The Castle beyond Fear

Many years ago when I was experiencing one of the most fearful times of my life, I was given an image.  I believe it was a gift from God, to help me understand and to learn how God wanted me to live.

In the image, I was approaching a castle.  I don’t know whether I was a weary traveler, a knight errant, or what. I only knew then that I was approaching a castle I wanted to enter.  Inexplicably I knew that the castle was furnished with peace, hope, and joy—everything I longed for in those days.

But ringed around the castle was a moat.  And I knew that the moat represented my fear.

I remember specifically that image coming to my mind over and over during those days.  It wasn’t a nighttime dream, although it may have begun that way.  I don’t remember that.  I remember the image being in my mind during the day.

But it was always a dark picture.  The air that enveloped me was shadowed with loss and loneliness.  The water in the moat was black.  I couldn’t see the bottom nor the edge of the other side.  I couldn’t see how long it was going to take or what I would have to do to cross.  I was in the dark, but the moat was darker than where I was.  Dark, like my fear.  Dark, the way I felt.

It was also dark on the morning when the image was resolved, when God gave me light to go forward.  I was driving to church early one winter Sunday.  I remember exactly where I was on the highway, seeing that image in my mind as I had many times before.

I was standing before the castle, paralyzed with dread of whatever was in that water.

And then God spoke: “Just walk right into it.”

I would never have said that to myself.  I was so afraid at that time—afraid of feeling again, afraid of failing again.  I was very afraid.

But God said in my mind, “I have given you a picture of where I want you to go.  And you see in this image the representation of what is hindering you.  I am telling you, ‘Walk right into it.’”

And before I could breathe, the second part of His message came clear: “Because I’ll be there.”

“I am here with you as you walk toward it.  I will be with you when you come to the crossing.  And I will be with you in it, as you pass through.”

Now get the picture: The Lord spoke to me in the darkness.  He did not call to me from the light of the castle windows, simply saying, “Come to me.”  I knew that’s what He wanted me to do—to go to that place where the windows glowed with warmth and light.  Still, I was in the darkness.

And God was with me.

I didn’t have to wait until I reached the other side.  God stood with me in the dark.  And when I took Him at his word and ventured forward with my heart and mind, every step became light—until step by step, I had passed through the dark unknown to the place He had called me to go.

I have not been to that darkness again.  I pray I never will.  But I have not forgotten and will not forget the message of God: Fear not the darkest night.  For the dawn waits not at the horizon but rises with you right where you are.

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What Difference Do I Make?

In a recent conversation, I heard myself invoking the well-worn phrase, “Think global, act local.”

Despite the fact that I typically shy away from grammar-mocking phraseology (as in the ubiquitous “Enjoy,” asserted by a restaurant server delivering food or beverage of choice), the phrase “think global, act local” seemed to fit the conversation’s context and express what I wanted to say.

The phrase intrigues me. It offers an antidote to my near-constant complaining about politics, culture, and the state of the world in general. The phrase is morphing in my mind even as I mull it over: Think global, act local. Think collective, act individual. Think business, act owner or employee. Think family, act parent or child. Think country, act citizen. Think Church, act Christian.

What difference can I make? Well, for one thing, I can—as another chestnut instructs—“put my money where my mouth is.” I worry about the growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots—the resulting sound and fury from both, the nothingness of equalizing efforts so far.

What difference can I make, I ask myself. I ask God. He says I can quit buying every time I have a spare penny (or can borrow one) and start giving to educate, equip, and empower those individuals under the line or on the margin.

God reminds me of an Old Testament passage, an instruction to the Israelites: “‘When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Do not go over your vineyard a second time or pick up the grapes that have fallen. Leave them for the poor and the alien. I am the Lord your God’” (Leviticus 19:9-10). Even in a culture where one group identifies itself as “the chosen people of God,” they are divinely enjoined to give up their rights to make provision for those outside that status.

God does not refuse His people what they have worked for; He simply instructs them not to grab for themselves every single thing they can reach. Might that instruction also be for me? Might God be telling me that, rather than exerting all energies to secure what I think I deserve, I should exercise myself to use and share generously what has been entrusted to me?

I think beyond the harvest of the field. What difference could “my” time, energies, passions, character, voice, money, and things make? How will I live today so that people see in me what I say I believe? Every word, every choice, every action reveals the truth.

I can make all the difference in the world. And at harvest, with the blessing of Almighty God, it will be a difference in heaven and on earth.

 

Flying to Heaven

On July 20, my son, daughter-in-law, and I began our first ever vacation together. Our journey began with a plane trip to Portland. I wrote as we flew:

The engine whine increases as we rumble down the runway. Faster and faster, until the ground falls away and, “We’re flying,” I hear the woman behind me say. And a child’s voice answers, “Are we flying to heaven?”

A child’s wondering and suddenly settles in the fear all flyers feel when the 450 ton missile strains to float on air.

Well, I hope not. The thought springs instantly to my mind.

And just as quickly I chide myself: Why not? Why am I so fixed on Portland and not the streets of gold? Whether I anticipate those biblical depictions literally or not, Heaven must be preferable to Portland, mustn’t it? With no slur intended on that city or Seattle or wherever—any destination on earth is, after all, only a port in the storm. And the storms of life do still rage.

We used to sing, “’Til the storm passes over, ‘til the thunder sounds no more, ‘til the clouds roll forever from the sky, keep me safe, let me stand in the hollow of Thy hand; keep me safe ‘til the storm passes by.”

Mother used to say, “I’m not afraid of where I’m going, but I’m afraid of what I might have to go through to get there.”

And she is going through it: paranoia, pressure sores, hallucinating sights and sounds, not eating, little drinking, weight dropping like a stone. Music no longer soothes her. And still her heart beats and her lungs breathe. Sedated, silenced, she floats, a kind of death in life. She is flying to heaven, I know. But when? I wonder.

For I am not the pilot. I only occupy a passenger’s seat, beside her. Patting her hand in time to the song streaming from her player across the room, a piano piece, “The Wind Beneath My Wings.” I have reached the end of my usefulness. I can no longer do anything to help her except recite words I hope she can hear: “Your mercy, O Lord, extends to the heavens; your faithfulness even to the skies.” So I trace the cross on her forehead and bless her as I leave.

At the other end of the flight, the noise of the landing gear lowering, the drag of the airspeed slowing, and the child wonders again aloud to her mother, “Will we fall down to the ground?”

I think, Someday.

Four days later, my mother died. In the timing of God whom she worshiped and in the way He planned. On August 3, 2016, she will be buried in the ground she loved.

The One Who Can Heal

On Monday, as she and I consoled and challenged each other in the wake of last week’s horrors, a friend drew my attention to a July 9 CNN headline: “Who Can Heal America?” In that article, author Stephen Collinson considers, one by one, the House Speaker, presidential candidates, President Obama, other elected and self-appointed leaders, but finds them all wanting as healers: “Yet despite all the calls for unity, the prayers offered and the platitudes voiced, there are few signs yet that any candidate, lawmaker, law enforcement leader, or civil rights campaigner has mustered the trust and respect of voters needed to knit a mournful nation together.” In the end he concludes that “leadership may come from lower down the political scale” and quotes the Deputy Chief of Dallas Police, “Let’s be human beings. Let’s be honorable men and women and sit down at a table and say, ‘How can we not let this happen again?'”

As a called and ordained leader in the Church, I know that I am not the healer, but I submit that Collinson, like many others, is misdirecting his gaze. Healing is not a horizontal operation. Healing comes only from above. In 2 Chronicles (of the Jewish Scriptures and Old Testament), God offers this balm: “If my people who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

2Ch7.14

Now I am not naive in my reading. I know to whom and on what occasion this promise was made. God is speaking to King Solomon after the building of God’s great temple–Solomon who asked for and received from God the matchless gift of wisdom. I do not assume that all promises cited in the Scriptures apply to all people in all situations. But I do hear wisdom and the promise of divine healing in these words. So I renew my commitment to the four conditions God sets for the healing of this land: Humbling myself, praying, seeking God’s face, and resisting temptations to evil. This is not a formula nor an incantation. This is merely taking God at his word. No assembly or effort of human beings will bring about healing. Only God can answer the question.