I rise this morning, tired and weary, to another day of battle.
Before I face it, I sleepily enter into the folds of Your garment.
You stand with arms open to me.
I shuffle forward and feel Your warmth surround me.
In this secret, sweet place
there is no fear
there is no want
there is no worry
there is no confusion
there is no weakness.
Here I rest my head against the heart that I broke.
The heart that now beats strong for me.
The arms that stretched wide to receive my punishment
The hands that were pierced to cleanse mine
softly stroke my hair.
The head of Jesus, once bloodied by torture and ridicule
bends down to mine with a kiss,
breathing new life through my being
To start another day.
Two particular stories in Scripture came to mind this morning as I was contemplating this question.
One is from 2 Kings 18 and 19. King Sennacherib of Assyria was threatening King Hezekiah and the city of Jerusalem. His menacing words contained lies and misinformation mingled with bits of truth. This is the way of the enemy. He did it to Adam, he tried it on Jesus, and his tactic is the same with you and me. Don’t buy it. Don’t bite it. Bits of truth, combined with lies, make lies. Brownie batter mixed with a little bunny poop is destined for the compost heap, and truth mixed with lies is no truth at all. It is inedible, undigestible, and downright gag-inducing.
Here’s the strategy that saved Jerusalem when they were threatened with disaster. Try it if you are facing the battle of a lifetime today.
Shut up. Hezekiah’s first strong move was to instruct his people to not respond to the taunts of the enemy. Don’t even speak. There is a time to be quiet, and this was that time. Save your breath to cool your porridge.
Pray up. Don’t underestimate the power of praying friends. King Hezekiah called on the prophet Isaiah. He asked him to pray for them, which he did, and the Israelites were greatly encouraged. True friends will offer affirmation and the word of the Lord. Nurture relationships such as these, friends that will be there for you when the going gets rough. They will help bear the burden. After just a few minutes of talking on the phone with a friend about a challenge I am facing, the confusion and pain is alleviated. I feel lighter, yet stronger.
Gear up. Accept the fact that things can get worse before they get better. Hezekiah receives a scary letter from his enemy. He was tempted to panic, but he did something more productive than fear: he called himself on the carpet: flat out in prayer.
Tidy up. This is God’s part; Hezekiah simply spread the letter out before the Lord. He got on his face and talked to Him with the nasty letter laid bare. Essentially, the Lord’s response was, “I’ll take care of this.” God sent a word to Hezekiah’s enemy. I’m not sure if Sennacherib ever got that literal message, but he got the fulfillment of that message. From that point on Hezekiah knew exactly where God stood in this conflict. Sennacherib was simply distracted by another war, as God had said he would be. Israel was safe.
Thank you, God, that you see the battles I am facing today, and you are engaged, instructing me, encouraging me, and strengthening me for victory. And You have a way out. I am reminded by You that, unlike Hezekiah’s perspective, You teach in your word that my battle is not with flesh and blood, but with the accuser of the brethren whom I defeat by the Blood of the Lamb and the Word of my testimony. Give me grace to do that today. Help me to walk in forgiveness and love. In Jesus Only. Amen.
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him.
“Now therefore, our God, the great God, mighty and awesome, who keeps his covenant of love, do not let all this hardship seem trifling in your eyes—the hardship that has come on us, on our kings and leaders, on our priests and prophets, on our ancestors and all your people, from the days of the kings of Assyria until today.”
A few weeks ago I found some goblets at my favorite antique store, “The Crooked Willow” just outside the little town where we work, Osakis, Minnesota. One of them was undoubtedly my Dad’s glasscutting work. I knew this would happen one day; and I often looked at antique stores to find crystal etched by the hands of my dear, tenderhearted father. I always loved his hands; they became stiff as he aged, his fingers slightly bent from the thousands upon thousands of pieces of glassware that he held in them. My dad was a glasscutter. Everyday he took plain, everyday glassware, tumblers, goblets, plates, vases, and etched beautiful designs on them with a wheel. An ancient art, and few of these talented craftsmen remain, my brother and cousin notwithstanding.
I bought the piece, and brought it home. I had also discovered at the Crooked Willow four other smaller goblets that were grouped together with a mis-matched pitcher which was of Princess House design. The birds engraved in the goblets looked very much like my Dad’s, but the flowers were not his. It was a slight variation of the pattern my father often engraved that he called “Gloria.” I didn’t buy them. Yet.
Sometimes timing is everything.
Just a few days ago a memory came to mind from my childhood. My dad had a glass cutting machine at the bottom of the stairs in the basement of our home in South Minneapolis on East 36th Street. Once in a while I would sit at my dad’s machine and engrave flawed crystal pieces just for fun. But on this particular day, Dad allowed me to engrave the flower design for an order he was working on. The flower was etched into the glass using a smooth wheel, like a tiny treadless tire only made of stone. Other designs were made with wheels that had a sharp lip around them for creating lines, others were used for leaves and other embellishments. The circle pattern was the easiest, but still required a steady, skilled hand. The glass piece was placed on the stone firmly, and held with both hands until an etched circle was created. A total of seven little circles created the pattern into a flower.
I worked on those for a few hours; not one of them even close to perfect. I remember feeling baffled that my dad didn’t resort to, “Okay, thanks, Jill. Now off you go to play.” He let me continue to try and fail on valuable glassware. Then he took the goblet in his capable hands and, using artistic license, added embellishments to the flower to hide my flaws. I remember that some of them were beyond repair, and those he took to his polishing wheel and polished the center circles and embellished the surrounding of the flower, adding etched stems. The polishing process was laborious and long. He had to put a substance on the glass and stand by his polishing wheel until the etched circle that I made was translucent.
Upon this remembrance, I went back to the store yesterday to see if by chance the goblets might be “ours”. I was convinced they were. The flower patterns were hiding flaws, and two them were polished in the center. Dad and I cut these goblets. I bought them at “The Crooked Willow”, 130 miles from where they were created, 40 years later, from a store just a few miles from our new home exactly one year after my dad left us for his new home in heaven. They are now adorning my bathroom hutch, making a home for my jewelry.
What does this speak to me?
First, my father worked with what I gave him, flawed as it was. Why, when he could have been so much more productive without me? He would have had a much better quality product to give Mr. Odingard, his salesman had he sent me off to play. Why then didn’t he? I know why. Because relationship was more important to him than perfection. Because his identity was not in what he did. Because he valued time with me more than he valued his work. And perhaps there was a bigger picture reason as well. Perhaps the Father knew that forty-some years from then, on the first anniversary of his leaving us, I would need a sign from my father that I am loved and valued, flaws and all; and like my dad, my Gracious Heavenly Father can take my efforts, marred as they are by my sin, pride, and brokenness – as a parent, as a wife, as a friend, as a neighbor, as a disciple, as a human – and make something beautiful of them. Something that others may find useful forty-some years from now.
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