Monday, November 30, 2015

When You Don't Know What To Do

Towering double wide doors opened to the large common area of the church. The south wall was made up of ornate etched glass which allowed soft light to fill the space. My traveling companion was a beautiful, shy woman whose life had been defined by many unfair things. She would be the first to tell you how it had been a long struggle to live beyond her painful past.

It had been years since the death of my young husband and raising babies alone, and losing most every temporal thing, but I still nursed pain and grief, as humans tend to do.

She and I both knew God had more for us, yet we still walked around cupping the ashes of our life. Together we hoped this conference would offer something to help us move forward.

We inched alongside tables filled with books, as the crowd made its way toward the auditorium.

I ran my hand over some of the titles: Shadow of the Almighty,  A Path Through Suffering, and Through Gates of Splendor.  –They were like old friends. I felt as if I knew the author, even though we had only met on the pages of her books. She had lived a wildly brave life filled with all the elements that would make up an epic movie.

Epic as in, the measure and scope and far-reaching impact of her one life lived in faith, for the world to see.

Certain parts of her famous story included young love, tragic loss, and hard choices. These had captured my heart for her, along with the fact that she was left to raise her ten-month-old daughter after her husband was killed. I felt like that gave us common ground.

When I met Elisabeth in the pages of her books, my faith had fledgling wings.

Her words resonated in deep places, but her life was hard to understand. How could she and the other families truly forgive the men who had killed their loved ones. when the church people I knew of couldn't forgive small offenses?

And how could Elisabeth have loaded her little blonde-haired girl in a canoe, to live with the very tribal people who had made her a widow? That was crazy faith.

Elisabeth rarely said things that were easy to hear. Yet, I still loved to listen to her voice on the radio say, "You are loved with an everlasting love. That’s what the Bible says. And underneath are the everlasting arms. This is your friend, Elisabeth Elliot." I wanted to believe her. I wanted to trust that God still did something beautiful with brokenness.

Somehow we were seated near the front of the venue where she was speaking. Elisabeth Elliot came out in a black dress that seemed too large for her. Her gray hair was swept up in a simple bun and she spoke with her famous inflection. An occasional smile revealed the space between her front teeth. She had not come here to impress anyone or deliver a flashy message.

At the end of her speaking time, there was a question and answer session. I couldn’t think of a single question for her that didn’t sound ridiculous.

The questions that were submitted, covered topics of how to handle difficult people, jobs, and life situations.

Her answers could be summarized in the upside-down truths of the Bible. Such as how we give to receive, lose to find, and die to live.

And then there was an odd exchange between Elisabeth and her husband Lars.

It was his job to choose questions from the basket and after selecting one, he would place it in front of the famous speaker. This had gone smoothly until the end. I watched as Elisabeth read a slip of paper and pushed it away, picking up a different piece of paper, which she read aloud and responded to.

Her husband gently slipped the rejected paper back toward his wife.

Again, she scanned the paper and pushed it aside, looking at her husband and shaking her head, “no.”

I was humored as they repeated this several more times. His nudging and her resistance.

Finally with notable irritation, Elizabeth Elliot read the question aloud.

The woman who had submitted the question held little back. Her husband had died. She described her bleak financial situation and how her faith was shaken. She had emotion packed questions. "How can I go on?" "Where do I begin to pick up the pieces?" "Where is God in all this?" "What am I to do next?"

And this hero of relentless faith, who had endured seasons of great loss and lived through some of this life’s most difficult trials and uncertain times, simply stated: “Just do the next thing.”

Perhaps to some her answer would be cold and cliché.

If the woman had said that to me, I would have rambled on about how sorry I was to hear her hardship and told her how life isn’t fair and maybe she should find herself a good counselor with the little money she could scrape together to work through the stages of grief.......

But knowing the depths of what Elisabeth had lived through––how she knew what it was to have eaten the bread of adversity and drank the water of affliction––gave us all reason to let her simple answer settle down into our souls.

Years have slipped by since I sat in the third row of that auditorium. And my faith hero has since gone home to be with the Lord.

But those five simple words/; "Just do the next thing." ––I've hung on to those words.

What does that look like?

Just wipe the next runny nose.

Just change out the next load of laundry.

Just speak the next kind word.

Just do the next gracious act.

Just leave the outcome of this complicated situation to God and do the next thing in front of me.

When I, "just do the next thing," ––there is peace.

And to know that all I have to do, is the next thing, makes waiting on God a doable thing.

That friend? She and I were able to see a woman who allowed God to be God in her life. And she gave us some practical advice on how to live that out.

Elisabeth Elliot made this anonymous poem famous. 

At an old English parsonage down by the sea,
there came in the twilight a message to me.
Its quaint Saxon legend deeply engraven that,
as it seems to me, teaching from heaven.

And all through the hours the quiet words ring,
like a low inspiration, ‘Do the next thing.’
Many a questioning, many a fear,
many a doubt hath its quieting here.

Moment by moment, let down from heaven,
time, opportunity, guidance are given.
Fear not tomorrow, child of the King,
trust that with Jesus, do the next thing.

Do it immediately, do it with prayer,
do it reliantly, casting all care.
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand,
who placed it before thee with earnest command.

Stayed on omnipotence, safe ‘neath His wing,
leave all resultings, do the next thing.
Looking to Jesus, ever serener,
working or suffering be thy demeanor,
in His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
the light of His countenance, be thy psalm.
Do the next thing.
-Source Unknown

This post is in memory of Elisabeth Elliot. 1926-2015

She had a profound impact on many and I'm grateful to be one of those many.

Do you have a faith hero?

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Heading Home

We didn’t plan it.

Cancer unfolded like it does for most everyone.  A single appointment. A phone call. An unsolicited path that takes you to places you didn’t want to travel.

It certainly wasn’t the first detour in my life. I suppose it won’t be the last.

This pilgrimage has taken me on long stretches of desolate highway. Both literally and in other ways.

In the beginning, the actual commutes were frequent and filled with barren miles and hours to think about life and faith and what is really important to do with the few years that are given to walk all of that out.

We were pushed to step out of our small town and comfortable home and journey to the city where my surgeon, oncologist and a team of professionals uses the newest technology and protocol.

For us, things in the city seemed to be in extremes. The sheer numbers of people. The rushing and hustle even while they ate or shopped. In traffic, there was either a complete disregard of speed limits or four-lane highway traffic creeping along, taking an hour to move a single mile.

The buildings towered and stretched out in confusing layers of rooms and doctors and tests. Yet they acted as if I were the most important person they would see all day.

I began to settle into this new edge, grateful for life and time with my husband.

We found ourselves enjoying the time, just us together. We stayed in great hotels and ate cuisine that isn’t available where we live. We walked streets with outdoor cafes and quaint shops and found our way to the rooftop cafe where they make guacamole at your table and serve fire-roasted fajitas that make all the senses come alive.

Much of the landscaping features amazing art and well-manicured flower gardens, all dotted with fountains, waterfalls, and small bridges which arch over trickling man-made streams. No matter where we visit every scene is laid against the stunning backdrop of snowcapped mountains.

These last five years have changed me and therefore, it has changed us. 

There were some things I knew in my head before that I wasn't actually living.

For starters, I was living as if life would always just––be.

The sun-will-rise-tomorrow and I-can-live-today-however-I-please, kind of thinking.

I went to church. I might even talk about God. However, I wasn't wholly sold out to what God was and is doing. And what He is doing is reconciling people to Himself through the love He demonstrated by sending His son, Jesus Christ.

Before this detour, I don't believe that I really loved people like I should. And while this is certainly still true, now my heart sees people differently than I did before.

I'm more convinced than ever before, that prayer is at the heart of real transformation. There is something about coming to grips with the fact that humans came from dust and will return to dust that makes dropping to my knees feel like the right place to be.

This season has settled issues I didn't even know were issues, in how I love my husband. Seeing how he was in it for the long haul, no matter what––has brought a sweetness to our marriage that I could not have understood when we nervously repeated the words, "...for the better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health..."

Because no one plans, on getting worse or poor or sick. And for that matter––old. 

If history is any indication, at best I’ve lived the better two-thirds of my life. If I live as long as my mom did? I've got seventeen years left to travel in this one body and live this one life. All I know is that the last seventeen years went by too fast.

No, I don't know what age I'll live to be, but I know that this body is a fragile vessel and this world is not my home.

Cancer taught me how to number my days. The New Living Translation of Psalm 90:12 reads, “Teach us to realize the brevity of life, so that we may grow in wisdom.”

This journey has brought me some wisdom and a new resolve.

It's like I've been given a second chance to write a better ending to my story.

God has graciously invited me to become more of who He intended me to be all along. Because that's how He is. God invites us to join Him in what He is doing in the world around us, instead of us just being around in the world. 

He has made me more and made me less.

More tender. More loving. More focused on what is really going to last.

Less hurried. Less tangled in what this world says is important.

I've learned how great things and change doesn't happen in my comfort zone.

It seems like every time we travel this desolate piece of  highway it happens. We enjoy the time but are always ready to turn the car toward home.

So for hours, we drive.

We might talk about what we've seen and done or what the days coming hold when we get home. Sometimes we drive in happy silence, grateful to have time for our minds to be lost in our own thoughts. But as dusk settles over us, and the final leg of the journey still lies ahead, we get restless.  

We have to reset our focus and our intent. We find ourselves looking for something that will give us a boost of energy for the final miles and sometimes we turn up the volume on the music. Mindless coasting isn't enough to get us home.

That's how I'm feeling about the days I'm living. As if there is an urgency to press in. A need to adjust the focus on what is truly important. A longing to shed more of what will be lost when this life is over and an urgency to do more of what will last.

This week. In the busy days that are hushed compared to the season that is coming––I am so thankful.

Thankful for the countless blessings of health and people and the sheer abundance I enjoy in this life.

But this holiday I'm more aware of this journey I'm on and how the road will someday lead me to my real home. Until then, I want to press into living these days well.

So tell me?

What detours has life taken you on?

How has God rewritten your story?

What is pressing on your heart as truly important today?

A song to turn up loud?

© Rhonda Quaney