Do You Trust the Cloud?

What is “the cloud”, exactly?
And where is it, honestly?
And who is in charge, precisely?

Are the pictures of my grands and my garden floating somewhere in space? Are my documents being filed in a cosmic cabinet in the sky? Is my stuff safe up there? Am I a fool to trust my work to an ethereal nimbus?

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It seems we are not the first generation to question “the cloud”.

The Israelites, who had been delivered from slavery in Egypt, had to deal with a cloud as well. They would wake up in the morning, look out their tent flap and see what the cloud was doing. If it was lifting up, it was time to pack and move. If the cloud was settled over the Tabernacle, they could go back to bed after gathering their portion of manna for the day.

Easy.
If the cloud moves, you move.
If the cloud stays, you stay.

Imagine — a visual representation of God’s glorious presence right outside your door 24/7. A comforting cloud during the day to shade the intense desert sun and a fiery pillar at night to provide warmth and a nightlight. What more could anyone want?

Except people tend to get stiff sleeping in tents. And stiff-necked.

Only a few days after walking through the Red Sea on dry ground,
there was grumbling.
Only a few weeks after being delivered from 400 years of enslavement,
there was quarreling.
Only three months into their trip to the Promised Land,
the people had stopped looking at the cloud
and decided a golden calf was a better option.

Oy vey.

I’m tempted to think it would have been easier to follow God back then. Yet His visual presence didn’t seem to make obedience any easier for people. Perhaps it was just as tempting then for people to take their eyes off the Lord as it is now. Then again, it’s hard to love a cloud.

How glorious is it that the cloud returned when Jesus came onto the scene in the New Testament? There was a cloud at Jesus’ baptism, at the transfiguration and at His ascension. How starkly revealing is it that there was no cloud present at the crucifixion? The death of Jesus at Golgotha was the one time the Father turned His back on His Son because of the sin He carried on our behalf.

When Jesus returns, He will be seen coming in the clouds — unbridled glory for all the world to see. All believers who are living on earth will be caught up in those very same clouds.

It takes a lot of faith to hit “save” and believe that our personal information is safe and sound, somewhere in “the cloud”. May we all have the same kind of trust in “The Cloud”.

“Whenever the cloud lifted from above the Tent, the Israelites set out;
wherever the cloud settled, the Israelites encamped.
Whether the cloud stayed over the tabernacle for two days or a month or a year,
the Israelites would remain in camp and not set out;
but when it lifted, they would set out.”
Numbers 9:17, 22

In Every Pew

I once read a book by Ann Graham Lotz (Billy Graham’s daughter) entitled “In Every Pew Sits a Broken Heart”. I’ve often wondered, as I’ve taken my seat in the 3rd pew from the front right side,

“Whose heart is breaking here today?”

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The thing is, we’re all so good at coming to church with our game faces on that it’s hard to tell. But, as Pastor H. A. Ironside told his seminary students, “Always preach to broken hearts and you will never lack for an audience.”

I have several friends going through trials right now. Each situation is different, each one is painful. I have these dear names written on a card that I keep in my prayer book. “Carry one another’s burdens,” the Apostle Paul told his friends in Galatia. But how do we do that, exactly?

“What do I do with other people’s pain, Lord?”
“Child, learn from the Good Samaritan.”

Good Sam was walking down the road when he noticed someone in the ditch, beaten and bloody. It wasn’t his tragedy. It wasn’t his problem. He could have kept going. Instead, he entered into the pain and did what he could. The Bible says it was compassion that drove him to action. (Luke 10:30-35)

I think God puts others’ sorrows in our hearts from time to time. The inability to shake off the burden must mean that we are being invited in, to help shoulder the load. It should be received as a privilege. To share in someone’s grief is a holy summons. Maybe the nudge means nothing more than to pray. Perhaps at that moment, no one else is doing that for our wounded friends. The hurting person may never even know that our tears and prayers went to the throne on their behalf. It is a hidden ministry — an anonymous service.

It takes time.
It requires emotional energy.
It demands a compassionate heart.
But,
we dare not walk by on the other side.  

There’s more.

Good Sam did what he could — above and beyond what most would do. He eased the poor man’s pain and tended to his wounds. Good Sam put the helpless victim on his donkey and took him to an inn where he stayed with him for one night.

Then he left.

He didn’t stop living his life. He carried on with his other responsibilities. Yet he provided resources and caretakers with a promise to follow up and continue to help.

That’s a truth we need to hear.
Our job is to enter into others’ pain in order to carry them to Jesus
not to carry them.
Only the Everlasting Arms are able to bear that kind of load.

Like Good Sam, we need to check in regularly and see what needs tending. It might mean providing a meal or a hug or a well-chosen book. It might mean introducing other caretakers who can meet a particular need. It might mean interrupting your regularly scheduled program for an intense season of suffering alongside a friend.

Look down your pew this Sunday and watch for broken hearts.

They are hiding there.
Let compassion move you
to help carry a burden,
to soothe a wound,
to bind up a hurt.

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Of course, broken hearts aren’t only in pews.
Many more are outside the doors of the church.
Take your compassion with you into the world.
It’s desperate for hope and help.

10 Things I Learned This Spring

1. Sometimes we skip spring. There was a winter storm on April 18 followed by several days of unseasonably cool temps. Then there was maybe a week of legitimate spring weather followed by a stretch of 90 degree days. Winter moved right into summer, it seems.

2. The Lenten journey was especially meaningful for me this year. Ash Wednesday collided with Valentine’s Day. Holy Week collided with Spring Break. Easter Sunday collided with April Fool’s Day. All that colliding made me feel the force of impact. I wrote in my journal, “This is Holy Week and I must stay with You, Jesus. Watch with You. See what my sin has done to You. Weep. I feel sorry for those who skip Lent and drop in on Easter Sunday. I want to come to Resurrection Day exhausted, and beside myself with relief. I want to see You through tears of woeful grief that turn into tears of wild joy. I want to stand in the shadow of Your death until there is no more death, but only life coming from the tomb.”

3. Every season needs its own soundtrack. This spring I stumbled onto Andrew Peterson’s CD “Resurrection Letters, Vol. 1”. The song “Is He Worthy?” gives me goosebumps. Every. Single. Time. Why have I never heard of this guy before? Not only is he a prolific and creative musician, he has also written a series of fantasy/adventure books and runs an online community fostering “spiritual formation through music, story and art”. Be still my beating heart.

4. Back when the temps were still in the 30’s and the ground was still too hard to dig in and baseball games hadn’t started yet, I did the most spring-y thing I could think of: I cleaned a closet. That undeniable desire to spring-clean starts rising up in me as winter winds down. It all began with a drawer in the kitchen, continued with the bathroom cupboard and then I tackled the messiest closet in the house.

5. If Andrew Peterson provided the soundtrack to my spring, then John Eldredge supplied the words in his book, “Beautiful Outlaw: A Dangerous Book About a Scandalous Savior”. The way he wrapped up his book, wrapped right back around to our “Abide With Me” theme for Lent. “Jesus has no intention of letting you become whole apart from his moment-to-moment presence and life within you. You are still a branch in desperate need of a Vine.”

6. Noah was on the Ark for 370 days. So many new things came to light in our Women’s Bible study on Noah. The Sunday school version leaves out a whole bunch. One of the people I am most looking forward to talking to in heaven is Mrs. Noah. The Biblical account focuses on Mr. Noah, but you and I both know who was doing most of the work on that boat.

7. Opening Day of baseball season should be a national holiday. PB and I went to the Brewer’s home opener in April and loved everything about it — except the final score. One of the reasons I love baseball season is because I get texts like this from my son at 1:29 a.m.: “Please tell me you saw that 9th inning go down.”

8. Working with a team is way better than working solo on something as big as VBS. My heart was singing praises as twenty people gathered around the table and divvied up all the responsibilities involved in pulling off Vacation Bible School. It’s so much more fun this way. And PB doesn’t have to make all my visions become reality single-handedly. He also doesn’t have to deal with a cranky, stressed-out wife. Blessings all around!

9. My enchantment with the Enneagram personality profile was heightened when I discovered Ryan O’Neal’s songs for each of the nine Enneagram types. His work is depth and artistry at its best. If this doesn’t make you tear up, then you’re not a type 1:
“Now I have learned my lesson;
The price of this so-called perfection is everything.
I’ve spent my whole life searching desperately
To find out grace requires nothing of me.”

10. The biggest and best news of the spring was the unexpected arrival of our 9th grandchild. She was twelve weeks early and just over 2 pounds. As May comes to a close, she has joined the 4 pound club! Once she gets the breathing-sucking-swallowing thing down, she will get to move out of NICU. For now, we are so thankful for nurses and doctors who know just what to do to keep a miniature human’s heart beating and lungs breathing. Ember Blake, welcome to the world. You have already changed it for the better.

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My Three Moms

I used to dread Mother’s Day.

While most girls my age were making cards and picking flowers to give to their moms, I was visiting a cemetery. I only had a mom for thirteen years and then, she was gone. For the next ten years, Mother’s Day only reminded me of what I had lost.

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Becoming a mother at age 23 provided welcome relief when May rolled around. I could focus on the wonder and joy of having a sweet baby girl who called me “momma”. By the time my nest was full of boys and girls, time had brought some healing. I didn’t dread Mother’s Day anymore.

Watching my own girls enter the world of motherhood has been a dream come true. All four of my daughters are grace-filled, loving mothers. They are my new role models, my kindred spirits, my best friends. Mother’s Day is now a celebration of life.

Today, I salute three other women who stepped into the dual roles of sister and mother years ago on my behalf. Fortunately I wasn’t left to navigate grief, dating and growing up all alone. Although they were dealing with their own feelings of loss, I was grounded by the love and care of my sister and two sisters-in-law.

I spent hours at Peggy’s house. She always had a project going that interested me and served as a good distraction. Sewing, making jam, planting a garden. I could walk across the road and find an inviting household that comforted me and lightened my loneliness.

Robin eased the pressure I suddenly felt of cooking meals and doing household chores. She brought over Mom’s sweet rolls and Mom’s apple slices and Mom’s Christmas cookies. She took me on a girl’s weekend to shop and talk about boys. Her influence kept me on the right track.

Barbie helped me find joy. She had a way of injecting fun into the mundane and taught me how to belch. She also gave me a Living Bible with verses marked that she knew I would need. Her prayers lifted me up.

My sisters filled the gap.
I so am grateful for this trio of sisters/moms/friends.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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Two Beautiful Ladies

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Two beautiful ladies met today.

They are the bookends on either end of the family line.

Ninety years separate them.

Love fills in the space between matriarch and babe.

Great-Grandma peered in and marveled.

Ember wiggled and hiccuped.

Delightful.

It doesn’t matter that Ember is GiGi’s 21st great-grandchild.

It doesn’t matter that Ember slept through their first meeting.

They are two beautiful ladies.

Meet Ember Blake

Introducing the newest twig on the family tree: Ember Blake!

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She was born on April 24, 2018 at 4:57 a.m.

She weighed in at 2 pounds 5 ounces.

This is what her sweet mamma wrote:

She was born 12 weeks early and came into this world kicking and screaming, surprising the heck out of medical staff, but not her parents.

Ember, may you continue to be fierce and hard to extinguish. May you believe in the fire that is within you and always rely on your creator to stoke and kindle that flame. May you always be a light in the darkness. ☀️  

“God is within her, she will not fall, God will help her at break of day” -Psalm 46:5

That verse.

“God is within her, she will not fall – Psalm 46” came up on my Instagram feed at 3:00 a.m. So I walked the hospital halls repeating that phrase, agreeing with the words, making them my prayer. Not long after that my daughter sent me a song that popped up as she opened her music app. “Psalm 46” by Shane and Shane. Such powerful words. At 4:30 a.m. the decision was made to have a c-section. I went into the waiting room and read the rest of Psalm 46:5 — “God will help her at break of day.”

As day broke, Ember offered the first praise from her tiny lips.
And we took her lead.
I have a feeling this spitfire of a girl will be leading us for years to come.

PB is pretty proud that she carries his name.
What an honor.

Ember Blake

Blessings on you, little Ember-girl.
Grow strong in the power of His might.
I can’t wait to tell you the story of your birth.

Smiling Father

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“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead.” 1 Peter 1:3

You know, as I just read that verse, I realized that I have been giving Jesus all the credit for the resurrection. Somewhere along the line, I came to believe that Jesus raised Himself from the dead. Clearly, this needs correction. All praise goes to God the Father. It is by God the Father’s great mercy that this happened. It is by God the Father that I have new birth. And, (wake up and listen) God was the one raising Jesus from the dead. I’m sure Jesus deserves some praises as well, but this little detail changes the story for me.

The last I heard from God in the Passion saga was on Good Friday when the Father turned His back on the Son, who was hanging on the cross. I think that’s where I’ve left God in the story. I was a little miffed, a little incredulous that the whole salvation plan had to go that far. I’ve viewed Jesus as the Hero who did the thing. I never knew at what point God turned back around.

Suddenly, I see God the Father in the tomb, massaging His boy’s heart back to beating. I see Abba bending down, giving mouth to mouth, giving breath of life. God the Father was there, doing the work of raising His Son back up. Whoa.

When Jesus’ eyes fluttered open, was Father the first one He saw? Did they embrace? Jump around? Dance and sing? Certainly, God smiled. Surely, Jesus laughed. Up until now, I’ve envisioned only Jesus walking out of the tomb, but perhaps Father and Son strode out into that Sunday morning darkness arm in arm. Then maybe God said, “See you in 40 days. Have fun with Your guys. I’ve got a coronation to prepare for.” Wink. Twinkle. Pat on the back.

It’s all conjecture. I’m crossing the line from academic accuracy to imaginative deduction. Dangerous ground. Yet I believe in holy imagination. And holy correction. And holy inspiration. Holy, holy, holy.

Father God, I’m sorry I’ve held a little something against You. I was kind of disappointed. It appeared to me that You disappointed Your Son at His lowest moment. I suppose it had to be, but I left You there, with Your back to us all.  I was in error. I’m so glad to let this go. I’m thankful for this vision of You and Your Son walking out of the grave together, rejoicing. Thank You for doing the work of raising Jesus from the dead. You did it!