the second day: when we don’t know what’s ahead

We walked the woods and I wandered to the spot where we buried someone precious a few years ago.

the second day

The piece of bark was just laying there, right over the grave. This skin torn off of a living thing, leaving it exposed, vulnerable, and in pain.

Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy.

I think often about this “second day” space: this time between heartbreak and victory, between the bloody cross and the empty grave, when we don’t know what’s ahead.

We hoped for something huge and desperately longed-for, but it was thrown in our face and spat on. We didn’t know what was coming.

We tried to build a fire for warmth and light, but we’re still freezing, the smoke is getting in our eyes and we can’t see anything else.

We thought those contractions meant we were close to delivery, but found out we were only dilated to one and a half centimeters.

When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world.

The Kingdom is on the cusp of something amazing and huge. He is waking up His people in a way we haven’t seen in our generation, and maybe in a way He hasn’t done in many generations. This is a great time to be His people, but we have to endure the hard work of waiting.

We walk a tense line between faith and not moving ahead of God to push fruit, forcing something to work on our own. We don’t want to miss His move of certainty by stepping without Him, tired of waiting for the prophets and giving the sacrifice on our own. We don’t want to build the golden calf in our impatience for God’s answer, as the Israelites did when they squandered their loot from Egypt in making a work of their own hands to worship.

For weeks now, God has been reminding me that He restores, redeems, and refines us in our encounters with Him. And we often encounter Him in our need, in the quiet, dark place of the second day where we hurt and have no answers and are brought face to face with our need for His light, His answers, and His comfort.

In this second day space He is putting things back together for His people, as though He was working in the dark soil of our very foundation and identity, and making things right in ways they have never been before.

So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.

– John 16:20-22, ESV

The second day is a day of smoldering ashes. Our woodstove is the grave of that tree. We lay on more kindling and push things around a little closer to the coals.

We shut the door. We watch.

The smoke starts spinning in there, the coals start glowing and flickering. It’s only a matter of time before you hear it – the deep whoof, the sound of ebullition — all is bright and burning.

It is the second day. We’ve been waiting for a long time and the momentum is increasing, and God is about to ignite something ferocious, contagious, and powerful for the Kingdom.

“Does bark always come off in the shape of a heart?” Cham asked.

No, I told her. Only God does that.

on labor and (waiting for) delivery

We’re contracting and waiting and trying really hard sort of trying to be patient.

Okay. Not really.

on labor and (waiting for) delivery

 

We’re putting puzzles together, loafing in the sun, shooting arrows (not me), reading Sherlock Holmes (that would be me), running after misbehaving kittens (all of us), and taking as many naps as possible (me again).

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Depending on your perspective, Knightley has not been cooperative — unless your perspective is that a pregnant woman running around the house chasing down a seven pound panther ought to help commence serious labor contractions. In the time it took me to fetch a couple of tacos from the kitchen tonight, someone small enough to walk across my laptop managed to open this document 23 separate times.

I have no doubt who the culprit was; it took 8 minutes to close them all. “This document cannot be saved, it is already in use” – yeah, no kidding. Thanks so much.

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Knightley, in one of the many places she’s not supposed to be.

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The sassy pregnant mama does not approve of her shenanigans…

This sixth pregnancy has been so unlike any of the others – and not just the gory details I’ve never experienced before (oh holy heartburn, Batman), but it was unexpected and unplanned by us from the beginning, and yet still a gift in spite of all the impossibilities, interventions, complications, etc. This whole time, He’s been saying, Surprise, Love. Guess what I have for you.

No matter how much experience you have or how many times you’ve done this, I can still surprise you. You still have much to learn and new things to see.

He’s not done yet. You’re not done yet.

But we are so impatient.  I feel so done — I’ve felt done for weeks, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never been so whiny while laboring for delivery. We think this should’ve happened days ago. Last week, even.

Actually, I think the end of June would’ve been perfect.

We’re not overdue; we’re not really “due” for three days. Just, well, aching, in pain, eager, impatient. Trusting Him, in the whiniest way possible.

The word of God is quick and powerful. In the beginning He spoke to nothing, and it became something. Chaos heard it and became order; darkness heard it and became light.

– A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Right before the promise is fulfilled, what will we do while we wait? Will we obey and trust Him while we’re in the dark, in spite of our blindness? Will we believe Him when He tells us what’s really there, even when we can’t see it for ourselves?

We think we know from experience what we’re walking into. We think we know what the timing ought to look like. And we know the blood and the mess and the labor involved in delivery. We also know the other side, though – the victory, the triumph, the recovery, the fulfillment. The purpose behind it all. But we’re also learning that He can surprise us and bring things about in ways we never would have thought possible.

Quick and powerful. Chaos into order, darkness into light.

not overcome

We’re usually pretty good about using up leftovers and not having science experiments in our fridge, but twice now we’ve accidentally fermented pineapple.

It’s okay, though. We’ve been learning a little about probiotics over the past few years, and after some cautious investigation we discovered that it is not only edible, but full of beneficial microorganisms. Usually a bit more planning is involved to turn various foods into healthy fermented goodness, but apparently you can also do it by completely avoiding the kitchen during seven weeks of morning sickness.

not overcome: choosing to rise when conditions are rotten

One afternoon while I’m doing some research, Cham brings me a book and asks me to read to her. She wants Fancy Nancy – and well, it could be worse. (Amelia Bedelia, I’m looking at you.) But still, I’m in the middle of something.

“Oh…do you really want to read that?” I ask. “Don’t you want to learn about water kefir instead?”

“No.” As in, No way, you weird loony.

And I give in, consoling myself by giving every hoity-toity character a voice like Effie Trinket. May the odds be evah in your favah.

Last week was a vacation, of sorts — more of a staycation meant to be a “workation” to get some projects finished — some studying, some writing, some time together, some catching up. It started well, and was going well, until the middle of the week. And without meaning to, the week turned into something else with a phone call.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

– James 1:2-4

That brave lady I’ve mentioned before – the one who taught me to fold fitted sheets, make soup, and see in the dark — had taken an early morning trip to the ER, and by the time I got there, things weren’t looking good and a medivac team was on the way to fly her to Anchorage. My dad met me in the lobby and whisked me to her room.

Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.

– James 1:12

She was unconscious, tubes and lines everywhere. The nurse filled me in and said her heart had stopped for four minutes that morning, and they did CPR and brought her back — and when I heard that, my heart stopped a little, too. I stayed with her till the medivac team came. She was freezing; I kept my hand on her forehead and prayed. I kept asking the medics if I needed to leave, if I was in their way, and they said No, you’re just fine, and worked around me, priming lines, switching out bags of fluids and medications, and passing instructions to each other. And I whispered in English and prayed in tongues over my Baptist grandma for thirty minutes or more until they were ready to put her on the other stretcher and wheel her outside.

I was in the parking lot, on the phone with Vince, when the helicopter lifted off. I watched her fly.

Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.

– James 1:16-18

We spent several days on alert, on the phone, on edge, on our knees. That first day I was fine and faithful, but the second day I turned somehow and was in tears constantly. I plowed through typing up the kids’ curriculum for the new term, and realized I was crying. I finished submitting Upside Down for paperback, remembered Grandma, and cried again. I did the dishes, wiping my eyes with the same towel and I didn’t even care. The whole day alternated between tears and productivity. Repeat. Repeat.

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Know Jesus, know peace – and even still, that peace has to be fought hard for when we confront loss, and not everyone is equipped the same way to handle it. For some, it looks like control or anger, in the same way insecurity often looks like pride or narcissism. For others, fighting fear looks like grief, on edge.

A mother watches a son fall further into depravity and she grieves and prays. A woman faces betrayal, fear, and upheaval, and a community prays for a family’s future and safety. A city walks on edge, unnerved over terrorist threats and lost lives. We face sin that has fermented into awful, putrid heartbreak in a million directions.

A Baptist uncle speaks of trusting in God’s will and sovereignty, and his charismatic niece speaks of trusting in God’s goodness and truth. And really, we’re talking about the same things.

We sit and wait, wanting answers in the midst of emergency, and we either ferment into faith or fear. Our choice determines what will we be when life takes an unexpected turn — enduring or decaying, rising or rotten. Something healthy, or something sickening.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.

– James 1:19-20

Seven days after her heart stopped, she woke up and did a little physical therapy. The next day, my husband sat with her in her room and made her laugh. She told him how much she misses her cat, he charmed her socks off, and they prayed together.

Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

– James 5:11

You are so very blessed.

The best way to see in the dark is not to keep stumbling on, but to reflect the One who created light with a Word.

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

– John 1:5

And we are still praying, and so grateful for healing and progress that amazes doctors and glorifies God. This woman in her eighties who finally retired last summer, who raised five boys and then put in more than her fair share of time with me — this is the lady they tried to keep sedated but, well, she kept waking up because you can’t keep a good woman down, and the odds are always in our favor.

thrown a curve

Don’t hate me, but my husband is amazing at doing the laundry. He tackles most of it on Mondays when I’m puttering around the house with other projects — and I guess I never noticed this before, but even though he does the bulk of it, I’m usually the one who folds the fitted sheets. I finally realized this because as I was getting fresh sheets out of the closet, they looked…well, not like I had folded them. More like they’d been used to loosely mummify someone’s forearm, and then firmly stuffed into the shelf to avoid unwrapping. Vin later confirmed that this was exactly what he’d done.

thrown a curve: navigating unfamiliar territory without fear (Copperlight Wood)

Now, if the fitted sheets in your closet look like that, I’m not judging you. I never thought fitted sheets were actually supposed to be folded once they came out of the package, but that for the remainder of their days the owners must resort to wadding them up like a fat gauze bandage. Or, like a huge replica of a salvaged roll of toilet paper after Knightley has unrolled approximately three miles of it.

But I was nurtured by a sweet and savvy grandma who not only introduced me to Jesus, but also taught me mysteries of the gospel including, but not limited to, old hymns, soup on Sundays, and the art of folding a fitted sheet. And no, height wasn’t an excuse, because she was just a wee nudge past five feet tall. Despite the fact that I had grown up thinking that it just isn’t done, she au contraire’d me and showed how simple it was:

It’s the pockets. Make sure they’re empty – no straggling socks or unmentionables hiding in there – and just tuck them in each other. Fold over, retuck. Fold in the curved sides. Fold again, with straight sides, and done – a beautiful rectangle of linen closet goodness.

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It was not impossible. It was amazing. Anyone can handle a flat sheet with straight sides, but the fitted sheet throws us because of the curves. Like so many tasks in life — dumb stuff, big stuff, life-changing stuff — what seems to be impossible is usually just unfamiliar territory.

Buttercup: We’ll never survive!

Westley: Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has.

– The Princess Bride

Every endeavor that we tackle has innumerable details and problems that we don’t know how to solve at first. Starting a business, starting a family, starting a mission, or just starting over – we quail too early, too often, when thrown for a curve. So much is at stake in our wavering.

We all know the stories about how the American Revolution was a difficult and often desperate struggle. But we forget in hindsight how unlikely it was that our forefathers would succeed. Many times defeat seemed all but inevitable. Yet that small band of patriot-statesmen achieved a victory against a long-established ruler of seemingly unlimited power and authority. They did so by remaining dedicated to America’s cause and to each other…fighting hard at every turn…knowing that their success or failure would determine whether they, or possibly any people, would ever fight again for the great cause of self-government.

– Paul Ryan, quoted from Imprimis, July/August 2014 (reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College)

I get confounded over the dumbest things sometimes. Most of them involve technology. We’re formatting Upside Down to paperback (and then we hope to move into large print…!) and it took me an embarrassing amount of time just to learn how to delete a page that I couldn’t even figure out how to access. That done, I had to remove a footnote separator that had been plaguing me for months. Little details left undone, pockets left with unmentionables hiding in them, stalling the clean look of a finished product.

It’s a learning curve, and sometimes I don’t want to learn. But after some tense touch-and-go strife with the lens cap, I even figured out how to use our new camera. Then I finally discovered how to change my contact email on most of my important accounts, and then, oh unstoppable momentum — tada! — converted to a Pinterest business account. All roads lead to Pinterest.

We tend to mistake the unexpected, unknown, or inconvenient for the impossible. But…au contraire

And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”

– Judges 6:14-16, ESV

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

– Joshua 1:9, ESV

More than fitted sheets, more than irritating technology (or whatever your personal bane is), we face circumstances and events not bargained for on our knees. We do not know how to do this, we don’t know how it’s going to work out, we don’t remember signing up for this. We don’t know if we’re strong enough.

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But we do know that champions aren’t made on the easy paths, where every plan goes perfectly. Roads with curves are far more beautiful than straight highways. And maybe this is just my Alaskan bias, but rugged mountain landscapes always trump the flat, treeless prairies. People don’t stop in wonder while driving through flatlands like they do when they see the mountains and valleys wrought by tension that made the earth shake and change its shape.

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Your story, and my story, is more breathtaking with curves.

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

– Ephesians 2:17-19

What we really need is someone to show us the way through the unknown. We fight the feelings of it just isn’t done with the au contraire of the Father who loves us and has good plans for us in the midst of the unexpected.

called: who we are at the end of our story

There was this girl…she was very young, but she’d been on adventures.

The daughter of a king, she had risked her life to protect the enemy of her people. She was abducted for ransom, but deemed not worth saving by her royal father. Eventually she married into the enemy’s camp and sailed with her husband to another country, where she lived in a completely foreign culture and died three years later.

Her name was Rebecca Rolfe, but that’s not the name she’s known for. She’s known for the name she had earlier, when she did that amazing thing she is celebrated for – saving the life of John Smith. Her name then, of course, was Pocahontas.

called: who we are at the end of our story

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.

– 1 Corinthians 1:26-27

There was this other girl…she was the daughter of a political activist who was assassinated when she was still a child.

She was born in the early 1900’s in a small eastern European country that had its own identity crisis to such an extent that she technically had several nationalities by the time she was an adult. She moved away, eventually to become a legal citizen of the country she served, lived, and died in. Her name at birth was Agnes Bojaxhiu, but the name everyone revered at her death was Mother Teresa.

God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

– 1 Corinthians 1:28-31

There was a man named Paul, formerly Saul, transformed from persecutor to apostle. His story wreaks fear in the enemy who would like to see people chained to their past.

 I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life. 

To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

– 1 Timothy 1:12-17

Our history does not dictate our future. He’s not done with us, and He’s not done with those we’ve been praying for, either — the hurting child, the struggling teen, the difficult co-worker, the angry relative, the grieving friend, the immoral business, the dishonest politician.

(I’ve heard He even saves people who voted for Clinton in the nineties – though Vince is quick to remind me that love keeps no record of wrongs)

Who we will be at the end of our story is still being shaped by our willingness to obey and follow Him. Our future is still being written. What will we be known for?

They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

– Revelation 22:4-5, ESV

God, I’m praying for freedom for anyone feeling tied to their past. You create all things new, You leave no stone unturned, You leave no person untouched. Help them to know that You’ve called them to greatness, and give them a vision of the good future You’re calling them into.

One more. Well, two more.

There was this man named Zaphenath-paneah – weird, I know. He was sold into slavery as a boy and spent years in and out of prison, eventually coming into great favor with the king. He had an idea to save the nation from famine and after thirteen years of forced labor, he became the second most powerful man in the land.

There was this other man, Jacob – he went from being a deceitful mama’s boy to the father of twelve tribes, and God renamed him Israel. Two years into the famine, his family was starving and they sought food in Egypt, where he found both refuge for his family…and also his much beloved son, Zaphenath-paneah — more commonly known as Joseph, thought to be dead for about fifteen years. The family was reunited, and when Jacob died seventeen years later, his body was actually embalmed according to the customs of Egypt. So was Joseph’s, about eighty years after that.

Neither of these men could have known what the ending of their stories would be when God spoke to them in the beginning of their journeys.

And at the end of our story, we will look back and notice the same thing.

without ceasing button

This is day 30 of Without Ceasing: 31 Days of Relentless Prayer. Find the other posts here. To get new posts right in your inbox, subscribe here.