But God favors the humble

1 Peter 5:5-7 . . . All of you, serve each other in humility, for “God opposes the proud but favors the humble.” So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.

When did you last have to eat humble pie?

For me, that’s a common experience. I can think of three humbling moments just yesterday. But I’m thinking right now of a time back in June. I was sitting at the awards banquet at a writer’s conference wishing desperately I had not submitted the first chapter of the novel I’m writing to the “novel beginnings” category. By then it had been thoroughly critiqued at the conference itself, so I was aware of the changes I needed to make. Please, let it be so bad that the judges don’t even mention it! This was the best I could hope for as I listened to award-winning poetry, devotions, and other great writing.

I was only half paying attention when I heard my name mentioned in the humor category. Really? Did I submit something under humor? I don’t even remember what it was!

Honorable mention. Ugh. Honorable mention in my mind was much worse than nothing, because with no recognition, people wouldn’t even know I had submitted anything. As I walked forward to receive my certificate, I imagined the assembled writers, editors, agents, and publishers thinking, “Hey, nice try, but see—you really don’t belong here.” The first and second place awards I had received in other years no longer mattered. How humiliating, I thought, as I tried to smile for the camera.

Even more desperately, I hoped “novel beginnings” would pass me by. But no. Again, honorable mention. Once more, the walk to the front, embarrassment coloring my face, the forced smile for the camera. I wanted to walk straight out the door, never look back, never come back to this place where I had been “shamed,” never try to write again.

On my long ride home, God talked to me about my pride, and about the nature of shame. He challenged me to grow up. Where I had felt humiliation, he asked me for humility. Words I had only half heard came back clearly to my mind. “Honorable mention means there is a good idea here that’s worth investing in. It just needs a little more work.” Work. I’m good at that. Perhaps this is not, actually, the end of the world.

God pressed me further. He brought to my mind a memory of an eight-year-old girl huddled in a dark stairwell at boarding school believing her world had ended because she got a B on her report card. She simply could not handle facing her parents. She felt she had blown the only thing that gave her value in their eyes. She was flooded with shame.

“You’re not that vulnerable little girl anymore,” my heavenly Father told me. “I love you, and I want you to receive this evening, and this whole conference, as a gift. I’ve given you things I want you to say, and these people are showing you how to do that better. You don’t need to be perfect. You only need to be faithful. Give me all your worries and cares. I care about you.”

Today I am revising my honorable mention humor piece. Tomorrow, I’m getting back to the novel. I have some cool ideas and can’t wait to get them on paper!

But God laughs, additional thoughts

Isaiah 42:1-4, 8 Look at my servant, whom I strengthen. He is my chosen one, who pleases me. I have put my Spirit upon him. He will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or raise his voice in public. He will not crush the weakest reed or put out a flickering candle. He will bring justice to all who have been wronged. He will not falter or lose heart until justice prevails throughout the earth . . . “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else.”

 I’ve just been looking at Isaiah 42 for another reason, preparing for a talk I’m to give in Brazil in October. I noticed how many times the word justice appears in these first four verses, and how strongly the Servant’s commitment to justice is affirmed. We are called to look at him, the one who receives the Spirit; the one who pleases God (cf Luke 3:22; Matthew 17:5). As Christ-followers, we are called to look like him (I the Lord have called you to demonstrate my righteousness; verse 6; Romans 8:29): whatever we do in pursuit of justice must reflect Jesus, in tone and purpose and heart and integrity.

For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord . . . For the Kingdom of God is living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:7-8, 17).

I’m challenged and encouraged. You?

But God laughs

Psalm 37:1-3, 5, 7, 12-13 Don’t worry about the wicked or envy those who do wrong. For like grass, they soon fade away. Like spring flowers, they soon wither. Trust in the Lord and do good. . . Be still in the presence of the Lord and wait patiently for him to act. Stop being angry! Do not lose your temper—it only leads to harm. For the wicked will be destroyed . . . The wicked plot against the godly; they snarl at them in defiance. But the Lord just laughs, for he sees their day of judgment coming.

Don’t worry.

Trust in the Lord and do good.

Be still in the presence of the Lord.

Wait patiently for him to act.

Stop being angry! It only leads to harm.

Hey, is it just me, or do you also find these instructions challenging? How can we not react with worry, anger, and agitation when we see injustice and wrongdoing hurting people we love and care about? And when we have so little power to make it stop?

Through the guidance of my spiritual director, I’ve had to stop reading about Venezuela every day. It was making me too upset and anxious, affecting my ability to “do good” in other arenas. Instead, though I pray every day, I’m now spending just one focused time catching up on Venezuela each week. And I’m having to apply this to other areas of injustice too. Clearly, I have a long way to go in learning to trust, not be angry, and wait patiently for the Lord to act.

While I was thinking about Psalm 37 this morning, the image came into my mind of a toddler throwing a tantrum. This image does not address the evil that this psalm describes. But it does help me imagine the Lord laughing. Because a toddler is so full of him or herself, so confident that the universe revolves around him or her. Yet toddlers are still so little, and dependent, and limited in their knowledge and understanding that it’s easy to find their displays of temper comical. Haven’t you, as a parent or aunt or uncle or friend, found yourself laughing sometimes at a young child’s certainty of his or her own importance and power?

The tricky thing, as a parent, is not to be pulled in, manipulated, and distracted by toddler drama. I too easily get pulled in and upset by seeing people oppress others, with too little trust in God’s concern about justice. I forget that he is at work behind the scenes, even when I can’t see what he is doing. I forget that I am not impotent: my small attempts to “do good” actually can matter when I give my small loaves and fishes to Jesus (John 6:8-9).

Musing a bit more: a parent who is confident in his own position of love and authority over a little one’s life can respond calmly and proactively when his or her child is out of control. This is what I see God calling me to today. I have let the evildoers of the world have too much power over me. God calls me instead to trust him. Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you your heart’s desires. Commit everything you do to the Lord. Trust him, and he will help you. He will make the justice of your cause shine like the noonday sun (verses 4-6). Can I do it? Only by what the psalmist calls “delight”: conscious, mindful dependence on him, the one who can, in his way and time, make justice shine.

Like the noonday sun . . .

But God will strengthen you, by Margie (Margarita) Hord de Mendez

2 Thessalonians 3:3 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one

Like most couples, my husband of almost 37 years and I had occasionally chatted about those “someday” dreams, when we might travel to places where we’d never been, or minister as short-term missionaries.

In 2017 he “graduated” to a suffering-free life. A year or so beforehand, I began to realize how fragile life is, and that I should start to prepare myself for living without him. Earlier that year, we were told that his case was chronic; in other words, no cure was to be expected.

The end came rather unexpectedly, with no time to say goodbye or even “I love you”, though of course those latter words were repeated often over the years.

Mourning brought with it lonely days and nights in an empty house. At the same time, more than ever before in my life, I clung to God and discovered new treasures in his Word as they spoke to my new situation.

Life is unpredictable. We can’t put our trust in humans, in our own dreams, or in our own expectations.

Although some people assured me that I was “a strong woman” and would survive, I knew that I was weak by nature. My true strength was my heavenly Father. As Paul said, “he will strengthen you.”

My husband’s name was Refugio, or Refuge, but at the end of the day I have had to realize that my true, unfailing refuge is the Lord.

Margie Refugio Hord 2016

Margie, Refugio and their grandchildren in 2016.

She says, “These (along with her two children) are gifts the train of life has given me.”

Margie is Canadian, and we became friends at Wheaton College. We dreamed of being partners in mission to some remote place, she as a Bible translator and I as a doctor. Then Dave and I started dating, and she went to Mexico and met Refugio . . .  Margie lives in Puebla, Mexico, where she writes and teaches. The last time I had seen her was at my wedding, but she made the trip from Puebla to Cuernavaca to visit my sister and me when I was visiting Jan a couple of years ago, a lovely treat!

Margie is translating Karis, All I See Is Grace into Spanish! Please pray for her in this challenging work of love.

But God turns his face

Psalm 34:15-16 The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right; his ears are open to their cries for help. But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil; he will erase their memory from the earth.

As I unpacked my suitcase and began tackling the weeds that grew up while we were gone to our extended family reunion (44 people, if I counted right, out of 67 if everyone had been able to come), I tried to make sense out of these verses. They give me hope in various directions—what’s happening in Venezuela and in our own country, for example. I grieve, and weep, yet I have hope that those who do evil will be held accountable by God, and that our Lord is amazingly able to help and stand with those who are suffering injustice and oppression, as tough and painful and impossible as situations do become.

On the other hand, is it really a good idea for the Lord to erase from the earth the memory of those who do evil? Isn’t it a good thing to remember, and see the consequences of their acts, so that we can choose differently for ourselves?

With many tears, I’m reading The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. Since I didn’t grow up in this country, I’m trying to educate myself on its history. Appalling as it is, I need to try to understand the heritage of my neighbors. Otherwise, how can I understand them? I may hurt them out of ignorance, without even realizing I’m doing so. If ignorance of the law is no excuse, how much more is there no excuse for not trying to understand those among whom we live here, not just “overseas,” the places we go with the desire to bring blessing and healing to people of other cultures and nations.

The organizing team chose the theme of “legacy” for our family reunion. Our oldest sister shared with us a genogram of the five generations of our family she has known. She recounted a brief outline of our family history, which includes a great deal of evil and consequences of that evil which have stretched down through the generations. Some of our children (we call our generation the “Gr8~8 sibs and spouses,” and our kids the “cousin generation) knew very little of this story. For some, it gave a framework for understanding family dynamics which had been confusing to them.

The marvelous thing, though, is that our history was told within a context of hope. Our sister recounted the healing path God has provided for the eight of us sibs, and all but one of the eight were able to be there and to add our own comments and perspectives as we wished. The overall tone was of wonder and gratitude to God for what he has done, and the benefits that our healing passes on to the next generations. God’s grace is all over this story!

So here’s what I’m thinking (provisionally!) at this moment about God erasing the memory of evildoers from the earth. When we don’t need to remember anymore—when our healing is complete—those memories of pain and wounding will fade away into the joy of the abundant life God intends for us. Maybe that will be our experience only in Heaven. Meanwhile, there are maybe three (at least) ways of remembering. One is with bitterness and anger, the expression of what is killing us inside. This can be done with vengeance, hurting others as we have been hurt, or with the goal of cleansing it from our hearts. Our REVER (emotional healing) ministries are all about that. This kind of remembering—when the wounding is still raw and powerful inside us—is marked by desperation and a profound need for liberation from emotional bondage. When we’re able to leave vengeance in God’s hands, he can take us to healing. His ears are open to our cry for help.

A second way of remembering is to learn from and not repeat the past (easier said than done!). This is often marked by a strong desire to change history, to be different and to make a difference. And by humility and insecurity, as we realize we can only do that in dependence on God.

A third way of remembering is all about wonder and awe, praising God for what he has done for us, freeing us as only he can from the natural negative consequences of what has hurt us. Come, let us tell of the Lord’s greatness; let us exalt his name together (Psalm 34:3).

This journey is not a sprint. It’s a marathon. Hold on to the hope!

But God supported me

Psalm 18:16-19 The Lord reached down from heaven and rescued me; he drew me out of deep waters. . . I was in distress, but the Lord supported me. He led me to a place of safety; he rescued me because he delights in me.

We used to call the Transplant ICU at Montefiore Hospital “The Dungeon,” and never more so than after Karis spent time in an incredibly light and bright ICU in Maine, where every room had picture windows. “Our” TICU was in a basement, with small, high windows looking out at brick or concrete walls, usually covered by blinds.

I suppose there was some logic to this arrangement—after all, most of the patients in that place were unconscious most of the time. Usually by the time they were aware enough of their surroundings to notice, they were on their way up to the floors, where the rooms did have big picture windows and views. But The Dungeon was hard on family members, especially for frequent flyers like us. The rooms were small, crowded with equipment and the noise of machines. There was no space for any comfort for an anxious mom or dad, brother or sister or friend, except for a folding chair or a stool to perch on. Any procedure that required two or more medical personnel squeezed family into a corner or out the door.

Why am I telling you all this? Because these verses from Psalm 18 became a lifeline for me. The NIV and most English translations translate verse 19 as “He brought me out into a spacious place.” Both concepts, of safety and of wide, open spaces, were life-giving to me in those long days (and sometimes weeks) of fighting to bring Karis back from the valley of death. When it all seemed to close in on me, the Lord supported me by broadening my imagination into spaciousness, helping my spirit roam through acres of gardens and mountain vistas of vast oceans. In my mind’s eye I could look up to the heavens and marvel at the expanse of glimmering stars or see amusing figures in puffy clouds.

It’s not surprising that after Karis went Home, I found healing in wandering outdoors, with no confining walls, beeps and whirs, tubes and bandages, gowns and hospital smells. All these years later, I quickly feel suffocated by small spaces. But I want to register today my gratitude to the Lord for supporting me through those days and weeks in the TICU. And if you find yourself in a tight, weary, anxious place, you too can ask the Lord to lead you into safety and spaciousness.

Our Lord Jesus, Creator of the universe, confined himself to the restraints of a human womb, a human body, for our sake. He understands our needs. He rescues us because he delights in us. Love so amazing . . .

But God is a solid rock

Psalm 18:1-2, 30-31, 46 I love you, Lord; you are my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior; my God is my rock in whom I find protection. He is my shield, the power that saves me and my place of safety . . . He is a shield for all who look to him for protection. For who is God except the Lord? Who but our God is a solid rock? . . . The Lord lives! Praise to my Rock!

As Dave and I prayed together before we got out of bed this morning, our list was long of people we know going through big challenges right now. Our hearts go out to them because, yes, we’ve been there. And often through the tough years with Karis, God brought to my attention this image of himself as my rock. Flipping through the Psalms, I see noted on many pages dates and brief notations of times the Lord impressed on me that when all was uncertain and tumultuous around me, I could plant my feet firmly on him, on solid rock. This is what I’m praying for our friends today.

Sometimes placing my feet on the Rock requires digging deep, clearing away the mud and debris that make the surface slippery and separate me from direct contact with my firm foundation (see Luke 6:48). For me, that requires time, even a few minutes of quiet stillness, asking God to show me what needs attention in my life. The first moments after I wake up in the morning, before I even move, are a time like that for me.

house on rock

A house on a rock

And I’m finding that a task which seems so hard to fit into my days—weeding!—carries that reward with it as well. I don’t know how it is for you, but we have had so much rain here in Pittsburgh that the weeds are growing like crazy. I can’t keep up with them, and I’m somewhat comforted that it seems many of our neighbors are in the same predicament. One friend said her weeds are smirking at her. But I’ve discovered weeding as a time I can be quiet before God, communicate my concerns to him. Listen to him. Place my feet back on the solid dependableness of who he is. Find safety once again.

Speaking of that, I need to get out there before it gets any hotter. The weeds are smirking!