But God keeps the earth’s foundations firm

Psalm 75:1-4 We thank you, O God! We give thanks because you are near. People everywhere tell of your wonderful deeds. God says, “At the time I have planned, I will bring justice against the wicked. The earth quakes and its people live in turmoil, but I am the one who keeps its foundations firm.”

Last night after a long and delightful Thanksgiving family day, our grandson hit his limit. A small thing (in my adult eyes) triggered a two-year-old meltdown. I held Caleb as he sobbed, his little head on my shoulder, his body heaving. Clearly, it was time for his parents to take him home to bed.

And then his mom entered the room. Still some distance away, she said calmly, “Caleb, you’re OK. Everything is fine.” Immediately, like turning off a faucet, Caleb stopped crying, turned around, reached out for his mom, cuddled for a couple of minutes, and then jumped on his Uncle Dan for more rambunctious play with Urso, his teddy bear. Caleb was cheerful and engaged the whole next hour until his family went home.

Last night, Valerie was the one who kept her son’s foundations firm. But I’ve seen the same thing happen with Caleb’s dad, Cesar. Reading Psalm 75 this morning, I found myself praying, “Lord, thank you that you are near, not far away. Give me trust in you like Caleb has in his parents. Help me to trust your promise and your plans. When my foundations seem to be giving way, I want to instinctively reach out to you.”

“When all around my soul gives way, he then is all my hope and stay . . .” ALL other ground is sinking sand.

But God brought us to a place of abundance

Psalm 66:12 We went through fire and flood, but you brought us to a place of great abundance.

I don’t always feel grateful for this house. I say that as a confession, because God clearly brought us here. The problem is the size of our yard. We live on a corner lot, and I’m quite sure, when I look at our neighbors’ properties, that ours is oversized. I can’t keep up with it, not to the standards of most people in this garden city of Pittsburgh.

But that didn’t cross my mind when I saw this house pop up on the multilist early one Monday morning. I had been looking for a year for a house that could work for Karis (a bedroom and bath on the main floor, since at that point she couldn’t do stairs), that we could afford, within fifteen minutes of the hospital, with no bridges and no tunnels to slow us down in our too-frequent emergencies. People told me what I was looking for didn’t exist. Even my realtor told me that. I was getting desperate, because getting Karis in and out of our walk-up flat without falling was increasingly difficult.

So, when I saw this new house show up just a mile from where we lived, I jumped in the car and came to see. Yes, it looked like it had space for a bedroom on the main floor. I rang the doorbell, and the surprised woman told me it had two bedrooms and a bath on the main floor, I immediately called my realtor. The price was right, and by Friday we had a signed contract. I had barely looked at anything but the main floor. If that worked for Karis, nothing else mattered.

I did all this on my own, since Dave was in Brazil. He told me on the phone that God had indicated to him we would buy a spacious house, larger inside than out. And indeed, that has proved true. We can host four other couples or a houseful of family or friends with no problem. We love our mixed-race mixed-ethnic neighborhood. Next to us is a Turkish family, and next to them a Vietnamese family; down the street a Romanian family. Dave and I are just mixed up: German-Jewish-Russian-Scottish-Dutch-Bolivian-Guatemalan-Brazilian. American.

But—there’s too much yard. Too much yard work for me to handle. As I griped to my sister recently, she said, “Why don’t you hire some help?” Dave said, “Yes! It’s cheaper than moving!” Thus, I’ve met a delightful, hardworking young man, and I can now walk outside with pleasure and gratitude instead of guilt and a sense of oppression.  

Abundance comes in many forms. This Thanksgiving, I’m recognizing the joy of inadequacy. The relief of admitting I need help. The pleasure of restored gratitude for this house God gave us.

Should your path take you through Pittsburgh, we have space for you! And a pretty nice yard.

We had to post this notice for a public hearing because the dining room addition we wanted to build on the back of the house went too close to our neighbor’s property line to meet code. No neighbors protested, so the dining room was built.

But Jesus was pierced

Isaiah 53:3-5 He was despised and rejected—a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down . . . But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed.

Last night I had dinner with a dear friend. As she said, it was refreshing to catch up, and laugh. We also talked about grief. She lost her husband, young, to cancer. I lost my daughter. For both of us, the holidays are challenging. Strangely enough, harder for me this year than last year. My friend reminded me that grief has its own logic. It comes in waves and catches us off guard, because we will never stop missing those we love who are no longer with us. We talked about how real Heaven is to us, how close. How we imagine the joy of our beloved ones who are there.

And we talked about my grieving over what I’ve been learning about the history of our country. She directed me back to Jesus, who can carry this burden that is too great for us. He experienced, in his own body, all of it. For us.

Today would be my mother’s 93rd birthday. We lost her to Alzheimer’s long before she was freed from it, and from all the other sorrows of her life, in the presence of Jesus. It will be amazing, one day, to see her again, healed. Whole. Because Isaiah also wrote about Jesus, that though he was crushed, “He will not crush the weakest reed” (Isaiah 42:3). The whole passage is encouraging me today:

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.

In verse 1, “servant,” in Hebrew, is ‘ebed. The word is also used in Isaiah 53, in verse 11. It refers to a person of lower social status who is subject to another person for service or labor, like an owned slave or an indentured servant. (See Philippians 2:7-8). Jesus gets it.

This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most (Hebrews 4:15-16).

By the way, have you seen the movie “Harriet” yet? And do you know that November is Native American Heritage Month? Check out the U.S. Department of Arts and Culture on FB.

But God desires honesty

Psalm 51:5-6 I was born a sinner—yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. But you desire honesty from the womb, teaching me wisdom even there.

Most versions use the words truth or integrity in place of honesty. Some say from the heart, or inner being or inward parts instead of “from the womb.” The point is clear: radical facing up to the facts, from the inside out.

God gave this to me this morning as a way forward with the grief I’ve been carrying over our devastating sins as a nation (touched on in yesterday’s blog post). Confession is consistent with God’s desire for our honesty. I’m looking again at Nehemiah’s mourning and praying over Israel (Nehemiah 1), aligning his heart with God’s as David did in Psalm 51 after his terrible sins over Bathsheba, to the point of shedding blood.

This morning when I woke up, I found myself asking God for forgiveness for anyone in my family tree who may have participated in attitude or actions against other people as part of America’s story. I simply don’t know our family track record. But I do know that many who have claimed the name of God have sinned against him by showing favoritism within his family, to the extremes of hatred and oppression and violence.

If you too are grieved over the story of our country, past and present, you can join me in Nehemiah’s prayer:

O Lord, God of heaven, the great and awesome God who keeps his covenant of unfailing love with those who love him and obey his commands, listen to my prayer! Look down and see me praying night and day for your people. I confess that we have sinned against you. Yes, even my own family [at least, my spiritual family] and I have sinned! We have sinned terribly by not obeying the commands that you gave us [here I am substituting Jesus for Moses: Jesus’ command to love] . . . O Lord, listen to the prayers of those of us who delight in honoring you.

Teach us your wisdom, Lord. Purify, wash, cleanse, forgive, and restore us. “The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (Psalm 51:17). Thank you, Lord, for showing me that all of this is part of why Jesus went to the cross.

But God’s wisdom is pure

James 3:14-18 If you are jealous and there is selfish ambition in your heart, don’t cover up the truth with boasting and lying. . . Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness. [The word can also mean justice.]

I’ve been on a steep learning curve about the history of the United States. I don’t know whether my ignorance is due to spending much of my life outside this country, or whether I just haven’t been paying attention. I grew up in a small Maya-Ixil village where mistreatment of the first Guatemalans by those who came later was commonplace. But I had the romantic (I suppose) idea that in the U.S. everyone was equal. That’s what we learned in school about the U.S. Declaration of Independence.

With amazing support from my brother-in-law, I just spent a week learning about the Oregon Trail in Idaho and Oregon for a historical novel I’m writing. The more I learned, the more grieved and disappointed I became about how people treated one another in the nineteenth century. Have you heard the term “Manifest Destiny”? Its advocates used fine phrases—including the name of God—to justify deplorable acts of oppression and violence against people who were “in the way” of U.S. expansion. And against people who could be used to facilitate that expansion, at whatever cost to them. Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there you will find disorder and evil of every kind.

My week in Idaho and Oregon ended with an evening out to see the movie “Harriet.” What a powerful experience. I was surprised (sorry—I’m learning how incredibly naïve I have been) to learn that it’s only been 106 years since Harriet Tubman died. My grandparents were alive then! That fact brings Harriet’s story so close to home for me, like I can reach out and touch her.

Holy God, what does all this mean for me, today? Show me, please. Purify my heart. I walk around enjoying my home, my husband, my family and friends, while inside I am grieving and uncertain about what you are saying to me about how my life needs to change. Teach me your wisdom, Lord.

P.S. AFTER posting this blog, I listened to a sermon by Bishop Jim Hobby. I recommend it: https://www.pitanglican.org/sermons/bishop-hobby-eucharist-sermon-gathering-2019-video-audio?utm_source=Master+Diocesan+List+%2F+Weekly+Newsletters&utm_campaign=e0bae7fad6-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2017_08_18_COPY_01&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_16cfed5f45-e0bae7fad6-711085821&mc_cid=e0bae7fad6&mc_eid=3f1a602d68

But the Holy Spirit speaks, But God shortens, But Jesus’ words never disappear

Mark 13:9-11, 19-20, 31 You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But don’t worry in advance about what to say. Just say what God tells you at that time, for it is not you who will be speaking, but the Holy Spirit. . . The day is coming when there will be greater anguish than at any time since God created the world . . . But for the sake of his chosen ones the Lord has shortened those days. . . Heaven and earth will disappear, but my words will never disappear.

Do you ever feel worried or anxious when you read or hear the news? I do. Right now, there seem to be convulsions all over the world, including most of my beloved Latin America. I can become almost paralyzed with concern for Venezuela when I think about what our friends there are facing. Trust has never been my strong suit, and it seems our sovereign God gives me daily the choice to trust or to fret. I know he wants me to grow in my confidence that he is in control.

I’m intrigued today reading Jesus’ discourse in Mark 13 to find “But God” phrases referring to each member of the Trinity, regarding what will happen in the future. (That’s what anxiety is all about, right? Worrying over what may happen next.) Each of them speaks to my daily challenge. Trust or trepidation. Confidence or consternation. Serenity or stress. Don’t worry in advance—the Holy Spirit will speak; the Father cares and will shorten the really bad time; when everything else changes and is lost, Jesus’ words are still completely dependable. What are some of those words? Jesus will return, in love and power, justice and truth! He will make everything right!

Thinking about my temptation to worry, I looked again at Philippians 4, and was surprised to see that Paul’s words about not being anxious in 4:6 come immediately after “Remember, the Lord is coming soon” in verse 5, and shortly before, 3:20 says “But we are citizens of heaven, where the Lord Jesus Christ lives. And we are eagerly waiting for him to return as our Savior.” I so often take favorite Scripture out of context and lose track of the flow of what the writer is saying. Even in Paul’s time, apparently, people needed the encouragement of living their lives within the context of Jesus’ promised return.

I’ve been reading a fair bit of history as I research the historical novel I’m writing. People have always found plenty to worry about, and the troubles of their own times often overwhelm them, with good reason. From my point of view, those troubles get swallowed up in the flow of years. Even more what perturbs me now will fade away when Jesus reigns in perfect justice.

Within that overall framework, I come back to Paul’s directions for how I live. Will you join me in this today?

Don’t worry about anything; instead pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

But God rescued me

Psalm 118:13-14, 17 My enemies did their best to kill me, but the Lord rescued me. The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory. . . I will not die; instead, I will live to tell what the Lord has done.

I’m just home from a wonderful week in Manaus, Brazil, participating in the Fifteenth REVER/MAPI Congress, along with about a thousand other people gathered from five countries and around Brazil. It was a lovely time of reconnection with old friends and meeting many new ones.

The highlight for me was sharing the teaching of a workshop with Márcia, leader of GAVS in Manaus, followed by an amazing time with the first “graduating” group of GAVS (whom I knew), and the second group (whom I didn’t know). Let me explain.

GAVS (as you would have learned in our workshop) is the acronym for the Portuguese of Support Groups for Victims and Survivors of sexual abuse. Three years ago, a motivated group from Manaus invited me to teach them how to lead GAVS groups based on my book Vítima, Sobrevivente, Vencedor (“Victim, Survivor, Victor”) published in Brazil in 2012. Three GAVS “veterans” from São Paulo came to Manaus to help me. Along with information, we taught and experienced with the Manaus women a variety of dynamics that took healing from being an intellectual idea to whole-body and soul transformation.

It became apparent to all of us (and especially to the Manaus group) that they needed to walk through the healing process themselves before they would be ready to lead others. Thus, over the course of the next year, they courageously faced into their own traumas, defenses and wounding, finding Jesus to be powerful and faithful. Over each of the subsequent two years, they took new groups through the process. And now these women—and finally, one man!—wanted to share with me what God had done for them.

I wish you could have heard the breathtaking stories, shared one after the other all around the circle, of what God has done. Each one was a “But God” testimony. “I was in despair…” “I was suicidal…” “I was terrified to speak of what had happened to me…” “I was completely broken…” But God met them through the love and compassion, knowledge and skills, prayers and commitment of their leaders and fellow-travelers in these GAVS groups.

As each story was told, we shared tears and laughter and much praise to God. There are enough “graduates” now to start several more groups. They are highly motivated to pass hope and healing on to others who are in the same kinds of distress they were in before they chose to pay the price needed to find God’s way into a redeemed life.

Related to this, another marvelous thing happened while I was in Manaus. For a long time, I’ve been praying for God to show me how I could make Vítima, Sobrevivente, Vencedor available in Spanish. I needed to find a native Spanish speaker with solid knowledge of Portuguese and the competence to translate well. The young Spanish interpreter for the Congress fit all my criteria, and she has agreed to do the translation! I am so grateful! Please pray for Nataly as she undertakes this work.

Three of the books in line for translation in the coming months, including Dave’s Discipleship Bible

And pray for Márcia as she leads her intrepid band of “wounded healers” into the next adventures God has for them, in the Manaus region and beyond.

The Lord is my strength and my song; he has given me victory. This was the testimony I heard again and again during that precious hour in a classroom in Manaus. I am quite sure the only one whose joy surpassed mine was the Lord himself.