A Prayer for My Country

The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much. James 5:16 KJV

1776: the year our country was born. We all know that. But do we remember it wasn’t fife and drums and fireworks and picnics back then?  Far from it.

Our country had a difficult birth.

True, General Clinton and his beleaguered troops had left Boston for Halifax in March and the Declaration to which the signers famously pledged their “lives, fortunes and sacred honor” had been signed in July. And then George Washington and his untrained ill-equipped army of volunteers had to get down to the ugly business of war: fighting the best professional army in the world. The results were sadly predictable. In Brooklyn, New York City, in Westchester County and White Plains, where I grew up, the army suffered defeat after defeat after defeat. Many died in battle; many more of diseases rampant in the filthy camps. Prisoners thrown into rotting ships in New York harbor succumbed to yet more disease and deliberate malnutrition.

This was not the glory these men signed on for. They began walking away. Historian David McCullough recounts it in his prize-winning book, 1776.

“American soldiers were deserting as if leaving a sinking ship, thirty or forty at a time, many defecting to the enemy. Disobedience and theft were epidemic. It was far from an army of heroes only. ‘A spirit of desertion, cowardice, plunder and shrinking from duty when attended with fatigue or danger, prevailed but too generally,’ wrote Joseph Reed (Washington’s secretary), who had become so demoralized that even he was on the verge of quitting.”

Several signers of the Declaration took the King’s offer of amnesty and recanted.

It seemed all would be lost.

But then came Christmas night and the Battle of Trenton. The battered army could finally catch a breath. And another. Somehow, they survived the brutal winter camp at Valley Forge and the nine long years which followed. A new nation, born in blood and suffering and loss, came forth into the world.

That is what we celebrate this weekend.

Not all the Founders were people of faith; I know that. But the ones who were wore out their knees praying. I’d like to believe their prayers “availed much,” as the old King James puts it, that they brought our fragile country through.

Now we face another moment of darkness and decision. On this, our nation’s birthday weekend, could we join our faithful ancestors in seeking the face of God for the country who bore and nurtured us? For I believe those fervent and effectual prayers can bring us through.

Again.

FATHER GOD: We need you desperately. Help us; guide us; strengthen us. Amen.

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” July 3, 2022.

 

 

God’s Help…Just When I Need It

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Jesus) Matthew 11:28-30 NIV

The image was stunning.

There lay Jessie Diggins, the silver medalist in the womens’ 30K cross country race, sprawled face first in the snow at the finish line, skis splayed out behind her. Utterly, totally, completely exhausted. She seemed unable to move, let alone get up on her feet.

People rushed out, of course, to help–get her skis off, wrap her in one of those white puffy quilts you saw everywhere, congratulate, support, comfort. But when she tried to rise and her legs buckled, when her eyelids fluttered and she looked close to fainting, I wondered if they wouldn’t have to carry this young, strong athlete off the course.

Now I can’t imagine skiing 30K at all, even when I could possibly have done it, much less skiing it in a race.  But I can imagine Jessie’s exhaustion.

Because that’s what this winter has been like for me.

I’ve had one medical challenge after another, capped by a second bout of COVID in mid-January. My days have been consumed by doctors’ appointments, tests, trips to the emergency room. There have been times when I questioned my endurance, my ability to get up one more time.

Even writing this column has seemed more than I could do. How could I encourage other people in their journey of faith when I could barely stagger in mine?

But then the words of Jesus flowed over me like balm over sore muscles.

Ahhh. Right. I have the Lord by my side, ready to get me through. I am not alone. He gives me people, as there were for Jessie, to help, pray, support, encourage.

Yes, it’s hard to be the recipient, to recognize I’m not in control, to depend on the kindness of others. It’s hard to admit my faith gets shaky when the race goes on and on and there seems to be no end.

But I am yoked to the Lord of the universe. He walks with me, carries my burden, gives me just the help I need at the moment I need it. He will see I finish my race.

All I need to do is relax. And trust Him.

LORD JESUS: I come to You, weary and over-burdened. I give You everything I’m trying to carry—including the things I shouldn’t be. Help me to humble myself, receive help, rest in You. Amen.

This column was scheduled for publication in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” February 27, 2022. For some reason, it was never published.

Even to Old Age

…even to your old age I am He, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save. Isaiah 46:4 RSV

Old age has surprised me. If I expected anything, I expected it to move in like a thief, steal one or two small abilities, then run away again. What I got was an assassin who jumped from an alley and left me beaten and bleeding, gasping for air like a beached fish.

That’s what this winter was like.

Turns out I have a condition called congestive heart failure—something many of you know well but I’ve never heard of before. As one doctor put it, it’s a pump problem: the heart is just not able to process the fluids in my body as efficiently as it once did, leaving me swollen, most noticeably in my legs. They are heavy, hard to raise; the joints don’t work well. Walking is difficult; climbing stairs worse. Putting on pants, socks, shoes is a real challenge…especially before I went online and found these wonderful shoes I can just step into.

And the support stockings–! Imagine, if you will, a balloon covered with wet tissue paper. Your task is to pull heavy elastic over the balloon without ripping the tissue paper. No wonder we’ve made multiple trips to urgent care and the wound clinic with dripping legs. Last week I had a gusher of blood and serum all over the bathroom from the simple act of trying to pull up a stocking that had rolled down my leg. That wound is still healing…and may be so for a while.

So where is God in all this? I’ll confess I asked that question more than once.

The answer is: where He promised to be, with me. I prayed to be lifted out of the situation. That didn’t happen. What He did, and what He’s still doing, is walking me through it.

I’ve been surrounded by caretakers—my husband, my family, doctors, nurses, physical therapists, people from my church, friends. When I was younger, I could be the one giving help. Now it’s time to humble myself and receive it.

“For everything, there is a season,” wrote the wise man, long ago. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

God bears, carries, saves us through this stage, too, as He promised. He weans us from earth as He prepares us for heaven—where there will be no failures of any kind.

Even of our hearts.

FATHER GOD: This old age thing—it’s tough and humiliating. Help me to humble myself and receive Your help as You give it through Your people. Help me accept what I cannot change. Amen.

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” March 27, 2022.

The Glory of Easter

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Revelation 21:1-5 (Italics mine)

 

Today is Easter. For Christians it’s the most glorious day of the year.

No, not the most exciting. We don’t have kids tiptoeing downstairs at dawn to see what Santa brought them. Or the most commercially successful—a few baskets, chocolate bunnies and eggs don’t even come close to that extravaganza called Christmas. Easter doesn’t even tell the most alluring story—recounting the betrayals and terrible suffering of Holy Week gives me a shudder every time.

But Easter brings us the best gift of all—new life, eternal life, our world new-made.

Eden, as God intended it.

We come here in tears and suffering. We often go out the same way. There are wonderful moments in between, to be sure, but they are all too quickly snatched away.

Not in the world we await.

Think about it. No pain. No death. No mourning or crying. No suffering. No good-byes. No accidents. No illness. No aging. Perfect communication—with God, with each other, with the creatures around us.

Joy and peace. Forever.

Peter, who lived the first Easter, calls this promise “a living hope” (1 Peter 1:3)—a hope which has sustained Jesus’ people for two thousand years.

It sustains me.

 “There will be a day,” sings Jeremy Camp,

“With no more tears, no more pain, no more fears.

There will be a day when the burdens of this place

Will be no more

We’ll see Jesus, face to face.”

That is the glory of Easter.

“Christ is risen!” His people shout. “Christ is risen, indeed!”

Hallelujah.

Published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” April 17, 2022.

God’s Incredible Love

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 RSV

I’m a great fan of “The Chosen;” you know that. This series’ wonderful depiction of Jesus as a real person—someone who laughs and cries and jokes and is weary and, above all, gets us—has captured my heart and lifted my faith as no other depiction ever has. So when I found out they were doing a Christmas show, I ran to the computer to buy a ticket.

It did not disappoint. But there was a moment that took my breath away.

Mary and Joseph walk into the famous stable—he with his arms loaded with blankets and cloths, she waddling slowly, bent in pain. He sets his burden down and begins to make ready a space. No bed, not even a pile of straw. He picks up a shovel and begins to clean manure off the stable floor.

I shuddered—as, I would guess, every mother watching did. I was born a city girl, but I’ve lived here forty years. I’ve owned horses. I’ve shoveled my share of stalls, as you no doubt have, too. We know how impossible it is to get a barn hospital-clean, how the stench and the dirt remain in the walls and the floor. To lie down in such a filthy place and give birth–! We recoil in horror. Yet that is how it happened, how God chose to come to this world.

“…though he was God,” writes Paul, “(he) did not demand and cling to his rights as God, but laid aside his mighty power and glory, taking the disguise of a slave and becoming like men.” (Philippians 2:6,7)

King of kings, Lord of lords. Creator of a universe so vast and mysterious we can’t wrap our human minds around it. But He wanted no barriers between us and Him. He wanted to understand us so completely that he became one of us. Completely.

Why? Out of love so pure we can hardly believe it.

“The wonder of Christmas,” says one of the actors, “is not that I believe in God but that He believes in me.”

Selah. Pause and think about that.

God believes in us so much He was willing to accept human life in all its ugliness, limitations and pain—to lead us from darkness to light, to rescue us from our captivity to evil, to give us glorious life with Him. Forever.

Christmas is our celebration of His unconditional, incredible love. How can we be any less than joyful?

FATHER GOD: Your love is amazing. We bow in wonder. Amen.

To be published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” December 12, 2021.

The Path to Peace

Be still and know I am God. I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth. Psalms 46:10 RSV

Want some peace in this world of chaos, warfare and panic? So do I! This ancient verse, written in a time that sounds all too familiar, shows us the way.

Be still. Let’s begin by taking a breath. Calming down. One translation says: “Cease striving.” Ahhh….

Know (remember) He is God. (…and its corollary: I am not!)

Ask yourself: how much of my stress comes from trying to keep myself and everyone around me free from risk, danger, trouble? How much do I try to control others to turn into what I think they should be? How much pressure am I putting on myself to be perfect? How much do I think “it’s all on me?”

I used to live that way. Growing up in a family ruled by addiction and fear, I decided the only way to have the peace and security I longed for was control. I trusted no one else. So I tried. Oh, how I tried! I pushed and nagged and ordered and screamed–making everyone miserable. Including myself.

Finally, I had surrender to the One who really was God, to trust that His plan for me and mine was much better than my own. When I could understand God loved and accepted me as I was, I could accept others as they were, knowing it was His job (not mine) to change what needs changing.

I gave control to One Who is, as Saint Augustine put it, “…Most high, most good, most powerful, most omnipotent, most merciful and most just, most secret and most present; most beautiful and most strong; most stable and incomprehensible; unchangeable (yet) changing all things; never new, never old; making all things new, and bringing the proud to the (collapse of) old age; ever acting, ever at rest; gathering not needing; carrying and filling and protecting (all things); creating and nourishing and perfecting; seeking, though you lack nothing.” (Quoted in “You Were Made for This Moment,” by Max Lucado.)

We are not even close.

No wonder will He be exalted in the nations (the political world); He will be exalted in the earth (the natural world). The victory over the Enemy and his schemes, over all wickedness and injustice, over warfare itself, is His. He has promised that we will see it (Psalms 37:34) and He does not lie.

Now what was it, exactly, that we were all so worried about?

FATHER GOD: Forgive us for making You too small, too familiar, for exalting ourselves in Your place.
You are God. We bow before You. Amen.

To be published in  “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” October 31, 2021.