The Alaskan Frontier…

Ahhh…I’ve got the first day back to school under my belt.  (Technically, half a day, but I’m counting every minute of it.)  And lucky me, my husband was out of town for all the craziness.  Lucky YOU…because as I finally sit down after yesterday’s long and monumental hours, I’ve no adult with whom to process except those of you on the other side of my computer screen.

After the kids were dropped off with all their school supplies (and I ran the trips back to the car for miscellaneous things left behind), I had quite a productive morning.  I cleaned up the house a bit and then set to work putting crock-pot meals together.

The beginning of the school year makes me leap into hibernation mode–not necessarily that I desire to sleep all the time, though those days do come every once in awhile.  It’s more that when school starts, I act like I will be trapped in a cave for the next 9 months of the year.  I prepare and gather as if winter were about to hit hard and cover the streets with snow until spring.  (I remind you, I live in Houston, TX.)

After yesterday morning, my freezer looks as if it’s been stocked my an Alaskan Bushman.  I’ve got fillets of salmon, beef stew, marinated chicken, pounds of pork tenderloin, roasts, even sausage, all Ziplock-bagged and Sharpie labeled.  If only I could get into pickling and making my own jam, we’d be completely set.  The snow ain’t comin’… but the blizzard of life is fixin’ to hit. (Again, I’m Texan.)

Two years ago, we took our kids out of the school system and embarked on our year of “Family Rehab”.  We had been caught in a snowstorm of flurried chaos and busyness, giving the best of our days to others and losing sight of our children’s hearts in the black-out condition of our calendars.  We were tired.  Burned out.  Undone.  Rehab was a necessary and defining decision for our family.  It didn’t go quite as we had planned, but that’s usually how God works.  We had no idea what would ultimately bring about our healing.

“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return there but water the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:9-11).

Now here we are two years later, figuratively gathering wood and counting our jars of pickled herring.  I find myself asking, “Has anything changed?”  “Did we rehabilitate?”  “Have we relapsed?”

When we started Family Rehab, we intended to pull away, hunker down, get healthy, and push the reset button.  We built our cabin and boarded up the doors for a bit.  We lit some candles, grabbed some blankets, held each other tight, and tried to hear the faintest sound of falling snow outside the frosted windows as we shivered inside.  We desperately trained our ears to hear the Spirit.  We twitched from our selfishness-withdrawl.  We hadn’t been discipled in how to properly cope with the American rat-race–relying on His truths and directed thankfulness.   We were not prepared either for the craziness that is marriage, family, ministry, etc. and we needed to learn the art of being still, listening to His voice.  During that year, we didn’t stumble across a trendy new way of organizing school papers, or spend time researching the best meal plans for busy families.

The healing for our addiction was found in storing up truth, then resting in the still, whispered, and very powerful presence of God.

As I mentally review, I think I can safely determine that we are, and have been, transitioning out of recovery into long-term sobriety.  We’ve learned the necessity of gathering spiritual fuel and provisions.  We’ve walked with mentors and guides who have taught us valuable lessons for the harsh environment we all live in.  We are still in our “Life After Rehab” season, putting His truths to the test and practicing the slowness of mind and spirit needed to daily and deeply commune with Him.  This beginning of the school year marks our 1-yr chip of sobriety, so to speak.  It hasn’t been a prefect year, by any means, but we continue to learn in fuller ways what it means to sit still in the presence of the Lord.  And honestly, He’s done way more in the past year than we ever did in all our years before Rehab.

“You can do more in my waiting, than in my doing I could do.”

– To Those Who Wait by Bethany Dillion

This year, with snow showers in the distance and busy thunder rolling, I find myself eager to sit still in the presence of God, snuggling under protective blankets of His Word, my stocked and loaded freezer sitting in anticipation.

So, here’s to slow-cooked cream of mushroom and chicken!  “Cheers!”, to a warm cup of cocoa in the middle of the blizzard, listening to the sound of wind’s howl.  “Woo-hoo!”,  to walking with children down a snowy path until their eyelashes droop with icy dust.  “Amen!”, to heavy quilts of His truth!  And a prayer to remaining sober-minded, full of gratitude, brimming with joy for all that He has done, in the midst of impending winter.

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:13).

Holy provocation…

I’ve been struggling with what to write lately.  My time has been taken by back-to-school shopping and the mad rush to complete those procrastinated summer projects.  We also took some vacation time recently and I actually let my brain truly relax.  Which was great!  But ever since we’ve returned home, it’s been like restarting an old chain saw…it’s taking some time to get the ol’ ticker revved up again.

This morning, I opened my Bible to Psalm 106.  It is a plea for the people of God to give thanks.  It recounts the history of the Israelites’ lack of thanks, rebellion, and captivity.  One deed leading to the next.  First they forgot all that God had done for them, rescuing them from the land of Egypt, only to whine and complain in the desert.  Their lack of gratitude caused them to rebel and seek the comfort and thrills of other gods.  “They provoked the Lord to anger with their deeds”, and “the anger of the Lord was kindled against his people” (verse 29 and 40).  God left them to their ways, which not only enslaved their hearts to sin, but handed them over to their enemies.  They came full circle, once again captives.

Thankfully, the Psalm continues: “Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry.  For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.  He caused them to be pitied by all those who held them captive” (44-46).

Apparently, it was good news to the people to be pitied.  I don’t know about you, but I hate  it when people feel sorry for me.  Why is that?

I think its because in my own self-idolatry, I expect myself to be better, stronger, and more resilient.  To be pitied means it’s obvious to others that I’m doing a horrible job of managing life’s circumstances.  And very simply, I don’t like looking less-than, weak, and short-winded.  The Israelites must have found pity to be a refreshing balm in the midst of their captivity.  In the midst of my idolatry, pity only pours salt on the wounds of my ineptness.  Perhaps God has to get us to the depths of enslavement in order for us to find the pity of others a source of release and to free us from our self-worship.

I look at this cycle of behavior: thanklessness, idolatry, captivity, and pity and see why the Psalmist ends with a plea to God for his people.

“Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.  Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel from everlasting to everlasting!  And let all the people say, “Amen!” Praise the Lord!” (47-48 emphasis added).

It’s an appeal for a return to gratitude!  The trouble experienced by the people of God stems from a lack of thanksgiving.

Over our vacation, I reread 1,000 Gifts by Ann Voskamp.  Honestly, I skimmed…reminded myself about thankfulness, but didn’t let the foundational importance of gratitude sink in.

Later, I was reclining on an outdoor lawn chair stargazing with my husband after the kids went to bed.  The sky was full dusted with flickering flashes of light against vast cobalt.  As we placed bets on the identity and location of Saturn and Mars, Scorpius and Ursa Minor, only my husband saw multiple shooting stars.  Multiple.  This had been a theme during our week: Paul getting a glimpse of stars in motion, Angie always looking in the opposite direction.  The score for number of falling stars caught by Paul: 6 (or something crazy like that)…

Angie: NONE

I was starting to take it personally.  I was drawing massive conclusions and analogies about my life, nothing more than complex intellectual whining.  After he spotted yet another, I said something ridiculous like, “You’ve got to be kidding me!  See, that’s just like my life, everyone else gets all the good stuff and it’s just never my turn.

And just then, across horizontal arachnid in a shimmering arc over the ringed planet a meteor shot hot.  Through the blazing red supergiant Antares it flashed wild.  I screamed a half-laugh.

Then, my wonderful and brutally honest husband said, “It’s like God just told you to shut up.”

I provoked the God of the universe to say, “Shut up”.

And the cycle continues.  Yes, I forced His hand and He told me to shut up with my whining self-loathing idolatrous talk and told me to praise His holy name.  I, like the Israelites, had forgotten to consider His wondrous works.  I wasn’t remembering the abundance of His steadfast love.  I was looking in the opposite direction of the Father.  How soon I forgot His goodness and birthed a wanton craving in the wilderness.

I forgot gratitude.

Now it sinks in, large rock full of weight and mass, plummeting through gaseous layers of soul atmosphere.  It burns blue white as it invades the contours of my heart.  Illuminating the dark places, igniting flame against the bitterness and discontent.  Gratitude reaches the pit of my stomach in a heavy heap.  My body stops dead in the stream of self-loathing consciousness, bowed over at the waist from the knot of indebtedness in my bowels.  And as I had forced His hand, He replies by forcing my head in reverence to His holiness and I exhale a single praise while seated in that plastic chair…”wow…”.

I plead for all of us, as the Psalmist does.  May our hearts return to gratitude–to thankfulness.  Lest we seek satisfaction somewhere else.  Lest we rebel against the steadfast love of God.  Lest we provoke God Almighty.  Lest we return to a land of slavery, only to be pitied by those who hold us captive.  May we daily, in every moment, slow to the pace of thanks.  Let all the people say, “Amen.”  Praise the Lord!