Prolonged Singleness: Some of Us Don’t Just Feel Unwanted, We Start To Feel Unwantable

It’s not just you, you’re not crazy. I remember how it felt. Not the feeling that nobody wants you — that took a backseat to something new a few years ago: the feeling that nobody could want you. Would ever want you. Something’s got to be wrong with you, and you’re simply unwantable.

Maybe you think you’re too messed up. Too far gone. Have too many issues. Who would want to hitch their wagon to you and all your baggage?

When your head’s on straight, you know it’s not true. Still, most days, you can’t shake the feeling that whatever used to be desirable about you is either gone, or just not enough.

Lady, I have BEEN. THERE.

Your married friends keep telling you what a great catch you are! It feels good for a few moments, and then it rings hollow. Especially their kind-hearted assurance that they “just know God has someone wonderful out there for you!” That’s sweet, but, they can’t know that. No one but God knows that. And God simply won’t tell you whether or not you’ll be single for the rest of your life.

This isn’t going to be a lecture on why such thinking is wrong. If you’re someone who knows the God of the Bible, you likely know it already. Nor is it going to be about all the reasons the right man, if God has marriage in your future, is going to want you. I just hope to commiserate, since I’ve been down that hole, and communicate that climbing out is hard, but possible.

By the way, it wasn’t meeting my spouse that somehow lifted me out. I had to find a rope and climb. The rope was the slow, consistent work of God to comfort me, and gently show me the idol of my heart. He comforted me with the truth that He had created me, without design flaws, for specific works He had prepared beforehand (Ephesians 1:10). He comforted me with the truth that He would never abandon the progress He was making in my sanctification (Philippians 1:6).

Owning up to the fact that my idol was being chosen by a good man, refocusing that worship to Christ, and finally grasping what true contentment is — those changes got me to a place of real joy two years before Aaron ever moved to Arkansas.

It wasn’t for me to be consumed with whether God’s plan for me included marriage. He had things for me to do, now. As a single. These were not, are not, wasted years.
Unless I waste them.

Regarding contentment; boy, there are a lot of articles out there right? But, I believe it can be boiled down to one sentence. The ones I usually hear/read are:
“Contentment is not wanting anything more that you want Christ.”
“Contentment is finding your satisfaction in God.”
Well, those are true, and I understood them, but I clearly still lacked something in the application. Then someone told me another single sentence, the most life-changing thing I’d ever heard since the Gospel, that finally drove it home in my heart:

“If you aren’t content without it, you’ll never be content with it.”

Turns out, what I needed to understand wasn’t the true nature of contentment, but the nature of discontentment.

Whatever it is we want so much — marriage, that different job, a baby, restored health, anything — getting it will not magically make us content. There will always be a next thing. The insidious little worm of discontentment will keep chewing holes through our hearts until we choose to make God’s current provision the joy we fill them with.

God is so full of grace for us as we learn this, especially in the midst of intense trial and grief. He knows that we are only dust (Psalm 103). He is patient.

All this doesn’t mean we aren’t allowed to make good changes and pursue better options for work or what have you. It’s okay to want good things! But the test of our contentment lies in how our hearts respond when we don’t get them . . . or, often, during the long years that we still aren’t getting them.

Feeling unwantable? Take a deep breath. Meditate on verses about what God has done for your soul. Examine your heart. Ask for His help, and look around for what God is doing in your life, instead of staring at what He’s not doing.

One of the heaviest trials of my life came along while this understanding began take root in my heart. After the initial shock and grief, relentlessly looking for the good that God was accomplishing is what has gotten me through it. There has been so, so much good.

So look up, and turn your head. You might just find some of the greatest joys of your life.

 

Are You Trying to Run Someone Else’s Race?

The race metaphor for the Christian life seems to have endless applications. I keep thinking of more, or hearing friends make comparisons I hadn’t thought of. Most recently, it hit me that if I had tried to run those two marathons at someone else’s level of fitness and training, I would never have finished. There’s a lesson in that for my wretched little heart.

Both race days, a lot of people started one or three corrals ahead of me — the “elite” runners pawing the grown up front in corral A, and me way down the road, corral D, just ahead of the walkers. At a pace of 12-13 minutes per mile, there was no way I could have run a race like corral A runners. Nor even like the people in C! If I had pushed myself too hard and too fast, I wouldn’t even have made it to mile 5.

I had to run my own race.

Everyone else had to run theirs.

What did that mean for me? I had to stop and stretch when my body needed it, to eat what worked for me without upsetting my stomach, and most counter-intuitively, to walk for one minute every two minutes.

As a Christian I am in a race. As a sinner I often try to run it like people who aren’t me — usually those I envy in some way. But if it’s true that God sanctifies each of us in His own time, with a unique set of disciplines, trials, and gifts, why would I place on myself the expectation to be just like them?

Let me make an important distinction here: there is a difference between what I’m trying to describe and seeking to imitate those whose Christianity you admire. We are commanded to disciple one another, following the examples of more mature believers and being an example to others in turn.

The key is to look around and choose from those who are running ahead of you, and follow. However this doesn’t mean our experience of the race will be the same as theirs. Yes, we are to imitate Christ, and Jesus did say “Be perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) But we don’t do that by expecting perfection of ourselves the first day of training. Or the 50th, or the 232nd day. We don’t do that by wishing we had the sames gifts as our best friend, or resenting the discipline and trials God has chosen for us and longing for someone else’s “easier” life.

If God has put us in the race, then He has also provided the body and the tools with which He wants us to run it. He commands us to “lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us” (Hebrews 12:1b). Sometimes that weight is crippling perfectionism, sinful envy, or mistrust of God’s wisdom.

Distance racing has “pacers” — one person in each corral wearing a bright colored vest and a carrying a tall narrow sign with the time in which they will race. They’re chosen as pacers for being remarkably consistent, it’s amazing. Runners who wish to keep that pace make an effort to stick near them. This might represent those we desire to follow in our Christian race. Personally if I try to follow the 4 hour pacer, I’m dead meat in 20 minutes. I don’t have the gifts they have. I haven’t trained to that level. Yet. It’s a good goal! So, work toward it in training. But in the heat of the race, in the heat of trials, I have to give myself grace to run with what God has given me.

Okay, so it’s a limited metaphor after all. But I hope it’s clear enough what I’m getting at; in our God-pleasing efforts to be more holy, more obedient, more like those who are more like Christ, beware of perfectionism and envy.

Yes, we pursue excellence, we exercise the spiritual disciplines and work hard to make progress. God-willing someday we will be running at a whole new level! In training we do have goals. Just remember it takes time to get there. Time, patience, and attention to what God has given us to work with.

The rest of Hebrews 12:1 says “and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

I love that word, endurance. It assumes hardship. Jesus promised hardship. “In this life you will have trouble.” (John 16:33)

I can and must seek to run with as much endurance as those whose examples God wants me to follow, but I mustn’t forget He is working in each of us differently, to endure different things. We must run our own race, thanking Him for the perfect wisdom that decrees its path.

 

The Single Thing

Since getting married I’ve thought a lot about writing something to my single friends. I suppose every single-longer-than-she-wanted-to-be Christian wife has considered doing this, and I’m willing to bet that if you’re a single woman reading the blogs out there, you feel like ALL of them have done it . . . repeatedly.

Another one, really? Is it some kind of right of passage that you married people feel like you have to go through — write the blog to the still-single demographic that you were a part of, oh I dunno, five months ago?

I get it. I’ve had that thought. So how do I know that what I might have to say would be any good? Well, I don’t. But I do know that every time I pushed past those bitter feelings and read the words of women who had at last gotten their heart’s dearest wish, it helped.

Their disillusionment helped me keep perspective.

Their joy helped me remember that disillusionment doesn’t mean disappointment.

Their charges to be content in singleness — or I wouldn’t be content married either — helped me be obedient to God, and find all satisfaction in Him.

In 2013 I wrote my own blog on that last point, The Gift of a Gift Withheld.  It was probably the single most important thing I ever internalized. No pun intended.

So I will continue to consider what, if anything, I have to say to my still-single friends from a recently-married nothing-figured-out perspective that could possibly be of encouragement.

One thing I can say right now: God’s wisdom is trustworthy!

 

I Know Words Can Kill, ’cause Something’s Dead

“I Want to Say I’m Sorry” . . . I love this song. Andrew Peterson covers it all. This is how to apologize. Especially when we’ve sinned against one another with our words.

As someone with a history of a particularly sharp tongue, I have nothing to cling to for help but my hope in the Gospel! Because of the Gospel we can humbly seek each other’s forgiveness. Because of the Gospel we can all look forward, not only to the resurrection of what our sinful words have killed in a relationship, not only to the inner remaking that occurs in us as we are disciplined by our Father, but to the great Last Day when redeemed sinners will sit beside one another at the wedding feast. All forgiven, all spiritually and physically resurrected.

What is most lovely about these lyrics is his acknowledgment of original sin without removing personal responsibility, and the beauty of reconciliation and hope in that future Day when all tears will be wiped away.

(Lyrics and video below.)

I want to say I’m sorry but I don’t know how
But I’m sorry, I’m so sorry now
I said some words to you I wish I never said
I know words can kill ’cause something’s dead

And now my heart is like a catacomb
And I’m praying we can find a way to raise these bones
Again, oh, again

Well, I want to say I’m sorry but it’s not enough
To close the wounds I opened up
So now I’ve got this sorrow and you’ve got that hurt
And we can’t go back to who we were

Oh, but could that mean I’m someone new
Maybe I can love you better than I failed to do
Before the war

They’ll tell you everything was beautiful and pure
But there was poison in the well from years before
And now I’m cleaning up this wreckage on the shore
And I don’t want to fight with you no more

So I want to say I’m sorry that I drew the line
I built the wall, the fault is mine
And maybe now the only way to find some peace
Is just to give it time and trust in grace

So this is my communion hymn
I want to sit beside you at the feast, my friend
Again, again and again
And again

Rated “R”

Today I’ve been thinking about the “R” words that describe what God does for our souls.

Redeems. Rescues. Regenerates. Restores. Renews. Refreshes.

Why? Why does my soul need all these things?

*Redemption*: I need it because I was subject to sin by nature and therefore “a child of wrath”, assigned to everlasting death. But instead of giving me what I deserve, He was merciful, even to the point of buying me back with His own blood. Has anyone else died for me? For you?

*Rescue*: I need it because in my sin I could not save myself! Think of any situation where a helpless person cries out, begging to be snatched away from danger. Once they realize their situation, there’s no pride or reluctance to ask. Just “please help me!” Do you see your need for rescue?

*Regeneration*: I need it because in sin my soul was dead. Like a dead physical heart, a dead spiritual heart can’t make decay begin to run backwards on its own. Nothing but supernatural power can regenerate it. God removed the dead stone of my heart and replaced it with flesh, quickening my soul for the battle against sin. He raised Jesus from the dead and said the same power that He used to raise Him is the power at work in our souls. We can’t even imagine that kind of power. Because Jesus is fully God, He essentially raised Himself from the dead. The most awe-inspiring words ever spoken, in my opinion, were Jesus’s when He said:  “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again.  No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” (John 10:17-18a) That same power has regenerated my heart.  Do you know He offers to regenerate yours too?

*Restoration*: I need it because, well, with a dead spiritual heart, what do you think the rest my life was like? Unfit for service or function, like atrophied muscle or a rusted-out engine. He had to restore me, make me into something He can use. Did you know that no matter what you’ve done, He can restore and use you too?

*Renewal*: I needed to be turned into a new creation, from child of wrath to child of God. A relationship where there was once enmity. A new purpose, one that matters beyond our physical lives into eternity. Do you realize you can have a real reason to live?

*Refreshment*: I need it every day, because I am weak and weary in this battle against my sin. He provides His strength, His joy, His beauty. He provides respite when I spend time with Him, peace when I trust Him, joy when I seek and find Him. He refreshes my heart through His other children, my brothers and sisters who also love Christ, who also know what it is to be desperately in need of what we couldn’t provide for ourselves. Do you have a parched, tired spirit sometimes too?

So, there it is. I’ve been bought with a price. Redeemed and rescued! Dear friends, please forgive me when I don’t live like it. I don’t want to be a hypocrite. With God’s help I’m learning and changing, listening to instruction and accepting discipline when I disobey. You who aren’t Christians, that’s why you hear us talking about “growing” all the time.We don’t just mean growing as a person or somehow making ourselves better. We mean that God is raising us, His children. We need the difficulties and trials that make us more like Jesus, and the grace He gives us to endure and excel beyond them bring us out the other side full of even more trust that He knows what He’s doing.

From redeeming us back from His own judgement to refreshing our renewed hearts with His grace. That’s mercy folks. And He offers it to everyone! A gift. Though, there is another “R” word.

Repentance. Turning our backs on the way we used to live. Admit and reject all the selfishness, arrogance, all the ugly attitudes and actions that sin produces. That one takes humility too, and sometimes it’s so hard. But, remember that rescue I talked about? Would you let pride prevent you from letting someone pull you out of a fire, embarrassed because you started it yourself by some dumb mistake, or even maliciously? No. At that point your only thought is for your life.

I pray that you will come to that place for the life of your soul. To the critical moment where you see the desperateness of your plight without God’s intervention. He allowed Himself to be tortured, to endure the full wrath of the Father against our sin, and then to die — so that you and I wouldn’t have to endure eternal separation from Him. And the last “R” word? I mentioned it once already. He rose from the dead. He raised my soul, and He can raise yours.

Please don’t slap away the hand that reaches out to rescue you.

Dedicated to The Bible Church of Little Rock

About four years ago, during what I thought was a time of personal trial, I sat at my desk and mused, Elizabeth, what do you know about God that will help you through this?

You know all those “Attributes of God” sermons and series that churches do over the years? We sometimes give a little internal sigh when they’re announced, don’t we? I’ve certainly been guilty of that a few times. But as my pastors knew would be the case, it’s what I know about God that has gotten me through every struggle in my life.

So, that day in 2011, with thunder and lightning booming outside, the metaphor of a storm seemed to fit and I began writing as I asked myself these questions: What things about me get me into trouble? What am I tempted to do when times are hard, when I’m uncertain, or when I don’t like what God’s doing? What attributes of God answer those things? 

The answers led to a kind of give-and-take in each verse; I have to give these up to God, and in return, take of the wonderful gifts He offers in Himself.

Well, much, much harder times have followed since I wrote it, in my life and the lives of brothers and sisters in my church. God is teaching our little body to love one another well through deep pain and loss. BCLR, I could not be more grateful for what you have been to me, and what I have watched you be to one another.

With love, I would like to officially dedicate this to The Bible Church of Little Rock, specifically the Oxner and Tittle families.

Give Him the Storm

Give Him the storm of your prodigal will
Lose not your way on the steep of the hill
Give Him your failing and faltering feet
Take of His guidance and follow the Street

Give Him the storm of your thoughts in the wind
Fret not for the thundering battle within
Give Him your weary and uncertain plan
Take of His strength and then cling to His hand

Give Him the storm of your questions and cares
Sink not away into suff’ring and snares
Give Him the sorrowing sighs of your soul
Take of His joy and by it be made whole

Give Him the storm of your anger and tears
Dread not the time though it linger for years
Give Him the flood of your frustrated cries
Take of His patience and worry not why

Give Him the storm of your violent unrest
Faint not for the lightning and downpour of tests
Give Him the strain of your weakened resolve
Take of His Words and His Wisdom recall

Give Him the storm of your anguish and grief
Cast not away all your hope for relief
Give Him the depth of your darkest despair
Take of His peace and be able to bear

He holds the storms of the earth and the seas
He raises those who have sunk to their knees
He is the One who has called you His own
Take of His courage and trust in His throne

Elizabeth Howell – 8.March.2011

Walking worthy…on and offline

At long last, I have come to realize that I do not love people very well at all. In general and especially online. Naturally, some of the reasons I don’t love people well in general are ripple effects of the fact that I simply spend too much time on the web: primarily Facebook, and reading articles linked there.

There is certainly a place for those things, and you don’t need me to repeat what my betters have already blogged, posted, and shared on the subject. But I must finally admit that I have a twofold problem: too much time online, and a misuse of that time.

To first address the misuse of time online: 

As I finally turn a more critical eye on the frequency and content of my Facebook posts, I have seen an unsettling pattern. I seem to be on some kind of crusade against lack of discernment in Christians, mistaken Christian teachers, and Catholicism. Always trying to make some point or harp on some cultural trend.

None of my views on these matters have changed, but it’s time I realized a few things:

1) It is not up to me to effect the growth and change of those I love through sharing just the right article that’s finally going to convince them.

2) It is not my job to make everyone aware of every issue that I deem crucial to good discernment.

Many of us love to share something we find enlightening, etc., and again, there’s nothing wrong with that. But I tend to love making truth known in the face of error in ways that possess neither winsomeness nor humility. I often take a superior tone which betrays the pride in my heart and dilutes the message.

Even worse, sometimes my motive is more akin to “I have to make sure my Facebook friends know that I’m on top of this issue theologically and haven’t been taken in. Others need to know that they’ve been taken in, and they won’t know unless I share this.”

How’s that for prideful? As if I were their only source for that material and God needed me to click “share” lest anyone miss it. And…as if I were always right.

Does that mean I don’t think God would use something I shared in the life of an unbelieving friend? No; it’s always possible that He would. My point is, I need to lay off the frequency and correct my attitude.

There must be a balance, and it may take me a while to find it. In the meantime, I plan to do much less “sharing” (with those extended excerpts you know I love) and use my Facebook time for more encouragement and less tutelage.

To address the amount of time online: 

Others have already said this better than I can, so I’ll keep it brief. I’ve allowed myself to fall prey to the smart-phone addiction, big time. Checking and re-checking to see if new  comments, notifications, messages, or texts have arrived or new photos been posted by certain pages or groups. . . it’s bad. My eyes (and brain!) tire from screens all day at work and screens for most of the evening, and on and on it goes.  Yet I notice how little certain of my friends are on Facebook and I want to follow their example. Their lives are in no way diminished by their “absence” from it and indeed, they have more time for far better things!

So, the biggest concern? You guessed it. All those things I don’t get done because of wasted time. The cooking & cleaning, laundry, letters to friends, serving others, photo album, cross-stitch, calligraphy, writing, drawing, time outside, and a half-dozen projects left unfinished. And the READING! Oh, the reading. What a list! Most of the things that lend true richness to life, right? I deprive myself of blessing others and much of what makes my walk worthy of Christ.

“Walk worthy” . . . sweet Bethany Rehrer would remind me how precious is the time we have here.

Lately I’ve begun to journal more and more, and I find that the time spent at my desk with the low lamp on, candle lit, and pen scratching across real paper (ah, my first love!) to be incredibly sweet. It is cathartic and healing; getting my thoughts out, recording events, expressing prayers and frustrations. You journaling people have known that for years. Well, I can be a very slow learner.

One big thing I did accomplish recently (this is mostly for any Heart for Home study ladies who may be reading). . . in the weeks before Christmas I buckled down and completely rearranged and reorganized my room, selling and moving various pieces of furniture (thanks Becca!) until there was actually room to maneuver in there. After the New Year a free headboard and perfect little desk from church friends made a huge difference, and now there are pictures on the walls and everything. Yay! Very close to “a place for everything and everything in its place” at last.

Please pray for me. These are big changes to make, and I’ve neglected self-discipline for too long. It’s been difficult to swallow my pride and admit this, since it spent a long time on the list of things I thought I’d never struggle with. (A word to the wise: don’t make that list.)

And now it’s time to log off.

I’m Not Right, I’m Redeemed: The Paradox of the Free Slave

I love being right. Even more, being proved right. We all do! (Am I right?) Especially when somebody thought we were wrong. Vindication is like hot cider on a snowy day, sending a shot of warmth right down to our toes and, more often, straight to our puffed-up heads.

So if we already battle this pride in being right (and known as right), how much more difficult (and dangerous) is that battle for we Christians who enjoy confidence that we are “right” in our faith and belief in the Bible? It can get ugly, can it not?

Let us not be like those of whom Jonathan Swift said “have just enough religion to make us hate, but not enough to make us love one another.”  Love need never require the sacrifice of theology, Scriptural clarity, or proper adherence to the biblical injunction to be discerning and rightly divide what is evil from what is good. But it’s imperative that we sacrifice self-righteousness and pious superiority of attitude. I definitely struggle with such pride! Jesus said the world would know His people by our love, not our religiosity nor even our fervor. If we have not love, we are merely clanging gongs, yes? (Perhaps, viewed in that way, social media can be called the loudest place in the world.)

I know a gal here in Little Rock who is part of a group of Christian women that regularly visits ladies backstage at local strip clubs; they talk, get to know them, give them little gift bags of necessities, and talk about Christ. Through simple kindness and by consistently coming back to maintain and grow these acquaintances, she and her friends have gained the trust of the club owners, and of the women, who have actually said to them, “We don’t refer to you as Christians. Christians don’t treat us very well. We call you Christ-followers.”

What a testimony.

That should tell us something about how Chstians are perceived by those who need the message with which we’ve been entrusted.

How I desire my presence to be a breath of fresh air to any unbeliever! I know that doesn’t mean they’d never be offended by the truth; the most lovingly spoken truth is always offensive to sinful pride, until the moment the Holy Spirit softens the heart hearing it.

One thing that may help is to remember that it’s NOT that we are “right” at all. I didn’t look at everything out there and decided that the best course of action was to become a Christian. It’s not that I’m right; it’s that my dead, unresponsive heart had been quickened by the Creator. We’re new creations! That means it was necessary for us to be utterly re-made. Salvation is no cosmetic makeover, but renewal from the inside out.

As we converse with unbelievers and plead with them to recognize their state as sinners before a holy God, I think we too often leave out the very important element of “I used to be exactly where you are!” You see, it doesn’t matter if we’re talking to a murderer while the worst thing we ever did was snitch an extra bite-size Milky Way from our co-worker’s desk – because our state without Christ was the same: destined for eternal separation from God in a real physical place called Hell. That point is the point at which all human lives are identical: the intersection of sin and grace. This should bring a powerful humility to our attitude with unbelievers and with each other. The Gospel isn’t about saying “look at everything that’s wrong about you and the way you live!”  It’s about “Look at what a sinner I was, and see what God’s done! See how He’s forgiven and changed me! I was condemned and I deserved it. But see something wonderful: God is not only a righteous Judge, but also a kinsman Redeemer, willing to give all of Himself to buy us back from the grave. All He requires is a simple, true-hearted repentance.”  We are not “right”. We are redeemed.

If you’re a Christian, no matter what your life has looked like, the inner core of your salvation story is the same as mine, and it goes like this:

One day as I’m thinking about the Gospel I’ve heard, the Holy Spirit arrests me, brings me into a big courtroom and stands me up before the judge . . . God. I look sideways across the aisle, and who is the prosecutor? God. The offended party? It’s Him. The jury box? God is there too. The court reporter, the witnesses, the bailiff, all of them. Every position in the courtroom is filled, but God and I are the only ones present. The massive stack of evidence against me is readily called forth, and He finds me guilty. I know there’s nothing I can do to refute the evidence. All is lost. Consistent with His perfect justice, He reads a sentence of physical and eternal spiritual death.

Then, the Gospel tells me to look and see who’s standing by my side.

God is also my lawyer.

Jesus Christ, fully God, the second member of the Trinity, is my Advocate!

His head, hands, and side are bleeding. Standing between me and the bench, He speaks. “Holy One, Your judgment of this defendant is righteous. You know also that I have lived in perfect obedience to You, and suffered scourging and death already to pay far more than this convict’s offenses are worth; to pay for the sin of the world! If she will but repent and ask Us, You can put her sin to My account, My righteousness to hers, and set her free.”

Can this offer be real?! I repent! He is my only hope.

The accounts are adjusted. I have been bought with a price, now a bondservant of Christ my Savior.

But oh, I am free!

Lakes and Loons and Loony Larks

I miss lakes. Lakes were a big part of my childhood, when I think about it. I learned how to swim in a lake (Silver Lake, right?…Gina, Emily, Abby, Stephanie, remember the crazy-painful hot metal slide we played on? Is it still there?), had T-ball practice next to lakes, learned how to make loon-calls on lakes (North Star Lake), how to fish in lakes, how to ice-skate on frozen lakes, went to church baptisms at lakes, steered boats on lakes (White Bear Lake), fell fully clothed into lakes (several lakes)…

…and then I moved to southern California. No lakes for seventeen years. In terms of me and lakes, these were the years of the Babylonian Captivity. (What about the ocean, you say? Me and the ocean is a whole different story.)

Then I moved to Arkansas. Hey, there’s quite a few lakes here! But seven years later, I’ve been to more lakes in other countries (in desert regions!) than I have in Arkansas. 

Time to have a lake day. With fishing. And loons.  

Loons really add a special something. A lake without loons is almost no lake at all. I miss getting out on a boat just before the sun rises, weaving through the mist still crawling over the water, and talking to the loons…

Who’s In Your Cloud?

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
— Hebrews 12:1-2

The writer of Hebrews had just been delineating the incredible sacrifices and suffering of past heroes of the faith. They are the cloud of witnesses who have gone before us.

Perhaps those we knew personally who have passed into glory were not martyred, and did not suffer for their faith. But we knew them, and loved them, and they have gone before. Their faith instructed us. Their love challenged us. Their joy encouraged us. And so much more. They are part of our cloud of witnesses.

Thinking about the fact that people I actually know, people I hugged and loved and laughed with and sang with and cried with, are actually experiencing Heaven at this moment, makes Heaven so real to me. It’s there! They’re there! Heaven is a place.

In fact my friend Jody wrote a song called “Heaven is a Place”. I listen to the CD and hear her sweet, somewhat husky alto voice singing, and tears always come. As the musicians begin, she calls out to the audience (I and my family were their for the live concert recording), “Are you ready to go to Heaven? I’m excited to go there because that’s where we’ll finally meet the King! Face to face. There will be fullness of joy, and pleasures forever! Maybe tonight. I’m ready.”  Then she sings. How her heart longed to be there. And on September 30, 2006, her desire was fulfilled.

There are others in my cloud. Those that I knew on at least some personal level. The first was my dear grandpa, Jess Vanderpool. I loved him so much! And there is Lynda, Bethany, Jody, Claire, Jasmine, Greg, Chris, Rob, and Tori.

Mrs. Claire Clint was my 2nd grade Sunday school teacher at Grace Community Church. She could have been my grandfather’s teacher, too, if he’d grown up near her. Because she was born six months before the declaration of the Spanish American War in 1898, and was 14 years old when the Titanic sank I sang in choirs with her great-great-grandson. She once told me she still remembered how she felt upon seeing the newspaper headlines. Between Grace Community and her former churches, Mrs. Clint taught Sunday morning classes for 80 years.

Talk about faithfulness.

Jody’s talent was music, and her gifts were never underused. Nether were her gifts of encouragement, speaking the truth in love, and helping others set their minds on things above. Bethany’s exhortation to all of us was always “walk worthy!”. She so desired herself and her fellow believers to walk worthy of our calling.
Tori was all about others. How she could serve, how she could pray, how she could help. She offered to talk any time I needed to . . . wanting to be of any consolation to my sore heart that she could.

I think God has been teaching our little church here in Little Rock how to love suffering people well. How to love, how to be grieving people. We have experienced a great deal of loss in the last several years. Our cloud grows, while we mourn. However, instead of a dark, heavy cloud, this cloud is full of light, joy, and anticipation. They now know that fullness of joy unspeakable, and they eagerly await the day that we will join them.

And we want to! It’s the Christian’s sanctified death-wish. We want to be with our loved ones, those who spurred us on to love and good works, and whom we loved so dearly. Even more we want to be with our Lord. They, with Him, are waiting for us. Let it be soon! Or come quickly, Lord Jesus.

It is better to go to a house of mourning
Than to go to a house of feasting,
Because that is the end of every man,
And the living takes it to heart.
– Ecclesiastes 7:2

No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever! 
— Revelation 22:3-4