Counting His graces

“The initial step for a soul to come to knowledge of God is contemplation of nature.”
{Irenaeus}

DSC_0212 DSC_0214

“Some people, in order to discover God, read books.  But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things.  Look above you!  Look below you!  Read it.  God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink.  Instead He set before your eyes the things that He had made.  Can you ask for a louder voice than that?”
{St. Augustine}

DSC_0219 DSC_0221 DSC_0222 DSC_0223 DSC_0226 DSC_0227 DSC_0229

“Christ wears ‘two shoes’ in the world: Scripture and nature.  Both are necessary to understand the Lord, and at no stage can creation be seen as a separation of things from God.”
{John Scottus Eriugena}

DSC_0235 DSC_0239 DSC_0242DSC_0241 DSC_0248 DSC_0250

“Nature is schoolmistress, the soul the pupil; and whatever one has taught or the other has learned has come from God–the Teacher of the teacher.”
{Tertullian}

DSC_0254 DSC_0255 DSC_0256 DSC_0257 DSC_0259 DSC_0260 DSC_0261DSC_0266 DSC_0268 DSC_0276

“The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.”
{St. John of Damascus}

DSC_0280 DSC_0289 DSC_0292 DSC_0297

“I see You in the field of stars
I see You in the yield of the land
In every breath and sound, a blade of grass, a simple flower,
An echo of Your holy Name.”
{Abraham Ibn Ezra}

DSC_0298 DSC_0301

“See that I am God.  See that I am in everything.  See that I do everything.
See that I have never stopped ordering my works, nor ever shall, eternally.
See that I lead everything on to the conclusion I ordained for it before time began,
by the same power, wisdom and love with which I made it.
How can anything be amiss?”
{Julian of Norwich}

DSC_0303 DSC_0304 DSC_0307 DSC_0310

“I want creation to penetrate you with so much admiration that wherever you go, the least plant may bring you the clear remembrance of the Creator.”
{Basil the Great}

DSC_0312 DSC_0315DSC_0317DSC_0318DSC_0319

“Everywhere windows and gates, and I did not know it.  No.
I have known it and I have forgotten it and I remember it again.”
{Ann Voskamp}

DSC_0323DSC_0329DSC_0330DSC_0331_2DSC_0332DSC_0335DSC_0337

 

Sometimes a hard week calls for the rest of soul that comes from escaping into the wild for a bit.  Going where only the sound of wind, and birds, buzzing bees, and hushed voices live.

Leaving behind the busy world and going where your soul can grow a size or two,
expanding and remembering that we live to collect moments, not things.

And in these moments, ordinary, simple, we find we are counting His gifts.

“Counting His graces makes all moments into one holy kiss of communion
and communion comes in the common.
He will break bread and I will take and the world is His feast!”
{Ann Voskamp}

Going where the voice of man is quieted, absent almost.  And the voice of God is amplified.
Looking into what He has made and seeing how His invisible qualities are written over each one {Rom.1:20}, how the expanse of sky is declaring His glory {Ps. 19:1}.

This is what brings rest to our souls on the Sabbath: the coupling of the Word of God spoken over us, the quiet expanse of the Creation singing over us.

surrendering to the seasons

DSC_0232

This week finds us laid low at home with a nasty head cold.  The kids and I have been fighting low fevers, runny noses and sore throats all week, not to mention the fatigue and bad attitudes that easily accompany such symptoms.  We’ve pretty much stayed home all week, surrendering to the rhythm of what God has given this week, and all the copious opportunities for sanctification that have resulted.  This rainy, dreary Friday finds my soul rainy and downcast as well.  The hard work of parenting has truly bowled me over a bit this week.  Bombs and airplanes have exploded in the skies in the world this week, and in our little home, words and tempers have flared hot as well.

Rain drips in steady streams from the awning outside the window.  I can’t help but feel God’s heart weeping too.  Weeping over angry words, thoughtless hands, grumbling hearts.  Weeping over the sin in us.  The sin in the four walls of this house, the sin in the angry bombings in Israel, the sin in the pulsing, beating chambers held within my frail flesh.

It’s summer here in these blue mountains, and the vast field in front of our home is full of ripening blackberries.  Brandon was out in the foggy, dusky morning, picking for an hour or so.  And though I can hardly muster the energy to do it, I gather the kids together this morning to take what God has given and to make something of it.  To make something together.  To tie on apron strings and pray for family ties to bind together.  To pour flour and sugar and butter in a bowl and put our six hands together in the mess of it, and pray for something beautiful and tasteful to be produced by these hands, instead of hurt we are so easily capable of.  To place the elements together in one dish into the heat, and to pray for something better to come out of it, as a result.

DSC_0254

DSC_0247

DSC_0234 DSC_0235 DSC_0238DSC_0250

“To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” {Eccl. 3:1}

It’s hard to surrender to the seasons.  I want only good days.  Only summer-sun-fruit-producing days.  Only laughter and comfort and love.  But God has demonstrated His wisdom in the use of seasons.  There is a time for every season, a time for planting and waiting and hoping for fruit.  A time for harvesting and enjoying an overwhelming abundance.  A time for the earth to freeze as hard as iron and for all to appear dead forever.  A time to long for the signs of life, and a time to long for that first wisp of snow that closes us up in our homes with books, crackling fires and all things pumpkin.  It would be iron pride in me that would demand to produce all the time and never allow the field to lie fallow.  As much as I want to always keep the same pace in our home, the same happy, busy pace, I have heard the Lord calling me every day this week to surrender to the season of this week, which has consisted of wiping noses, holding feverish children, reading books and taking naps.  It has meant surrendering to seeing more of the interior walls of our home than playing out in the sun.  It has meant seeing more of the interior of our hearts, than the busyness that often proves to mask the issues bubbling underneath.  It has meant fighting the gloominess that easily descends over my heart in a week like this, and looking for the grace and the gift hidden in the bitter.

In all things, in all things, give thanks. {1 Thess. 5:18}

I will bless the Lord at all times, His praise shall continually be in my mouth. {Psa. 34:1}

The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; and He knows those who trust in Him.
{Nahum 1:7}

The Lord is good to all, and His tender mercies are over all His works. {Psa. 145:9}

In God’s economy, life and death are both a part.  Life always comes from death.  It’s His sure promise.  That’s how we can have rejoicing in the sorrow, because we know every form of death has been overcome, and a season of life, in due time, is coming.  Tender mercy is hovering over death.  That is how I can find joy even in a week where the days have ended in hot tears and hot baths.  I must be willing to embrace every small death He gives if I want to see new life.  I must surrender to the seasons.

And He has made everything beautiful in its time. {Eccl. 3:11}

10421334_10152636424482605_8676434537169512453_n

 

The Wilderness of Sin: How God Gives the Gift of Dependency

It was some time ago that I heard an interview with Ann Voskamp in which she talked about how she usually reads a few books at a time, and lets the books “have a conversation with each other.”

I know exactly what she means. How God, sovereign over the most minute details of our lives, can weave together concepts in the books we’re reading, sermons we’re listening to, conversations we are having, our daily experiences, and so forth.  I know many of you also know what I’m talking about here. When it happens, our hearts skip a beat. These sorts of things cannot be coincidences.

IMG_3693DSC_0092DSC_0570_2DSC_0536DSC_0083

Lately I’ve been struggling with a particular battle with sin. I’ve been crying out for the Lord’s grace, His strength and help. I’ve been trying so hard to change, yet knowing if He does not change me, it is impossible.

Ever been there? Ever been so fed up with something, with yourself, and seeing no progress, despite doing what you only know best to do: crying out to the Lord, finding and clinging to promises in His word, accountability, prayer, trusting?

Yep. That’s where I’ve been for quite some time.

What’s become hardest about it has been “doing all the right things” within my power to do, yet not seeing victory. Knowing and believing with all my heart that God wants my victory too, that God hates my sin too, that God is able to do what is impossible for frail flesh, and yet not experiencing that “sufficient grace” in my weakness that Paul talks about in 2 Corinthians 12:9.

This is what has been most painful. Where are You, God, in this? Why does it feel like You not helping me? Am I not Yours?

Those questions were largely met with silence for some time. And I agonized. Sleepless, restless nights were had. Hot, ugly cries to my husband were had. More prayer, more scripture. More silence.

THEN.

These words from Jerry Bridges in his incredible book, Transforming Grace:

“Often God’s word is not made effective immediately. In fact, there are many times when I struggle over an issue for a period of days, mulling over several pertinent passages of Scripture and crying out for grace, before the Holy Spirit finally makes them effective and gives His grace, helping in time of need. The Spirit of God is sovereign in His working, and we cannot squeeze Him into the mold of our spiritual formulas–for example, pray for grace, quote some verses, and receive a guaranteed answer.

God not only has His own ways of working, but also His own timetable. Sometime He grants grace to help almost immediately as He did in my most recent experience [shared in the book] with 1 Peter 5:7. At other times, He allows us to struggle for days, perhaps even weeks or months, before we receive the grace to help. But regardless of the delays He may impose on us, we must continue to come to the throne of grace believing His promise to grant grace to help, and we must continue to resort to appropriate Scripture until He makes it effective in our hearts. It is our responsibility to take up the sword of the Spirit; it is His prerogative to make it effective.”

Those words were balm to my soul. It felt like the first hint of an answer in a very very long, silent, lonely struggle.

Encouragement. Comfort. Companionship of others who have gone before.

But still this niggling question: why would God do this? Yes, to teach me to wait on Him. To persevere in the asking. To test my trust when my feelings and experience don’t match up with His Word. But it didn’t seem to get to the root of it. I know He is good and “in Him is no darkness whatsoever” but still, why leave me hanging in sin for so long? When He could immediately deliver?

{Sidenote:  Keep in mind that I am currently studying Exodus and the wilderness wanderings of God’s people after His deliverance from Egypt in my time in the Word.}

I have finished Bridges book and now am reading “Extravagant Grace” by Barbara Duguid. {Whoever you are: you. MUST. read.} The concept of her book, which is basically a summary of the teachings of John Newton, is that God has great purpose in allowing us to continue to battle and struggle sin and our sin-nature as Christians. He is able to set us free from sin totally and perfect us completely at the point of salvation, and yet He doesn’t. Her book is a study of how God is more glorified in our continual battle with sin than He would be were He to perfect us on earth. Mind-blowing and ground-shaking.

Anyway, (I hope you are still following me here! Bear with me!) tonight I read these words from Duguid’s book:

“When a Christian struggles with a besetting sin in the form of an addiction…God may change their will long before He actually gives them the spiritual fruit of self-control in that area, and Newton tells us that God has as a profound purpose in this. When God changes the will and gives someone a great desire for obedience but not the strength to withstand temptation, He is putting His child in a painful and difficult position. Yet He does this in love and not with judgment or punishment in mind. He is humbling this child in a powerful way and crushing the child’s self-reliance. This can feel like a curse, when it is actually a great gift.”

My heart nearly stopped. Yes. That’s it.

Self-reliance.

And immediately the Spirit reminded me of a passage back in Bridges book about the wilderness and self-reliance. Since I’m an outdoor enthusiast and studied Outdoor Education in college, it leapt off the page to me when I read it previously:

“The wilderness makes or breaks a man; it provides strength of will and character. The strength provided by the wilderness, however, was not the strength of self-sufficiency, but the strength that comes from a knowledge of the living God.”

See, I know a lot of outdoor enthusiasts. People who live to test themselves against the elements of the wild, to prove their self-sufficiency.  Unfortunately, more often than not, the wilderness wins even over those most experienced and prepared.

When God drives us into the wilderness where we are tempted and accosted by our sin nature, we are never more aware of our desperate need for Him, for the Gospel, for the grace found in Jesus.  Similarly when you are in a physical wilderness, you are quickly reminded of how small you are when one simple thing goes wrong.  When God drove the Israelites into the wilderness after their (read: His) tremendous victory in Egypt, He knew there was a faster/easier route to the Promised Land.  But He also knew their hearts were not ready.  They needed to know just how dependent they actually were on Him.  For everything.  And so He led them into the wilderness.

Judean-wilderness-at-sunset-tb021107716
Judean wilderness (http://www.waynestiles.com/the-judean-wilderness-the-ultimate-getaway/)

As an act of mercy, He led them to a place where the failure, rebellion, grumbling that had always lived in their hearts would be exposed.  He knew their hearts, He would never be surprised by their behavior.  But they needed to see their hearts.  And they needed to see Him stay with them, abide with them, even at their very worst and least deserving.

This is the gift God gives us when we cannot seem to experience victory over sin.

And this grace-starved girl has never loved Him more than when He abides ever with me, even when I make my bed in hell.  He is not surprised by my continual failure, like I am.  He sees me in Christ: Perfect.  Clean.  Righteous.  Redeemed.

Unfathomable grace.

If to heavens heights I fly, You are still beside me
Or in death’s dark shadows lie, You will stay close by me
If I flee on morning wings far across the gray sea:
Even there Your hand will lead
Your right hand will guide me.
(see Psa. 139:7-12)

 

 

 

From Legalism to a Feast of Grace

IMG_4071

This year, the year of 2014, I have been calling the “feast of grace” year. For a number of years now I spend New Years reflecting over the past year and looking prayerfully toward the year ahead, asking the Lord what He wants to be teaching me or working on in me. So clearly, so profoundly He spoke “Gospel” and “Grace” over the year 2014.

I haven’t written at all about this on the blog yet {yes, and it is now June!} because honestly what He has been speaking and doing in my heart is so immense and overwhelming {and so deeply personal!}  I don’t even know where to begin.

I am a legalist by nature, a performance-addict. Even though I first experienced God’s grace for myself as a young child when I received Christ, it is still utter mystery to me. And in His glorious grace, I am still experiencing His grace afresh day by day all these years later.

What kind of God is this, who gives grace upon grace to the likes of us who cannot ever comprehend or fully appreciate the fullness of His grace to us in Jesus Christ?!

What kind of God is this who gives the fullness of His grace to a child who has no idea the riches she has in Christ Jesus, nor the immensity that it cost Him to grace her so richly?

God has me, a grace-spurning, Gospel-underfoot-trampling legalist, feasting on the riches of His grace found in the Gospel all year long. In the profound beauty and richness of His grace, He always aims to set us free. His kindness leads to repentance.

I just finished Jerry Bridges book “Transforming Grace,” what I would call the Christian’s Primer on grace. I cannot express adequately how helpful it has been to me, nor how often it has kept me up at night because my mind and heart could nearly burst from what God has as been teaching me through it. It is a grace feast that I will be rereading all throughout this year. Years of legalistic, merit-based thinking are not helped by a cursory reading. A thorough mind-washing in the Truth is what’s in order!

This sweet poem has become a treasure to me in the hard and ordinary trenches of parenting, which daily, {no, momentarily!} drives me to the throne of grace:

“He Giveth More Grace”

He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater;
He sendeth more grace when the labours increase;
To added afflictions He addeth His mercy
To multiplied trials, His multiplied peace.

When we have exhausted our store of endurance,
When our strength has failed ere the day is half done;
When we reach the end of our hoarded resources,
Our Father’s full giving is only begun.

His love has no limits, His grace has no measure,
His power has no boundary known unto men;
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth, and giveth, and giveth again.”
– Annie Johnson Flint

Oh, to be this kind of parent to my own children!  The only way possible is for me to believe and experience such radical grace, grace in the face of my continued daily battle with sin.  Only those who have received such grace know how to give it.

“For from His fulness we have all received, grace upon grace.” {John 1:16}

When you’re flunking Holy Week

Many Christians in the world tonight are gathered at Maundy Thursday services, in quiet reflective sanctuaries around the globe. Here I am at home, with my children tucked sweetly in bed.

ImageImageImageImageImageImageImage
(
All pictures from Jerusalem during Holy Week)

And with a confession heavy on my heart:

I’m not ready this year for Easter.

I haven’t participated in Lent.  I haven’t been reading and preparing for this Easter season.  I haven’t been particularly mindful of Holy Week, as I normally would be.

I have been entirely preoccupied and consumed with a physical circumstance that I’m enduring, and it takes up nearly my every waking thought.  It feels to me that others are experiencing some great spiritual time of nearness to God, brokenness and contrition remembering Good Friday which we will observe tomorrow, while I am somewhere else, apart from this realm, consumed with my physical struggle.  I feel completely laid low.  I feel like a total spiritual failure.  Ah yes, Guilt, my familiar companion.

Walking this afternoon with the kids, my heart just broken before the Lord, crying out to Him:  “Lord this is just where I am.  I have nothing to offer You.  I haven’t done anything this Lenten season to remember You.  I don’t deserve some big sense of spiritual nearness to You, because I know I haven’t done the work of seeking and preparing my heart.  But somehow, would You still meet me, even here?”

It was as I was stirring simmering gnocchi over the oven that the hymn played over me, a precious favorite of mine by Fanny Crosby, one of my favorite hymn writers.

Pass me not, oh gentle Savior, 
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.

Savior, Savior, 
Hear my humble cry;
While on others Thou art calling,
Do not pass me by.

Let me at Thy throne of mercy
Find a sweet relief,
Kneeling there in deep contrition;
Help my unbelief.

Trusting only in Thy merit,
Would I seek Thy face;
Heal my wounded, broken spirit,
Save me by Thy grace.

Thou the Spring of all my comfort,
More than life to me,
Whom have I on earth beside Thee?
Whom in heav’n but Thee?

And the tears flowed.  He spoke so tenderly.  Yes, He longs for me, even me, even this distracted heart so prone to wander.  And when will it sink in?  When will I believe that I can never earn His presence, His voice.  It is all gift, an extravagant gift of His grace.  So just in case there’s anyone else out there who feels like they’re flunking Holy Week:  He can never resist any who reach out to Him.  He will never pass you by.  You can’t flunk Holy Week because it’s not a performance.  OH the sweet relief it is to kneel at His cross and to know He takes me again and again, brokenness, sinfulness, distracatedness and all.

For a video/audio of the hymn quoted above, click here:

 

{The Shelves} Glimpses of Grace

The sun rises on a crisp new day.

ImageImage

She stands by the window, steaming cup of the strongest coffee in cold hands.  She just stands in the silence.  Her heart is quiet.  She wants to just be here, in this hallowed here.  A whisper in her soul says, “Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not.  They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness” {Lam. 3:22-24}.

A heavy sigh.  A deep breath.  Yes.  A new start, thank you, Lord.

The list of resolves begin:  Today will be different.
I won’t raise my voice at them today.
I won’t be irritated and distracted and selfish today.
I will serve them happily.
I will enjoy them.
I will open my heart to the beautiful messes.
I won’t be surprised when they disobey.
I will be patient.
I won’t discipline in anger.

And on and on.. this litany of guilt and hope.

And then, the first child’s cry and the day of work has begun.  She leaves her coffee, and gets the littlest one to nurse, and the giving away begins again.

But then the baby has a blow out.  And the three year old wakes up whining and with a runny nose again.  Her husband forgot to take the trash out.  Milk is spilled, plastic forks are banging on the table and dropping on the floor, along with food.  There’s one child talking back and another one screaming.  And she’s hardly made it through breakfast before every single resolve has been broken.  What to make of this?  What hope is there for tomorrow?  What hope is there for her, in her frail and broken flesh to love well?

*     *     *     *     *

If there is one book I would recommend to any mom, maybe even any woman, it’s this one by Gloria Furman.  It’s what’s on the bedside table this month.

DSC_0083DSC_0082

Gloria writes for the stay-at-home momma or the working woman, and she writes to unveil how the Gospel impacts our normal, daily, mundane lives.  Does God care about the mundane tasks we perform day in and day out?  How does His grace change the way we do laundry, potty training, bed-making, cooking, grocery shopping, guest-hosting?

For me, per the parable at the beginning of this post, this has been my greatest struggle as a parent thus far.  This seeming endless battle to live a pure and holy life before God in even the mundane details of life, and yet this daily failing and floundering.  My heart is so often discouraged and barely feels brave enough to whisper: Is there any purpose in it?  Is there any hope in it?  Can a sin-bent woman such as myself ever live a life that pleases God?

“Theology is for homemakers who need to know who God is, who they are, and what this mundane life is all about…As homemakers who are made in God’s image and desire to live for God, we need to know what God’s intentions are for us and for the work we do in the home.  More specifically, we need to know: What does the gospel have to do with our everyday lives in the home?  How does the gospel impact our dish washing, floor mopping, bill paying, friend making, guest hosting, and dinner cooking?  How does the fact that Jesus himself bore our sins in his body on the tree so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Pet. 2:24) make a difference in my mundane life today?…This book is a description of the distinctly Christian hope of God’s glory and how it relates to the home” (Furman, 16-17).

unnamed DSC_0070 DSC_0080 DSC_0072 1555410_10152032716277605_1674356926_n 1016215_10152058138182605_1120272254_n 1381350_10151815200507605_1614574746_n 1441367_10151938070832605_1744546347_n

Gloria Furman is a momma to four children, a pastor’s wife, a doula, a blogger, a missionary and church-planter in Dubai. In this book, with a ton of humor and fresh vulnerable honesty, she shares about the way the gospel of grace has impacted and sustained her in each of these endeavors.  How it has impacted the way they open their home, deal with a debilitating nerve disorder in her husband’s arms, raise their children, serve the people of Dubai, learn a new language, deal with infant-induced sleep-deprivation, dirty dishes, bill paying, etc.

One of the things that struck me to the core was her discussion of our common “use” of the gospel as the means for salvation, but not our daily means for sanctification.  She quotes D.A. Carson:

“First, if the gospel becomes that by which we slip into the kingdom, but all the business of transformation turns on postgospel disciplines and strategies, then we shall constantly be directing the attention of people away from the gospel, away from the cross and resurrection.  Soon the gospel will be something that we quietly assume is necessary for salvation, but not what we are excited about, not what we are preaching, not the power of God.”

Her book goes on to unfold how we need the gospel, how we need to preach the gospel to ourselves daily, that we are to appropriate God’s grace to us in the gospel in order to depend moment-by-moment on Christ’s sufficient righteousness instead of our own attempts at righteousness.  It is so transformative a truth, so freeing, and so mind-blowing that it is one she applies to the various different aspects of managing a home, revealing how it plays out practically in our day-to-day.

It’s a book I will treasure and will read again and again.  There has not been another book, outside of the inspired words of Scripture, that has met and been a salve to my soul like this book in the current circumstance as a stay-at-home momma, wife, and manager of the home.  It literally has breathed new life into this soul of mine!  I highly commend it to you!

*     *     *     *     *

“Even in my darkest doubts when I do the same thing again the next day, my hope is still built on the righteousness of Christ.  The gospel keeps me relating to God on the basis of Jesus’ perfections, not on the illusions of my religious achievements.  God strengthens me and protects me according to his faithfulness, not mine (2 Thess. 3:3)” (Furman, 33).

{For those of you who are interested, Gloria Furman will release her second book, Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations for Busy Moms at the end of this month!!!}

come ye weary

DSC_0076

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion?
Come to me.
Get away with me and you’ll recover your life.
I’ll show you how to take a real rest.
Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it.
Learn the unforced rhythms of grace.

I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you.
Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

{Matthew 11:28-30 MSG}

When you’re helpless: My story of Rescue

DownloadedFile

DownloadedFile-1

Thirteen years ago today, at this exact time, 8:30 am on a Monday morning, I was freezing.  Literally.  I was huddled in the snow in the rugged backcountry wilderness of Colorado.  I was sixteen years old at the time, and I was alone with my sister, who was twenty.  We had spent the night stranded in the frigid conditions, lost.  Helpless.  The previous day, February 11, 2001, had been a gorgeous windy day in the backcountry.  We had driven up from Denver with our brother and good friend Chris, and we were all planning on a fun day of snowboarding at Loveland Pass.  My sister and I broke off from the guys, who were going to build a jump and play on that, to hike farther around the bowl and do laps.  The wind was insane that day on the ridge, and as we hiked farther around the bowl, Jennie and I set our sights on a peak on the backside of the bowl.  We had never ventured over there before, but from where we were standing, it looked entirely feasible.  And fun.  So we set off to hike the next peak.  And thus began what would become an incredible story of survival.

DSC_0104

DSC_0105

We were young and foolish.  We didn’t think about the fact that we were going far beyond where we had told everyone we would be.  We didn’t account for snow conditions, or even cared (read: 16 years old).  Or for the fact that it was late in the afternoon.  It was incredibly deep snow and soon we were slogging waist deep, post-holing and fighting to just make forward progress.  Long story short, we were soon exhausted and thirsty.  And we were losing daylight.  It was an extrememly vulnerable feeling.  We knew how to get back where we had come from, but we couldn’t physically hike back up the mountain we had ridden down because of the deep heavy snow.  We had decided to head a different way, hoping to circle around and meet up with the pass road on the other side of the pass.  But the farther we ventured down into treeline, the less visibility we had, the sooner we realized we were lost.

The sun sank behind the towering peaks behind us.  The shadows were lengthening.  The temperature was immediately dropping.  We had been hiking now for hours without water or food.  We found a clearing in the trees where we could get a view of the valley below us, expecting to see the pass road.  Instead we saw a mountain.  My heart fell in that moment.  We would never get over that in the couple of hours of daylight we had left.  And with our level of exhaustion, I was skeptical that we would ever make it that far.  It was an incredibly sobering and terrifying moment. 

We changed plans.  Instead of it becoming about getting out of the backcountry, we realized we were in a survival situation.  It became about preparing to spend the night here, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of snow, in the middle of February, with no supplies, no water, no shelter, no cell phone.  What’s worse, no one had a clue we were here. 

We trudged out a huge S.O.S. in the clearing, we dug a hole down into the snow pack just big enough for the two of us to crawl inside, we set our brightly colored snowboards out where we hoped they’d be visible.  We crawled headfirst into the dark, freezing hole.  We grabbed some branches and packed the sugary-like snow desperately into the branches, trying to cover the opening.  It was dark in the snow cave.  It was silent.  It was growing dark outside, as we saw the light growing dim through the patched-over opening of the snow cave.  It was insanity.  Both Jennie and I had these desperate urges to just jump back out of this hellish hole and keep trudging.  But instinctively we knew we would die if we did that.  We knew the temps were going to be freezing that night and we would freeze, in our wet gear, traveling in the woods with no light.  We didn’t know if we were making the best decision.  But we had made it and we committed to stick to it.  When light came in the morning, we would start hiking again.

So we thought.  Thus ensued one of the most insane nights of survival I could ever have imagined.  Temperatures that night, we later learned, dropped to -11 degrees, -21 with windchill.  Negative 21!  Thankfully we were protected from the wind in our makeshift shelter.  We were not warm, however.  We were shivering convulsively.  We were wet and laying on wet snow in total darkness.  We were thirsty.

There is so much that happened in that dark hole alone together that evening.  There are a whole host of miracles that happened, people who were working and searching and sacrificing out in the dark cold, hundreds searching for us, due to my quick-thinking brother and friend, Chris, who called in search and rescue.  But it’s not the purpose for which I write to you today.  A story for another time.  But as morning began to dawn, we couldn’t have guessed that our energy would be vastly depleted just from trying to survive and keep warm through the night.  Our muscles were so tired from convulsing and shivering that we couldn’t imagine even walking.  We realized that having gone almost a full 24 hours without water or food and yet expending all the physical strength we could muster to hike and to stay warm had left us completely depleted.  Helpless.

We realized we were waiting now to be found.  We realized there would be no way to hike out.  We realized we were so cold, so weak, so lost.  We were utterly dependent on the reckless hope that someone would be searching for us.  That someone would find us, and soon.

And this morning, thirteen years later, I sit here as snow softly falls in the mountains of North Carolina.  I sit here cozy in my bed tapping away on these keys, while my husband plays with and feeds our two precious children.  I sit here almost 30 years old.  I sit here, having been RESCUED.  I sit here as one who received grace on that fateful day, February 12th, 2001.

As God would have it, I was studying Genesis chapter 15 and Romans chapter 4 this morning.  My mind is reeling with what God was speaking to me, so bear with me, as I try to give words to it here.

I know what its like to be helpless.  I know what its like to be desperate.  I know what its like to realize you are about to face death soon unless someone comes through for you.  To know that you have reached the end of yourself and you cannot save yourself.  There is nothing you can do.  It is the most vulnerable and terrifying position to be in. 

It is the place where all pride and self-sufficiency falls away and grace alone can save.

But I’m all about pride and self-sufficiency.  You see, I grew up with a faulty and broken understanding of righteousness.  I grew up thinking that if I could be good enough, God would be pleased with me.  I grew up thinking somehow that I had to earn my way into His favor, and that when I sinned, I lost His love and favor.  And all my days, I have strived.

And then there’s Romans 4.  There’s Abraham.  A man who “believed God, and it was accounted to him as righteousness” (Rom. 4:3, Gen. 15:6).

“If Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God.  For what does the Scripture say?  Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.  Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.  But to him who does not work, but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:2-5).

If our standing with God is based on our good works, if we can be good enough, then God owes us our wage, which is salvation, heaven.  We are good people who generally stay out of trouble so God is obligated to save us.  But what about those of us who know we are helplessly flawed??  What about those of us who cannot see inherent goodness in ourselves?  What about those of us who see that every inclination of our hearts is only evil continually?  That our pride, our selfishness, our self-protectiveness runs deep?  What about those of us who return over and over and over to our sin, like a dog to vomit?  What is the hope of salvation for us?  We need to be rescued.

If our standing with God is based on what GOD Himself has done, because God Himself knew that we would never be able to be good enough to stand before Him, then we would know that it is by faith.  It is by believing this truth and resting all our hope upon it that we will be saved.

“Therefore it is of faith, that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all…in the presence of Him whom He believed–God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who contrary to hope, in hope believed…He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised, He was also able to perform” (Rom.4:16,17-18,20-21).

What had God promised, that Abraham was convinced He would be able to perform?  Head back to Gen.15 and remember that God covenanted with Abraham to make a great nation from Abraham’s line, even though Abraham and Sarai, his wife, were old in age and barren.  God promised they would in fact have a son, an heir, through whom God would bring the Promised One, the Savior, who had been promised back in the Garden of Eden (Gen.3:15), whom all humanity had been waiting for and looking for since the fall of the first parents, Adam and Eve.  God covenanted with Abraham, He promised that He would rescue mankind, He promised that He would do it through Abraham’s family, and He alone took on both sides of the covenant agreement (see Gen.15:17).  God did not require Abraham to make covenant with Him, because God knew Abraham would never be able to hold up his end of the deal.  God made covenant with Abraham and covenanted to uphold both parties’ commitments.  He alone would do this.  Would Abraham believe?  God then told Abraham what would happen to His people, those descendants of Abraham, for the next 400 years (all of which was perfectly historically accurate), and foretold to Abraham that His plan would be to rescue the people once they were desperate and hopelessly in bondage/slavery to Egypt.  God’s plan was for Israel to inherit Canaan through God’s supernatural act of redemption from slavery.

You see, He knows we are helpless.  He knows we cannot be good.  But He allows us to experience that truth for ourselves physically in our lives, often to get into a place of physical helplessness, so that we make the connection to our spiritually helpless, lost state, apart from Christ.  We can do some good things in our lives, sure, but if we can be honest, we are prone to serve ourselves.  We are prone to greed, selfishness, hatred, bitterness, jealousy, sexual immorality, and on and on.  We are bent away from God, away from holiness.  We can try and be good some days, but we are never perfect.

And it hits me fresh, and it hits me hard this morning.

It isn’t the good-enough who inherit the kingdom of God.  It isn’t the people who do it all right who get to go to heaven.  It is those who believe.  It is those who hang all of their hope on Jesus. As Romans 4 says, “it is of faith that it might be according to grace” (vs. 16).  God wanted to show off the sufficiency of His GRACE.  If it were works, I could earn it.  I could lose it.  And God would be my debtor.  But as it stands, it is all of faith.  It is given to me, its a gift.  But I have to receive it.  I have to believe it in order to appropriate it.  And because of that truth, I am forever God’s gladdest debtor.

DownloadedFile-2

So back to that freezing cold, blinding cold morning, thirteen years ago.  The first sound of hope that we heard was the blurry, distant chop-chop-chop of helicopter blades.  It barely pulled me out of the fog that I was in.  I could barely put two thoughts together to figure out what that vaguely familiar sound was.

It got closer.  And closer.  And closer until it was like a thunder roaring right over us.  Jennie burst through the roof of snow above us, screaming and waving wildly at the smiling faces of two men above us, circling over and over above us, just barely above the trees.  Soon, two men hiked down to us, two rescuers, who offered us snickers bars and some warm layers and helped us to hike to another clearling where we were able to board that helicopter and be rushed to Summit County hospital for treatment.  We exited that helicopter to be greeted by our dearest loved ones, whom we clung to.  We were greeted by several news stations.  And in the coming days we were interviewed over and over again, on the Today Show, in Teen People Magazine, in newspapers and women’s magazines.  It was incredible.

DSC_0106

What if we had said no to it all?  What if when those two rescuers showed up, we had said, “No I don’t believe you’re really here.  I don’t believe you really have my best interest at heart.  I don’t think you care to rescue me, I don’t believe you that right below this clearing is a large clearing where a helicopter is waiting for me.  I don’t believe that if I stay here in this dark hole, death is certain.  I think I can do it on my own.  I think I can be strong enough to get out of here.”  What if the gift that was offered, what if we refused it?  We had the FREEDOM to do that.  Those men could not have forced us to come to safety.  They could have given us many convincing proofs and arguments.  They could have pled with us.  But ultimately, we had to trust them, total strangers, we had to believe their word.  We had to place our lives in their hands.

We had to let them rescue us.

Because “rescue” implies submission, weakness, trust, dependency, helplessness.

Whoever you are, reading this today… that is the Good News of Jesus Christ.  He came for us.  He is God, who came from God, to make a way for humanity to get back to God, when we used our freedom to flee from Him.  But you must let Him rescue you.  You must believe that He is good, that He has a plan to redeem you, and you must put your hand in His and let Him lead you to safety.

The Christian life is not about being a good person.  NO!!!!  The Christian life is about placing your trust in Jesus, who was perfect, and believing He is the Savior of the world, and letting Him rescue you.

Will you do that today?  Will you believe?

“By entering through faith into what God has always wanted to do for us—set us right with him, make us fit for him—we have it all together with God because of our Master Jesus. And that’s not all: We throw open our doors to God and discover at the same moment that he has already thrown open his door to us. We find ourselves standing where we always hoped we might stand—out in the wide open spaces of God’s grace and glory, standing tall and shouting our praise.”  (Rom.5:1-2 MSG)

DSC_0107

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A special word of thanks goes out to all those who worked and sacrificed and prayed that night on our behalf.  To my parents, my brother Andrew and Chris Harrison, Bill & Cindy Scott, Littleton Bible Chapel, Dan Burnett {our burliest mountain man}, Pat Mahaney {the pilot}, Mike Everest {the scout who found our tracks on a whim}, Bill Barwick, Loveland Ski Patrol, Alpine Search & Rescue team.  Because of what you did, I am here today with my precious children and husband.  I am forever indebted and “thank you” is simply not enough.  You all are my heroes forever!

What God Numbers

Image

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  {Psalm 90:12}

A new year and a fresh conviction that our time here is short.  It is limited.  It is set in a fixed boundary.  Our days are numbered.  This year?  It could be our last.  

The very first mention of the word “number” in scripture, as far as I could find it in the NKJV, is here in Genesis:

“Lift your eyes now and look from the place where you are—northward, southward, eastward, and westward; for all the land which you see I give to you and your descendants forever.  And I will make your descendants as the dust of the earth; so that if a man could number the dust of the earth, then your descendants also could be numbered.  Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.” {Gen. 13:14-17}

“Then He brought [Abraham] outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them.’  And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.'” {Gen. 15:5}

God, promising Abraham a land, a heritage, descendants beyond number.  God, proclaiming from the outset that his grace-work would be beyond numbering.

Man counts the numbers in his bank account, the numbers on the scale, the numbers of his followers, the numbers of those who work for him.  Like David, counting his men, measuring his own strength, his sufficiency, his weight.

God numbers our months, even our steps.  He numbers His own.  He numbers His mighty works, the lives of those who will receive His grace.  An innumerable number.

“The Lord builds up Jerusalem;
He gathers together the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
And binds up their wounds.
He counts the number of the stars;
He calls them all by name.
Great is our Lord, and mighty in power;
His understanding is infinite.
The Lord lifts up the humble;
He casts the wicked down to the ground.”
{Psa. 147:2-6}

Then this, one of the very last times the word “number” appears in scripture (according to the NKJV):

“After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” {Rev.7:9-10}

And so the first mention of “numbers” is in context of God promising a land, promising a people who will receive grace and favor.  And at one of the last mentions of the word “number”we see that promise fulfilled and consummated, a people beyond number from every tribe and tongue before the throne, before the Lamb.  

A promise fulfilled because God chose to send His Son, Jesus, “and He was numbered with the transgressors.” {Isa.53:12, Lk.22:37}  Numbered with the malefactors.

Teach us, O God, to number our days so that we may gain a heart of wisdom.  So that we can participate in the grace-work You are doing in this world, through this particular and peculiar and set-apart people.

“Many, O Lord my God, are Your wonderful works
Which You have done
And Your thoughts toward us
Cannot be recounted to You in order;
If I would declare and speak of them
They are more than can be numbered.”  {Ps.40:5}