He Will Give

One of my favorite places in the world is Saint Mary’s College Chapel.  I am so blessed to live less than a 10-minute drive away from this sanctuary, this place where I can consistently find a quiet, peaceful space to sit, relax, and enjoy the overall privilege of slipping away to just be with God.

Things were tense at home last Thursday, and I felt really agitated and anxious.  In times like those, all I desire is the comfort of my Father, to be in His presence and feel Him bring my soul out of chaos and into serene stillness.  Time spent with Him gives me clarity of mind and He renews my strength and resolve to continue to live with Christ’s love towards the people He has brought, and will bring, into my life.  When I arrived at the chapel last Thursday, I sat down in one of the pews in the back.  Even though I have been to this place many times, I still like to spend a few moments to take in my surroundings.  At the front is a crucifix:

This picture really doesn’t even capture one-tenth of the beauty of this place.  The stained glass windows have a deep, rich purple background, and when the sunlight filters through them, the interior of the chapel just swims in a multitude of colors.

After a while, I knelt down on the kneeler board, took off my glasses, and just closed my eyes.  I silently reveled in this experience of tranquility, and when I opened my eyes, I looked back up at the crucifix and saw this:

Which is exactly what you would expect to see if you’ve got really poor eyesight and have gone without your corrective lenses.  I knew that the chapel was beautiful because I still remembered what it looked like when I had my glasses on, and as I reached to put them back on again, I just felt really grateful to have them.  

That thought stuck with me for a bit, and as I thought about what life might be like without them, if I didn’t have insurance or a job and could all of a sudden not afford them…  A small amount of panic began to rise in me as I sat with that thought and the implications of being without corrective lenses began to play through my mind.  I would be in pretty bad shape.  It would be infinitely harder to get around.  I could no longer drive.  I would be unable to do my job.  A lot of the things that I pride myself on being able to do, would be impossible for me.

And I really believe that at that point, God prompted me to remember a certain passage in Genesis that I had read earlier that day.  After Joseph interpreted the dreams of both Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and his chief baker, and the events came to pass (Pharaoh reinstated his chief cupbearer, but executed his chief baker), the chief cupbearer forgot all about him, and Joseph languished in prison for “two whole years” (Genesis 41:1).  After that, Pharaoh had a dream that none of his magicians could interpret for him, and the chief cupbearer suddenly remembered Joseph.  

14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. 15 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” 16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in meGod will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (Genesis 41:14-16)

When I first read over Joseph’s answer to Pharaoh in verse 16, I felt like rolling my eyes a little.  What a “Sunday school”/get-me-out-of-this-tight-spot answer.

But as I sat inside the chapel and thought about how utterly helpless I felt as I realized how quickly and absolutely my life would change without the ability to see, I pondered afresh how he could say what he said, without any hesitation, to Pharaoh.

I came to see that I definitely take a lot for granted.  And what’s worse, even though I might not ever voice this opinion outloud, my actions and attitudes show that there is a part of me that believes I deserve good things.  Moreover, another portion believes that that is so because I possess an inflated view of what I think are my own abilities.  What do I have that I have not worked for, that I do not, consequently, deserve?

Joseph, on the other hand, had come a long way from being his father’s favorite, the envy of his older brothers, and the one who had unabashedly shared two dreams that his family would one day bow before him (Genesis 37).  I believe that God, in His infinite wisdom and mercy, put Joseph through the trials that he went through to show him what I got a glimpse of today – that we see, breathe, move, and exist by the very grace of God alone.  There is nothing I bring.  There is nothing add.    

Joseph knew this to be true after seeing God’s mighty arm take him through each and every painful, seemingly impossible to redeem situation he found himself in, and it was from such a deep conviction born of experience that he told Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”

God will give.  God is giving right now.  God has already given.

Too often I strive for what I don’t have, and I end up forgetting that there is so, so much that I already have been given.  Why can’t I exercise more gratitude?  Why can’t I exercise more faith in God’s provision knowing that He will never change?  

I know I need to.  I pray that as I recount all the ways God has shown His mighty arm and redemption in my life, that I would become humble and confident like Joseph.

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Blessed

 

I’ve been going through Genesis these past few days, and last night I got to Sarah’s death in Genesis 23. I won’t get into my feelings on Abraham marrying Keturah just two chapters later, and having 6 more kiddos… yup, I’m sure I’ll share that never and just generally keep my fingers away from the keyboard as far as those events are concerned. I’m probably just being weird about it anyway.

Anywho, in this chapter, Abraham goes to the Hittites in order to obtain property that he can use as a burial place for his deceased wife, Sarah. He specifically singles out “the cave of Machpelah,” owned by “Ephron the son of Zohar,” and offers “the full price” for it (Gen. 23:8-9). Ephron, however, counters by offering to simply give Abraham the field (Gen. 23:11). Abraham instead bows down before them and says this to Ephron:

“But if you will, hear me: I give the price of the field. Accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there” (Gen. 23:13).

Ephron then tells him the price, four hundred shekels of silver, which Abraham weighs out and gives him for Machpelah (Gen. 23:14-16).

I don’t know about you, but I normally don’t argue with people when they tell me to pay less than full price for something. And to be honest, I felt a little incensed at Abraham’s insistence on paying the full amount and being fair in that way. Is that strange? Yes, I think so, but that doesn’t change the fact that I still felt that way, and I remember muttering to myself that it would be easy for a man so obviously blessed by God in every single way to be so generous, so magnanimous. I contrasted my family’s financial struggles and began to feel pretty embittered. Yeah, I could give like that, too, if God had blessed me as abundantly as He blessed Abraham.

And just as those words left my mouth under my breath, Ephesians 1:3-4 popped into my head:

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him.”

My aforementioned thoughts should give you an idea of just how “holy” I am. Please don’t think that I’m someone who has all the right Scripture at all the right times out of my own effort. Nope. My home group just finished our study of Ephesians and I am 100% positive that the Holy Spirit brought that up for me because, well, I’m not one who actively seeks to have her heart and motives checked. And I am equally certain that God spoke and said something along the lines of, “Iona, I have abundantly blessed you, but it is you who doesn’t truly value the blessing of being in Christ for what it really is, and as it should be.”

And He’s right. He is so, so right. I do truly equate blessing with financial prosperity. And because that’s not something I have right now, I naturally don’t feel so “blessed,” and I’m being eaten alive by my discontent over my perceived lack, my anger at God for His failure to provide and His clear favoritism of others, and my jealousy at what others have.

The picture you see above is of the damage sustained by my car after my mom backed her car into it upon her return from working a graveyard shift.  This happened about 3 weeks ago, but I’ve been stewing over it ever since, to the point where I have been very cold to her when we’re both at home.  It’s so bad, and I know it’s because I’m choosing to let it be this way.  I’m choosing to allow myself to be angry at the money I’m shelling out for a rental car, the deductible to get this fixed, the time it has taken to orchestrate everything.  There were other repairs I was planning on getting done, but I don’t think my paycheck can sustain all these things at once, which means I’m forced to push the repairs back.

All in all, I am feeling things get tight financially and I am absolutely not Father I-Will-Pay-Full-Price-For-That Abraham.  But no matter how tight things might get financially and otherwise, I need to remember that I am blessed in Christ because He died for my sins, even the ones I have committed in my unrighteous anger over this accident, and God looks upon me as having Christ’s righteousness.  And when I die, and all these things I allow myself to get caught up in concerning this present world are long forgotten, I will be in Heaven with my God for all eternity.

I.  AM.  BLESSED.

As I meditated more upon this foundational, eternal truth this morning, Psalm 32 came to mind:

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
    whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
    and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
    through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
    my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to you,
    and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

Therefore let everyone who is godly
    offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
    they shall not reach him.
You are a hiding place for me;
    you preserve me from trouble;
    you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
    I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
    which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
    or it will not stay near you.

Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
    but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
    and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!”

The  blessing in Christ, of being forgiven for ALL MY iniquity is a blessing that can never be taken away.  However, if my actions are any indication, such a blessing can be taken for granted.  The blessing itself does not change, but I can change in my appreciation of it.  It is done at my own peril, though, and at the high cost of my full joy and peace in the Lord.

But I thank God for His reminder last night, and for piercing the thick miasma of anxiety and bitterness that I’ve been choking on with His truth.  

I.  AM.  BLESSED.

And if you know Christ, no matter what you are going through, YOU are blessed, too.

“Let now the weak say I have strength
By the spirit of power that raised Christ from the dead
Let now the poor stand and confess
That my portion is Him and I’m more than blessed

That They Might Laugh

On Sunday, March 30th, I dropped my Dad off at Mineta San Jose International Airport.  My Mom, two younger brothers, and I knew that he was headed off to Chicago for what could be up to a full year contract.  However, as of that moment, we didn’t know if we’d have the opportunity to really see him much in the interim.  Money would be extremely tight since not only would my dad continue to have to pay rent for the house we live in in California, but he’d be paying for all of his expenses out in Chicago as well.  Any extra funds for a plane ticket would more than likely have to be saved up for times when he’d be able to fly out for a possible job interview back here in the Bay Area; there was no wiggle room for a purely leisurely trip back just that we could see one another.  Strained financial circumstances pushed such a thing into the realm of the “superfluous.”  

What a painful reality.  April came and went.  My brothers’ Spring Break actually started the Monday right after our dad left.  When we went out for their first all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ experience, I felt a twinge of sadness as I realized that I couldn’t necessarily call this our first family outing for KBBQ.  I know we all wished that he was there to enjoy that experience with us, and it would have been a great first experience for him, too.  Instead, I’d learn that it was just one of many things that would be added to an ever-growing mental “When Dad Gets Back” list.  A few weeks later, we celebrated Ash Wednesday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and then the resurrection of our Savior, Jesus Christ, on our first Easter Sunday without him around.  

May was a lot toughe1781051_10202744129458591_4525321226863162366_or, though.  My mom’s first birthday without him.  My mom’s first Mother’s day without him.  How can there be people who believe that human beings are replaceable, expendable?  While my brothers and I are great when we’re her children, try as we might, we don’t even begin to touch my Dad’s place as her husband and the father of her children.  Sitting with your own pain seems so, so easy compared to having to watch someone you love in pain when every effort on  your part does nothing to relieve it.

June, I suppose, was no easier, really.  Our Father’s Day greetings were given by phone and by snail mail card with chocolate (Dad’s favorite).  The older of my two younger brothers became one year older, and the younger of the two graduated from middle school.  

So many milestone events missed in just a few months.

We looked ahead to July and realized that our birthday greetings to him would have to follow the pattern laid out on Father’s Day.  And then a Dad-less summer?  In August, both brothers in high school.  Both on the football team.  Would he miss all of their games, too?

But then there was word of a plane ticket booked.  

“Dad, did you land an interview?”  

“No, but I miss my family.”

photo (1)

So tonight, I get to pick my Dad up from SFO, and next Monday, I’ll be dropping him off at SFO.  But we’re not there yet, so I will dwell on “hello” and not “goodbye (for now).” 

I’m still in Genesis right now, and while the story of Abraham and Sarah’s struggle to conceive is not new to me, certain lines in these 3 passages stood out afresh:

“And God said to Abraham, ‘As for Sarai  your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name.  I will bless her, and moreover, I will give you a son by her.  I will bless her, and she shall  become nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.’  Then Abraham fell on his face and laughed and said to himself, ‘Shall a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old?  Shall Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?” (Genesis 17:15-17).

“The Lord said, ‘I will return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a son.’  And Sarah was listening at the tend door behind him.  Now Abraham and Sarah were old, advanced in years.  The way of women had ceased to be with Sarah.  So Sarah laughed to herself, saying, ‘After I am worn out, and my lord is old, shall I have pleasure?” (Genesis 18:10-12).

“The Lord visited Sarah as He had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as He had promised.  And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had spoken to him.  Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him, Isaac.  And Abraham circumcised his son Isaac when he was eight days old, as God had commanded him.  Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him.  And Sarah said, ‘God has made laughter for me; everyone who hears will laugh over me.‘  And she said, ‘Who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children?  Yet I have borne him a son in his old age” (Genesis 21:1-7).

Abraham fell on his face and laughed.  Sarah laughed to herself.  Incredulous laughter at the thought of having a child in their old age, when they were so advanced in years.  Sarah questioned if, “after [she was] worn out, and [her] lord [was] old, shall [she] have pleasure?”  She thought herself too old for a child, too old for the possibility of such happiness.

But God did not laugh.

“The Lord said to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Shall I indeed bear a child, not that I am old?’  Is anything too hard for the Lord?  At the appointed time I will return to you, about this time next year, and Sarah shall have a son.'” (Genesis 18:13-14).

And in God’s timing, she did.

Isaac is a Hebrew name meaning “he laughs” or “laughter.”

When I think about the immense hurt both of my parents are carrying right now, and then I think about the possibility of things being alright between them, I laugh.  Incredulous laughter.  Laughter ladened with so much pain, 1 part of longing strongly diluted and overwhelmed by 3 parts bitter disbelief that it will ever happen.  And when I drink this concoction I feel it burn my throat and churn my stomach.  Under its sway, utterly intoxicated, I despair.  I refuse to pray for what my heart still can’t seem to stop piercing itself over in the wanting – for my parents’ marriage to be redeemed and made to bring glory to our God.  I want it so badly for them, but the delay, the time passing… the potential seems to fade ever more.

But is anything too hard for my Lord?

No.  I don’t believe so.

And so I pray, Father, that they, the parents whom you have given me, might yet laugh and love.