I am in the middle of reading "In My Home There Is No More Sorrow: 10 Days in Rwanda" by Rick Bass. Last night I read this passage from the book and it floored me. I knew I would need to come back to it and to reflect on its depth. I glanced at the page number to commit it to memory... 39. The number of years I've been alive. Am I as alive as I could be? Should be?
"There is a spirit moving through Rwanda that is profound and surprising. It is a spirit of what most people would call love. I'm not saying that's the whole of it. What I suspect is that there is probably not a word for it - the feeling, the spirit, the phenomenon - and none of us on the outside of it, thank God, will ever quite know what it is; not seventeen years later, and not ever. I wouldn't, on reflection, trade my numbness for what they have. Even an arm's length distance might be a little too close. It's kind of terrifying to witness such capacity for strength, for spiritual growth; who among us would not prefer, really, to remain flabby, vague, untested?"
The author, Rick Bass, visited Rwanda for 10 days three years ago and this book is the essay he wrote about his brief but profound experience in a country that has suffered through genocide after genocide after genocide. The most recent slaughter ended after one million Tutsis were killed by their Hutu countrymen within 100 days' time in 1994. Bass goes to memorial after memorial on his ten day trek taking in the blood-stained walls of churches, piles of bones and stench of decay. He comes in direct contact with both survivors of the massacre and the perpetrators of it. The Hutus and the Tutsis now miraculously live as neighbors and countrymen once again; unfathomable forgiveness has come and life goes on, powerfully, and Bass is at a loss. He would rather embrace his numbness than experience the profound wholeness and depth of a people who have witnessed/perpetrated/been victimized by such evil and yet have overcome through God's mysterious gift of forgiveness.
I am left to ponder my own numbness. When have I chosen to keep at arms length that which I cannot understand? That which I do not want to understand or believe possible. That which I know would require much more of me than I care to give up in order to obtain it?
Is numbness better than soaring on the indefinable heights of the ultimate expression of forgiveness all while the images of soul-wrenching evil still burn in memory, tethering us to the earth and its ways? Is it?
It isn't. Numbness is not better than the display of His splendor. Just ask Moses, who boldly asked God, "Please, show me Your glory!" Exodus 33:18. Just like the surviving and thriving Rwandans today, Moses came down from that mountain after experiencing the glory of God only to have others look away in fear and disbelief. His face was aglow with something they could not comprehend, something they weren't sure they wanted to comprehend. It looked painful. It looked other-worldly. It was easier to look away and remain numb. Easier, but not better. In Exodus, we read how God hid Moses in a crack in a rock while His glory passed by, knowing that Moses could only take a small portion of the weight of the immeasurable glory of God and still live. Is that what we are afraid of? Is that why we remain numb when we could experience the glory of God? Do we fear that experiencing something so beautiful and powerful might just kill us? What a way to go!
May 2014 be a year of shaking off numbness and fear in all its forms. Of living life fully, even when it hurts, especially when it hurts. Of living a life "with such capacity for strength and spiritual growth" that no one can witness it without standing in utter awe of the God who is able to bring terrifying beauty from the likes of evil men all for the display of His life-giving splendor. Glory to God.
What does it mean to be filled with joy? A young mother of three with a new baby on the way just lost her husband in a car accident this past week in the small California town that our family calls home. Where is the joy in that? A friend is working through the process to adopt a child who has called her, "Mommy," for about a year now and the system is getting more convoluted, not less, as time goes by. Where is the joy in that? A beloved relative is in the hospital with bleeding in his brain. Where is the joy in that? I have a nephew who I have only seen in pictures who is celebrating his 2nd Christmas and a trip to visit and take in that moment with my own eyes isn't in the budget. Where is the joy in that?
This Sunday, our church will light the candle of JOY on the advent wreath. First was hope, then came peace, now JOY. I have been reflecting on the idea of JOY in preparation for this coming Sunday, and frankly, no revelations were happening in my heart, mind or soul. But I kept looking. This morning, I picked up the devotional book (Jesus Calling, by Sarah Young) and there it was. Staring me in the face on the page designated to read on December 10th of each year. Even so, I didn't recognize it right away. It was couched in a lesson on security. "Make Me the focal point of your search for security," it started. My mind started to wander. Clearly, this wasn't going to illuminate the Bible's teaching on JOY for me. Alas, I kept reading, albeit a little miffed and disappointed.
"Make Me the focal point of your search for security. In your private thoughts, you are still trying to order your world so that it is predictable and feels safe. Not only is this an impossible goal, but it is also counterproductive to spiritual growth. When your private world feels unsteady and you grip My hand for support, you are living in conscious dependence on Me. Instead of yearning for a problem-free life, REJOICE that trouble can highlight your awareness of My Presence. In the darkness of adversity, you are able to see more clearly the radiance of My Face. Accept the value of problems in this life, considering them pure JOY. Remember that you have an eternity of trouble-free living awaiting you in heaven." - taken from the inspiration Isaiah 41:10; Psalm 139:10; James 1:2.
Could it be that JOY and security are tightly bound together? The newly widowed mother whose life suddenly looks nothing like she planned, the friend called "Mommy" by a child born to another waiting on the legal system to make it so, the uncle in the hospital whose physical health is fragile and uncertain, the aunt who has no assurance of when she will see her nephew. We all have something in common. We all lack the security of knowing the future. This devotional reminded me that we can all have something else in common too, if we will choose it: a heightened awareness of the presence of God that others on more seemingly steady ground cannot know. These areas of our lives where security is stretched thin and it feels like we are walking on spider webs where they should be pavement, these are the moments, the days, the seasons where we can experience what it is truly like to be carried in the arms of God.
I remember as a little girl, as I was getting a bit too big to be carried places on a parent's hip or shoulders. I would take utter delight in the moments when I could "trick" my Daddy into believing that I had fallen asleep on the couch in the evenings. Without fail, he would scoop me up and carry me to bed. Tucking me in and kissing me on the forehead, while I pretended not to notice, as I faked sleep. Once he was out of the room, I would open my eyes and smile, relishing the moment. There was something so special about being physically carried by someone who loved me so tenderly.
We don't have to fake neediness on earth. We are needy. Sometimes our neediness is more obvious than others, and in those moments (as others feel sorry for us) we get to stop pretending that we have it all together. We get to stretch up our hands, with tears in our eyes and cry out, "Daddy, God, I NEED you!" And after He has carried us for a season, through things we couldn't handle on our own, we can open our eyes as we find ourselves resting in the evidence of His security and smile in a knowing way that others can't. We can remember the feel of His strong arms and the sound of His heartbeat and His kiss on our cheek, and His loving words, and we will know a deeper joy than we could ever feel without having been carried.
Consider it all joy, if your predictable, safe world is anything but predictable and safe this Christmas season. Your Daddy will carry you through it.
He sent His one and only son, Jesus, to be born of a virgin, to live a sinless life, yet die a sinner's death on your behalf and to be resurrected from death to eternal life just to make a way for you to run into the arms of His perfect Father and call Him your own at such a time as this. I pray that you will let Him.
So do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. - Isaiah 41:10
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
12 even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you. - Psalm 139:7-12
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds - James 1:2
When I was a very little girl, close to five years old, I experienced what it is like to be drowning. My parents, my Nanny and Pappaw, my brother and I were canoeing down a river in Florida together. It was a beautiful day and we were having a great time together. Eventually, my brother and I got into the river and took the seat cushions from one of the canoes and used them as flotation devices and we floated lazily alongside the canoes in the cool water. It was a perfect summer day. My brother was a strong swimmer, but I was not. None of us were concerned about this though because we were staying close together and the water was not very deep. The events that led up to me gasping for breath are fuzzy in my mind now some 30+ years later, but I do know that one of the canoes tipped over and my grandparents (who did not know how to swim) ended up in the water. I know that my older brother left me alone to swim over and help them and I let go of my flotation device in the midst of the ensuing chaos. My Dad jumped out of his canoe to go help my grandparents and in the process, his canoe tipped. In the craziness of trying to get the canoes righted and the people back in them, I was quietly sinking below the water and bobbing back up with increasing desperation. I couldn't understand why no one was coming to help me! It was obvious to me that I was dying, but no one else seemed to notice. How was that possible?!
Since then I've learned about something that life guards call, "The Instinctive Drowning Response." You see, as it turns out, drowning in real life looks nothing like drowning in the movies or on TV. Drowning people do not thrash about or yell for help. They can't. All of their energy is being expended on getting above the water and catching as much breath as possible before they inevitably sink back beneath the surface. They can't wave their arms because they are instinctively using their arms to push down on the water's surface in order to leverage their bodies and get their mouths above water. With that being the case, statistics show that half of all children who die each year from drowning do so within 25 yards of a parent or other adult who didn't recognize that they were drowning.
Have you ever felt that way in your day to day life? Drowning, while no one notices? Chances are you think it should be obvious. You can't fathom why no one seems to see that you are living on the brink. Survival, just making it through the day, is so consuming your thoughts and energy that you can't understand why others don't sense your desperation, despair, constant struggle.
On that perfect day in Florida, we all got a reality check. Starting with me. Once the canoes were back in place and those who were obviously endangered were in the clear, my father came over to me. In a loud voice he said, "Stand up!" I could not respond verbally or physically. I kept sinking below the surface frantically climbing this invisible ladder that would bring me back up just long enough to gasp for air before I went back under. Finally he grabbed me by my shoulders lifted me slightly and said again, louder and right to my face, "Carla, Stand up!" With my head now being held above the water by his strong arms, I could respond. Coughing and sputtering, I extended my legs and to my unfathomable surprise the river bottom was not far below. I had been drowning in water that only came up to chest. At any point I could have stretched out my legs, found solid ground and caught my breath, but I didn't know that. I had no idea that my salvation was that close, that accessible, and my family had no idea that I was in danger. Frightening, isn't it?
This memory surfaced for me this week while I was watching online as Louie Giglio taught a lesson at the Passion 2013 conference in Atlanta. He shared two different stories from the Bible where people were healed or brought back to life, but the final step in that restoration process involved them "standing to their feet." That is a powerful image for me. Stand up! Bear your own weight! You are not a victim, you have what you need to carry on!
If you feel like you are drowning and no one is noticing, rest assured, the Solid Rock is beneath you. It will require you transferring some of your energy from trying to stay afloat into remembering the One who put breath in your lungs to begin with, and that transfer of thought and energy will feel like a risk - but it is one that will pay off. In Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV) God says, "You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart." You will also be required to look at those around you a bit differently. The answer is, No. They can't tell that you are in despair, in danger. It isn't always as obvious as you feel like it is. People are busy and their thought lives are complicated (they have their own canoes tipping over left and right), that doesn't mean that they wouldn't come and support you while reminding you of the solid ground beneath you if they knew you needed that help. Find a way to reach out - this too will feel like a risk, but it is one that will eventually pay off. It helps if you reach out to those who aren't also drowning. Someone standing on solid ground is much better equipped to help you find your footing than someone who is frantically climbing that invisible ladder too.
If you are one of the ones standing safely on the Rock, don't wait for those around you to completely slip below the surface before you reach out to them. In real life, people drowning emotionally and spiritually don't look like they are drowning either. They are often spending so much of their energy just trying to get through the day that they don't ask you for help or even know where to begin to describe the peril they are in. Just like I didn't, couldn't respond to my Dad's instruction from afar to "Stand Up!" until he gripped me by the shoulders - others will need you to get closer than shouting distance in order to feel safe enough to try the suggestions you have for their relief from suffering. And you'll need to be close enough to see that they need your help. "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality." - Romans 12:10-13 NIV.
(P.S. - After that day, as a five year old, my parents enrolled me in swimming lessons at a local pool. I was terrified, but at their insistence I learned to swim - a skill that serves me well to this day. If you have found yourself emotionally or spiritually drowning at some point don't be satisfied with temporary relief - get involved in a local Bible believing church, seek biblical counseling, make an appointment with a Christian physician, build your support system and gain the tools you need so that the next time the "water feels too deep" you will have what you need to survive and persevere.)
(P.P.S. - The point of this post wasn't really about physical drowning, but since I brought it up, here is a link to help us notice the signs of someone who is in distress in the water. It is good information for all of us to have!)
Happy Independence Day! We Ritzes are getting ready to do what many other Americans are anticipating today as well - spending time with friends, enjoying hamburgers and hot dogs from the grill, making homemade ice cream, playing games, relaxing and hopefully taking in some fireworks later this evening. This morning as I think about what this day means to our country, I am also pausing to think about the the idea of independence, and how truly illusive it is.
It seems that, as individuals, just as we declare our independence from one person, idea, season of life, pattern of behavior, or situation - another area of dependence is revealed. We cannot escape it. Our country has not been able to escape it either. Dependency is a lifelong lesson-learning opportunity. Figuring out what we are dependent on, deciding if it is a healthy dependency, and if the extent of the dependency is appropriate and then adjusting relationships and behaviors as needed to bring balance. We do this over and over and over again throughout our lifetime.
We seek this balance in each of our relationships, in our work life, in our financial planning, in our decision making, and in our spiritual life. When we become overly dependent or overly independent in any area, things start to breakdown and we begin to suffer and, as much as we don't want to admit it, those closest to us suffer as well.
I once heard this quote: "The only entity that can completely control your life without ultimately destroying it is God." He is the only One we can ultimately be wholly and completely dependent on without negative consequences. Jesus himself said in John 15:5 NIV, "I am the vine, you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit. Apart from Me, you can do nothing." YOU CAN DO NOTHING apart from Him. If that isn't a call to acknowledging complete dependency on God and God alone, then I don't know what is. When anything else in our lives, other than God, demands this kind of dependency we get very uncomfortable very quickly, and if/when we become this dependent on anything other than God things fall apart just as quickly.
On this Independence Day, as we celebrate the blessings of life and freedom in the United States, let us also consider the reality of our own dependency on God and ask ourselves a few penetrating questions to see if we are experiencing the most life and freedom in Christ possible:
1. What one thing or person in my life do I feel like I truly cannot live without? Why? Do I really have any control over whether or not this thing/person remains in my life?
2. What good thing am I doing in my life right now that I would likely stop doing if I didn't have the support I currently have? How did I become dependent on this support in order to do the right thing?
3. Who am I allowing to depend on me inappropriately and how? Why have I allowed this? How can I stop this for that person's benefit?
4. How am I demonstrating the reality of my dependency on God on a daily basis? Can any one else in my life tell that I acknowledge this dependence? What is one change I can make today to release my dependency on people/things and embrace my dependency on God?
I watched this video a few years ago, but someone was talking about it at church today and I had to go back and watch it again. I do NOT want to live a safe life... Remind me of that when I forget! Taking risks isn't easy, but it is where we develop closeness with God and a right perspective of life.
Carla Ritz. Proof positive that God uses cracked pots!