Progress Going Nowhere

pct Pinchot National ForestWhile walking along a long winding path deep in the forest, its canopy providing the perfect barrier to the sun, I feel nervous.  I can’t see past the winding curves that are filled with overflowing floras & low-hanging branches.  It seems that I have plodded the trail for a long time now, occasionally tripping on the bare root of a massive fir.  It can be dark & the way seems unending and full of switchbacks; it is all back and forth, over and over.  Life feels a lot like this sometimes; our own life can be a mystery of switchbacks.  My heart sighs,  Lord, still?  How long?  I am tired.  I know for certain that I have no more strength left for this.  Still?  I reflect  back on the road traveled.  Heart bent over with the weight of pressing burdens.  Weary tears are difficult to hold back; and, like a child, I whine, “Are we there yet?”.

The Word whispers, “Hold up my goings in thy paths, that my footsteps slip not.” (Psalm 17:5, KJV).
!.  Who? God.
2. What? Hold up my goings.
3. When? Present tense.
4. Where? In thy paths.
5. Why? That my footsteps slip not.
Are you saying, Lord, that I must learn to trust you without knowing every step, to trust you to hold onto me and to keep me on your path?  

In his book Spiritual Rhythm, Mark Buchanan pens,  “Winter shames those in it.  It feels like failure, something we’ve caused, or missed, or faltered in.  . . . And most people around us don’t help.  They pep-talk us.  They serve up warmed-over platitudes.  They scold us or offer useless advice.  They hold themselves up as examples of how to beat the winter blahs. . . . ” In ancient days, Job had a similar response to his friends lack of understanding, “You pretend to tell me what’s wrong w/my life, but treat my words of anguish as so much hot air.” (The Message). Sitting in the long church pew, I hear my seasoned pastor caution, “It is very easy to say more than you know.” The words are poignant, pregnant with truth.  I need this heart of wisdom.  Then I remember the One whose footsteps I follow, for my gentle Savior has already cleared the path with meekness & gentleness, “a bruised reed He will not break.”  Teach me to use words to heal & to bless, to be gentle with others as I meet them on their journey, to embrace them during their suffering, to listen boldly with love, to pray silent more than I talk loud.


My feet have tread uncertainly through misty, dark valleys of fear & failings, meandered through lush mountain valleys only to head up sharply on rocky steep crags that seem to go nowhere.  My pastor Scott Reavely states a simple, hopeful truth:   “You can make progress
going nowhere.”

I get his meaning as he speaks of learning my God in my goings. “Andrew StuderGod dwells in shadows and in pits, and in the skin of all who seek and reach, brazenly bold to those with eyes to see,” writes Ann Voskamp.  O, God, I fear I know You too little.  I am  afraid that I am still unable to conceive of how magnanimous Your goodness, of Your mercies freshly birthed each morning, of Your heart that swells with pity for Your child. Give me great faith to cast away doubts & speedily run to You in my need.  I will  praise Your name; for Your great arms hold me close.

Yes, all that our Father plans is far greater than we could have ever guessed, for He chooses to surprise us through the pain with Himself, unveiled, revealed & intimately known. Author Paul Tripp writes, ”Whatever plans God’s people made and however they tried to figure out God’s plans, they were constantly greeted with surprises. They faced turns in the story that they never would have anticipated. God’s plan again & again included things that would not have been in the story if his people had been doing the planning.” I hope that behind a frowning providence you might begin to see the glimpses of a smiling face . . . God’s gracious rescue of surprise.”  And my pastors words ring out true in agreed harmony, “Don’t oversimplify suffering or God.”

O my God, show me Yourself!
“Shew it to my intellect, & remove my ignorance;
shew it to my heart, & revive my gratitude;
shew it to my faith, & renew my confidence;
shew it to my experience, & deliver me from all my fears,”
wrote C. H. Spurgeon in The Treasury of David.

Psalm 31-v-14-15

The Psalmist declares, “My times are in Your hands,” and Spurgeon meditates on the safety of being held by those scarred hands, “The Lord Jesus loved me, and gave himself for me, and my times are in those hands which were nailed to the cross for my redemption.” I slowly embrace knowing my times are in His hands, for my soul has longed for that “safe place” where power, justice, goodness, & everlasting love cohabit.  There is sweet consolation in His living nearness which flows through me warming me with His undeserved attention, steadfast love, and the strong assurance that He knows the way.

Affliction may refine, but cannot waste
That heart wherein my love is fixed fast.

 ~Francis Quarles.

Child-Like Helplessness

raindrops on windshieldThe raindrops hit hard, dancing madly across the windshield, while I drove north on Interstate 205 to my son’s soccer game.  The windshield wipers moved in tandem trying to keep up with the choreographed droplets.  My eyes were not focusing well.  The rush hour traffic propagated around me, and I attempted to pay attention to the British lady on my cell phone giving directions. I squeezed the steering wheel more tightly and began praying to God for help.  I was really having a hard time seeing.  I shook my head & squinted at the gray highway and rushing cars. Shaking my head or blinking hard seemed to reboot my vision, but then quickly my eyes refused to work together.  What is going on?  I can’t see!  I began to feel anxious. Soon, the left eye saw two landscapes…wait, no, there were three landscapes!  I felt frightened.  My left eye was experiencing double vision with one landscape on top of another exact image.  The right eye saw a single landscape, but that image set diagonal from the left eye’s double images.  Please, God, I really need you to watch over me.  I can’t see!

It was a year ago that my eyesight crashed.  After multiple doctor visits,MRI/MRA, various other requisite tests, weeks of vision therapy, long waits for appointments with the most specialized neurophthalmologists, I learned that my vision issues were not new at all.  The specialists agreed that the vision impairment stemmed from a horseback riding accident I had suffered in 2000 which resulted in a broken jaw, a fractured skull, and a cerebral cavernous carotid fistula.  The cranial nerves which controlled my eye muscles were damaged as a result.  My brain had compensated for fifteen years, but it was now refusing to “see.”  The specialists also agreed that there were no medical options available to repair the damage or restore vision.

During that long season of quiet waiting, God gave me grace upon grace to trust him.  Gradually, I began to experience some visual stabilization, and I cautiously began to drive again. I was on a very short leash traveling only a short radius from my home.  I began to understand my limitations.  I usually only had 2-3 hours to do errands, go to an appointment, etc. before my eyesight would begin to scramble.  I observed what irritated and overstimulated the eyes/brain making things worse.  In short, I was learning a new normal.

A year later,  I continue to struggle with the life interruptions my vision impairment brings, but God is also using it for my good. But, it isn’t always easy.  A couple of Sundays ago, I had quite the meltdown.  I don’t think I have sobbed so hard for so long in …well, let’s just say in a very, very long time.  The next morning, I felt like melancholy debris scattered from the tornadic upheaval of emotions dumped the day before. What was my purpose anyway? Why should I even bother to go through the motions of the day?  Daily, I had asked for “fresh manna,” my prayer of dependence on God for the needed strength to deal with unreliable vision.  I actually felt the grace of contentment even as I made adjustments to the hard circumstances. But, right now, I felt like I was going to be mentally unstable. The loneliness of being by myself day after day was wearing me down.   One day, my eyes would allow me a short burst of freedom.  Another day, I would be unable to leave my home because my eyes refused to cooperate.  The unpredictability was hard to bear. In the middle of my angry confusion, the gentle Holy Spirit spoke to my heart.  He quietly, but firmly, rebuked me, reminding me that although I pray often, I had not prayed my honest emotions before the Father about my eyesight. The Holy Spirit used a book I was reading A Praying Life to exhort me in this area.  The author Paul Miller speaks of coming to the Father like a child.  Very young children have no filter; they say whatever they are thinking at the time, whether it is appropriate or not; they ask endless questions; and it is common for them to whine when they do not get their way.  They can be very demanding when they want something & expect immediate attention.  In their helplessness, they trust their parents completely to use their love & power to help them.  Well, the Spirit searches the heart, and He knows exactly what is in the secret chambers of our hearts; and so it was with my heart.
Very gently, my Father was asking me to become helpless like a child. 


I have always been uncomfortable praying for myself in this way.  I could pray like that for my family, a friend in need, etc.  But, I held back my personal complaints before God; it felt disrespectful.  God is sovereign I reasoned; so, therefore, I needed to submit to His providence.  End of story.  God is sovereign, but He is also my Father.  My Father wants me to act like His child, to be helpless & dependent, even with my emotions.  I felt vulnerable.  I knew the Spirit had only told me what the Father desired for me to do.  So, I poured out my complaint in a lament before my Abba Father in child-like helplessness.  When I come running to my “Abba”…my daddy…with tears of helplessness, will he ever refuse me? No. He is a perfect Father. “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!” (Matt. 7:11). Come as a child with tears of helplessness to a Father who treasures you. “The LORD has declared this day that you are his people, his treasured possession.” (Deut. 26:18) He will care for you like a Father, “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Ps. 34:18).

The next morning, the Holy Spirit spoke the Word into my heart again, this time using the first verse of Romans 12, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”  You see, I had been anticipating a milestone.  The youngest of my four children is now a high school senior,and I had worked my way out of my “stay-at-home” mom status.  I was on the cusp of beginning a new & exciting chapter of life…or so I thought.  But, somewhere along the way, the “living sacrifice” had crawled off the altar (dead sacrifices stay put).  The Spirit was reminding me that I can make my plans, but I must always be willing to say, “Not my will, but Yours.”  Really? Right now? Again, I confessed my own independent movements.  Child-like dependence included submitting to my Father and I wasn’t actually wanting “not my will, but Yours” to include my ability to see, or make plans, etc.  My Father knows me so intimately.  My Savior is so gentle understanding my frailties.  God loves me so much, that He lovingly puts me back on His path of light & truth.
Yes, my Father did have plans for my good.  He reminded me that I could easily go visit the folks at Tanner Spring Assisted Living Facility where I was part of a monthly worship service.  I cringed. I lived close enough to make the trip.  If I went in the morning, I could commit to this.  But, God, I don’t want to…I don’t have anything in common with them.  I love them dearly, but I wouldn’t be very good at making conversation.  I argued with God like Jonah, “Don’t send me.”  That afternoon,  R_________,  called & asked me to practice some music with her.  Okay, God.  You really are seeking to get my attention.  This vibrant lady attended the monthly chapel services our church provided.   As I drove over there, I prayed.  I became honest about my emotions again, and I asked God to make me humble like a child before him, willing to submit to His leadership. (God, of course, happily answered that prayer.)  I enjoyed a pleasant two-hour visit; and before, I left this dear lady looked me in the eyes and said, “I am going to keep track of you…. I have been praying to God for a friend.  So many of the residents here do not have enough mental capacity to have meaningful conversations, and I am lonely.”  I felt ashamed and tears crowded the corners of my eyes.  You see, God was trying to answer her prayer by sending me, but I was too stubborn to go. He was also answering my prayer for more interaction.  God is my Father, and He loves me as His child.

  “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”