Hot air balloons glide over my rooftop endlessly through the summer months. I can hear the distinct whooshing of the flame’s warmth fill the balloons before I can see them. And inevitably I run outside to scan the sky. I’m not just looking for the balloon and the opportunity to wave to its passengers, I’m looking for a connection to my past. Continue reading
My Dad loved to fish. No, I mean, He really looooved to fish. It was more than a hobby for him, it was his time of respite, his time of drawing near to the Lord. He needed this time as much as he desired it. He made time for it, even if it meant heading to his favorite fishing hole while dark claimed the atmosphere for a couple more hours. The tranquility beckoned him and throughout my entire childhood and even into my early adulthood, I witnessed his response to such peace while standing hip deep in his patched up waders in the glimmering swift waters: pole in one hand, the other lifted heavenward. I witness his face flush with gratitude and his eyes glisten when words failed him. I witnessed his heart outside his chest and learned of a love basked in utter peace amidst raging waters. I did not realize the gift this was until many years later.
Each weekend, my dad towed us kids along on his fishing expeditions–probably so he could keep an eye on us more than actually teach us any real skill. I won’t pretend we liked it. He fished year round, winter (Steelhead season) seemed to be his favorite–and my worst! As a young girl, getting out of bed when it was still dark, dressing in layer upon layer to go sit in wet, smelly sand for hours at a time, while Dad fished felt a little like a punishment. However, my younger brother, sister, and I always managed to find mischief along the sandbar or create massive sand murals with pieces of driftwood–and inevitably, each excursion to Gold Bar or the Stilly River ended with all four of us, dad included, swinging our legs off the tailgate of Dad’s ‘66 baby blue Ford, while eating warm bologna sandwiches (how we didn’t end up with food poisioning is nothing short of God’s grace!). Smiles and giggles filled the truck as we drove back to the farm. And as wonderful as these Saturdays turned out to be, I still resolved that nothing could be more boring than to sit and watch a pole for hours on end in hopes to get a “nibble”. I believed that until I was 26 years old. (Therefore this is an old story!)
Though I had not gone fishing with my dad for many years, I had decided that when I traveled home with my then 9 month old daughter, Meg, I would go with him. I don’t know why I thought it would be any different or why I was now subjecting my baby to this seemingly torrid event, but something drew me.
I suppose I wanted what my dad had found there all those years, whatever it was.
Sipping strong coffee from the lid of Dad’s green dented thermos, I sat with Meg on the slight incline of the sandbar, watching my dad. I loved everything about him in that moment, especially his crooked smile or the way he would bite his lower lip while putting fresh bait on his hook. He waded out into the river a little further and cast his line again. I watched how the river glided swiftly past him, over fallen trees, and boulders; continuing downstream, narrowing in places, skimming the sandy bar, and eventually spilling into another body of water. I loved watching his line plunk into the river, creating a series of expanding rings, until they disappeared. I was enthralled by the interlacings of regal simplicity and splendid authority.
I had sat on the banks of this river more times than I could count, but not until this day did I pay any attention to its fluid movement and how it formed itself to the shape of whatever object stood in its path. The river was never without motion. I had seen it bursting with energy as its upstream source aggressively pushed its mass into this stream. I had seen it flooded as well as low enough to count the speckled rocks littering its floor. I have seen it nearly still, just ripples carelessly riding on its surface. Still, always in motion.
I turned my face to the early morning sun, letting its warmth seep into my soul. The thought-provoking words of Horatio G. Spafford (1873) came to mind in that moment, a precious hymn I sang as child, growing up in a small Baptist church: “When peace like a river attendeth my way…” I hummed the song repeatedly as the melody soothed my wounded soul and the words caused me to contemplate what peace really means. “Peace like a river”, I whispered to myself as I sought out the characteristics of the river only 15 feet before me.
“Peace like a river”. The book of Isaiah uses this analogy twice, though the Bible addresses the topic of peace 251 times. It is the thing that we seek, bend over backward to meet. However, peace is not only as Webster’s defines: “A state of tranquility or quiet”, but experiencing this while meeting many bumps and unexpected twists and turns on life’s journey. Peace is not something that we can attain on our own merit, despite our best effort.
If you are like me, you may have attempted to eliminate activities or remove yourself from certain draining situations in hopes of finding peace. For many of us, we reason that we’re too busy to really have peace in our lives and that perhaps once we make it through this season, then…we can have peace–that restfulness that we seek. However, we are not meant to live life in the stillness of a…a pond! Think about that. How would we demonstrate our character, our faith, our reliance on Christ if we lived within the safety of ripple-less waters? Peace can be found within the raging waters of life if we continue to go back to the Source of peace, the Prince of Peace
Christ is the upstream tributary, or source, that feeds into the river. Rivers are constantly being renewed by active, ongoing motion. It is not filled once and left to fend for itself. Christ encourages we who are thirsty, we who are in need, to come to the fountain (Is. 55:1) Here, He fills us with His life-giving water.
This filling enables us, like the river, to spill out into another body of water, overflowing into the lives of those around us.
Sitting on the wet sand banks, holding my sweet Meg in my arms, kissing her plump cheeks and inhaling her sweet baby fragrance, I understand the analogy of “peace like a river”for the first time ever–and in that moment, I released my preconceived notions that life should be easier, without so much pain, and heartache and embraced the fact that my seasons of adversity have actually led me into the arms of the Prince of Peace.
Undoubtedly, storms of adversity will wash over us, attempting to steal our attention from the One who gives us peace. Beloved, don’t let them. Keep going back to the source.
Christ desperately grieves for us when our hearts and souls are in unnecessary turmoil (Luke 19:41-42).
I can’t help but to think of the parable about the disciples out at sea when a terrible storm began to rage; violently tossing their boat about the outrageous waves, completely and unequivocally terrifying them. I imagine as they saw Jesus walking among the perilous waves toward them, they believed He would save them by calming the storm. They knew He could; they’d seen Him perform miracles before. However, their thoughts were interrupted as Jesus called out to them, “Take Courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid”. It is here that you would expect Jesus to calm the storm. He did not. Not until after he climbed into the boat.
I believe we can identify with the disciples here: believing that peace is equated with rescuing—from calming the storms of life. “The point is not that we don’t have anything to fear, but that [Christ’s] presence is the basis for our courage” (Beth Moore). His peace is the fruit of His spirit at work in our lives.
With the “winds still raging, He said, ‘Take Courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid’”. We can have peace when we authentically surrender to the trustworthy, sovereign authority of Jesus and keep going back to the “well”, while chaotic uncertainties and exhausting stressors surround us. (Sigh! Can you possible grasp this?)
I set Meg down in the sand and encouraged her to play, when I discovered a brutally weathered and beaten oyster shell. It revealed a life of being carelessly tossed about in the continual motion of the waters. I flipped it over, rubbing my thumb along its smooth, iridescent inner shell, thinking that perhaps an irritation the size of a grain of sand had made its way into its life, forming a pearl, a treasure of great value.
I had been wounded to my very core 18 months earlier when I had been raped, conceiving a child, my Meg, as a result. To say my heart had been hemorrhaging all those months as I attempted to understand where God was in all of this, is a gross understatement. I went from blaming Him for the situation– because He allowed it to happen, angrily accusing Him of not loving me; to a place where I fully embraced Genesis 50:20, “What Satan intended for evil, God intended for good”. In this moment, holding Meg, my precious pearl– a seeming reminder of incredible pain–she was/is infinitely more of reminder of the peace that God grants us when we surrender to His authority.
My chin quivered and my nose began to run as I contemplated this beautiful, tangible lesson I believe God orchestrated specifically for me this day; this day that I had gone fishing for peace with my Dad.
I bit my quivering lip, trying to compose my emotions as I ran out to my Dad. With Meg in tow in one arm, and the oyster shell in the other, I called out “Hey Dad, look what I just found”! We paused for a warm bologna sandwich, while sitting in the warm cab of his truck, and through heavy, gut wrenching sobs, I shared with him what I believe the Lord had taught me there on the banks of the Stilly River.
Meg’s name means “pearl”. She was named Meg for that meaning. She was brought into this life through a horrific situation, but without a doubt, she is my pearl of great value. So great in fact that a Merchant I know so very personally sold everything He had for her…and for you…and for me (Matthew 13:45).
Our identity is not in the bumps and bruises that we accrue; rather our identity is the One who freely gives us peace in the trials of life. He sees you as His pearl, nothing less!
The oyster shell, 16 years later, still sits on Meg’s dresser and serves as reminder that pearls weather storms of life and peace can and will accompany us when we surrender to our sovereign Lord’s authority.
I went fishing with my dad that day and caught a whole lot of peace!
Not only insurmountable because he wore that ugly tie so often, but because it meant that he was present and you knew exactly what you could expect from him because not only was his character consistent; his actions were as well. He was unlike many dads and I knew that from the time I was a young girl, though to be honest, the older I become, the more remarkable I find him to be and the more I desire to emulate so much of who he was to me. But I’m not my dad. We are all individuals, all with our unique personality, interests, and passions; and yet even as individuals, we can become predictable.
I’m an adventurous kind of girl. I love mixing it up, defying predictability and charging full steam ahead to take on challenges that would make most people’s heart skip a beat. However, in my day-to-day, I love stability. Predictability is my friend. There is safety here and the opportunity to be successful in our careers, relationships, etc. can be fully embraced because we know what to expect– and therefore know what is expected of us in return. With predictability, life operates like a well-oiled machine because security and minimal risk reside here. Not all things are predictable, as we know, and it’s in this uncertainty where we question or doubt or lose faith in what we have always believed.
Though we might not breathe the words to life, I believe we have expectations that even God should be predictable, because when we read verses like Hebrews 13:8, which says “Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever”, we interpret that as His ways are unchanging. We assume that how we saw Him work and move in the past is how He will continue to operate; but when He doesn’t, we wonder if we really knew Him, we question Him, and our faith begins to waver or even disbands altogether.
Thinking Christ is predictable, although I believe common, is tragic because sadly, it limits our view of Christ and even our faith. We forget that our perceptions are finite, limited, and somehow, we incorrectly assume God fits within our parameters. We humanize Him, pulling Him to our level, and we forget to make room for the possibility that the vastness of Him extends beyond our scope of reasoning, beyond our scope of possibilities, beyond our comprehension.
But the truth is, God doesn’t wear the same green tie to all special occasions.
We confuse same action for same character; meaning we feel we can trust Him and love Him when He responds in ways we expect or have our approval, but when He doesn’t, we doubt. I cringe as I write this because I am guilty of putting limited expectations on God and find myself the guest of honor at my very own pity party, when He responds differently or not at all. With each trial, I walk away thinking I’ve learned better, gained a better sense of Who He is, but when the world closes in on me again, it ushers in doubts that God’s timing really is right and best, that His ways really are better than the perfectly good, sparkly option I have readily available. I have felt, more times than I care to admit (because it’s an embarrassing amount), that God has failed me, that He has let me down, that maybe He has even given up on me. When I fall into this way of thinking, I realize I have avoided the real issue at hand, and that is: I am still a work in progress (Phil. 1:6), I am still knee deep in the muck and the mire. I am still learning what it means to authentically cultivate a deep and intimate, abiding trust in God. Sigh. My heart can scarcely face the reality of my years of selfishness and ignorance, where I have made faith more about me, than about Him. Admittedly, I sometimes want a predictable God and an easy faith.
Sometimes, I wish He wore that green tie!
So, what does scripture mean when it tells us we can count on Christ to remain the same yesterday and today and forever? I think it means we can depend on His “solid nature”, meaning that His actions, even if different from one situation to another, will always reflect His same sacrificial, tenacious love for us. Just this week, my youngest daughter, through her heart-wrenching sobs cried out, “I love God, Momma, but I just don’t see Him. I keep asking Him to—–, and He doesn’t listen. He’s not doing it”. As I addressed her tender heart, I touched on several things, but smiled when I heard myself say, “God loves us in ways that sometimes makes sense to us and sometimes in ways that don’t make sense. It’s in the hard times, the times where He feels entirely distant, that we learn He is anything but predictable in how He operates”. My daughter sat completely unmoved, unaffected by my brilliant pep talk, but I went to bed that night with the thought that, “God loves me no matter how I feel or what I see Him doing”. Truly, the fact remains the same: He loves me. God doesn’t fall into our spiritualized image of Who we want Him to be. With time, we’ll learn to count on His innate goodness and mercy and on the sustaining intimacy of His presence.
One thing we can count on is that whatever the Lord does or however He does it, His spirit will remain consistent; He is unchanging. Perhaps, we need to remember too, that His thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are His way our ways (Isaiah 55:8). Christ is not predictable, but He is unfathomably, most certainly dependable.
In the end, I’m glad He doesn’t wear a green tie, but instead wears a robe of righteousness.