But God bears our griefs

Isaiah 53:3-4 He is a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him . . . But he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows.

With all of Pittsburgh, we are shocked and grieving. The massacre at Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill Saturday took place just a few minutes away from us, in a lovely neighborhood that is home to many of our church family. Dr. Rabinowitz, who was shot when he tried to give aid to other victims, was a friend and colleague of one of our members for forty years. He (and other victims) was known and loved by many others, including a couple who saw him at breakfast shortly before he was killed.

Last night at our service of mourning, we could weep knowing that God is acquainted with deepest grief; he carries our sorrows with us. And yes, one day he will swallow up death forever. The sovereign Lord will wipe away all tears (Isaiah 25:8).

But “how long, how long till these tears are gone?” (Eric J. Marshall’s song that Elise and Chris so eloquently shared with us). We weep that this tragedy has hit us here, where we live, tearing the fabric of our peaceful lives. But we weep for all of the senseless killing that has taken place across our broken and bleeding nation. How long, how long must we all endure this?

We must each of us do what we can, not only in grieving and expressing our solidarity with the families of the victims, but also in taking action to limit such tragedies in the future. This has nothing to do with the second amendment! No one suspected Robert Bowers would be a killer.

But God heard and answered, by David Kornfield

Psalm 31:22 In panic I cried out . . . But you heard my cry for mercy and answered my call for help.

In my early marriage I sold Fuller Brush products door to door. One Sunday I put the week’s checks from my customers on the top of the car as we were putting things inside to go to church. I forgot to take them from the top of the car – some $1000 back in 1978 when that meant a great deal. Arriving at church, I went into a panic. I got a ticket driving home as fast as I could, but found no checks anywhere.

A lady had a dream about finding signed checks all over the place. She asked herself if that were to happen, what she would do. And then as she took her morning walk, she saw a piece of paper fluttering in a bush. Intrigued, she went over and found a signed check… and then another… and another. She looked up our name and address and showed up at our apartment later that day with some twenty signed checks. Whewee!

We lose things. All kinds of things! We sometimes think we’re losing our minds. BUT GOD…! 🙂

But God himself watches over you, by David Kornfield

Psalm 121:5 God himself watches over you.

God cares. Psalm 121 starts out “I lift my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from?” The Psalmist is clearly in trouble. He’s looking for help, somewhat desperately. In the remaining seven verses of the Psalm, the phrase “he who watches over you” or a similar phrase are repeated five times! Sometimes we may feel like we have to look for help or look for God. Little do we know that he’s looking much more than we are! Looking out for us!

Last week I badly wanted something for my ministry. It was taken away from me. Something else was offered. While I really wasn’t happy with what was offered, by the end of the week I realized that what was offered was a far better fit for my calling than what I had so much wanted.

I wanted one thing, BUT GOD… God watched over me and kept me from what I wanted because He knew that what I really needed was something else entirely. Thank You, God!

But God watches over, by Rachel Kornfield Becker

Psalm 33:17-18 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, who rely on his unfailing love.

One night I had a bad nightmare.  The next morning, I went running with a friend with whom I regularly exercise.  We were halfway up a hill at Frick Park and we were discussing my dream when I stumbled, hit the ground hard, bounced a few times, and my car key and cell phone went flying out of my hands.  I got up rather stunned and grabbed my phone but completely forgot about my car key.  I limped back to my car, bleeding, and then realized I didn’t have the key.  My friend had to leave for work so I walked back down the path to look for the key but couldn’t quite locate the place I fell and didn’t see the key anywhere.  I was so grateful I had my phone and could call an uber to get me home, and grateful for simple things like antibacterial lotion and band aids.  My husband and I went back by the park that evening to pick up the car with his key and we discussed spending about $250.00 to buy a new electronic key fob once we got back from vacation.  We were leaving in a couple days.

Two days into vacation my husband pulls up to our rental house, gets out of the car, walks around to the windshield wiper and pulls out something that was stuck there.  It’s the key!  Someone must have found it at the park, used it to identify the car, and instead of driving away with the car simply tucked it there for us to find!  Meanwhile, that conversation with my friend also helped me work through what my nightmare was about and I didn’t have that dream again.  These extraordinary displays of human kindness remind me of the loving heart of God toward me.

But God watched over them

Ezra 5:3-5 [Governor] Tattenai soon arrived in Jerusalem and asked, “Who gave you permission to rebuild this Temple? . . . But because God was watching over them, the Jews were not prevented from building.

The first few chapters of Ezra describe Zerubbabel and Jeshua’s challenges and successes as they led the small remnant of Jews in Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple that had been destroyed seventy years before. We wouldn’t know this story if Ezra hadn’t come along fifty-some years later and written it down. We would have missed an important link in the chain of God’s relationship with his people.

Reading Ezra has encouraged me these days in my own efforts to record what I know from Karis’s journals and have experienced myself of God watching over our family even through our toughest times. Here’s an example, a very simple one but it had great impact for me:

I was keeping vigil at Karis’s bedside during a time when, because of bleeding and seizures caused by overdose of one of her medications, she wasn’t mentally occupying the same reality the rest of us were in touch with. I was hungry, but even more exhausted than hungry. The idea of walking down to the hospital cafeteria and standing in line and having to choose what to eat all seemed like too much effort.

I was thinking about this, not even actually verbalizing it to the Lord, when there was a knock on the door and a nurse walked in with a tray of food. “This patient was already discharged and the food will just be thrown away. I thought maybe . . .?”

The nurse was actually embarrassed about offering this to me, as if I might be offended. But she was even more discomfited by the tears that sprang to my eyes. She said, “Don’t tell anyone. I’m not actually supposed to do this.”

Several more times during that hospitalization when that nurse was on duty, trays of food “mysteriously” appeared in Karis’s room that Karis, of course, couldn’t eat. (But please don’t tell anyone.)

God was watching over me in such a precious, personal way. And I have no doubt he is watching over you too. So here’s a little challenge for you:

Between now and Thanksgiving, write down a story about God caring for you. And on Thanksgiving Day, share that story with someone.

If you like, you can send your story to me for this blog. I would love to share a dozen stories of God watching over us.

But God is planting seeds of peace and prosperity

Zechariah 8:11-13 [This is what the Lord says after listing challenges facing his people.] “But now I am planting seeds of peace and prosperity among you. . . . I will rescue you and make you both a symbol and a source of blessing. So don’t be afraid. Be strong and get on with rebuilding the Temple.”

Here is another time God is saying “Don’t be afraid.” Zechariah was a contemporary of Haggai (last post). Clearly this was a message people of that time needed to hear as they faced both internal and external opposition to their work of rebuilding the Temple.

And I think it’s a message we need, as we face opposition to rebuilding the temple of the Lord, the church (see 1 Corinthians 3:16). What are the obstacles you face today? Are they more internal (your own personal struggles to live in a godly and fruitful way) or external (attempts by others, consciously or unconsciously, to sabotage your work)? What are your particular vulnerabilities? Can you hear God say to you today, “Don’t be afraid. I get it—I see what you’re facing. But don’t worry. I’ve got this!”?

I can’t imagine anything more wonderful than to be both a symbol and a source of blessing. This is what I long for with the Karis story: to encourage others. So I find it interesting to note what God says he will do: 1) plant seeds of peace and prosperity among us, 2) rescue us, and 3) make us both a symbol and source of blessing. That’s his part. Our part is 1) don’t be afraid, 2) be strong, and 3) get on with rebuilding the temple.

In every case, though, I find myself dependent on the Lord to be able to do “my” part. I can only not be afraid because God has promised to walk with me, even through the valley of the shadow of death. Even through remembering the tough times.  I can only be strong because his joy is my strength. I can only get on with the work he has given me because of his gifting and blessing. It’s really all about him!

But God says, “Be strong and get to work”

Haggai 2:3-5 Does anyone remember this Temple in its former splendor?  . . . This new Temple must seem like nothing at all! But now the Lord says: Be strong . . . and now get to work, for I am with you . . . My Spirit remains among you, just as I promised . . . So do not be afraid.

When Karis emerged from sixty days of induced coma in January, 2005 her body, a temple of the Lord (1 Corinthians 6:19), had been all but destroyed. She had no intestine; instead, she had two huge drainage tubes emerging from her abdomen that she had to carry around with her for a year. She was so weak she couldn’t even lift a finger to push the nurse call button. She had to rebuild her foundations, not just physically but academically, emotionally, spiritually. It seemed an impossibly long road back to what would never be “normal” again.

In Karis’s own words, once she was able to start writing again:

Mar 14, 2005 I cried a lot today. I cried for the full, beautiful life I once knew.

Mar 27, 2005 If I cried often in those days after my comas it was because I wanted desperately to feel alive again, to be myself again. But my soul had been buried so deep to survive the comas it wouldn’t come back to me quickly. Like Little Bo Peep’s sheep, it would emerge eventually—but on its own time. Meanwhile, I was distant from myself. Various times I attempted the Bible or Catherine of Sienna, Rumi, Hafiz, church bulletins; but my attention span was nil and prayer eluded me.

I write this in the past tense as a gesture of hope.

Mar 28, 2005 For Holy Week they held various celebrations at Ascension. One of them was the stripping of the cross. My own stripping is perhaps over. I’ve lost my foot and my hair and dozens of friendships, my ability to dance and to sing and to eat and to yell. Even my face is a different shape and I no longer read. So have I changed, in essence and purpose?

Mar 30, 2005 1 Corinthians 1:8—A promise I must learn to stand on. [She writes the verse three times.] “He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God, who has called you into fellowship with his son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful.”

“He will keep you strong.” The Jews rebuilding the Temple in Haggai’s day faced intense opposition. Karis’s efforts to rebuild her body were also complicated by opposition: intensely painful pancreatitis, and then liver failure. By August, liver was added to the list for a second transplant, now five organs. Had God’s Spirit not been with her, encouraging her not to be afraid, she might have despaired. We both might have despaired.

August 25, 2005 marked one year since Karis’s first transplant. In that year she spent 249 days in the hospital, 92 of those in the ICU. I wrote on her blog:

“But what we like to focus on is God’s incredible grace to us through all the ups and downs of the last year. We have seen God’s love and kindness dramatically revealed through the Body of Christ. . .

What happens next? We don’t know.  The ONLY way to walk this journey is one day—sometimes, one hour or one minute—at a time, in absolute dependence on God’s daily-renewed mercies. That hasn’t changed, just because we know better than we did a year ago what scary kinds of things can happen post-transplant.”

Today (thirteen years later!), I am less aware of my need to depend on God’s strength and Presence with me as I was every day of 2005. But it is no less true. Thank you, Lord, that you are still saying, “Do not be afraid.”