Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Fear Factor

This morning, after my son had pulled out of his parking spot and drove off to work at the ungodly hour of 5:30 AM, I remained standing outside on our tiny front steps, staring up at the moon. 

Even though he is almost 21, I still walk out with him, under the various guises of hanging up our decorative front porch flag, taking some early morning pics, or putting out the garbage and making sure the front door is locked. Sadly, over the past few years, our neighborhood seems to have become home to some pretty unsavory and even dangerous characters, and we’ve come to know the township police officers here on a first-name basis.

I heard a noise near our alley, and felt a chill hit me that didn’t come from the frigid morning temperatures. Literally frozen with fear, I couldn’t move. I held my breath and waited. Nothing happened. No one appeared. 

Breathing out a sigh of relief, I glanced back up in the sky towards the moon, which looked to be fighting to be seen amid some clouds and the tree branches, and this verse suddenly came to mind:

In this life, we never seem to run out of things to fear, do we? Whether due to bad, past experiences (our own or even someone else’s), or because of future unknowns/uncertainties, all of us have a fear factor. 

We don't like to admit it, but we're all afraid of SOMETHING. And, for the most part, not all of us are afraid of the same things.

Some people are afraid of heights (that would be me)

Some are afraid of insects or big dogs or bats (oh my!)

Other folks are afraid of flying, of driving in snowy/icy weather or across bridges, or of public speaking (me once again)

And still others are afraid of the dark or of thunderstorms

At times, it may feel as if our fears, much like the bare, spidery tree branches in the photo above, are reaching up, entangling us and choking the light and life right out of us. 

In the midst of moments or even seasons that appear to be or truly are dark and fearful, we may think "what to do?", as a friend’s son used to say when he was very small.

The only thing you CAN do when you’re afraid: put your trust in God.

Some time ago, not long after I was handed my breast cancer diagnosis and just before I was about to be wheeled into surgery because of it, I was handed something else. Psalm 56:3

“When I am afraid, I will trust in You.”

Being a still-wet-behind-the-ears follower of Jesus and pretty much new to Scripture PERIOD (let alone its memorization), I had never heard of this verse. But, like a drowning woman, I grabbed onto it like the lifeline that it was for me (and still is), and held on for dear life!

I repeated it over and over in my head as my journey to the operating room took an unexpected detour to a ‘holding room,’ because the results of an earlier, routine (but obviously pretty important) pre-admission test had not come back yet.

I whispered the verse out loud again and again as medical personnel scurried around me, checking my vitals, making frantic phone calls to the lab for those missing in action test results, and doing their best to reassure me that everything would be fine.

“When I am afraid, I will trust in You.”

But this verse REALLY hit home once I was finally brought into the blindingly bright and starkly sterile operating room as several folks from the surgical team lifted me off the gurney and placed me onto the hard, bare operating table, while two others each grabbed an arm of mine and stretched them out to insert more tubes and attach more wires.

It was a frightening moment for me, and a somewhat bizarre thought wormed its way into my brain. I wondered if Jesus had felt that same sickening fear overtake and overwhelm Him as the Roman soldiers stretched His arms out onto the cross? Could the Father have impressed these very words from the Psalms upon Jesus during His time of agony in the garden of Gethsemane? Did He bring them to mind as nails and hammers were poised above His hands and feet? 

Did KNOWING that He could COMPLETELY trust in His Abba bring Jesus some measure of comfort, peace and the strength to endure what was coming at that very moment?

Because they did for me. Those 9 simple words -- “When I am afraid, I will trust in You”  -- plus the realization that Jesus could relate to what I was going through (fear), supernaturally brought me to a place of peace, comfort and the strength to endure what was coming, at the same time removing that fear factor.

And just for the record: although it sounds absolutely unthinkable, outrageous, and even sacrilegious for me to compare my circumstance to Jesus’s, please know that is certainly NOT my intent here. I merely wish to share my thoughts from the moments before my surgery, and to point out that IF that small portion of Scripture had indeed invaded Jesus's thoughts that long ago Friday afternoon, I HAVE TO believe that He surely must have benefited from it as well.

I deposited that verse, securely and permanently, into my heart that day, carrying it with me as I headed off to surgery. I continued to carry it into the second surgery that came along 6 months later. It remained there through the upcoming, draining chemo treatments; through the endless, taxing tests and painful procedures that awaited down the road.

And for all the dark and scary situations and experiences that have confronted-- and continue to confront -- me and my family since then, it remains my ‘go to’ verse.

Beloved - maybe you’ve found yourself in the midst of a dark and scary situation right now:
  • The loss of a loved one
  • or of a job
  • or of a home 
  • The shattering of a marriage 
  • or of a friendship
  • or of a parent/child relationship 
  • Or your own health or financial crisis

And that light at the end of the tunnel everyone speaks of?  It seems somewhat hazy and not very bright -- if it can be seen at all. That still, small voice of God others remind you to listen for can often barely be heard above the crashing waves and deafening claps of thunder in your life’s particular storms.

“When I am afraid, I will trust in You.”

Dear one – may I encourage you and urge you TODAY to grab hold of this verse with both hands? And don't EVER let go. Carry it close to you in the midst of fear and uncertainty; as you walk through the tunnel's darkness and maneuver the raging storms.
Memorize it
Meditate on it
Whisper it
Shout it
Believe it
Own it

It’s not a magical incantation. It’s a powerful statement of faith and trust in the only One Who can bring you out of darkness, shelter you in life's storms and factor out your fear. 

Monday, February 3, 2014

Counting The Invisible

"So God created human beings in His image. In the image of God He created them. He created them male and female." ~Genesis 1:27, NCV

Last week, while I was at our family’s favorite bagel shop, a headline from one of our local newspapers caught my eye. It read:

“Counting The Invisible”

Intrigued by the title, I picked up the paper and quickly scanned it to find they were speaking of that community of folks who live hidden among the shadowy fringes of our society:

The homeless.

I bought the paper and returned home to read the rest of the article.

I learned that members of an organization here in our area recently took a day to launch themselves throughout our neighboring city of Trenton for their annual count of its homeless population.

The team of people took the time to speak with each homeless person, asking questions about their basic needs, where they were currently staying, and then supplying each one with a backpack containing sandwiches, water, socks and a resource card offering info on social services available
to them. They were also encouraged to come to the local shelter to stay, as the temperatures here have been in the single digits lately.

The article went on to give figures from last year’s census (a total of 668 homeless men, women and children in our county alone!) and to say just how difficult it is to get an actual true figure for the homeless, because many ‘couch surf’ with friends or spend time during the day and evening hours riding the River Line (a fairly inexpensive, light rail system which travels between the cities of Trenton and Camden).

The director of this outreach organization told his teams to be sure they paid attention and listened to the responses of the homeless, without cutting them off if and when they opened themselves up. He’s quoted as saying:

“Don’t get so caught up in the logistics of it that you miss that part of it, because we’re talking to people.”

That really hit home and stuck with me. As did the moniker of 'the invisible.'

For the past several years, I’ve been volunteering one night a week at a local soup kitchen operating out of the basement of a tiny neighborhood church, as well as doing intake at their once-a-month food pantry and clothing closet.

Last Thursday night, after having read that article, I looked more closely than usual at all of our guests -- familiar and unfamiliar; homeless or living well below the poverty line -- who filed into the building for a hot meal. I wondered – did they feel invisible? Did we make them feel invisible by our words, our facial expressions, our interactions or lack of interactions?

How easy it can be to deem the folks who frequent these outreaches as ‘the invisible,’ as we hand them their dinners or bags for their groceries and clothes while proudly feeling we’ve done our civic, Christian duty.

Because they are precisely the people society doesn't wish to see. Those whom we would much rather remain invisible.

Some barely speak above a whisper, mumble continually to themselves as they rock back and forth, or suddenly laugh out loud for no reason. Others shout things I cannot repeat here, sometimes picking fights with us, their table mates – or with tormenting demons none of us can see.

Their clothing is wrinkled, ripped and grimy; their hair unkempt and greasy. Many reek of body odor and alcohol.  Or worse.  The hands that reach out to take their food are often dirty, bruised, shaking and housing who-knows-what beneath their fingernails. 

Their faces are dirty, too; some with teeth missing or eyes that are sunken in, displaying broken windows to souls that appear to be long dead and best forgotten.

And yet – the Bible tells us that we – human beings – were ALL created in the image of God! What a revelation, then, that each face that stares at us from a street corner, or through our car window while sitting at a red light, or across a table at a soup kitchen is the face of Christ, just as we are attempting to show the face of Christ to them!

It would do us well -- and I include myself in this -- to realize that, in spite of all the blatant differences and blaring oddities I mentioned above, the members of this ‘invisible’ population are like us in a variety of ways.

Like us, they have a name; a name that desires to be known, remembered and spoken out loud with joyful recognition, welcome and tenderness.

Like us, these folks have a story containing a beginning, a middle and someday, an ending. A story which begs to be told; to be known; to be laughed and cried over; to be understood and remembered.

And like us, they came into this world desperately needy from the get-go. Displaying wrinkly, tiny red faces, with eyes closed tight against the blinding light of life. Arms flailing and fists clenched, lungs filling up with their first breaths, and exhaling angry cries of protest at being torn from the warmth and safety of their mother’s womb.

And then someone, somewhere, cleaned them up, swaddled them in a blanket and gently placed them into a parent’s waiting arms to be held. It would be nice to believe that these who are now invisible were welcomed and loved once upon a time, their entrance into the world rejoiced over.

But I know that far too often, that is not always the case. Many are born already unwelcome and unwanted; already despised and rejected.

Already invisible.

But that is not so with God. NONE of us are invisible to our Father. He has seen us and known us LONG BEFORE our physical birth. David, king and psalmist, has this to say in Psalm 139:15-16:

“My frame was not hidden from You when I was
made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, Your eyes saw my unformed body.”

 And in Jeremiah 1:5, God tells the young prophet,

“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.”

I’m no Bible scholar, but I HAVE to believe that this visibility and knowledge God speaks of wasn’t only reserved and true for prophets, kings, psalm writers and Bible heroes, but for all of us common folk as well.

God sees us and knows us intimately. He is aware of our comings and goings, even knowing when we sit and when we stand. He takes great delight in each of us. He quiets our raging, chaotic, anxious minds and hearts with His love. He rejoices over us with singing. ALL of us – those whose lives are applauded and bathed in the bright klieg lights of notoriety. Those whose unassuming, ordinary lives tend to give off a softer, more diffused glow. And that so-called ‘invisible’ population -- those who find themselves standing outside society’s borders, living life among the dark shadowlands.

Maybe someone reading this today needs to remember or to be made aware that there is someone in their family, someone camped out in their neighborhood, someone sitting among their church’s congregation, or someone standing outside of their workplace, favorite coffee shop or local train station who LONGS to stop being invisible. Who only wants…no…NEEDS to be seen.

But not seen as just a number on a city's yearly census

Not seen as just a recipient of yet another social services program

Not seen as just part of some church’s monthly or annual outreach project

And not seen as just another poor, unfortunate soul 

But seen as a human being and beloved child of God. Yes, they have a need. But more importantly, they have a name that longs to be spoken. They have a story that begs to be told. And they have a face that wants to be seen. And recognized.

And perhaps, if you look closely, that face you recognize JUST might be the face of Christ

Homeless Jesus, by Timothy Schmalz

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Oceans (Where Feet May Fail), by Hillsong United

Then Peter called to Him, "Lord, if it's really You, tell me to come to You, walking on the water."

"Yes, come," Jesus said.

So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and waves, he was terrified and began to sink. "Save me, Lord!" he shouted.

Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. "You have so little faith," Jesus said. "Why did you doubt Me?" ~Matthew 14:28-31, NLT

Jesus --

Trust Him to call you.

Trust Him to be there for you.

Trust Him to hear your cries for help.

Trust Him to catch you when you're sinking in an ocean of doubt and fear, and your circumstances appear hopeless.

Trust Him to carry you to safety.

Trust Him to provide you with everything you'll ever need.

Trust Him.

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