Shade

On these hot summer days, it can be difficult to find relief from the heat. Most of us have become so accustomed to A/C that even the short walk from our air-conditioned cars to the air-conditioned grocery store can leave us sweating through our clothes as we melt our way across the asphalt parking lot. When those automatic doors slide open greeting us with a gust of arctic air, we are happy once again.

 

When we do venture outside on a hot, muggy day and the sun is beating down without a cloud in the sky, it’s not long before we start looking for cover. An umbrella or a tree or even the shaded side of a building can make such a difference, but why? We’re still outside. No mechanical flow of cool air has been introduced. All that has changed is that we’ve found something to block the sun’s powerful rays. We’ve found shade.

 

For me, I’ve noticed a frequent desire to find shade but not just because it’s been so hot. With the world beating down on us with so much that’s too much, I’ve needed to create breaks for myself. I’ve needed to surround myself with people and thoughts and quiet moments that can block out what might leave me scorched. I’ve needed to sit on my porch without anything in my hands and just watch what’s happening in my front yard.

 

I know I can’t stay out of the sun forever. I need to venture out and see what’s to be done and who’s to be helped. I am strong enough to stand a little heat, but I can’t let the world overwhelm me so that I’m left with heat stroke. I must apply the sunscreen of the knowledge of what is right, and I must wear the sunglasses that give me a worldview lens which puts everything in proper perspective.

 

But when I do seek out shade, I’ll look for someone bigger than me who can cast a wide enough shadow to give me relief from those days it just gets too hot. I’ll think about Psalm 91 which reminds me that “Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the Lord: He alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him.”

Believe me

I watched a bit of the Republican and Democratic conventions a few weeks ago. I couldn’t watch the whole thing—just soundbites from speeches and nuggets of interviews from protesters and political pundits—but it was enough to get the general feel for the events.

There weren’t a lot of surprises. Mostly you hear the same message from both parties with nuances according to the preferences of their respective groups: “I’ll cut taxes…” or “I’ll fund programs…” or whatever they think will get the most whoops and hollers from the audience.

One thing that continued to surprise me was the passion of many of the delegates and supporters. As the camera would pan across the front row of attendees, one could see people wearing campaign buttons, wild-looking Uncle Sam hats, and expressions of complete worship and devotion. They were definitely invested in their candidates. It made me ask myself if I could ever be that excited about politics. Could I ever believe in a candidate that fervently?

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older or maybe because I was born just a few years after the scandal and resignation of President Nixon. Maybe it’s because nearly everything about nearly everyone is out there and available for public consumption. I couldn’t say for sure, but I can often sense cynicism creeping up on me, seeping into my thoughts and feelings and actions.

So instead of concentrating on all the things I’m suspicious or doubtful of, I’ll think about what I do know and believe in.

After almost 19 years of marriage, I believe in my husband. His thoughtfulness and kindness are as consistent as the rotation of the Earth.

I believe in people. Most people want good for others. Most parents love their children. Most brothers love their sisters. Most of us are willing to put others ahead of ourselves and take turns. Just visit a 4-way stop to test this theory.

I believe in the benefits of fresh air and good food. I believe in smiles and the power of the phrase “Can I help?” I believe in the simplicity of children playing. I believe in teamwork.

I believe in God and His Son. I believe there is more to this world than what can be seen with human eyes. I believe that Love and Goodness and Mercy will ultimately win against Hate.

I believe in these things because of my personal experiences. But my belief also involves faith—believing without cold, hard proof—and that’s the tricky part. Doubt is readily available for those looking for it.

Contrary to what I feel now amidst the madness of the current political landscape and in our bustling modern lives, these feelings of doubt aren’t really new. More than 1,600 years ago, Saint Augustine—former playboy turned priest—wrote these words: “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” He had lived the first 30 years of his life seeking to satisfy his desires but something was missing. A voice told him to open the Scriptures and read. Augustine found something to believe in.

I may not be able to get behind any political candidates, but I will fight these feelings of distrust. To combat this cynicism and at the risk of looking foolish, I will continue to believe—in people, in God, and in what seems impossible.

Hidden Glory

When I was growing up, my sisters and I loved to look at Highlights magazine. Our Aunt Jo would renew our subscription every year so that the magazines would keep showing up in our mailbox each month.

 

We liked to read the short stories and the jokes. We marveled at the drawings made by kids from all over the country. We shook our heads at Goofus and his bad choices in the “Goofus and Gallant” comic strips. We fought over who got to circle the answers in the “What’s Wrong?” and “Hidden Pictures” sections.

 

When my own children began to receive Highlights magazine, I realized some helpful tricks when looking for those sneaky “Hidden Pictures.” For instance, scanning the picture for things that seem slightly out of place usually leads to a hidden item—often a toothbrush, a pencil, or a bell.

 

If only everything we search for was found so easily.

 

When Moses had received the Ten Commandments and God was ready for him to lead them on to the Promised Land, Moses asked for some assurance of their success. He said, “If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.”

 

It wasn’t as if Moses was unfamiliar with God’s ways. He had seen God’s power played out on a very large scale in Egypt. Even with his unusual access to God, he knew that much of God’s glory was hidden.

 

The parts of God he couldn’t see were frightening to Moses. He felt that in order to rely on Him and truly lead His people to and through Lord-knows-what, he had to improve his understanding of God, thereby distinguishing the whole group as something special. To Moses, God revealing His glory equaled God bestowing His favor.

 

Even if Moses didn’t/couldn’t comprehend what he was asking, God did. And God knew Moses was in for a real shocker.

 

The Lord told Moses He was pleased with him and He would grant his request, but with one caveat. The only way Moses would survive being exposed to such glory would be at an angle.

 

The Lord said, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live…There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

 

There is something so intimate and gentle about God covering Moses as he stands, trembling, in the crevice of a rock. It isn’t a forced showing of God’s splendor. After all, Moses asked for it. It’s a fatherly, protective action.

 

I wonder at times if God hides things from me for my own protection. There are elements of His character and motives behind His actions I will never, ever, ever understand. But the best possible response I could ask for is what the Lord told Moses: “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest” and “I know you by name.”

 

Then, if I’m brave enough and my trust is in Him, I can respond like Moses and say: “Now show me your glory.”

Puzzled

In the Kingdom of Nerds, there is a special place for those of us who enjoy a good jigsaw puzzle. I’m not especially talented at assembling them but—in just the right circumstances—fitting two tiny puzzle pieces together can be pretty exciting.

 

For instance, take my recent experience with a 500-piece puzzle of the Grand Canyon my mother-in-law gave us. My daughter and I dumped out the tiny irregularly shaped pieces and sorted them. We stood the lid to the puzzle box against the box so that we could reference the picture from time to time.

 

Seeing that we’re highly developed humans, we started by constructing the edges of the puzzle. (Only a Neanderthal would begin a puzzle any other way.) Finding a piece with a flat edge is like panning for gold and finding…a flat-edged puzzle piece. (As exhilarating as the find can be, it’s probably not the same as actually finding gold.)

 

After the bottom and sides were mostly done, we worked on the blue and white pieces that made up the 1-inch strip of sky along the top. Everything was rolling along until we hit a snag. We realized that the remaining 400 pieces were variations of brownish-orange and orangey-brown. Suddenly, the puzzle became less of a fun treat and more of an obligation. My daughter—the only other one in my immediate family who would help me with the puzzle—abandoned me for other activities.

 

Now the puzzle has sat there, on the living room table for the last couple of days, mocking me with my failure to follow through and finish what I started. I’ll give it a few minutes throughout the day, attempting to join two seemingly compatible pieces together only to find that they are just millimeters from connecting. But all my brute force won’t make them fit. The only way to complete this puzzle is to sit down and do it, piece by piece by piece.

 

As I trudge on to defeat the jigsaw puzzle, I do have a very important advantage (unfortunately it’s not patience). I have the lid to the box. I have the picture I’m trying to recreate. I have the explanation for the darker pieces (shadow) and the greenish pieces (tree branches). With the information the lid gives me, even though it may be difficult, it’s not impossible.

 

If only I could see the whole picture more often. Maybe then I could better understand suffering and loss. Maybe I could have some grasp of the why’s and the how’s and the when’s I ask every day.

 

But I don’t have the box lid to the jigsaw puzzle that is my life. I don’t have all the answers and it’s frustrating because I can’t see how this is all supposed to end. Without any type of guidance, I just sit down and get to work. I find a piece and try it at every available, logical spot until it fits. Sometimes that works, and sometimes that piece gets thrown into a pile of pieces I can’t figure out. Pieces that seem to have no place or purpose.

 

We may not have the full picture but we do have a Lord willing to live out each step with us. When the Psalmist wrote: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” He should’ve added “and a box lid to my jigsaw.” It’s my responsibility to walk along the path but He offers to be our guide. He wants to sit by me as I construct the puzzle, reminding me where to place each piece if only I’m willing to listen.

 

I won’t give up just because things are confusing and unpredictable and difficult. I am stronger than this jigsaw puzzle. I refuse to be defeated.

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No Pain, No Gain

Here’s a sentence you’ll never hear: “Abby is so graceful. She moves like a feather floating on a breeze.” I can hurt myself just walking down the stairs, but when you add complicated workout machines and the synchronized hefting of heavy weights to the equation, my clumsiness multiplies exponentially.

 

I have managed to fall off of and/or hurt myself on almost every exercise machine at my gym: I was brought to my knees by a moving treadmill. I nearly lost a toe in the stair climber. I hit myself in the face with the bar of the rowing machine.

 

To add insult to injury (literally), I actually pay someone to tell me to do these painful exercises. When I want to quit running or lunging or lifting, my workout coach pushes me to keep going and I do, knowing full well I won’t be able to move my arms or legs the next day.

 

So why do I submit myself to such torture? It’s about losing weight and gaining muscle and feeling energized, of course. It would be oh-so much simpler if I could just pay the monthly fee and see the desired results without showing up to exercise, but that’s not how it works.

 

For many of us—especially those of us with a bit of a stubborn streak—this “No Pain, No Gain” exchange can apply to our quest to transform into the people of character we’re striving to be. When I ask God to make me more patient, He doesn’t just hand over a big plate of patience. He allows me to suffer trials to develop it. When I ask God to help me trust Him with every part of my life, He doesn’t automatically make me a person fully reliant on Him. Instead, He gives me painful opportunities to stretch the muscle of my faith. The soreness and discomfort have a purpose.

 

After exercising, my workout coach suggests that we eat or drink protein to help those exhausted muscles repair and grow stronger. There have been times in my journey of faith where I need the same kind of post-workout treatment. My faith has been stretched with waiting on unanswered prayers and exposure to fresh examples of misery and despair. At the point of spiritual exhaustion, I need the reassurance of friends and the embrace of my kids. I need a quiet conversation with my husband just before bedtime. I need to sit with my Bible and my notebook behind a closed door. It’s time to reflect and repair and, hopefully, take a step closer to being the woman I’m meant to become.