But God said, “I opened my arms,” by Ken Davis, São Paulo, Brazil

Romans 10:21 But God said, “All day long I opened my arms to them, but they were disobedient and rebellious.”

There are some things about God that we rarely experience or even see others experience. So it can be hard to accept certain teachings as we just can´t relate to them. For example, how can a loving God punish those who turn their back on Him with eternal separation in a place we call hell? Can´t God just overlook their mistakes and make everything work out nice?

Recently Luci and I had a teenage girl stay with us for a month. Her parents had divorced when she was very young and she had grown up without a father. Her mom asked us to keep her for a month so she could spend some time in a “normal” Christian home with married parents who love each other in order to experience a life that she had never known. We accepted the request to be surrogate parents.

We had a plan: work, activities, food and fun stuff. She would work with us at the publishing house for part of the day boxing up books so she could earn some spending money. In the afternoons and evenings, we would cook together, play games and do family things. We would take her to the beach, a mountain resort, go shopping and let her see, experience, and learn some new things.

We had established and gone over our house rules with her. The day of her arrival came and we headed off to the airport to pick her up. Our month as surrogate parents had begun.

In a new environment, she was timid, so we did most of the talking at first. She seemed to understand and agreed as we went over the plans and expectations for her time with us.

The next day as we were eating breakfast and discussing the day’s plans I was suddenly reprehended by my 14 year old “daughter for a month” who barked out at me, “STOP CHEWING WITH YOUR MOUTH OPEN!!”

At fifty going on sixty, and in a culture where parents and elders are highly respected, I have to admit I wasn’t too accustomed to being told what to do by a 14 year old. Even still, it wasn’t proper behavior for a teenager. So after a couple of similar outbursts I told her that she was welcome to discuss with me whatever she wanted, but that it needed to be done respectfully and courteously. My words fell on deaf ears.

House rule number 1 had been broken – “Obedience to what we say”.

Everybody has a bad day from time to time and teenagers can be moody and grumpy without having experienced a change in environment, so we wrote it off to stress and let it go at that. After a few days of overlooking bad behavior, extending grace and providing some space for her to regroup and settle in to her new environment, there was no apparent improvement as the disrespectful behavior extended from me to others.

House rule number 2 had been broken – “Good behavior at home, church, Vida Nova and wherever we may go”

Now it was time to sit down and resolve this. My request for us to discuss her behavior was summarily ignored as she walked around me and off to her room. A little later I tried again. I was completely ignored as she continued on with what she was doing with no acknowledgement that I had said anything. I waited patiently for her to finish. “We need to talk,” I insisted as I stood in the doorway. She pushed me out of the way to leave the room making it perfectly clear that she was not going to talk to me.

House rule number 3 had been broken – “Honest open conversations”

At dinner that night, I tried again to open the lines of communication by asking her a question. No response. I waited. “WHY ARE YOU STARING AT ME?” she snapped. “I would like to talk with you,” I replied. “I DON’T WANT YOU TO LOOK AT ME!! I DON’T WANT YOU TO TALK TO ME!! Not now, not ever.”

It was clear at that point that House rule number 4 wasn’t going to happen –“Have a lot of fun together”.

I was ready to throw the thorns and briers into the fire to be burned, but Luci wanted to work the soil, irrigate and tend to our young sapling. She thought she might be more successful at communicating, so we agreed that I would keep a low profile and Luci would be the primary point of contact. I watched and prayed and reflected on what I observed while Luci spent the rest of the month working at building a relationship. There were some outings to town, special food purchases to please her tastes, play dates set up with the children of our friends, and other things that while not resolving the underlying problems at least minimized direct confrontations.

Toward the end of the month, Luci took her out to the mall, splurged and bought some expensive snacks for her. Then Luci asked if she could sample one of the snacks. “No, you can’t have any, they’re mine”, was the response. After some physical aggression against Luci, things deteriorated even more.

When the month was up, we headed back to the airport for her to catch her return flight home.

In silence, with no hug, no “Thank you” or any indication of gratitude, not a single, “I made a mistake” or “I’m sorry” ever having been uttered during the entire month, she turned her back and headed off to catch her flight.

For a month she stayed in our home, ate our food, played with our friend’s kids, barely did any work, and used our internet incessantly to entertain herself and ignore us. For a month we provided for all she had. In the end she walked away unappreciative of Luci’s kindness and wishing I was dead.

I don’t recall ever having been so disrespected, disdained, mistreated, unappreciated and hated by anyone in my life. It made me realize how God must feel when the people that He created, live in the world he created for them, with the health, energy, talents and abilities He gave them, greedily taking the earth’s bounty for themselves, living for their own desires, and all the while ignoring, disrespecting and belittling their Creator and Sustainer.

While I have not doubted God’s Word of warning to those who turn their back on Him, this month I believe I felt how God must feel when totally rejected. It was an experience that made understanding eternal separation for those who chose to ignore God more comprehensible. There is truly no fellowship between darkness and light. We are saddened.  Please pray for her, and for us.

There are only two kinds of people: those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, ‘All right, then, have it your way.’” C S Lewis, The Great Divorce

 

But God does not answer

Psalm 22:2, 19 Every day I call to you, my Godbut you do not answer. Every night I lift my voice, but I find no relief. . . . Oh Lord, do not stay far away! You are my strength; come quickly to my aid!

This is certainly how our brothers and sisters in Venezuela often feel. The Body of Christ must cry out with them and for them!

“Warning: the children of Bolívar are journeying across Latin America.”

Simón Bolívar is Venezuela’s national hero, similar to George Washington for us.

But God shows me a path to healing, by Christina Moorman Silva

Only a few of you know, but this time last year, I was EXTREMELY sick. I had zero energy, painful joints, lots of swelling, blotchy skin, problems sleeping, and terrible brain fog. My overall health had been declining over the past few years, but at 38 yrs old I felt more like 83 and was just barely functioning.

My doctor did blood tests, finding that I was hypothyroid and had the autoimmune disease that causes it. The meds only made me worse – hair started falling out and hypothyroid symptoms got worse – but, since further blood tests showed my thyroid levels in “normal range”, my doctor ignored me. A “holistic” endocrinologist told me that autoimmune diseases just happen and there’s nothing I could do about it.

Now, I lived in Vermont long enough to know not to blindly trust the “experts” 😉 Praying for guidance and doing my own research, I found info on the Autoimmune Protocol diet and started that in October. Within weeks, I felt huge changes – joint pain, swelling, energy, brain fog all improved quickly. Now, 10+ months later, I’m SOOOO much better. I feel like myself again and feel like I’ve woken up from a bad dream. The diet allowed my body to heal and repair some damage that had been done to my gut and other organs, and healing prayer that I received solidified and confirmed those changes.

I took myself off of my meds in July, and recently had more blood tests… My thyroid levels are normal and my antibody count is almost zero. My body is functioning as it should and isn’t attacking itself any more. 😲😍 Doctors will say that autoimmune diseases are irreversible and that you just have to learn to live with them, which is NOT TRUE. I’m only one of many people who have helped their body heal by making changes in the food I eat! Yay for healthy food 😁😁😁

I will give thanks to you, Lord, with all my heart!
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and rejoice in you;
I will sing the praises of your name, O Most High!
-Psalm 9:1-2

**Note: I was not as sick as some friends who have more serious autoimmune illnesses like lupus or multiple sclerosis; my results were pretty quick because my body didn’t have as much healing to do.

But God gave peace

1 Kings 5:3-5 Solomon said to King Hiram of Tyre, “You know that my father, David, was not able to build a Temple to honor the name of God . . . But now the Lord my God has given me peace on every side; I have no enemies and all is well. So I am planning to build a Temple to honor the name of the Lord my God.”

On my early morning walk today in Plano, Texas, I was able to express to the Lord some of my gratitude for what he has done for me and for my family while I was 63—an amazing sense of peace. A lovely way to begin 64!

I know that many beloved ones are in the midst of turmoil and grief today, including the family of friends in Mexico who lost their lives in a car accident this week, and other friends whose home was invaded by robbers. Thus I don’t take these moments of peace in my own life for granted, and can only be grateful. Our times are in God’s hands, and he is faithful through every kind of moment that we experience.

And here’s the birthday song shared with me by my sibs:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8AglUMCKyns

But to God the night shines as bright as day

Psalm 139:11-12 I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night—but even in the darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you.

My dad used to say “You’re not really lost if you can speak the local language.” He wasn’t thinking of being lost in unfamiliar woods on a night with no moon and only the night creatures around you. That was my case when I went hiking in the Bear Run Nature Reserve one autumn afternoon, missed a turn or two where there were no signposts, and couldn’t figure out my way back.

As darkness deepened my anxiety increased, chiefly because Karis and a friend were expecting me to pick them up from their tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater when the house closed for the day at 5:00 p.m. We had carefully calculated her IV and medication schedule to accommodate this tour. Her medical supplies were in our car and I had the keys. We were an hour and a half from home, and it was growing very cold.

The bright spot in this scenario (pun intended) was that I had my cell phone. It wasn’t a smart or iphone, and the signal came and went, but as long as I had a charge, I could use its light. I tried several times to call Karis, without success. “Help, Lord!” was my eloquent prayer.

As I crashed along through the leaves, trying to make as much noise as possible to scare off any critters that might be sharing this adventure with me, my phone suddenly rang. It was a park ranger! When I didn’t show up, Karis had alerted a ranger with the help of Fallingwater personnel. Karis was fine, the ranger assured me. Her friend had broken into our car, so she had access to her IVs and medications, and protection from the cold. Relief flooded through me.

There were two rangers in the park looking for me. I was instructed to walk in the direction I was going until I reached an intersection of trails with a signpost, and a cell phone signal. Then I was to call the ranger back and they would know where I was. To conserve the charge on my phone, I shone it briefly to see the next piece of trail and whether there was a sign post, walked the distance I could see, then shone my little light briefly again.

Within a couple of hours, one of the rangers found me, only about half an hour from the entrance to the park, led me out with his powerful flashlight, and drove me “next door” to the Fallingwater parking lot where Karis waited with her friend. Later, I studied a trail map with the indicators I had, and calculated that I had walked close to twenty miles.

“You’re not really lost if you can speak the local language.” God speaks every language, and access to him doesn’t depend on having enough phone charge or a signal. Or eloquence.

But God was gracious

2 Kings 13:22-23 King Hazael of Aram had oppressed Israel during the entire reign of King Jehoahaz. But the Lord was gracious and merciful to the people of Israel, and they were not totally destroyed. He pitied them because of his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

I have been “oppressed” all my life by a need or compulsion to do more than I could reasonably handle. I didn’t start learning the word NO until I was in my forties, and it’s been a hard lesson to learn!

This morning I woke up feeling oppressed by this blog, which startled me because it has been my dream child for years. As I thought about it and talked to the Lord, I realized that my instinct is to feel that I MUST carry out what I’ve committed myself to: twice a week postings, even when I’m traveling. Then this verse reminded me that the Lord is gracious and merciful. He knows what I can handle with freedom and joy. That reminded me of 2 Corinthians 9:7, “You must each decide in your heart how much to give. Don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”

If you’ve been reading this blog, you know that while I was in Mexico, I lost about fifty “But God” posts I had written in anticipation of the intensity of the fall travel. No one has been able to explain to me how this bizarre event occurred. The loss to me feels irreplaceable. It feels to me like the blog, instead of complimenting the book, is now in direct competition for my already-challenged time and emotional energy. I can’t count on finding time to write new posts twice a week.

What I’m coming to even as I write this is a decision to boldly say “God is gracious and merciful!” and release myself from the twice a week commitment. From now until Thanksgiving, I will with joy post when I can. And I will definitely post YOUR But God stories when you send them to me!!

Meanwhile, I challenge you to think seriously about how and when God has intervened in your life, and whether you send it to me or not, write it down! Re-read the very first post on this blog. Remember, and tell. Tell at least one other person, to the glory of God, the encouragement of that other person, and the strengthening of your own confidence in God’s concern about your wild and precious life (thanks, Mary Oliver).

And if you think of me, please pray for my emotional stamina through these trips and events with so much focus on Karis. It is both joyful and challenging. If you want to follow my travels, I’ll be posting from time to time on the All I See Is Grace Facebook page.

God is gracious and merciful!

But Jesus took him by the hand

Mark 9:26-27 The boy appeared to be dead . . . But Jesus took him by the hand and helped him to his feet, and he stood up.

I re-read this story today because August 6 in the Western tradition of the church is the day we remember Jesus’s transfiguration. Jesus appeared in glory to three of his disciples, who heard the Father’s voice saying “This is my dearly loved Son. Listen to him.” As they came down the mountain, Jesus explained (again) to his disciples that he would die, but he would rise from the dead. Mark says they didn’t understand; they asked each other what he meant by “rising from the dead.”

Jesus gave them an object lesson. When they rejoined the other disciples, they encountered another son, and another father. This only and dearly loved son was tormented by evil (as Jesus would be) to the point that he appeared to be dead. But Jesus healed him and restored him to his father. Imagine the father’s joy! Jesus would shortly be truly dead, but God his Father would restore him to himself. Imagine the celebration in Heaven!

As I write this, two dear friends have just lost a dearly loved and only son. Another friend has lost his mother. Because of losing Karis, I deeply feel my friends’ gut-wrenching pain. And because of losing Karis, I also can imagine the joy in Heaven as each one’s wounds—emotional, spiritual, and physical—are being healed. As each beloved one’s suffering is soothed; as all that went wrong in our broken world is put right. As God’s tender, gentle love is poured into this son, Gabe, and this mother, Irene. As Jesus takes each of them by the hand, and helps them to their feet, and fills them with the Life that here we can only glimpse.

I’m reminded of the “year verse” Karis chose for 2014. It’s from another story in Mark. A little girl has died. “Holding her hand, Jesus said to her, “Little girl, get up!” (Mark 5:41). Karis had been discouraged. She believed that through this verse God was telling her to stop her “pity party,” as she called it, and get back to living. Indeed, over the next few weeks Karis was more animated than she had been for some time. But on February 5, she felt Jesus’ hand and heard his voice in Heaven. Imagine her joy. Imagine seeing Jesus in all his glory, not just for a few minutes as the disciples did on the mountain, but always.

“For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face . . .” (1 Corinthians 13:12).

But God made it grow

1 Corinthians 3:6 I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow.

One day when Karis was discouraged about her limitations, her “Aunt” Claudia, leader of her high school discipleship group, told her this story:

A gardener carried two clay pots, one whole and one cracked, down a path to water his garden. The cracked pot felt badly that it could not perform as the whole pot, getting all of the water to the garden. The gardener told the cracked pot to look back at the path they walked each day. The cracked pot saw that on the whole pot’s side of the path, everything was dry and barren. But on his side, beautiful flowers grew.

 

 

“Beautiful flowers grow all around you, Karis,” Aunt Claudia told her. “That’s what the Master Gardener wants you to see.”

 

From then on, Karis’s favorite nickname was “Crackpot.” She took a pottery class her freshman year at Notre Dame, and wrote in her journal (January 2002), “A jar of clay. Working the potter’s wheel I come to learn better what this means. I want to make a cracked pot.”

Karis associated the cracked pot with 2 Corinthians 4:7, “We have the light of Christ shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”

I myself feel a bit cracked and leaky today. Lord, please shine through the cracks, and by your grace leak the living water of your Holy Spirit. Because you can make beautiful things grow.