But By His Grace: Let Love Be Heard

The world is indeed full of peril and in it there are many dark places.
But still there is much that is fair. And though in all lands, love is now mingled with grief, it still grows, perhaps, the greater.
— J. R. R. Tolkien from The Fellowship of the Ring

Worldwide. a tsunami of tears overflows in households and communities as COVID-19 wreaks physical and economic havoc in hundreds of thousands of lives. We experience deep sadness and grief when older folks with health conditions are taken by a virulent pneumonia within a matter of days, often dying without a familiar face nearby. And there is no end to our distress when up to 40% of hospitalizations are for younger victims of the virus, most of whom survive, but too many don’t and won’t.

Our sorrow fills a chasm so deep and dark that it is a fearsome thing to even peer from the edge, as so many of us do, praying for far-flung family and friends to remain healthy and unable to be of any direct assistance even if they become ill.  We join the helplessness of countless people in human history who have lived through times that seem unendurable.

We don’t understand why inexplicable tragedy befalls good and gracious people, taking them when they are not yet finished with their work on earth.  From quakes that topple buildings burying people, to waves that wipe out whole cities and sweep away thousands of people, to a pathogen too swift and powerful for all the weapons of modern medicine,  we are reminded every day – we live on perilous ground and our time here has always been finite. We don’t have control over the amount of time, but we do have control over how our love is heard and spread.

There is assurance in knowing we do not weep alone; Our Lord is acquainted with grief.  Our grieving is so familiar to a suffering God who too wept at the death of a beloved friend, and who cried out when He was tasked with enduring the unendurable.

There is comfort in knowing He too peered into the chasm of darkness;
He willingly entered its depths to come to our rescue with His incomparable capacity for Light and Love.

This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:

God sees us as we are,
loves us as we are,
and accepts us as we are.
But by His grace,
He does not leave us where we are.
~Tim Keller

Angels, where you soar
Up to God’s own light
Take my own lost bird
On your hearts tonight;
And as grief once more
Mounts to heaven and sings
Let my love be heard
Whispering in your wings
~Alfred Noyes

But By His Grace: We Are Not Alone

God makes us happy as only children can be happy.
God wants to always be with us, wherever we may be –
in our sin, in our suffering and death.
We are no longer alone;
God is with us.
We are no longer homeless;
a bit of the eternal home itself has moved unto us. 
~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It’s the season of scars and of wounds in the heart
Of feeling the full weight of our burdens
It’s the season of bowing our heads in the wind
And knowing we are not alone in fear
Not alone in the dark

Don’t forget
Don’t forget I love
I love
I love you
~Vienna Teng “The Atheist Christmas Carol”

Over the years I have found I don’t do alone well.  Never have.  I’ve always preferred plenty of activity around me, planning gatherings and communal meals, and filling up my days to the brim with all manner of socializing. 

Typically I don’t prefer my own company.  There is no glossing over my flaws nor distracting myself from where I fall short.  Alone is an unforgiving mirror reflecting back what I have kept myself too overly busy to see.

I’ve never even lived alone except for short times when Dan is traveling.
I didn’t like that either.

We have had a taste of quiet aloneness together during the last two weeks of social isolation on the farm, with more time alone to come.  I continue to work, able to do my behavioral health medical consultations “virtually” as I am now in an age category that would not do well if exposed to COVID19 in the clinic. These days have had a slower pace and cadence, blessed with a gained hour by not commuting to the clinic. There is more time to take walks, often in silence together, bowing our heads to the wind, taking cover from chilling spring rains.

Despite our isolation, we know we are not alone in our fear of the darkness happening in the world around us. The headlines buzz on our phones; there is no ignoring the suffering happening to so many around us. I hear the fear of uncertainty in my patient’s voices as we talk.

Yet I remind myself of the certainty that I know is the truth:

We need not be afraid.
We are not alone in the dark.
We are loved.
And don’t forget,
don’t forget:
God is with us
even through this.

This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:

God sees us as we are,
loves us as we are,
and accepts us as we are.
But by His grace,
He does not leave us where we are.
~Tim Keller

We are not alone. We are not alone.
We are not alone. God is with us.
We are not alone. We are not alone.
We are not alone. God is with us.

We are never alone (We are not alone 3x)
For (God is with us)
We (We are not alone 3x)
We are never alone
For (God is with us)

Now (We are not alone)
Through all our days(We are never alone)
(We are not alone. We are never alone)
Always (God is with us 2x)
For(ever and ever)
We are never alone

Are not alone. We are not alone.
We are not alone. God is with us.
We are not alone. We are not alone.
We are not alone. God is with us.

He Accepts Us As We Are: Restless and Full of Longing

How often we look upon God as our last and feeblest resource!
We go to Him because we have nowhere else to go.
And then we learn that the storms of life have driven us,
not upon the rocks,
but into the desired haven.
~George MacDonald

photo by Nate Gibson

Everlasting God,
in whom we live and move and have our being:
You have made us for yourself,
so that our hearts are restless
until they rest in you.

There is a different kind of prayer without ceasing;
it is longing.
Whatever you may be doing,
if you long for the day of everlasting rest
do not cease praying.
If you do not wish to cease praying,
then do not cease your longing.
Your persistent longing is your persistent voice.
But when love grows cold, the heart grows silent.
If you are filled with longing all the time,
you will keep crying out,
and if your love perseveres,
your cry will be heard without fail.
~Augustine of Hippo from  Augustine’s Expositions of the Psalms

C.S. Lewis writes of his “inconsolable longing, almost like a heartbreak” experiencing grief after losing his wife to cancer. He describes “the stab, the pang” of such longing, a visceral sense of being emptied completely and hungering to be refilled.

God accepts our yearning restless emptiness as a prayer for restoration. He hears our ceaseless cry and He too weeps with us.

May we continue to long for the refuge, the safe haven, that only can be found in Him.

This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:

God sees us as we are,
loves us as we are,
and accepts us as we are.
But by His grace,
He does not leave us where we are.
~Tim Keller

I’m running in circles
It’s a steep hill to climb
My own understanding won’t cut it this time
I’m feeling the pressure
Believing the lies
But I want to believe this life is not mine

I’m left undone
By the seas You have split
My fear-waging a battle, I’m left more equipped
It’s like we’re face to face
This heaven on land
Even when I fight, it’s from the palm of Your hand

Here’s my mountain
Now break down my walls
I am confident Your hand’s in every rise
And every fall

You shattered my scares
And drowned me in peace
I’m not tethered to fear, in Your presence they cease
My heart, it is won
You alone are enough
I am done with my searching, it’s You that I want

Here’s my mountain
Now break down my walls
I am confident Your hand’s in every rise
And every fall

I hear You in the whispers
And in the sonnets of the waves
How I love the One who carries
How I love the One who saves
I see You in my trial
When my pain turns into song
How I love the One who tells me
Not to stray but I belong

And just like the tides
It’s highs and it’s lows
I know You’re my constant,

You won’t waver or go
~Olivia Kieffer

He Accepts Us As We Are: Mere Wayfarers

The settled happiness and security which we all desire,
God withholds from us by the very nature of the world:
but joy, pleasure, and merriment, he has scattered broadcast.
We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun, and some ecstasy.
It is not hard to see why.

The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world
and oppose an obstacle to our return to God:
a few moments of happy love, a landscape, a symphony,
a merry meeting with our friends, a bath
or a football match, have no such tendency.

Our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns,
but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.
~C.S. Lewis from The Problem of Pain

I am reminded every day, with every headline shouting bad news:
this is not our home; we are mere wayfarers.

We tend to lose focus on the “why” of our journey on this troubled earth:
so much of our time and energy is understandably spent seeking out safety and security, striving for a road filled with happiness, joy and contentment, as if that should be our ultimate destination and purpose.

Yet the nature of a fallen world leads us down boulder-strewn paths filled with potholes and sheer cliffs. Suddenly nowhere feels safe or secure.

We are now confronted with thousands of ill and hurting people world-wide, some dying before their time, their travels on earth ending abruptly. We wonder who may be next.

Will it be someone I love? Will it be me? He accepts our fear of the unknown destination, as He knows what lies ahead on our journey.

God in His mercy never leaves us homeless or without hope. We are called to be the gift to others who are hurting.

…just as He gifted Himself to us.

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you invited me in,

 I needed clothes and you clothed me,
I was sick and you looked after me,
I was in prison and you came to visit me.
~Matthew 25:35-6

This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:

God sees us as we are,
loves us as we are,
and accepts us as we are.
But by His grace,
He does not leave us where we are.
~Tim Keller

1. What is the crying at Jordan?
Who hears, O God, the prophecy?
Dark is the season, dark our hearts
and shut to mystery.

2. Who then shall stir in this darkness,
prepare for joy in the winter night.
Mortal in darkness we lie down blindhearted,
seeing no light.

3. Lord, give us grace to awake us,
to see the branch that begins to bloom;
in great humility is hid all heaven
in a little room.

4. Now comes the day of salvation,
in joy and terror the Word is born!
God comes as gift into our lives;
oh let salvation dawn!

He Accepts Us As We Are: Love Renders Us Worthy

Our job is to love others
without stopping to inquire
whether or not they are worthy.
That is not our business and, in fact,
it is nobody’s business.

What we are asked to do is to love,
and this love itself will render
both ourselves and our neighbors
worthy if anything can.
~Thomas Merton from  Catholic Voices in a World on Fire

This is a time of too many seriously ill people and too few resources to care for them intensively, therefore doctors and nurses are placed in an ethical dilemma: they must decide who receives the critical care needed to save them and who doesn’t. It is an awful and awe-filled dilemma – no one wants to be in the position of deciding who is “worthy” of the only ventilator available, or the scarce medication, or the only empty ICU bed. Yet medical professionals are trained in triage to assess who is most likely to survive thanks to an extreme and immediate intervention and who would be unlikely to survive – essentially, who is “worthy.”

Thankfully, God doesn’t have to triage His children, deciding who gets His intervention and who must wait or go without care. God is not faced with limited resources. God has no dilemma about our worthiness: we are worthy because He loves us and we are His.

So should we love one another as best we can, even in times like these. We share, we give, we serve, and yes, we will sacrifice.

No less than what God has done for us.

This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:

God sees us as we are,
loves us as we are,
and accepts us as we are.
But by His grace,
He does not leave us where we are.
~Tim Keller

1 O Love that wilt not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
that in thine ocean depths its flow
may richer, fuller be.

2 O Light that follow’st all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
my heart restores its borrowed ray,
that in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
may brighter, fairer be.

3 O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow thro’ the rain,
and feel the promise is not vain
that morn shall tearless be.

4 O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
and from the ground there blossoms red,
life that shall endless be.

He Loves Us As We Are: The True Dwelling of the Holy

I’ve been thinking about the way, when you walk
down a crowded aisle, people pull in their legs
to let you by. Or how strangers still say “bless you”
when someone sneezes, a leftover
from the Bubonic plague. “Don’t die,” we are saying.
And sometimes, when you spill lemons
from your grocery bag, someone else will help you
pick them up. Mostly, we don’t want to harm each other.
We want to be handed our cup of coffee hot,
and to say thank you to the person handing it. To smile
at them and for them to smile back. For the waitress
to call us honey when she sets down the bowl of clam chowder,
and for the driver in the red pick-up truck to let us pass.
We have so little of each other, now. So far
from tribe and fire. Only these brief moments of exchange.
What if they are the true dwelling of the holy, these
fleeting temples we make together when we say, “Here,
have my seat,” “Go ahead—you first,” “I like your hat.”
~Danusha Laméris
“Small Kindnesses”

from “Feats of Strength” by Tom Otterness at Western Washington University

No matter what the grief, its weight,
we are obliged to carry it.
We rise and gather momentum, the dull strength
that pushes us through crowds.
And then the young boy gives me directions
so avidly. A woman holds the glass door open,
waiting patiently for my empty body to pass through.
All day it continues, each kindness
reaching toward another—a stranger
singing to no one as I pass on the path, trees
offering their blossoms, a child
who lifts his almond eyes and smiles.
Somehow they always find me, seem even
to be waiting, determined to keep me
from myself, from the thing that calls to me
as it must have once called to them—
this temptation to step off the edge
and fall weightless, away from the world.

~Dorianne Laux “For the Sake of Strangers”

Have you ever noticed how much of Christ’s life was spent in doing kind things – in merely doing kind things? … he spent a great proportion of his time simply in making people happy, in doing good turns to people.

There is only one thing greater than happiness in the world, and that is holiness; and it is not in our keeping. But what God has put in our power is the happiness of those about us, and that is largely to be secured by our being kind to them.…

I wonder why it is that we are not all kinder than we are. How much the world needs it. How easily it is done. How instantaneously it acts. How infallibly it is remembered.
~Henry Drummond from The Greatest Thing in the World

Kindness has always watched for me;
I remember how it infallibly surrounds me.

I weep with those who weep,
whether in fear, or separation,
or frustration, or anger,
or grief, or loss,
or sheer exhaustion.

I weep to wonder
why any one of us should not know
the kindness and comfort
of being held in the arms
of the Lord who loves us as we are
despite who we are.

This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:

God sees us as we are,
loves us as we are,
and accepts us as we are.
But by His grace,
He does not leave us where we are.
~Tim Keller

Kindness, gentleness
Tender ardent zeal
Endless graciousness
Dependable and real

Pity, piety
Patient, sure and true
Goodness, faithfulness
Love that’s always new

Beauty, loyalty
Generous and kind
Relentless tenderness
Hope of humankind
Hope of humankind

Who You truly Are
We hardly can believe
You know what we are
Yet You refuse to leave

All Your wordless power
Your Own mighty strength,
Your matchless might
Your Holiness,
In kindness seen

Beauty, loyalty
Generous and kind
Relentless tenderness
Hope of humankind
Hope of humankind

~Michael Card

Sure on this shining night
Of star made shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground. 
The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth. 
Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night
I weep for wonder wand’ring far alone

Of shadows on the stars. 

~James Agee “Sure on This Shining Night”

He Loves Us As We Are: Turning First

The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered…and he went outside and wept bitterly.
Luke 22:61-62

Peter never thought of turning (in the thick of his sin), but the Lord turned first. And when Peter would rather have looked anywhere else than at the Lord, the Lord looked at Peter. Only when we come to our Father in response to his waiting look can we be freed and forgiven.
~Henry Drummond
from Bread and Wine

Peter’s bitter tears flowed–out of his predicted personal failure, out of recognition of his guilt, as well as being caught in the act of doing what he said he would never do, knowing he himself had turned away and denied his best friend, mentor, and Lord.

What message was the Lord sending when he turned first with that “straight look” after Peter had turned away?

It wasn’t condemnation: Peter feels the heaviness of his guilt without any assistance at all.

It wasn’t anger: Peter’s denial was just as He predicted so not at all unexpected.

It was a look of love:
full of sad longing and waiting,
a look reflecting rejection and hurt,
a look of resignation, acknowledging the hard and painful path lying ahead,
a look wondering how long it will take the children of God to accept grace and to open the gift of forgiveness they were freely given.

We need to know this: even when we have turned away, denying and rejecting our relationship with Him, He turned toward us first, loving us as we are. But our story doesn’t end there. Our tears are dried and we turn back to Him, looking Him full in the face.

This year’s Lenten theme for Barnstorming:

God sees us as we are,
loves us as we are,
and accepts us as we are.
But by His grace,
He does not leave us where we are.
~Tim Keller

Turn to me, O man and be saved,
Says the Lord for I am God;
There is no other, none beside me.
I call your name.

1. I am He that comforts you;
Who are you to be afraid of man who dies,
is made like the grass of the fields, soon to wither.

2. Listen to me, my people;
Give ear to me my nation:
a law will go forth from me,
and my justice for a light to the people.

3. Lift up your eyes to the heavens,
and look at the earth down below.
The heavens will vanish like smoke,
and the earth will wear out like a garment.
– John Foley