Friday, August 31, 2012

Between Heaven and Earth --- High up in the Blue


Two Taylor men did something quite odd recently. Some would say it was insanely foolish; some might refer to it as "living-out-loud". Each has their own thoughts but --- logically it was a fantastically nutty thing to do.

The father-son duo, along with my nephew, drove two hours to don harnesses, ride 14,500 feet into the sky, slide open the metal door of a plane, and jump. Reaching speeds of 120mph during the free-fall, they screamed like little boys while gravity did her job.  It was a lifetime-dream of Steve's; it was a milestone for Peter.

The One who made the sky, the One who created gravity, the One who gave men the ability to make planes and fly them, the One who placed the desire inside (some) people to jump from a plane and slide through the wind ---- that One, held it all together.
With little effort at all, He could have stormed the skies or crushed the plane. Struggling health could have held them to the ground or winds could have carried them away. Parachutes could have deployed wrongly, hearts could have stopped beating permanently.

He has complete control.

We forget sometimes. We think that because we are blessed to see morning after morning after morning... ---- that it will be so again tomorrow. We dully allow our minds to be lulled into thinking sunrises are normal and sunsets expected.
Oh God --- forgive us for forgetting.

But on that day, we were not overlooking the bigness of El Roi (the God who sees us). As if tiny people would even dare to "overlook" the Great One.

As Steve, Peter, and Mitchell willingly jumped from a bullet shaped object 14,500 feet into the huge blue sky ------ something Holy was happening, something spiritual was taking place.

The imagery was unmistakable, the words came clear. Steve was experiencing physically what we both are experiencing spiritually.
We are doing the illogical.
We have jumped.
We are free-falling --- waiting on the parachute to open and glide us down safely.

I was sitting at the feet of the Robed One that day just as vividly as if i had been sitting in a summer time, small town church revival. Dare i say --- perhaps even more so. God holds "church" wherever He likes --- He is not limited by the walls built by men.

Our youngest son Peter, has been maneuvering through waters navigated by most young men these days. Rapids, with boulders lurking at the shorelines. Falls, with raging, paralyzing drops and currents that sweep trees down like toothpicks, dashing them into careless boys who find themselves in deep waters. He is learning --- God is His teacher. He loves God and wants to wake up to Him at a deeper level. So Peter listens to the Teacher, but sometimes the Teacher has to get his attention in firm Teacher like ways.
On this day when he would fall through the sky back to the ground, we wondered how it might rest in his soul. These types of experiences can speak loudly for many years.

Peter and my dad. Papa had two grandsons jumping out of a plane that day - he wasn't about to miss it.

As the expert tandem guides were readying the parachutes, Steve noticed on young man pausing, kneeling, gripping the chutes with both hands and pulling them close to his chest. With closed eyes, he moved his lips. Covered in tattoos, with quarter sized ear gauges and piercings glimmering silver where only skin was expected, he could have been an imposing presence. But when he turned his eyes towards us, we knew. He knows our Abba -- gentleness swirled with confidence in his gaze. I thanked God for His bigness, for letting me feel Him in the young man's presence, for sending His "colorful" sentinel to pray over the guardians of gravity.
Names were called out pairing novice jumpers with experienced tandem guides.

As Peter's name was called the sentinel raised his hand --- they were to jump together into the blue.

Look closely at his right forearm --- Jesus is there.

Steve and Mitchell were also paired with experienced guides. All was well.

I talked with Abba, much. I wasn't afraid --- just attentive. Excited for them, enjoying their boy-like eagerness to explore the un-normal.

They received their instructions, tightened harnesses, and trekked up the hill to the runway. Plane engines came alive, they climbed inside. Within seconds rocks flew backwards in the wind gusts from the propellers and their feet left the ground.

How oddly familiar it felt to me. As we prepare for the launch to Kenya --- it's very much the same.

- We receive our instructions, but we don't fully understand.
- We need to be "harnessed in", it would be deadly to jump if not harnessed to the One who knows what He is doing.
- We willingly walk to the thing that will lift us off of what we have always known. But we do not walk alone. The Expert is with us.
- We sense the illogical reality of what we are doing --- but the compulsion to continue rules us.
- We sit quietly during many of the details, we can't fly the plane, we have little actual "control".
- We realize few are truly "with us" --- they have not been called/told to board the plane and jump in this particular way.
- But we sense that those whose feet will remain here on this ground -- are praying for us diligently, and in that way we are not "alone".
- We do not have to jump ---- we could refuse. But what a sad choice that would be --- much would be missed.
- The harness that constrains us is intensely important. It needs to be tight, almost painfully so. For it will hold us securely to the only One who knows how to land us where we need to be.
- Straining against or arguing with the Expert on our back will not stop the jump, it will only lessen the beauty of the experience.
- The ride will be like nothing we had imagined before it began.
- The One on our back might be scary looking, but He is solid and sure.
- After the free-fall, comes a painful jerk ---- but then a slow ride will bring views never seen before.
- When you jump ---- only ONE is near.
- Many who choose not to jump, won't care to hear about it -- you will want to share, but will feel rejected sometimes. It's ok, there are many who are looking skyward, watching the One on your back.
- The view is so vast from so high up --- it would be easy to get lost and land in many dangerous places. But the One directing the chute's sky-path, knows exactly where He wants to put you down.
- When you land --- people care. And sometimes they even celebrate, because you have finally arrived.

Steve was the first one out of the plane, then Peter, and then Mitchell.
Before Peter jumped, the colorfully tattooed young man securely tied to his back, placed his hands just above Peter's broad shoulders and silently prayed. He had asked permission first -- his words to Peter were, "Dude, don't freak out if you look back and i'm praying over you, it's just something between me and God, it's what i do to carry you through. You down with that?" "Yes sir", "Awight man, let's do this". More was given to Peter that day, than a jump from the plane. He got to see God in another --- he got to feel God near.
All three had the ride of their life --- and seemed to keep "flying" for hours afterwards.
No broken bones, no bruised knees, no regrets.

No regrets.

I wonder sometimes ---- if we stay too firmly "planted" in what is familiar and comfortable and safe and manageable ------------ will regrets sneak in during the 11th hour of our breathing.
"Everyman dies, not every man really lives." -William Wallace
Since God is the Giver of Life, doesn't it seem that He should be the One who defines it?

Later that same night, Steve showed me a torn, worn piece of paper. He had carried it deep in his pocket when he had jumped from the plane. On the paper, he had written ---


we do this to enrich our lives

and to cast ourselves

into ----- your ----- arms..."

"And he took the children in his arms, placed his hands on them and blessed them." Mark 10:16

©2012 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

Friday, August 17, 2012

Remove your sandals... this is Holy Ground

Mt. Horeb

Moses was busy doing what he was suppose to be doing, he was caring for his father-in-law's flocks. Then God --- put a burning bush before him.

It was up on the mountain, Mt. Horeb (also called Mt. Sinai), the same mountain where Moses would later receive the Ten Commandments.
Moses saw the bush. 
The verse jumped off the page at me as i read through this old, old story again last week.  
Moses SAW the bush. 
I wonder, were there other flock tenders out that day? Was anyone else given the chance to see the burning bush or was it hidden from all others except Moses' eyes?

"Moses saw..."
The fullness of the verses read: "There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in the flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought,  'I will go over and see this strange sight -- why the bush does not burn up.' When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush..." Exodus 3: 2-4a

First -- Moses saw ----
Next -- Moses thought ---
Then -- Moses went over to look ---

Moses was not passive, he was not complacent; Moses was active and attentive. We children of God would do well to make note of that.

After God called from within the bush --- the first thing God told Moses to do --- "Take off your sandals -- you are on Holy Ground... "(v.5). God clarified for Moses who it was that was speaking to him --- "I am the God of your father..." (v.6) and what did Moses do?
He hid his face --- because he was afraid to look at God. (v.6)

Oh my soul --- how these long ago written words have vibrated inside me for 7 days now.

How many burning bushes have gone unnoticed?
How many of us have a "burning bush" of sorts in our life, that we are either too busy to notice or too focused to stop and have thought over. How many of us are so time restrained that we would dismiss the thought of going over to look at it even if we did have eyes to see it. So attentive to the clock and the schedule the tasks and the plans, that we miss the burning bushes of our lives. And then how many of us ---- don't want to see those unsettling burning bushes?

Not for a second am i being critical or negative. I'm carefully using the pronoun "us" here. I believe God has opened my eyes to understand --- Moses was no more "special" than any one else. He was broken enough though --- to be in the desert tending the sheep and goats that belonged to another man -- so he was in a position to "see" what another might have missed. He was willing to pause, think, and go look. And he was obediently humble. He took off his shoes and hid his face ---- for he understood, he was on Holy Ground and the Holy One was in front of him.

Moses was not watching for a burning bush in his life. In no way does scripture lead us to interpret Moses was waiting for a great "call". Moses was doing the thing that was in front of him ---- obediently. But he was willing to notice when the bush burst into flames, and yet did not burn up. Moses was watchful but not expectant. Then when it was before him, he was curious enough to approach and stunned enough to listen.

All this captures me.
To be positioned to "see".
To be willing to approach and listen.
And then ---- to obey...

Moses words --- "Here I am..."
For those of you who have heard the specifics of my personal call to full time service in Kenya -- you know -- it was while singing an old hymn that my mouth refused to follow the guidance of my mind. The words were in front of me on the hymnal page, but the words that came out of my mouth were different. The words of the song were, "Here I am Lord, is it I Lord?" However, my mouth sang words in response to God's call saying, "Here I am Lord, it is I Lord..." I'll never forget the other-worldly feeling of trying to make my mouth sing one thing and listening to it repeatedly sing the response God was asking for.
How moving for me to read Moses response to God calling out to him. "Here I am..."

Then immediately -- God began giving instructions to Moses.
-- Do not come any closer Moses. (v.5)
-- Take off your sandals Moses (v.5) --- you are on Holy Ground.
-- Then after clarifying exactly who was speaking to him ---
God told Moses to GO... (v.10)

And the conversation that followed was much like this:
God - Go
Moses - But who am i that i should go?
God - I will be with you.
Moses - Who should i tell them sent me?
God - "I am that I am" has sent you, the God of our fathers.
Moses - But what if they do not believe me? What if they say "the Lord did not appear to you..."
God - Show them your staff, it will become a snake, then return to being a staff -- then show them your hand in your cloak, sick, and then healed. Then if they still do not believe, pour water from the Nile onto the ground and i will turn the water into blood.
Moses - But I do not speak well.
God - I will give you words you say.
Moses - Please send someone else...
God - ... then the Lord's anger began to burn against Moses, but still He said, what about your brother Aaron? He will go with you and speak.

Five times, Moses questioned the word "Go..." --- he had his excuses ready...
But God was relentless. He had chosen His servant, and had given His orders.

Moses was/is one of the "greats" in the Bible, yet in reality he was just a simple shepherd tending someone else's sheep. He was humble and unsure of himself. He knew he was ill-fitted for what was being asked of him. He knew he needed help...
Moses is my close brother these days.

I did not realize it until reading this passage again and again --- that God had stirred me with the same words Moses had used --- "Here I am Lord..."
I knew the day i was sitting in a Bible study class with my friend Carolyn, that all my world was changing even as i sat perfectly still. A burning bush was in front of me --- no one else in the room saw it --- but i did (i believe Carolyn knew it was before me as well). I saw and I timidly approached it. And the God of our Fathers spoke to my heart just as surely as He spoke to Moses' those many years ago. 

I cried --- crocodile tears.
I will confess, they were terrified tears.
Almost hard to breathe tears.
Hide my face tears.

But almost immediately --- God reminded me -- I was on Holy Ground. And on Holy Ground reverence is necessary.
So later that same day --- i began "removing my sandals". For about 545 days now i've been removing more than just my sandals.
I've been removing/laying down my house, my car, my furniture, my friends, my pets, my favorite restaurants, my creature comforts, my kitchen, my flowers, my normal, my family, my precious children, my front porch, my world...
And the conversations between God and me have been such an echo of Moses' words. Unintentional, but almost exact ---
"But Lord, who am i to go ..."
"But Lord, why would they listen to me..."
"But Lord, i do not speak well..."
"Oh Lord, could i please nominate another, someone much better suited for this calling..."

Then i've gone further that Moses did -- I've whined to the One who created and gave me everything good in my life and i've said --- "But Lord, will i really be able to keep breathing day in and day out so far away from "home"? 
And His response ---- 
"you are not home yet. You've never been home. You're just comfortable in the box i've allowed you to live in. But now i've called you out of what is comfortable and onto the path that will carry you closer to home. Home is ahead."
 "follow Me --- remove your sandals --- this is Holy Ground."

Was it easy for Moses? No -- Not for a day after his eye caught sight of his burning bush.
Did it seem impossible for Moses? Surely -- everyday --- but then there was always God with Him.
Was Moses perfect? Never --- he messed up big at the rock and it cost him much.
Did Moses need help? Always, from God, from his brother, from his wife -- even from his father-in-law Jethro.

Climbing Mt. Horeb was no small feat. Moses did it several times during his years of Holy Ground servanthood. It was a challenging, difficult climb.
Would it have been easier to have just "not seen" the burning bush and kept right on tending Jethro's flocks for the rest of his life.
But then ---  what would it have felt like, on the day he drew his last breath here, then breathed in the air of Heaven and heard God ask --- "son, why did you ignore the burning bush i placed before you? you were created to lead men and women out of bondage not tend flocks of goats in a field."

Easy = less
Comfortable = Easy
A burning bush > Comfortable
Obedience > A burning bush
Peace = Obedience
Surrender > Peace
Savior > Surrender
Home = Savior
Holy Ground is the path where the Savior walks with us, barefooted, together ---- it leads to HOME.

©2012 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Three Perfectly Timed Words...

Did she know God was flowing through her?

How beautiful --- a middle-school aged girl --- who sees... and speaks...

Three perfectly timed words ----  "YOU --- are beautiful...

She laughed, riding on her giggling friend's back. They were full of joy; it overflowed. Walking across a field these two gregarious girls and the woman with them met a short haired woman, walking alone, who was a bit bewildered, needing directions.
She asked their mother for directions, trying to learn the best way to get to where she needed to go.

After receiving the needed help, the small group spoke cordialities of "thank you's" and "have a good day", and walked on. But in the last minute passing, the young teenager did something remarkable really -- something every grown-up could take a lesson in -- she broke the "rules" of sociatal norms and knowingly or unknowingly -- did God-work.
The girl looked directly at the short-haired woman --- 
reached inside her and touched her soul as she said, 

"YOU --- 
are beautiful..."

The woman paused for a moment, stunned. The young girl had no idea what she had just done, she most likely still has no idea. But for certain, her words went deep. Simple words, spoken with sincerity, breathed "life" into the woman who had just 2 days earlier finished her final radiation treatment after an almost 6 month battle against an invisible enemy that had threatened to end her life.

On Feb. 2, which also happened to be the short haired lady's 53rd birthday, the voice on the phone had said the words none of us ever want to hear --- "the test results show, it is cancer..." Life shifted on that day. The weeks and months that followed found her in many doctor's offices, learning what she needed to know, to do her part in fighting the battle. She learned all about which wig would work best when her hair fell out, what foods would work best when her body was depleted, which hospital, which doctor, which clinic, which procedure... She entered into a classroom she did not want to attend and was given the class syllabus for a course she did not want to take.

This beautiful short haired lady is a nurse. She cares for people. She's done so for almost 30 years. She can put an IV into the tiniest hand of a premature baby, she can smile at a sick, pain-filled person in such a way that the medicine becomes secondary to their relief. She would prefer caring for others, than to be cared for by others.

Beautiful was not a word she had indulged in much of late. Living had been her focus.

Her first chemo treatment put her in bed for a day. But within the week, she was back caring for others. They had no idea the lady taking care of them was fighting a battle herself, between life and death. Her hair gave way as expected. We had lunch together that day, then drove to my house, met Maggie, and perched ourselves outside under the great wisteria "tree" to let her hair fall among the thousands of purple flower petals surrounding us. Beautiful was the imagery --- just as God will bring purple blooms again so we would trust Him to restore her hair --- He is the One who makes all things new.
The second chemo treatment brought her to her knees for extended times. She needed the touch of her Father, to quiet the lies of His enemy. Had He forgotten her? Was she being punished? Would He keep His promises to her? Heavy questions. No audible answers came as we prayed together on that carpet, but the Healer was present, and the sun seemed to come up -------- at around 3pm that afternoon.
The third chemo treatment held no new surprises. The hard days were exhausting, but she quickly recovered. She put "Snook" in place (the name she laughingly gave to her wig), carefully applied makeup to help disguise the thinned brows and lashes, and pressed forward. (She is a remarkable lady.)
The fourth treatment was old news. It was the finale hit, it did its work, she persevered, with a firm grip of His robes.
Then came the radiation. Exhausting. Draining. Six weeks of continuing the fight against a hidden enemy by laying still on a table and being shot with radiation. Her body withstood the physical battle, her mind endured the emotional roller coaster.

Last week, she sat at our table; a table filled with food, chairs filled with family, hearts filled with thankfulness, ----- she IS with us.
What a gift it is to share air.

Only those closest to her would have known how unsure of herself she felt that next day. She wanted to look pretty for her husband, they would be outside all day long in the hot Alabama heat to cheer for her sweet nieces as they played ball. She wanted to be free of Snook, she felt keenly aware of the lovely ladies around her, with their stylish hair and fashionable attire. That sly, ugly enemy of our Lord, wanted to make her feel as though the battle she had just endured had left her drained and somehow lessened. He's such a hideous liar, he watches for the weak moments and pounces. Like a wild animal on a helpless lamb.

But wait --- our Lord knows this. And He's not inattentive or unaware. Our Savior knows we are lambs and we need a Shepherd. King David too must have felt lamb-like and in need of a Shepherd when he wrote:
"The Lord is my shepherd, I will not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,  he restores my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.  Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." Psalm 23

Is it possible that when all the hair let loose from her head, that the anointing oil could cover more deeply? And can a cup overflow, even when nothing looks or even feels right in our world?
Yes - because of the Shepherd.
The young middle-school aged girl who looked at her could not have known the doubt that was pestering the lady.
But the Shepherd knew.
He knew His lamb needed to sense His good pleasure over her, He knew his enemy was prowling near. So, He flowed His words through the twinkling eyes of a teenage girl. He opened her eyes to see the BEAUTY of the lady in front of her. And she opened her mouth and spoke words of life, and truth, and goodness.
Three perfectly timed words ----  "YOU --- are beautiful..."
And the short-haired lady who is my dear sister, --- was deeply moved --- because she felt God's touch through another.

Did the young girl have any idea she was speaking for God and silencing the ugly enemy?
Most likely she did not know ---- but i'm so thankful she let the overflow of her heart SEE my sister, and then have the courage to acknowledge to her ---- "You are beautiful"!
God's work.
...and the enemy lay defeated as the little, cared-for lamb skipped on across the green pasture.

Dear Kathy,
I love you very, very much, I'm thankful beyond words for you ------ you ARE beautiful!

©2012 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe