Thursday, January 23, 2014

When The Ugly Doesn't Change

Haze hides vivid colors and blurs all lines this winter. Smoke settled in the air months ago and there has been no rain to wash the air free of it. No rain. Trees stand fully robed in the brown of dead leaves. The storm that would normally shake them free of that death shroud and leave the naked bare branches stretching to the gray winter sky never swept through. There is an unspoken cry in the air, in our hearts.

The news in the last years has been filled with stories about the air board decreasing particulates and about new goals for stricter standards for pollution levels. So many agencies take credit for the last decade of cleaner air in this agriculture basin that makes up the belly of California, but God seems to want the last word lately. And I wonder if anyone is even listening.

For the last few weeks I have been reading One Thousand Gifts, and Ann Voskamp has used her ministry of words to coax from my heart a new song of gratitude. I have made my list, numbered and neat and it marches along a handful at a time as each day opens before me with a new perspective. I have found gifts in the beautiful. I have found gifts in the delightful. I have found gifts in the hospital room and doctors office. Late at night I find gifts as the house rests and my heart soars. But for one thing, I could not find a gift. I could not find thankful words for the view I see every time I drive my kids to school, or travel up the highway as my eyes are blinded by the smoky haze that taunts and torments my heart.

I could not find the beautiful in the ugly that is this valley’s air. 

Today I drove home from early morning drop offs, and I cried out in my heart for cleansing. I cried out for rain to rinse the very breath I take in. I prayed aloud, a thousandth time for God to spill forth his goodness from his storehouses. Cleanse us, oh Lord. Cleanse our valley. And a fracture appeared in my perspective. A shaft of beauty shot through the ugly. I found the elusive gratitude that I can offer back to God in this hard time. I found I can thank God, in this drought ridden land, that where man’s effort to cleanse falls short, He can rinse every stain of soot away. Where man’s effort never seems enough, requiring more rules, more regulations to bring forth the standard they aspire to, God can easily bring purity that no man could achieve. So, with pen in hand I numbered a fresh line: 

           81. The horribly bad air that reminds me how only God knows how to make clean all things.

This afternoon, clouds rolled in. Clouds that held no rain for us. Clouds that covered the sun and intensified the shadow of the filth in the sky. My lungs burned more, coughing and sputtering. 

It’s hard to give thanks when nothing changes. 

My mind turned towards all those unchanging things that wall me in lately: the disintegrating marriage of a loved one that wears ragged on our hearts, the ill health that came to visit my children in early December and has made itself an unwelcome guest since, burdens on my husband’s shoulders that get heavier and heavier while those in authority just pile on more.  The ugly sometimes stays ugly and I find myself struggling and wrestling to refuse the verdict that things will never change. I have too often consigned myself the victim status and whined and groaned and questioned God’s love for me and my value to him when the hard things refuse to budge. 

But, I have another choice now. 

Though the curse courses through these situations, if God is everywhere, can I open my eyes to find him here as well? Can I thank him for the gifts that are present in this difficulty unchanged? 

Thank you, Lord, that you have exposed the lie in this marriage and drawn a broken husband to you. Thank you, Lord, that illness has given me extra time with my daughter in these last weeks. Thank you Lord, that you strengthen the weary and lift up their heads. 

I am finding that the heaviness of this unchanging ugly is peeled back in the giving of thanks. My heart is opening to the giver in a way I’ve never known. As the leper was offered fullness of salvation when he returned to give thanks, so I am finding my wholeness becoming complete. And opened to me is the well of salvation that as I draw water from it, I find myself cleansed. 


My weary cry turns to joy in my God, my giver of all grace.

He who brings beauty from the ugly. 

Linking up with:

Womanhood With Purpose

Monday, January 20, 2014

One Word for One Year

My word came early this year. It pressed itself in during the deep dig of truth’s plow throughout Advent. It whispered to me in a quote shared by Ann Voskamp in her devotional The Greatest Gift which said:

A prison cell in which one waits, hopes... and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent." (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)

As those words soaked through, I found I could pray only one thing.

 “Come, Lord.”

I had exhausted every option to gain freedom. I came to the end of myself and I cried aloud to him, “Come, Lord… I cannot get free.”

And, he came. All through Advent he met me. Nothing glorious or earth shattering. He came in the simple things. He came in response to my simple cries to him.

It was no surprise, then, when I prayed for this year’s word and heard, “Come.” I heard it clearly. I heard it deeply. I heard it on repeat.


Isaiah 55:1 "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.”

Isaiah 55:3 “Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.”

I found myself in these verses. My bankruptcy and the promise of being met. My longing for life and connection to this God who offers love.

As I thought about this “Coming,” and as I pondered the “how” of this word, I came across the familiar story of the ten lepers. They called out to Jesus in the prison of their disease and he healed them. “And as they went, they were cleansed. (Luke 17:14)”

As they went.

They were healed along the way.

They had to step forward.

And I remembered these last 18 months. Have I not experienced healing in the moving forward? I read on:

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.  He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him--and he was a Samaritan.  Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’  Then he said to him, "Rise and go; your faith has made you well [has saved you].’" (Luke 17:15-19)

Ann Voskamp visits this story, in her book One Thousand Gifts. She writes “Sozo means salvation. It means true wellness, complete wholeness. To live sozo is to live the full life. Jesus came that we might live life to the full; He came to give us sozo. And when did the leper receive sozo-the saving to the full, whole life? When he returned and gave thanks.” Then this, “We only enter into the full life if our faith gives thanks.”

I think back on this healing journey I’ve been on and I understand now. It’s time to give thanks. It’s time to begin the lessons of gratitude. I cannot find myself healed and neglect the giving of thanks.

As I consider what it will mean to come to the Lord this year, I realize it will be in the offering of thanks for the details of life I have missed for many years. I will choose to look for the beauty in the ugly. For every small or big thing I find myself thankful for, I will be opening a door in my heart for Him to come. In every grace-filled moment or pain filled difficult season, my prayer is that my eyes can be opened to see joy in the now.

The Lord quickened my heart to a verse this year.

With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.
                                                                              Isaiah 12:3

By offering words of thankful praise, I will draw one scoopful at a time of liquid salvation, the water that brings true wellness and complete wholeness.

I know that as I come to him in my thanks giving, he will come with joy and grace. I will grow to trust this God who for so long has beckoned my reluctant heart with the plea, “Trust me,” for trust will grow in the soil of gratitude. This will be my first year of finding contentment where I am. For too many years I have burned with the desperation to be somewhere else, to be fixed, to be anything but what I am. As Ann so simply states,

“life change comes when we receive life with thanks and ask for nothing to change.”
(One Thousand Gifts)

Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms.”

                                                                                                                        Psalm 95:2

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