, looking forward to the good things he was yet to do.

But this song of praise, its jubilant melody grew faint, and now this new song pulses through my veins. And this new strain, it sings of hopes that mounted with wings but never summitted, of a sturdy future that turned out to be flickering shadows, of dreams punctured by the sharp thorns of disappointment.

This new song, it sings dissonance into my soul, reverberating tension that makes my insides quiver. And this dissonance, it makes me wonder. Have I lived with a dwarfed vision of God’s goodness, a pint-sized understanding of his faithfulness?

A still small voice answers, “I do not give as the world gives…”

“Behold, I make all things new.” (Revelation 21:5)

And I realize, this song, it speaks of the sorrow God is using to renovate old things, of the loss he is using to make room for gain.

“I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.” (Exekiel 36:26)

This song, it sings of the suffering that softens my heart like clay, in the hands of the Master Artist who would make us hearts like His.

“And [I] will continually guide you, 
And satisfy your desire in scorched places.” (Isaiah 58:11).

This song, it tells of a soul that was striving, full of desire, looking to satisfy, led to rest by the only One who can.

" not let your heart be troubled."

This new song, it’s rising, rushing into the cracks in my heart, and I listen hard. I listen because I think I hear a whisper, assuring me that this, this is the sound of redemption.

“Yet if you devote your heart to him and stretch out your hands to him….life will be brighter than noonday, and darkness will become like morning.” (Job 11:13-17)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Promise Spelled H-O-P-E

A couple of months ago I was roused from a deep sleep by a clear voice declaring, “They’ve bought the lie that their lives are about them.” I’m not sure if a bizarre dream precipitated this declaration, and I don’t know who “they” were, but I know I was one of them. That voice was talking to me.

As the words reverberated in my heart, memories from the past year came crashing into the quiet of my peaceful room. I saw myself packing up and moving from my community of seven years, and then trying to keep my head above water in a new job while bogged down by something that looked suspiciously like mono; I saw a young man slip a radiant diamond on my left hand, and the flurry of activities that gained momentum as a wedding drew nearer; I saw myself in bed in a dark, cluttered apartment while I battled virus after virus in the midst of wedding planning and learning the ropes at work; I saw piles of boxes stashed in every corner of my dark apartment as my mom and fiancé helped me move, once again, to an uncluttered place of my own; I saw my clinical nutritionist telling me my adrenal glands were fried and so was my immune system; I saw rain hit my windshield as I drove home late one night, my left hand feeling naked without the diamond that once graced it; and I saw myself listening to my doctor announce two days later that I had mono and wouldn’t be feeling better anytime soon, and should give myself permission to just rest.

All of these, my memories, from my life, stuffed in the deepest crevices of my heart, and yet somehow, this clear voice speaking into the silence, telling me they’re not really about me.

And then I thought of Joseph, the colorful-coat wearing dreamer from the biblical book of Genesis, who had more sorrowful memories by the age of thirty than most people have after a lifetime. Lonely, blood-stained memories that must have ripped through his soul when he laid down to sleep, woven in and out of his nighttime dreams, and punctuated his days with unbearable grief. Memories of scornful, mocking brothers; of a colorful, bloodied coat; of the long hot caravan ride that left traitorous loved ones looking like ants on the horizon; of the aging, beloved father left to grieve the loss of a favored son; of the silver coins jingling in his slave trader's pocket, given in exchange for his services; of false rape accusations hanging thick in the air; of the disappointment flickering in a boss's eyes after years of earning his trust; of the long days and dark nights in a jail cell surrounded by thieves and murderers; and of the two years waiting in the dark, forgotten by the man who promised he'd remember.

I recently read a book that lauded Joseph's ability to forgive his brothers when they stood before him for the first time in thirteen years, after they caused him unimaginable suffering. I once heard a teacher point to Joseph as our model for trusting God even in the valley of the shadow of death. Awhile back I listened to a professor describe the way God used Joseph to sustain the nation of Egypt, as well as his Jewish family during a brutal famine. But Joseph's story isn't just about Joseph, and it's not just about the individuals Joseph's life touched, or the people God used him to save.

When Joseph was reunited with his brothers in Pharaoh's palace, he begged them, "Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life...God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance."

His words echoed the words God spoke to his aging, childless great great grandpa Abraham generations earlier: 

"I will make you into a great nation.
I will bless you.
I will make your name great.
You will be a blessing to others.
I will bless those who bless you.
I will put a curse on anyone who calls down a curse on you.
All nations on earth
will be blessed because of you."

This ancient promise brought life to Abraham. God blessed him with a son named Isaac, who had a son named Jacob, who had twelve sons, one of whom was named Joseph. And somehow, God planned on using these sons to bless all the nations on the earth. But he had to sustain them and make them into a great nation first.

Joseph was the seed planted in the womb of one of the most powerful nations in the world, where his small clan grew in safety for hundreds of years. Even when enslaved by Egypt, Abraham's great great great great granddaughters birthed many hearty sons, and Pharaoh grew afraid of this great nation.

Joseph was the linchpin whose life enabled his growing family, when freed from slavery in Egypt, to dispense God's justice on the Canaanites and occupy the land of this barbaric, blood-spilling nation.

Joseph's family-turned-nation was great enough, because of their years in Egypt, to settle into Canaan and prosper. And even when the Israelites assumed the horrific practices of their pagan neighbors, and were then attacked by enemies and oppressed by the powerful, a small remnant of God's people clung to the promise he'd made to Father Abraham. A promise God clarified later when he assured his suffering people he'd send a Messiah from the tribe of Joseph's older brother, Judah; a Savior who would bless all the nations of the world.

Joseph's story is 11 of 880 pages in my Bible. Eleven pages in a story that's not finished yet: the story of the Messiah, the Savior born into Abraham's family, who still speaks words of hope to all the nations of the world, declaring: "I have stripped sin of its power, and sorrow no longer has the last word. I will dignify the prostitutes, homeless, and handicapped; I will remove the shame of the adulterer and the guilt of the pious. I will make your blind eyes see stars hanging so bright and low in the sky you'll think you can grab them, and make your deaf ears hear the thunderous roar of rain on the roof; I will heal your lame legs so you can run so hard your heart wants to burst from the thrill of it; I will give rest to the weary. I will make ugly things beautiful and old things new; I will turn tongue-tied hillbillies into international preachers and arrogant businessmen into humble missionaries; I will put bread in the pantries of the poor and use my children to do it; I will be a lover to the lonely widow and a father to the abandoned orphan; I will rid your heart of its hardness and rub ointment into its throbbing cracks when it's broken; I will never leave you or forsake you. I will breathe life into the coffin of your selfishness and free you from the prison of your anxiety; I will be faithful to the divorcee and speak tenderly to the never-been-married; I will restore the relationships you've broken, and I will fight for the weak and oppressed; I will give you victory over death. And if you trust me enough to give your life to me, I will use you to bless the nations. I will graft your vaporous story into my eternal story, and I will use your sorrow-turned-to-joy to show the world that my story is Hope. The hope of glory. The certainty of a happy ending."

© by scj