All posts by gravelroad

On January 28, 2011, I wrote the following post: If I had seen the whole road before beginning the journey, I'd have chosen one with fewer potholes. But if the wheels of my self-reliance hadn't come off, I never would have been awed by my miraculous rescue. I don't remember the circumstance that prompted the thought, but the thought has remained.

Love and the Body and DPB House

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, it seems appropriate to talk about love, that oft-illusive thing we’re all after. I do not mean romantic love, but the enduring, self-sacrificial love that many of us have yet to encounter, even within the body of Christ. This post will not flush out all that love is or all the ways it is seen. It is meant rather to spotlight some I know who have done it well and to encourage the rest of us to learn from them.

For some time, I had been asking the Lord to teach me more about His love; and in His goodness, He prepared a way for me to learn by experience. Last June, the Lord took me across the ocean to a small group of people in an unassuming house in a little European country to surround me with His love. He surrounded me with His love by surrounding me with people who knew His love and had no greater desire than to show the love that had first been shown to them by Christ.

My two teens and I traveled to Croatia to work alongside long time friends and get a close-up view of their ministry at DPB House Training Center in Severin na Kupi, near the border with Slovenia. Drustvo Prijateja Biblije (DPB) House Training Center is a place dedicated to intentional Biblical discipleship, mentoring, ministry training and retreat. Included in the programming is Leadership Lab International — preparing and equipping young adults for cross-cultural ministry and church-planting, CREW discipleship through practical servant-hood by maintaining the facility and serving campers, and a variety of summer camps.

I was given the task of capturing the heart of the ministry on camera, an impossible task, I would soon discover. I didn’t get a photo of my teenage roommate asking me every night how my day had been as we tucked into our beds and turned off the lights. No one will ever see that she asked me to tell her about the friend I’d lost that day, or how she listened and laughed at my memories of a bold, opinionated  Italian woman who kept us all on our toes. I don’t have photos of the strong hugs and parting words, “If not before, then Heaven.” There is no evidence of an evening spent with friends on a mountaintop watching the sun sink and the fog roll in as we talked about the love of Christ and how impossible it is to meet Jesus and be unchanged. There are no photos of campfire prayers under stars in the darkness as students and campers alike poured out prayers for each other. I have nothing but my memory as evidence that someone stopped in their tracks on the way to the next scheduled event to pray for my injured husband back home. There were numerous times that impromptu prayers were offered on another’s behalf simply because a need was expressed, or even more simply because they were a brother or sister in Christ.

Teamwork, unity, kindness, service, laughter, joy, worship, fellowship, encouragement, admonishment, support, prayer, peace, hospitality, and more characterized my experience at DPB House. Truly love reigned over all becauseLove is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-6). Philippians 2, the challenge for believers in Jesus to follow His example of humility by looking to others’ interests and serving them, was not only taught but exemplified in the lives of students and leaders alike.

1 John 3 opens by telling us to SEE what kind of love (!!) the Father has given us. How does He give us His love?  He gives us His love by Christ’s death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead that makes us alive with Him when we believe in Jesus (Ephesians 2:4-9, Acts 16:31). Then He gives us His love through each other (1 John 4:7-11). It is the evidence that we know Him and abide in Him (1 John 3:23-24). Love, in a nutshell, is the giving of oneself for another. All our praiseworthy deeds are nothing without it (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).

I arrived at DPB House Training Center a bit battered in spirit. I left having been ministered to in wonderfully healing ways by the love of His people, His body. I believe this is one reason we are called Christ’s body. He is the spirit that drives the action, and we are the listening ears, the praying tongues, the voices of encouragement, the arms that hug and hold, the feet that go, the hands that serve.  It is my prayer for DPB House that this would be their constant and eternal testimony. It is my prayer for the wider body of Christ wherever we are found – that all who encounter us would experience Christ’s self-sacrificing love. To Him be all the praise and glory!

 

©Erika Rice 2019

 

Too Many Women

I know too many women who have been abused. If it was only one, it would still be too many. Unfortunately, the number of women I have personally encountered is much higher. Some of those women have lost their grip on reality and their mental stability, things that are not very easily recovered.

I am speaking primarily of emotional abuse, meant to devalue, control, manipulate, and create fear. It is shaming and contemptuous. Women who try harder do not find themselves loved better in return. Their actions only lend power to the one who is hurting them.

None of these women, or their marriages, fit the stereotypical image of abusive relationships. They appeared healthy and happy, their husbands solid, Christian men, sometimes leaders in the church.  They didn’t seem mousy and bedraggled, the doormat one would expect to find.

Seldom were their cries for help listened to or believed. They came away with the understanding that their husbands were too like-able or their marriage to valuable, that we are each our own worst enemy and must fix ourselves first, that their children’s suffering would be far greater from divorce than abuse, or that they should suck it up because marriage is hard for everyone. If only they would die to self and submit to their husbands, things would be better. Those who removed themselves to safety were often told that the first order of business was to get them back in the house, because separation is a death sentence for marriage.

This post is not meant to dissect poor handling of abuse cases. I do, however, want to promote a Godly, Biblical initial response. Please say very little to begin with when a woman talks of hardship in her marriage. Listen closely, speak little, and when you do, ask questions that will shed more light on the situation (James 1:19). Do not try to connect her stories to stories of your own. Continue to listen, for as long as it takes, not only to get a better picture but to show honor and care for a hurting individual. She may not even use the word abuse, it will feel too extreme to her, her love for her husband too great to want to hurt his reputation. But she can’t afford to be ignored.

We, as Jesus body, His hands and feet, His eyes and ears, cannot afford to ignore the hurting, destitute, devalued, and vulnerable (1 John 3:16-18). By the time a woman is crying for help, sometimes barely whispering for it, she may be at the end of her rope. You may be surprised by who it is asking for help, her countenance has never given you any hint. She may seem like a very strong woman, who knows her own mind. She may be a woman who shows no fear and never seems to worry.

But please, please listen. Pray for wisdom and discernment. Seek out both sides if safe to do so. Pray with the woman, weep with her (Romans 12:15), check in frequently, seek out reputable god-centered counselors for her, hug her, offer her a safe zone should she need an escape, and support in any way you can. Be a lifeline for a drowning person.

Please do not simply tell her to trust Jesus, to find her strength in the Lord, to wait for His deliverance, if you do not plan to assist in that deliverance (Proverbs 14:31; 24:11Isaiah 1:17). I am not suggesting running mindlessly into the fray with no wisdom or expertise to guide. I am imploring a James 2:15-17 mindset. Prayerfully consider how you can help. Ask experts how you can help. Ask the woman how you can help.

The abused woman will need all those Bible promises, but chances are she is well aware of them and has been clinging to them for quite some time. Any strength you see is the strength she derives from the Lord Himself, her strong tower (Proverbs 18:10).  She has probably learned deep trust in Jesus already by casting all her cares on Him, over and over again (1 Peter 5:7). And her plight might seem unbelievable because she has been looking to Him all along, making her face radiant (Psalm 34:4-5).

I have been surprised by the women who have asked me for help. I wouldn’t have expected it from them or their husbands. The women are some of the most beautiful and gentle women I know, fully trusting in Jesus and ministering to everyone around them. They lend credence to Psalm 34:5, that those who look to Him are radiant. It isn’t an empty promise. But neither is the promise that when the righteous cry, the LORD hears and saves him from his troubles (Psalm 34:6-7; 17). If you learn of abuse, He has called you to be part of that deliverance, in some form. Please do not turn a deaf ear. I have yet to meet a woman in the church, claiming abuse, for whom it has not been proven true. They need love, encouragement, and support.

Too many women are suffering alone.

 

©️Erika Rice 2018

 

It Could Happen To Anyone

It could happen to anyone. At least that’s what I tell myself sometimes when things unravel. I think it might be true, even if the circumstances differ.

Monday morning, I knocked a jar of banana peppers off an eye-level shelf in my basement. It landed just left of my foot, peppers in a neat little pile, vinegar splashed across the floor,  glass exploded into smithereens that embedded in my foot and flip-flops. It was not how I wanted to start my morning. I hadn’t yet made coffee or eaten breakfast. I was trying to get a jump on the day and create some order that would help me get ahead (who am I kidding? I’m so far behind, I’m just trying to catch up with the tailgate!). This little incident was not helping matters.

Tuesday morning, I discovered a package of meat between two freezers in my basement. I can’t tell you how long it had been there, but it was smelly and crawling. It was not how I wanted to start my morning. I hadn’t yet had coffee or eaten breakfast. I was all about efficiency when I set foot in the basement – in and out. This big incident was not helping matters.

I had left the safe space of my bedroom feeling pretty optimistic about the day ahead. I’d had sweet fellowship with the Lord, had a mental list going and few obstacles in the way of accomplishing that list. Monday morning left me thinking that making coffee would be a great way to start Tuesday morning; but when I noticed the empty dishwasher, I decided to put a hold on coffee until I got my canning jars loaded in to sterilize while the coffee brewed and I ate my breakfast. It seemed both smart and efficient.

Taped to the basement door was the reminder of broken glass and the need for shoes. So I stopped to get the vacuum. At this point, the vinegar would be all dry and any last glass dust easy to vacuum up. It was, but the basement was so dimly lit that even the extra lantern I’d brought to illuminate my canned goods closet was insufficient. I felt the need to explore the cause. A light bulb had been loosened in its socket, so I tightened it up, and suddenly all was exposed. The spider webs in the corners and crevices, the rotting meat between the freezers…

Let me tell you something about my basement. It isn’t really a basement. It’s more like a cellar, built out of large field rock, over 100 years ago. The rain and snow-melt run through the cracks and would fill it up if not for the sump-pump built into the low spot. The essentials are housed on concrete platforms — freezer, furnace, hot water heater, well tank. We run a dehumidifier all summer to keep the humidity down. Still, all that wet earth in the corners every time it rains can make it a little smelly at times.

This summer was hot and humid. The basement odors were unpleasant. My husband noticed, checked the dehumidifier, looked around, but couldn’t find any explanation for the scent other than wet, earthy basement. When I came home from weeks of summer travel, I found the smell offensive and did my own search, knowing that if the source didn’t easily reveal itself, I would need to find time for a thorough cleaning of the cellar. Until Tuesday morning, I had been unable to find the source of that awful smell that I’d been trying to keep hidden by a closed basement door.

I donned rubber gloves. I found heavy duty plastic sacks to scoop the mess into. I armed myself with a large putty knife.  I….was unprepared for what lurked beneath the package. I will leave that image up to your imagination. I want you to keep reading. You will undoubtedly be done if I paint that picture for you.

I scrambled for the Lysol. Bleach was out of the question because we’d used the last drop two days ago. Lysol was ineffective. I ran through the rain to the barn to find any kind of bug killers my husband had stashed there. They, too, were ineffective against the moving mass on the floor. I needed to scoop it all up, but couldn’t get the right angle with the second freezer in the way. I needed help. Kids to the rescue. Thankfully, my kids are all big now and the three still at home are used to coming to my rescue when big stuff goes down.

When the oldest came on the scene, we decided that bleach would definitely be necessary at some point. But first, we needed to shove that freezer out of the way. We two puny ladies couldn’t make it go. She woke her brother and told him to bring his muscles. I said I would pick up bleach while we waited for the muscles to fully wake, but under no circumstances should she try to clean up that mess. No way was I taking the easy job of running an errand and making someone else clean up the nasty. I said it again on my way out the door, “Do NOT try to clean that up! I’m not making anyone touch that. I’ll do it when I get back. Just spray it with more bug killer occasionally if you do anything.”

I grabbed a hat and keys and off I went. The fact that I had tackled this without ever getting to the coffee hit me as I got behind the wheel, and my neighborhood, drive-thru coffee shop jumped to mind. I was going to buy us each a specialty drink because there had to be some reward for doing a job like this one. I was off without getting properly dressed, washing my face or brushing my teeth. But I was only headed to Dollar General for one thing and would keep my head down. I figured the drive thru didn’t pose a threat, either, windows between us for the short bit of contact that would be had. I pulled in just after another car, stopped a good distance back and put my car in park.

I looked up just as the car in front of me went into reverse and started backing towards me. I tried to get mine in reverse and move, but was too slow so I just yelled “NO!” at the top of my lungs. That didn’t help. The thought of honking came after the fact. By God’s grace, there was no damage done worth caring about. But when all was said and done, I ended up inside that coffee shop in my unwashed state with 4 other ladies, wishing I could crawl under the freezer in my basement. I probably smelled bad enough to belong there.

Here is where the story takes a turn and really gets good. So don’t stop reading yet.

When I arrived home with bleach and coffees, I was greeted by 3 cheerful young adults with gloved hands who had moved that freezer, cleaned up every last bit of nastiness, and the young man with the muscles was burning the remnants. He had proved unnecessary in moving the freezer because the one puny lady did better than we two. All that was left for me was the bleaching and rinsing. Bleach and rinse I did, with a hose that sprung a leak and rinsed the upstairs as I rinsed below, completely unawares. The youngest prevented disaster and left me none the wiser till I finished.

When it was all put back together (which turned out to be no small feat, requiring four of us and a good bit of leveling), and the basement light turned off, the three laughing young adults, my children, who were gathered around my kitchen island asked if we could pray together before we moved on. As we reached for each others’ hands, one remembered a song they used to sing every morning at a camp they’d attended. So we stood in a circle and they taught me a fun version of “Bind Us Together, Lord,” complete with clapping and hugs. And then…we prayed.

All before we’d even finished our morning coffee.

Tuesday morning did not go according to plan. I thought by noon I’d be well into making pickles, if not close to done. I’d have eaten breakfast and finished my coffee and had my day in hand. But it was never my day to begin with, and the Lord had something to show me. In my quiet time during the early hours, I had been reading the opening pages of a book by Jen Wilkin where she makes the case that for the believer who wants to know God’s will for their life, instead of asking “What should I do?” we should first ask, “Who should I be?”

My prayer for my children has long been, and especially this last year, that they would be filled with the Holy Spirit, exhibit His fruit and display the character of Christ. Tuesday morning, I saw it on full display, within their home, where it is often the hardest to do, and under unpleasant circumstances. I don’t know how to answer all their questions about what they should do at any given moment, but I know who they should be, and by God’s grace they are (Romans 12:2). They are not merely rule followers who are well-behaved lovers of self, but followers of Jesus whose love has filled them to overflowing, transformed by the Holy Spirit to show the character of the God who made and loves them (1 Peter 1:14-16).

It could happen to anyone – a morning like mine. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen that way every day. But the unplanned, unexpected, and ugly sometimes pile on. As to the rest of it? The joy, the self-sacrifice, the love, and unity – those can happen to anyone, too.

They can happen to anyone, or rather within the heart of anyone, who truly knows Jesus.

 

©Erika Rice 2018

Mother and Gumption

I’m sitting at my computer, towel wrapped around my conditioned, but unrinsed, hair; sitting here, thinking about my mother and how she gave me the gumption to do this.

By “this” I do not mean sit here and type with a towel wrapped around my head. The situation is a little more sticky than that. You see, I have no running water at my house. Except that twice a day, for 15-20 minutes, the water runs. In that time period, we wash our dishes, fill our pitchers, and try to get everyone through the shower. This has been going on for 12 days. And it led to my current predicament.

It was my turn in the shower, and the second I was covered in soap and conditioner, the water stopped. Just like that. No warning. No “Better be quick!” slowdown. It was just gone. I yelled, “NO! I’m covered in conditioner and soap, and there’s no more water!” My ever-helpful husband arrived on-scene with an immediate, and undesirable, solution.

At this point, you need to know that my bathroom is fully occupied by 5-gallon, not-so-clean pails of not-so-clean, cold water which we use to flush toilets and meet other similar water demands.

Ever-helpful Husband said, “I’m going to pour a pail of water over you and rinse it off.”

“No! No you aren’t! I will wrap a towel around my head and wait for the water to come back again.”

He just looked at me. We both knew that could be a long wait. In an effort to sound less ridiculous and more solution-minded, I told him that the water was COLD and not-so-clean. You get what I’m saying, right?! Who wants a pail of cold (not-so-clean) water dumped over their head (unless it’s a sweltering 95 degrees and you know you’re going to shower later)? He still just looked at me.

“Okay, fine, I’ll use that water, but I’m doing it MYSELF, with a pitcher, except for my hair, ” I said. “I’m still wrapping a towel around my head and waiting for the water to come back on!”

So here I am, towel-wrapped head, thinking about Mom. I know I get that stubbornness from her, but I’m really thinking about all the things she faced head-on in life. She was a do-it-yourselfer before it was trendy. Not because that’s what made her tick, but because she didn’t have an option.

My father worked hard, but we never had much money. He was a highly educated blue-collar man who lived in a little house with his wife and seven children. My creative-brained mother was always figuring out new and better ways to utilize the space and keep us all organized. She plastered and puttied, painted, sanded and varnished, sometimes late into the night, to get the job done.

She cooked on a stove that sat in the middle of the dining room for weeks while the kitchen was remodeled–a tiny closet of a kitchen in which she somehow functioned with all of her children helping by her side. For several years when money was too tight to vacation east to see our grandparents, we camped in state parks close to home while Mom cooked over the open fire, Dad read to us, we washed our hair with frigid water under pumps, and we made inexpensive but precious family memories. Mom never stopped opening her home to everyone, especially those she thought in need of friendship, family, or food, even when all she could offer was scrambled eggs.

I learned from my mom that God is sovereign–she never lets up on that theme. Both the good and the bad (our perception) come from His hand for our good and His glory. She never let me fret, but always directed me to prayer, because it’s God’s pleasure to answer the prayers of His people.

My mom taught me how to be frugal, that no job was beneath me, and that it’s better to do it yourself than complain about it not getting done. It wasn’t a can-do attitude that never accepted help, but one that was accepting of her lot in life. Many times in my adult life, I have spurred myself on by the thought that if Mom could do it, I can too. I think she always seemed fearless and strong-willed, though the perspective brought by nearly 25 years of motherhood myself leads me to believe that it was a confidence in Christ and determination to make the most of any given situation. No obstacle ever seemed too big to overcome, no person too unworthy to receive the benefit of the doubt.

That’s what I mean by gumption. All these synonyms apply–initiative, resourcefulness, ingenuity, imagination, mettle, fortitude, courage. I’m not saying that I actually have it, but I know my mother did. And watching her for years has encouraged me to be thankful in all circumstances, to make the most of every situation, to persevere whatever the difficulty, and to know that every good thing is a gift from God.

So I’m sitting here grateful for the mother I have and the water we get, with this towel growing ever-heavier, knowing that if the water doesn’t come back, I’ll be dunking my head in a bucket. Somehow that just seems better than having it dumped on me.

©Erika Rice 2017

Hold My Hand

I love to hold my husband’s hand. I have since the very beginning. But a traveling job and five children later, that hand can be hard to grab hold of at times.  So this year, I followed him around the world just trying to catch that hand. Together, we watched the sun rise and set over the Pacific, ate salmon in Alaska, climbed the Eiffel tower at night, and rode bikes through an Amsterdam rush hour. As I made my way through various cities and tried to take it all in, the overarching charm was always that I was taking it in with him, sometimes while holding his hand.

My husband is an active man and doesn’t sit still for long, which means when I’m with him I’m on the move, too. So it was, on our second day in Paris, with aching feet and tired legs, that I reached out and took hold of his hand. The evening light was magical in a city that begs one to linger and look. But we are not the lingering kind. We had a distant destination and an imminent time limit. My active man had engaged his long stride and fast pace and thrown it into high gear. My gears were winding down, and sunset over the city was exerting its magnetic force, holding my feet in place, eyes locked on the skyline. I knew I needed to move, but felt immoveable. That’s when I said it, words that have stuck in my head all year. “If you want me to keep moving, you’ll have to hold my hand.” He held on and didn’t let go. We made it across the city. We found the open market just in time. We filled our bag with good things to eat, and made it to our hotel before collapsing into chairs and relaxing.

That one sentence, “If you want me to keep moving, you’ll have to hold my hand,” gave me plenty to ponder as his hand guided me through the Paris streets to the place he had in mind. The first thought being that that’s all I really want through all my years of marriage–to know that he’s got my hand and we’re in this together. I’ll follow him anywhere, I’ll do my best to match any pace, I’ll trust he knows where he’s going, I’ll get lost with him if he doesn’t, as long as he never lets go of my hand.

And, as one thought leads to another, I came next to the thought that marriage is the earthly picture of the heavenly relationship between Christ and his bride. When He’s holding my hand, anything is possible. I’m able to keep moving wherever He wants me to go because He’s holding my hand. His leadership is trustworthy, His strength becomes mine, and His ability gives movement to my feet. Christ is the ultimate husband, in who’s hand I always want to rest.  And He’s given me this good man to help me learn and remember what it means to be His bride.

So I reach for that hand, catch and grab hold. Whether at home or away, I pray to keep moving or appropriately sit still, knowing we’re in it together, being held by an even greater hand.

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©Erika Rice 2016

Here I Sit

Here I sit, with none but the lights of the Christmas tree. I’ve just come in from a silent night, where the Christmas lights illumine the snow falling like the finest fairy dust. My table hasn’t been cleared in days, littered with ornament packaging, cast-off strings of lights and an assortment of odds and ends. The green and red storage bins covered in a year’s worth of barn dust are stacked in various degrees of emptiness around the room. My winter village is still on stand-by, waiting to be pulled out of boxes and lit to bring good cheer.

I’m not sure it’s ever taken me this many days to fully decorate for Christmas. But right now, I don’t even care. It didn’t matter to me last night or the night before that. Because there’s living to do in the midst of it all. A very real life that has nothing to do with lights, ornaments, garland and tiny villages, but everything to do with people, problems, schedules, growing and giftedness. And I’m okay with that. I love Christmas. I love the lights, the smell of pine, the spiced apple cider, and baking. But I love it even more when I stop to take it all in, whatever all happens to be this year.

My dad used to tell me to always keep it simple. The more we make of the excess, the more likely we are to miss the point. God made Himself man and dwelt among us; and we beheld His glory (John 1:14). That’s it. That’s the point. Without that, we’ve got nothing. GOD MADE HIMSELF MAN AND DWELT AMONG US! This is IT!! The great mystery, the great news, the great fulfillment of prophecy, the heavenly host’s praise. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Luke 2:15. Peace. Peace on earth.

What did God do on a chaotic night in Bethlehem? He did the inconceivable and became a man. Fully God and fully man. How can that even be? And do we stop to marvel? Not often enough. Instead we make December crazy, and all too often celebrations become stressful. All the parties, plans, and expectations sometimes threaten to undo us, but the only undoing I want is the undoing of my heart before a holy, marvelous God.

So here I sit. Just a fir tree full of lights and me. I’m savoring the silence. Enjoying the peace. Keeping this Christmas simple. The village will be lit by tomorrow night. I’m almost sure. The buckets will go back to the barn to collect more dust. The kitchen will smell of baked goods soon enough. But nowhere in all of that do I want it to be anything other than simple. God became man and dwelt among us. Could the news be any better? Yes, actually! When God became man, in the baby Jesus, He gave the right to become children of God to all who believe in His name, and from His fulness we receive grace upon grace.  So this is how I spend my December nights – overcome by God’s goodness every time I look at those little lights shining in the darkness. Jesus is the light of the world, shining in the darkness, and the darkness can’t overcome it. (John 1).

Peace.

 

©Erika Rice

I Cannot Live Without Jesus

I’m not very good at sleeping. I’d say I’ve never been very good at sleeping, but I remember hearing my mom tell people that my older brother was an early riser, go-getter type (still is) while I was a blob she could barely get to move. By high school I was listing sleep as a hobby on job applications because at that point in life I thought of hobbies as things that one really wanted to do, but for which they had no time. There might be a reason all my jobs came from people who knew me rather than people who read my applications.

Then children came on the scene and I discovered I was a very light sleeper, waking at every sound. But when the opportunity to sleep came around, I slept and slept hard. Still, I looked forward to the day when I wouldn’t be wakened by cries in the night and could get several hours solid sleep. No more living like a zombie. That, however, was not the reality in store for me.

When my fifth and final child was still quite young but finally upstairs out of light-sleeper’s earshot, and sleep should have been mine for the taking, insomnia set in. This was a hard pill to swallow, and an exhausting one! I had five young children, a million things to do, the need for wisdom and clarity, not to mention self-control; but instead of sleeping I spent hours staring at the ceiling. With the insomnia, came an anxious spirit.

I tried to control the situation, create the perfect environment, and make sleep happen. In the process, I shamed anyone who interrupted the process, whose attempts to aid my sleep failed, and I put my poor family through the wringer. I became desperate for sleep and let the desire for it take control. Every chance for sleep was also a time of fear that I might not. Don’t get me wrong, I prayed…a lot. I thought if I prayed my anxious mind would be calmed. I thought if I prayed, at least I wouldn’t be wasting my time. I thought if I prayed instead of worrying, I would be holier. Worry is sin, after all, and prayer a commendable thing. But it isn’t a magic potion to be used to my advantage, and my heart was not content with the wakeful nights. The prayers did not accomplish what I desired. I do not mean that my prayers were ineffectual. But my motivation for praying was not what it should be. God, however, is faithful and did not allow me to be tempted beyond what He also provided a way to endure (1 Corinthians 10:13).

He was working in me a better understanding of my lack of control and His overall control. He was teaching me to rest in whatever He sent my way. My days were less ruled by lists and the need to accomplish, and more relaxed in the joy that whatever came my way was for my best. I began to realize that if I said I believed in a sovereign God then I needed to be content in every circumstance. The unexpected was to be embraced with joy and gladness rather than railed against as an interruption or undoing of my plans. Over time, I found peace in midnight wakefulness. I had no better times of sweet communion with the Heavenly Father than in those dark and quiet hours.

I had made friends with insomnia. I ran tired, but I knew God’s sustaining grace and strength when I was weak. I trusted the wakeful hours were meant, even, to sustain me in a way that sleep could not.

But this summer, a whole new level of sleep deprivation kicked in. There were strings of whole nights lost and daytime sleep was impossible. Still, life moved on, and responsibilities called. There were days I didn’t know how I would continue, or how I would meet that day’s demands.  I was profoundly tired. Profoundly. I don’t know how else to describe it. Still, I could not physically rest.

This, however, is where the promises of God are proved. In our weakness and utter reliance on Him, He shows Himself to be true.
In Philippians 4:19, Paul says, “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” He supplies every need. 2 Corinthians 12:9 contains a promise I have long been learning to rely on. “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” “My grace is sufficient for you…” What a truth to cling to! Do I need sleep? No, I need GRACE, and grace is sufficient.

I found myself running late far more often than I would have liked during those weeks. Not because I didn’t plan and prepare, but because preparation was suddenly so different from what it had been. I had no legs to carry me, no stalwart emotions to trust, no strength on which to rely, no alert and ready mind to move me to action. I spent many mornings laid out on the floor, Bible open, in God’s Word and prayer, meditating on all He is and has done. Praying for the sufficiency of His grace in all things. Praying for His legs on which to stand and move forward, His fortitude to stabilize my emotions, His strength to enable in every way, His clarity of mind. The length of time it took me to get off the floor and moving varied, but God never failed to carry me.

Isaiah 40:30-31 says, “Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” I have loved this verse since childhood and often pondered just what it means to wait on the Lord. I’ve sometimes thought I had an inkling, but now I understand more fully.

Exhaustion makes us crave rest, but true rest is found only in Jesus. Weakness and pain make us crave strength; but it’s only in seeking His strength that we find ourselves soaring, which really is just knowing that He is accomplishing in and for us all that He wills. He will move us though we can’t move ourselves.

I’ve been to a doctor who discovered an underlying issue. Some solid nights of sleep and more typical, occasional insomnia are returning. Now that my body is learning to rest, I have hope for the day I lose the fatigue. But there’s one thing I don’t want to lose. If I keep just one thing, I’d like it to be the utter reliance on God for every moment. I want to start every day laid out before Him, seeking His everything to work in my nothing. His promises are real, His strength immeasurable, His grace sufficient for my every need. By His grace, I can live with pain, I can live with weakness, I can live without sleep. But I cannot live without Jesus.

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©Erika Rice

The Essence of Worship

It started with a plea. The plea became a rant, which turned into a temper tantrum. Literally, there was foot stomping and everything.

I am not proud of that moment. In fact, I hate it. Everything in my head said to sit down and shut up. But no part of me did that. Not until after I’d stomped my feet and yelled for a minute. Then it was too late. Anger, actions and words could not be undone.

The split second it took me to explode, even for only a minute, put me in a funk for the rest of the night, and I didn’t want to be in a funk. I wanted to be celebrating with my family. I just couldn’t rid myself of the guilt. It didn’t matter that this behavior was unusual. It would be remembered, I was sure, and held against me. And even if not, I wouldn’t forget.

I woke Easter morning still carrying the burden. My heart was still heavy, and I didn’t feel like putting on a smile and pretending to claim victory. I longed for the final resurrection when the full victory of Christ’s resurrection from the dead is finally realized and I will sin no more. I needed the worship service, but wished it was any other Sunday. I dreaded facing all those people in their new, pretty clothes with smiles on their faces and celebratory greetings when I knew I’d be there in the same old clothes wanting to lie prostrate on the floor in grief. I felt the agony of Good Friday hanging heavy over me. All that sin, all that shame, all those dark skies.

I picked up my Bible and turned to Isaiah 53. These verses became a balm even as I read them.

3  He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

4  Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5  But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6  All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.

7  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
8  By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
9  And they made his grave with the wicked
and with a rich man in his death,
although he had done no violence,
and there was no deceit in his mouth.

10  Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him;
he has put him to grief;
when his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
11  Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
make many to be accounted righteous,
and he shall bear their iniquities.
12  Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors.

As I read, the opening verse of the next chapter came to mind, “…break forth into singing…” Break forth into singing? But yes! I can break forth into singing! Didn’t I just read that He had borne my grief and carried my sorrow? Why was I bowed so heavy under the weight of it? It was long past placed on His shoulders! I continued my reading then through Isaiah 54, and the dark skies lifted to the full light of joy.

4 “Fear not, for you will not be ashamed;
be not confounded, for you will not be disgraced;
for you will forget the shame of your youth,
and the reproach […] you will remember no more.

…with everlasting love I will have compassion on you,”
says the Lord, your Redeemer.

9 “I have sworn that I will not be angry with you,
and will not rebuke you.”

10 For the mountains may depart
and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

17 “…you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.
This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord
and their vindication from me,” declares the Lord.

In His death, Christ bore the burden of my sin and the punishment it deserved, removing even its remembrance. When He was raised from the dead, He raised me from my prostrate state of shame to stand in joyful song before Him. That’s what the resurrection is all about! Christ didn’t stay bruised and bloody, defeated by sin, shame and the guilt of the whole world while I lay sick and sorrowful at the foot of the cross. He rose to life and raised me with Him!

This is the essence of worship – the knowledge of my sin and shame giving way to the wonder that it no longer sinks me to the bottom of the sea (or the depths of hell)! Christ’s resurrection from the dead gives me new life and the ability to stand before Him in victory and sing with the angels “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!” (Revelation 5:12).

This is every Sunday, every worship service, every song of praise – a celebration of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, a death that was mine. I now live the life that is His! “But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:57). I don’t have to wait for victory.

What started with a plea also ends with one, even as I celebrate. “More love, O Christ to Thee, More love to Thee!” (Elizabeth Prentiss, 1856)

 

©Erika Rice 2016

Good News for the New Year

Today is the first day in a brand new year. Much will get said about where we go from here, how to move forward, and how to make this year better than the last. Resolutions will be made and people will try harder. They’ll try harder for a better life, a better persona, a better image, better body, better health. So much trying will be going on, or at least so many good intentions. But as we consider how to press on and move forward, I’d like to look back for a moment. Look back a couple years to something I wrote before this blog began. I don’t think this can be said too often. It’s one for this day, the next day, and the day after that. Year after year after year.

GOOD NEWS FOR THE NEW YEAR!

As we begin the new year, there is good news for the broken, hurting, wasted, sick and desolate. And who among us hasn’t been counted in that number? The less-celebrated but more important meaning of the Christmas season, good news in every season, is the birth of one who knows and heals all wounds. A baby born in under-privileged circumstances, living an unremarkable life from his neighbors’ perspective. A baby, once grown, suffering extreme rejection and physical pain, broken. What good is someone like that to me in my pain? This rejected and suffering man was God in the flesh. Not “…unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15) “He learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.” (Hebrews 5:9) Now we, in our brokenness, can approach God with confidence, “that we may receive mercy and grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:16).

Jesus was born, suffered, died to bear our burdens, and lives again in defeat of death, so that we can draw near to God! Psalm 22 says that God has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard when he cried to him. This world will never be free from evil and pain. But there is another world to come, one in which those who see their need for God and trust Him for life will live in perfect unbrokenness. A world and time where tears will not be needed and the only cries of the heart will be praise to the God who has made all things new. Don’t wait for tomorrow, life to become un-messy, or a new year’s resolution to cry to God. Trust Him to forgive your sin and heal your brokenness. He gives new life.

And new life is the only way to start off a new year on the right foot, kneeling before God and moving forward in faith. There’s nothing wrong with setting goals and living intentionally. But all those things are meaningless without the God who directs our steps. You may not get a better body, a better image, or better health, but you will get a brand new heart!

Happy New Year!

 

©Erika Rice

How Do You Say “Merry Christmas!”?

I’ve had a few questions loitering in my mind this Christmas week. How do you say “Merry Christmas!” when your friend lies suffering, her body destroyed by cancer? How do you say, “Merry Christmas!” when a child loses her mother or a mother her child just as they should be unwrapping presents together? How do you say, “Merry Christmas!” to the married couple who is barely civil to each other these days or the one who spends their first Christmas alone? The pain cuts deep and there is little merry about any of it. Really, each is the same question asked a different way–how do we say “Merry Christmas!” in the midst of misery? It seems so flippant and insufficient.

The answer is found when I open my Bible. But first, there are more questions. Why did Mary’s spirit rejoice in God her Savior at the angel’s news that she would give birth to the Son of the Most High (Luke 1:32, 47)? When the angels came to the shepherds and proclaimed the Messiah’s birth, why did the shepherds proceed with such haste to see him and leave glorifying God (Luke 2:8-20)? Why did the wise men travel so far seeking the king whose star they had seen (Matthew 2:1-2)? Why did Simeon, righteous and devout, wait so expectantly to see the Lord’s Christ (Luke 2:26)?

The indication is that they all knew what God had said about his salvation. The prophets had foretold of a king who would come humbly, setting free the prisoners of hope, reigning from sea to sea, and speaking peace to the nations (Zech. 9:9-12, Micah 5:2-5). The condition of people and their world was just like it is today. They longed for freedom from bondage, relief from heavy labor, healing from sickness, the end of war, and gladness instead of mourning.

There is no faithfulness or steadfast love,
and no knowledge of God in the land;
there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery;
they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Therefore the land mourns,
and all who dwell in it languish, (Hosea 4:1b-3a).

They had spent their lives hearing of and waiting in eager anticipation for One who would come and bring them salvation. They had heard the words of Isaiah promising the birth of a child who would end oppression and injustice.

“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light; […]

they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as they are glad when they divide the spoil.
For the yoke of his burden,
and the staff for his shoulder,
the rod of his oppressor,
you have broken […]

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given; […]

and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.” Isaiah 9:2-7

And then the sky lit up, the angels sang, the baby had been born, the promised One had come! How could they help but rejoice? No longer would they languish, but their eyes would see salvation! The birth of this baby, called Jesus (Yahweh is salvation) and Immanuel (God with us), brought new hope, restoration, peace and reconciliation with God. It was the fulfillment of God’s promise going all the way back to sin’s entry on the scene. When Adam and Eve chose to ignore God, wanting instead to BE God, they brought the curse of death upon all mankind. But even then, God promised to send from a woman one who would bruise Satan’s head (Gen. 3:15). And now God’s salvation had arrived!

Isaiah had prophesied God’s hope to the people. A hope that kept their weary eyes lifted and looking for its fulfillment. They were ready to see and believe God’s salvation. They went with haste, they kneeled before him, they sang songs of worship, and glorified God, testifying that God was with them. Immanuel, God with us.

The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. Isaiah 61:1-3

And Jesus said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:21) He is the one proclaiming good news, setting captives free and opening blind eyes. There will be an end to fear, tears, pain and death, wiped away forever in His presence (Rev. 21:3-5).

That’s our expectant hope, and why we say “Merry Christmas!” It’s how we can say “Merry Christmas!” when we feel like crumbling. We know that Christ has come, conquered through his death and resurrection, and will return again for a final reckoning. We know that he has already brought salvation. There’s an end to our pain and sadness! So no matter our circumstances, we REJOICE in celebration at the thought of Christmas. Jesus birth brought God to us!

Perhaps an even more meaningful exclamation would be, “Immanuel! God is with us!” (Matthew 1:23). There will never be anything flippant or insufficient about that.

                 Come, Lord Jesus                                                                                            Come, Lord Jesus, to this sadness,                                                                         To our pain and to this madness.                                                                                Lift our weary eyes to see You                                                                          Humbly born but King of all.

Sent to reconcile us to You,
God with man on earth to dwell.
Bearing God’s full wrath in anguish,
Perfectly you took our fall.

Satan’s power has been banished,
Crushed, and conquered soon to vanish,
He no power has to shake us!
Blood-bought children You remake us.

Cause your Spirit to possess us
That we triumphantly might dwell.
Fill us with your might and power,
With hope, joy, peace our fears to quell.

Come, Lord Jesus, bring your gladness,
Ease this pain and end our sadness.
Lift our weary eyes to see You
Humbly born but King of all.

 

©Erika Rice