Stones of Remembrance Party this week

In Hershey, PA! 1210 Fishburn Rd, 6:30 p.m. Thursday, August 2. RSVP karenelliottjohnson@gmail.com.

Pittsburgh, PA! Church of the Ascension book signing 10:00-1:00, Sunday, August 5 after both morning services. See http://www.ascensionpittsburgh.org/.

Stones of Remembrance

In Joshua 4, God told Joshua to use stones to build a memorial to what he had done for the people of Israel. “In the future your children will ask you, ‘What do these stones mean?’ Then you can tell them . . . These stones will stand as a memorial.” (Joshua 4:6-7) At Stones of Remembrance parties we tell stories about what God did in the life of Karis Joy Kornfield and her family. 

But the Holy Spirit prays for us

Romans 8:26 And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us, with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.

In several situations right now I don’t understand what God is doing. I am frustrated and hurt by things happening in beloved ones’ lives and don’t know how to pray. It comforts me deeply to know that the Holy Spirit prays for me, with complete knowledge, understanding, and wisdom. And with empathy for the pain and confusion I feel. He groans for us. With us. Our brokenness does not frighten or intimidate him.

Several years ago while working with incest victims I discovered the Japanese art of kintsugi, which repairs broken pottery with gold. What does this photo communicate to you? Please share your thoughts!

Kintsugi-pitcher-whole

But God said, “What are you doing here?”

1 Kings 19:3-4, 9-13 Elijah was afraid and fled for his life . . . “I have had enough, Lord,” he said. “Take my life . . .” But the Lord said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah? . . . Go out and stand before me on the mountain.” As Elijah stood there, the Lord passed by, and a mighty windstorm hit the mountain . . . but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. And after the earthquake there was a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper . . . and [again] a voice said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

The recent eruption of Volcán Fuego in Guatemala reminded me of the following incident in my life.

When I was fourteen I had the privilege of attending a retreat for English-speaking teens beside Lake Amatitlán in Guatemala, with a guest speaker from the U.S. His theme was Romans 12:1-2, about offering our whole lives to God. The fact that almost fifty years later I can remember the text is testimony to the impact the retreat had on me.

On the last day of the retreat, we climbed a mountain next to Volcán Pacaya, an active volcano that frequently spews fire and ash. Our climb was a dirty, sweaty struggle through ash many feet deep to the designated picnic spot at the top of the mountain. But it was worth the struggle. The view, as we ate our sandwiches with a cool wind refreshing us, was breathtaking.

After lunch, our speaker challenged us to take the step he had been drawing us toward through the whole retreat: Worship God truly by offering him your whole selves as a living and holy sacrifice. He directed us to find a spot by ourselves on the mountain top to consider this decision.

I still remember where I sat, and the vista spread out before me: range after range of mountains, the volcano to my right, and the lake shimmering in the valley. God’s creative majesty gripped me. In the stillness, I heard God’s whisper, “What are you doing here, Debbie?”

Like Elijah, I told the Lord I was at the end of my rope. I had hit a wall. I wanted to be done.

Like Elijah, I felt completely alone. I felt I couldn’t talk to anyone about the things I struggled with, the wounds I had suffered and the burdens I carried. Coming to the end of this retreat, I didn’t think I could handle going back to my real life.

What was I doing there? I was offering God my broken, weary self, and asking him to take me from that mountain top directly to Heaven. But as he did with Elijah, God sent me back. He said, “I will go with you. Listen for my gentle whisper.”

As he did with Elijah, he showed me I was not alone.

But God was displeased

2 Samuel 11:27 When the period of mourning was over [for the death of Bathsheba’s husband], David sent for her and brought her to the palace . . . But the Lord was displeased with what David had done.

There’s something very satisfying about pulling crab grass out of my garden.  Especially since I’ve been away from weeding for three weeks and there’s been plenty of rain, so the unsightly things have had the chance to stretch their ugly tendrils in all directions. Find the root and with one good yank the whole thing comes free.  I can almost feel the flowers taking a deep breath of relief.

As I was weeding early this morning before my grandson Caleb arrived to play while his mommy and daddy work, I wondered whether the Master Gardener has the same sense of satisfaction when I let him pull weeds out of my heart-garden. Then over breakfast I came to this verse in my daily reading.

Adultery. Lying. Murder. It sounds like a soap opera. How did David, the man after God’s own heart, get to this place? I am SO GLAD that the Lord was displeased. What if he hadn’t cared? Out of his displeasure, God took action to confront David with what he had done. And to give David a path forward, out of that dark, awful place he was trapped in. A way to pull the weeds that were flourishing in his soul.

When I was little, maybe seven years old, I lied to my father. I did it to escape punishment for something I had done wrong. I don’t remember now what that wrong thing was—perhaps it was just a childish mistake, not an intentional wrongdoing. But I remember clearly the torment I experienced as I tried to go to sleep that night, the lie I had told burning into my conscience. It’s my most vivid early memory of recognizing myself as a sinner, capable of deliberately choosing to do wrong. I tossed and turned in my bed for hours.

Finally, when I could no longer bear it, I eased myself from the covers, tiptoed through my sleeping brother and sisters (four others of us in that bedroom), out into the darkness of the corridor, across our little patio to my parents’ room. Shaking so much I could hardly manage the few steps to my father’s bedside, I touched his shoulder. He didn’t wake up right away and I almost bolted. But finally he did rouse, and saw me, and quietly got up and out to the patio to find out what was wrong without waking my mother.

Making my confession was possibly the hardest, most liberating thing I had ever done. Dad listened attentively, acknowledged my sin, and granted me absolution. Hearing the words “I forgive you” has never since been as sweet as it was for me that night. It was the yank of the weed from my heart.

I went back to bed and slept soundly, with relief, peace, and joy sprouting. Dad never mentioned the incident again, and neither have I, until writing these words!

You may be thinking that my “little” lie doesn’t even fit into the same space as King David’s wrongdoing. But I don’t think God sees things like that, because every sin hurts not only us but others as well. And little ones, if not pulled out, soon send out tendrils in many other directions.

But God frustrates

From Psalm 146 Let all that I am praise the Lord . . . Joyful are those who have God as their helper . . . He keeps every promise forever. He gives justice, frees, opens the eyes of the blind, lifts up those who are weighed down, loves, protects, and cares. But he frustrates the plans of the wicked. The Lord will reign forever. Praise the Lord!

I just got back from a lovely fast walk through a small piece of bustling Cuernavaca, Mexico, a route that has become familiar to me over the last two and a half weeks. These walks have served not just for exercise but for praise and prayer, lifting many concerns, friends, and family members to the Lord.

This morning my sister Jan listed seven odd things that have happened since I came to visit them. We wonder whether there is spiritual warfare involved because they are so unexpected and bizarre. So I want to ask for your prayers that any plans the enemy may have would be frustrated and blocked. And while you’re at it, praise God with me for all of the wonderful things this psalm tells us about our Lord.

Steve and Jan just left for the hospital, where Steve will have surgery this afternoon.  I had hoped it could be done sooner so I could help more with his recuperation, but at 5:00 Saturday morning I’ll take the bus to Mexico City for my flights home. So if you can, add to your prayers God’s provision of the right friends at the right moments to help with what Jan, who battles severe rheumatoid arthritis, can’t do. Thanks.

I am so encouraged that one day the Lord will reign, forever. Then there will be no more need for surgeries or for medications with terrible side effects. There will be no more death, despair, loneliness, mourning, or sadness. No more scams or fraud or lost computer work; no more hunger, tyranny, betrayal, deceit, or oppression.

One day . . .

But God is a shield

Psalm 3:3 “O Lord, I have so many enemies; so many are against me. So many are saying, ‘God will never rescue him!’ But you, O Lord, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high. I cried out to the Lord and he answered me . . . I lay down and slept, yet I woke up in safety, for the Lord was watching over me. I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies who surround me on every side . . . Victory comes from you, O Lord.”

A few months after Karis died I began having nightmares and flashbacks—3-D “awake” nightmares—reliving traumatic moments with Karis, particularly in the ICU. This time, different from when the events actually happened, I felt all of the powerful emotions which simply had no space when Karis was fighting for her life.

It was horrific. I was afraid to fall asleep, afraid to be alone, afraid flashbacks would hit me at inappropriate moments that would alarm other people. I had trouble focusing on work and on other  concerns. I felt consumed by “me,” a very unhappy place to be. I was paralyzed by the pain and terror my conscious mind had closed off to me until suddenly the lid came off.

My “enemies” were not people, but emotions: panic, terror, confusion, despair, helplessness, impotence, utter exhaustion. I felt neglected and abandoned—when had anyone cared about me during those years of relentless stress and crisis when the focus was always on Karis? I felt shame for thinking these kinds of thoughts; for being what I called a self-centered wimp. I felt completely overwhelmed.

In retrospect, how good God was to shield me from so much of this while I was actually going through it, when the focus rightly had to be on Karis. And how good God was to walk with me back through it all when the time came to face what repeated, unpredictable and intense traumatic events had done to me through the years of unremitting tension and stress. How good he was to provide people who understood what was happening and gave me hope.

As I cried out to the Lord for help with each nightmare and flashback, he answered with relief and healing, one by one, one at a time, over a period of many months. Though I feared it would never end—“God will never rescue me!”—the time eventually came when I was able to sleep and wake in safety, knowing the Lord was watching over me.

I can say now in an entirely different way than before, “You, Lord, are a shield around me; you are my glory, the one who holds my head high. I am no longer afraid of ten thousand enemies who surrounded me on every side. When new ones show their faces, I know you can defeat them too, because victory comes from you.”

But God is so rich in mercy

Ephesians 2.1, 4-5, 10 “Once you were dead because of your disobedience . . . But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that . . . he gave us life . . . For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

Did anyone listen to the Joni CD that I linked in the last post? Here are some lines from the song  I wanted you to find (by Joni Eareckson Tada):

Oh Lord, dear Lord, great author of the play

                May I in wisdom learn the only part that I need play

                Is the part that you wrote for me, the part that you wrote for me.

God gave life to both Joni and Karis in unusual circumstances (that on the face of them don’t seem to reflect God’s mercy) to accomplish unique purposes that would not have happened without their disabilities. Check out JoniandFriends.org if you’re not aware of her amazing ministry. Ephesians 2:10 is one Scripture that is behind this song of Joni’s; Psalm 139:16 is another: You saw me before I was born. Every day of my life was recorded in your book. Every moment was laid out before a single day had passed.

What do you think of this—the idea that God has a specific role for you to play in his great drama? In Joni’s song, she realizes she doesn’t have to try to play other people’s roles; only her own. And that God is directing her, showing her how to play her part.

This morning I woke up eager to post what I had already written, only to discover that I have lost over fifty posts—months of work!—I had already prepared in advance of my busy fall schedule. My “But God” document contains a total of three pages! I don’t know what my laptop did with all my work! It’s not in the trash or the recycle bin or anywhere. I can’t possibly reproduce all the stories and wise thoughts (ha ha) that God gave me over the last several months.

I am stunned—but I’m looking to the playwright to show me how to play this part of my script. It’s another opportunity to learn my biggest, ongoing life lesson: trust. How will “now this!” weave its way into his big story? I don’t quite see it, but I know he does! And whether in his rich mercy he restores this part of my life to me, or doesn’t, I will have one more But God reason to praise him.

By the way, please don’t flood me with suggestions for how to recuperate my work. I have two very savvy sons-in-law who can help me if anyone can. Thanks!

But God corrected

2 Samuel 7:4-5, 12-13, 17 [The prophet Nathan approved King David’s desire to build the Temple.] But that same night the Lord said to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David . . . I will raise up one of your descendants, your own offspring . . . He is the one who will build a temple for my name.” . . . So Nathan went back to David and told him everything the Lord had said.

Have you ever had to go back and say, “Oops—I was wrong. The truth is . . .” One thing that impresses me about this story is God’s gentleness with both Nathan and David. Both of them had their hearts in the right place—both of them wanted to honor the Lord. God just needed to tell both of them that he had a different plan, a different way to achieve what was in David’s heart. The evidence of David’s sincerity is the beautiful prayer with which he responds to Nathan’s second visit. “How great you are, O Sovereign Lord! . . . May your name be honored forever . . . Your words are truth . . . For you have spoken, and when you grant a blessing to your servant, O Sovereign Lord, it is an eternal blessing!” (from 2 Samuel 7:22-29).

The spirit of this story makes me think of Karis writing in the hospital on Oct 22, 2002 (age nineteen), “I want to be an agent for the healing and purification and preparation of Your Bride, Lord. Your Church, Your Temple.”  This theme comes up over and over again in Karis’s journals over the next ten years as she prayed, passionately, for the worldwide body of Christ.

 Was Karis able to fulfill all that was in her heart? She certainly didn’t think so. Near the end of her life, on Nov 22, 2013, she wrote, “My dreams—should I abandon them? I am like Frodo the Hobbit coming to the moment of today with no glory of my own, stretched thin, not beginning to comprehend, rummaging in the dark for Your voice, for the next step. When Abraham or Moses tried to make the promises happen, they failed to please You: hitting the rock, fathering Ishmael. Could I have misinterpreted what You spoke to me, Father?”

Thinking about this today, in the light of 2 Samuel 7, through my tears I remember the challenge my son Dan shared with us after Karis died: that each of us carry forward in our own lives the legacy Karis left for us, especially the legacy of deep and profound love for other people. And I think of “Anthony,” whom  you will meet in All I See Is Grace, living out in his life so many of Karis’s dreams. And I wonder how many of us are meant to be what Karis so longed for, agents for the healing and purification and preparation of the Temple to be the Bride of Christ.

As I write this I am listening to an incredibly lovely CD, sung by Joni Eareckson Tada, one of Karis’s kindred spirits. Here it is on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GFz9I1Ordto. One of Joni’s songs speaks directly to the theme of this post. Let me know when you hear it!

But God said NO

Gen 17:15-19 Then God said to Abraham, “Sarah will become the mother of many nations. . . .” Then Abraham bowed down to the ground, but he laughed to himself in disbelief . . . and said to God, “May Ishmael live under your special blessing!” But God replied, No—Sarah, your wife, will give birth to a son for you . . . and I will confirm my covenant with him.”

Abraham wanted to help God out by taking a shortcut toward fulfillment of his promise. But God said NO—it will be exactly as I the Lord have planned and determined. Not your way—my way.

One Saturday morning as Dave and I dawdled over breakfast, eleven-year-old Karis walked into the kitchen looking very serious. “Mom and Dad, I have an important request. I don’t want you to pray any more for me to be healed. I read 2 Corinthians 12 this morning. Paul prayed three times for God to heal him and God said no. Thousands of prayers have been said for me and God can heal me if he wants to but it seems like he has said no. I want you to pray instead that I will live the way God wants me to whether I’m well or not. I just memorized 2 Corinthians 12:9, ‘My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.’ That’s going to be my life verse from now on.”

God’s way proved extremely costly, to Karis and to all who loved her. Daily I wished for a different way—a better way, I thought. My way. What God of power and love treats his children as God treated Karis?

But God said no. He said, “My grace is all you need.”

I hate to be told no. There’s a streak of the stubborn two-year-old still alive in me. I think I know better—that if I were in charge, things would be different. Not just different—better.

I catch myself thinking I should be God.

Yikes!

But God watches over us

Psalm 33:16-22 Don’t count on your warhorse to give you victory—for all its strength, it cannot save you. But the Lord watches over those who fear him, those who rely on his unfailing love. He rescues them from death and keeps them alive in times of famine . . . Lord, our hope is in you alone.

Times of famine . . . Karis lived with hunger, not because there was not food available, but because her body couldn’t handle eating. Her words express better than mine can the hope in the Lord alone that hunger generated in her. These are selections from her journals that don’t appear in All I See Is Grace.

Mar 4, 2003 My friends want me to be healed; to be freed from suffering. I want—not exactly that. I want to understand, to see what you see—and purpose—in my suffering. I die daily. I cannot bear the hunger. I don’t believe I was created to die of hunger.

Jun 2, 2003 My hunger—physical hunger—seems unshakeable.

Dec 2003 I loved the day, despite the pain and hunger and weariness.

Jan 6, 2004 Give me what I need for this day, Lord. I come fainting from hunger and hoping for daily bread. Teach me, Lord, what trusting You “alone” means, more richly. Don’t lead me into despair. But also don’t let me skim this valley. I acknowledge my hunger before You. Lord, I am afraid. I am vulnerable. Make me strong; guard my heart and mind, fight for this my only Earthly body. If only You would come quickly! If only I could leave this place—

But not without first it leaving what mark on me You would will it leave. Even if I limp for the rest of my life like Jacob, let me be Israel—the one You chose to wrestle with till morning, to birth Your nation, to carry Your dreams and promises, through whom You blessed the peoples.

Sep 2006 The hunger I experienced in 2005 has marked me. I have an anxiety which testifies hourly to the need for physical bread. “Man shall not live by bread alone . . .” but what of that? Can the soul truly function within a starving body?

Jun 19, 2008 Last night something diminished my angst. I admitted, finally, that this missing bit in my brain caused by opioids was not going away anytime soon; nor the hunger; nor the pain; nor the discomfort. That I had to direct all those longings as a reminder toward a deeper hunger: my hunger for You, Lord. I have to direct it into prayer. Not prayer of complaint, but rather of enduring desire. Remind me of this again and again until I have trained my body and my thoughts to this freedom.

Jan 4, 2011 Have I looked more to my happiness than to others’ interests in my time with You, Father? Have I valued anything more than You—be it warmth or avoidance of pain or cold or hunger, be it a particular person or habit? Show me clearly, that I might change. Purge my habits, Lord.

Lord, teach me, too, to rely fully on your unchanging love. Give us this day our daily bread: physically, spiritually, emotionally, and relationally. Take the bread you give us and multiply it to feed others.