Healing Rain

I Had a Dream….no really, I did!

I was with my youngest daughter, Christina, and a friend. We stood in a vast, barren landscape of dry, scraggly hills covered with natural debris. I didn’t look at the sky but it must have been sunless, because everything was gray, ashen.

I am bent over a pile of withered, cracked branches – branches much longer than I am tall and about the thickness of a baseball bat. The branches are so dry, they’ve begun to turn white. I kneel down, curious. Lifting up a few branches to see what lies beneath, I notice they’re stuck in some sort of gray mire. An old riverbed! The mire reeks of decay. 

I lift my head. To my left are three dead owls.

Nothing lives here.

I stand and look around. I see now – the hills and valleys are actually the stony banks and dry beds of countless rivers and creeks. Each one filled with desiccated branches.  Everywhere my eyes scan: parched, lifeless land.

A moment later, I am at an old farmhouse. Not mine. My grandmother’s? My mother’s? I think we’re on vacation. My entire family is there. Even my grandparents, who’ve long since passed.

My grandma’s in the kitchen. There’s a child sleeping on an over sized chair. Is it Christina? Or am I seeing myself?

I step out the screen door and the sky looms heavy, oppressive, dark. Drizzle dots my skin. I sigh and think, “Ugh, rain. Another family vacation day ruined.” Then I remember the dry riverbed. I put my hand out to catch the drizzle. “No. Not enough to make a difference.”

Next, I am standing outdoors. Christina and I are by the street, facing the white farmhouse. She seems younger in my dream.  My friend stands in the yard, facing us. Behind her there’s a little vegetable garden. And I have a sense that my grandma is watching us through the embroidered café curtains of the kitchen window.

It starts to rain. And pour. And pour. For a moment I am disappointed. Rain on vacation.

I look at the ground beneath my feet. Mud. So much water the ground can’t hold. My skin, my hair – soaked. What a mess! What a…

I remember: The dry riverbeds. The barren wasteland. This rain – it’s falling there too!

I turn my palms heavenward and lift my face to the rain. Rain will quench the parched land and fill thirsty riverbeds. Perhaps the rain did not come when I wanted, as I expected, but it came and it is good.

What do you do with a dream like that? What do you make of it? I would love to hear your thoughts. It has been a couple of weeks and God is still speaking to me about it.

I should tell you that this dream came on the night of Tuesday, November 6 – Election Night 2012. Hmmmm….

I should also tell you that our church is in the midst of a spiritual emphasis we call “Pray for Reign.” Together, we are praying for God to reign in our lives, individually and corporately, and that His spirit would rain down on us and on our land.

Back when Pray for Reign began, I fell in love with this song Waiting for the Rain by Misty Edwards:

“..I’m waiting in the desert, just waiting for the rain…”  

This weekend, I had the privilege of being with a friend while she grieved. As I watched her cry, God gave me a sort of vision: I glimpsed dry riverbeds, like the ones in my dream, deep in her soul. And they were being watered by her tears. The beauty of it took my breath away. The eyes of my heart began to see…to understand grief differently:

Loss of any kind leaves an empty space in our hearts. If we hold on to that loss or run away from it, that hole becomes an dry, decaying ditch. What water is left, sours from the rotting branches of bitterness – those worthless things we use to fill our hollow spaces. Then it happens again…and again, so that one day, we look around at the expanse of our souls, and see acres upon acres devoured by loss. An emaciated wasteland.

Nothing lives here.

“…oh but I won’t leave this desert, until I see the rain…”

More often than not, God won’t bring back what was lost – people die, dreams are dashed, life changes, friends move away, bodies grow weak. All this life…it’s just a letting go.

I have wrestled with this. I have burned with rage. I have desperately asked. I have silently cried. Then came peace – or at least the hope of peace: Nichole, every empty cavern, every hollow grave, is a place for Me to enter. Everything I take away, creates more room for Me.

This life is loss. I can rail against reality – rail against Him – or I can accept what’s true and give Him space to rain…to reign.

“… I can see the clouds gatherin’ now…are you ready…are you ready for the rain?”

Are you ready for the rain? When God sends it, will you let it fall?

Will you?

Because the rain that fills our dry riverbeds will not fall from the sky. The rain that soaks our shriveled souls, will fall from our eyes. Our very eyes.

Grief is a gift from God. A well to the deep healing waters of heaven. Let Him rain.

Lament your loss. Mourn what’s missing. Cry out in your pain.

I had a dream. God reigned.

See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?
I am making a way in the wilderness
    and streams in the wasteland.
Isaiah 43:19

Promises

Promise me you’ll never leave. Promise you won’t tell. Promise to help me, no matter what. Promise you’ll never hurt me. Promise you won’t turn your back on me. Promise you’ll never give up on me. Promised me you’ll never forget.

Promises. We ask for and give them so easily. What does a promise mean to me? To you? Why are promises important?

For the last month I have been reading about promises kept, even at the most difficult times. About soldiers who risked their lives to save a woman who had earlier shielded them from the sword of her own countrymen. Not only did the soldiers save the woman, but they rescued her whole family as well. In the midst of a raging battle, the soldiers fought their way down city streets, back to her home, bringing her and her family to safety. They did this not because they loved her, not because they were a search and rescue team, not because they feared her. The soldiers rescued her because she asked them to and, in gratitude of her mercy toward them, they promised her they would. It was as simple as that.

I also read about a nation tricked into making a treaty with a neighboring village. The villagers claimed, rather convincingly, to be something they were not. The nation would never have entered into the treaty had they known the truth. Even still, when the national leaders discovered the deception, they honored the treaty. One day, a coalition of five enemy states attacked the village. Without hesitation, they called on the very nation they had deceived and pleaded for military support. As a man of his word, the national leader agreed. He then traveled with his entire army throughout the night until arriving at the village. The next morning, and for what seemed like days, they waged war on the invaders and successfully defended the villagers in perhaps their most difficult battle ever. Why? Because in allying themselves with the villagers, they had made a promise, of not only peace, but of unity.

Promises. What kind of promises have you made? Have you ever been tricked into making a promise? Or maybe you just feel like you didn’t get what you bargained for?

I read about another promise. The promise of a father. He was the father of the two soldiers and of the deceived national leader. The father had raised his children to be strong, faithful, compassionate, wise, loving, patient and honest – not because he told them to, but because he too was all those things. Their father had never made a promise he didn’t keep and he never would. In honor of their father, these sons did the same. A promise made was a promise kept.

For the last month or so, I have spent most (not all, but most) of my writing time deep in preparations for our summer play and camp. I have so much I want to write about that I’ve begun to envision the topics piling up before me like a stack of sweet pancakes just waiting to be devoured. But there is no time for self-indulgence, there is a script to be written! So, in an effort to be faithful to my blog and my commitments at the same time, I have combined the two.

By now, some of you recognize the soldiers, the woman, the leader, the villagers and the Father as characters from the book of Joshua, and our focus for this summer’s program. These last few days, as I think of the story of Joshua, I see a sweeping account of a Father’s faithfulness to his children and his determination to keep his promises, no matter what the cost. As a testimony to their Father, the children live with the same passionate, sacrificial integrity.

Do I take my promises and commitments seriously? Will I honor my commitments even when they fail to meet my expectations? Will I keep my promises, no matter the cost? Am I aware of how my faithfulness reflects on the Father who risked everything for me? The Father who promised He’ll never leave. Promised He won’t tell. Promised to help me, no matter what. Promised He’ll never hurt me. Promised He won’t turn His back on me. Promised to never give up on me. Promised me He’ll never forget. That’s a Father worth keeping promises for – am I willing? Are you?

Something to think about!

Trusting in God’s Goodness

You know that point in a movie, where two people fall in love but there is a secret between them? They look into each other’s eyes, he touches her face, she leans in for a kiss…but all the while someone is holding back. Even we, as an audience hold back too. As long as there’s something between them, the love relationship is incomplete.  Usually it’s something silly, like the girl isn’t really a princess, or she is a princess and is pretending not to be. Or the guy isn’t really a superhero…or maybe he is a superhero posing as a clumsy reporter. Silly or not, there’s a morsel of reality in there somewhere. Because after all, in fact after the fall, there is always something between us.

When God first spoke creation into the world, including the universe, the earth, the animals and us, he pronounced it “good” – good because he created it, good because he made it so. But then after the fall, we became painfully aware that on our own, apart from God, we lack goodness and light. We are naked and ashamed. We deal with this painful awareness in a variety of ways. The first thing Adam and Eve did was cover themselves up and hide. Sound familiar? Maybe if I dress myself in good behavior and never let anyone see the real me, maybe then I’ll be OK. Or instead of hiding my sin, I’ll expose it to the world, thinking perhaps that if I can make my behavior culturally acceptable, then I won’t have to feel bad about it anymore. Or maybe I’ll just try to be the best at being “bad”.

A friend of mine recently loaned me the book, Give them Grace by Elyse M Fitzpatrick. In it, the author writes that before the fall, God bestowed on people a benediction, a blessing: “It is very good.” Since the fall, we have been consumed with trying to recover that “goodness”. Our striving for morality, power and success are merely attempts to bestow the blessing of goodness on ourselves. We even compete for it. I try to be better than you, and if I think you’re better than me, I’ll try to find ways to knock you down. Like Joseph and his brothers, for example: Joseph was a “good” boy, but his brothers were “bad”. When Daddy favored the “good” boy, what did the brothers do? Why they tried to kill him, of course. Sounds extreme but jealousy and anger and attempts to harm (whether physically or emotionally), those aren’t such foreign concepts, are they?

When and how will we ever be “good enough”? When can I come out of hiding? I’m tired of dressing up in morality, which weighs like a heavy coat in the summertime. I want to be free…to live, to love, to dream, to be me. But I will never truly be free as long as I am trusting in my own goodness…proving my own worth…or just trying to get through a day without every bit of goodness and light sinking into the black hole of shame that seems to reside deep inside my gut.

Trusting God’s goodness sounds simple at first: “God is good. All the time!” or “God works all things together for good.” Neat little packages that sum up all of life’s problems in seven words or less, no questions asked. Until the day comes when you can’t ignore the questions. Why did God allow my brothers to sell me as a slave? Why am I in prison for a crime I didn’t commit? Why are my parents divorcing? Why did God take my father from me? How can I keep my house when I’ve been out of work for a year? Why is there so much pain? And more and more pain? Then I find myself crying out, “Come on, God! You are the creative master of the universe. Surely you can find another, easier, better way to work it all out for good!”

So what does it mean to trust in God’s goodness? I don’t have all the answers…I may not even have any, but I will at least share my thoughts. First, and foremost, we trust in God’s goodness because we have no goodness of our own in which to trust. All my attempts at goodness will fail, and ultimately, the weight of dragging that morality around will wear me down, making me self-righteous and bitter. God’s goodness is my only hope.

Second, trusting in God’s goodness means recognizing, believing and accepting that everything he has ever created or done, he has intended for good, and that he is still in the process of working that all out …. for good. Before the fall, he called his creation good. And since the fall, all of history has told the beautiful, majestic, sweeping romance of his passionate love for humanity and his creative work to restore his creation to goodness. He loves his creation. He loves us. He longs to restore us to himself, to his goodness. If God’s intentions towards us and towards all of creation are good, and if his ultimate plans are good, then what questions are left to be asked?  

Maybe life is a lot more like a Dickens’ novel than I previously thought. Think about how his novels begin….with all sorts of odd characters and subplots….so many, that after several chapters you read a name and think “Wait, who is this guy?” only to find out he’s already appeared twice, once 75 pages ago and once 120 pages ago…and you still aren’t sure how he’s related to the main character. As you trudge through chapter after chapter of seemingly unconnected story lines you find yourself asking, “What on earth am I reading? Will he ever get to the point? Is there a point, at all?!” And then, as the book nears its ending, Mr. Dickens, in his usual fashion, masterfully weaves each story line together into one beautiful masterpiece, so rich and warm and touching that you nearly find yourself standing atop a mountain shouting “Beautiful! Marvelous! Wonderful! Every word, every letter, every moment spent was worth this ending!” Well…that’s how I feel, anyway. 

All of creation – past, present and future – is God’s novel, a love story that often masquerades as a mystery. Whether we like it or not, we are living, breathing characters in his story. We don’t always appreciate his style and we’re often confused, wondering about the meaning and importance of certain characters and events, questioning motive, conflict and purpose. We anxiously await the next event, anticipating all the possible outcomes. We laugh, we cry, we lament, we rejoice.

Unlike Dickens’ characters, though, we have free will. Even though God holds the pen, he invites us to write our story with him. Every day we face hundreds of choices, some big and some small. And somehow, those choices matter. The mysteries mount as we consider that God is not only the Author of Life, he is the main character! Add to that, the fact that he exists outside of time, and therefore, already knows the ending and we are nearly convinced that this is nothing more than a sensational mystery novel.   

But wait, don’t give up! God’s novel truly is a divine love story. Right now, we are just living in the mucky middle of a long, complicated story, fraught with mystery and suspense, in which every detail – every jot and tittle, your choices and mine, good and bad –  He, in his creative power, will work together for good. For his good. For my good.  For your good. I know that you’re anxious and afraid, or bored or worn out or angry or hurt, but God is good and he loves you. He knows this is difficult for you. He entered the story and lived among the snarling weeds and creeping darkness. And in his mercy, He told you the ending, so that when the “night has been too lonely, and the road has been too long, and you think that love is only for the lucky and the strong”  you could take hold of his promise that He has already overcome the world, remember that He has loved you with an everlasting love and look forward to that day when he takes you into his arms and wipes away every tear from your eyes. 

If you know all this and believe all this, but you’re still holding something back, ask yourself why. (I pose these questions to us all – whether we’ve taken that first leap of faith or not – because we are, each of us, still in the middle of our story, his story.) Are you trying to hide something from the Author of Life? He already knows…and he loves you anyway. Have you shut the door of your heart because you fear being hurt again? That works for a while…until the cupboards go bare and your heart is starving and you’ll eat anything except that which really satisfies. Or are you believing a silly lie? After all, why else would the daughter or son of the King settle for a life wandering the streets, digging through people’s trash for food and sleeping on the cold, hard pavement? Your Father, the King of Kings, awaits you. In fact, he’s running toward you with his arms open wide, eyes sparkling, because after all, he’s got a party planned, a feast prepared and your name is written on his heart. No more wandering. No more settling for scraps. No more lies. No more holding back. You are the prince. You are the princess. Your superhero has come. Ridiculous? Nah. We all know that truth is crazier than fiction.