The Lantern

Your Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.  Psalm 119:105

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The night air was damp and heavy.  Although it was summer, there was a slight wet chill in the air that caused her to tug her flimsy sweater more snugly around her shoulders.  Maybe the chill was caused by her nerves, but, whatever the cause, small shivers were splintering through her body.

She was alone. 

She could vaguely remember how she found herself there in that place, even though the trip had just ended mere minutes before.  It had seemed perfectly natural to board up on various vessels following in the footsteps of those that she had always trusted, or at least knew.  She remembered leaving her home with her parents in a bright yellow taxi that had been summoned by her father just moments earlier.  They had been driven to the train station where she had boarded, following after a gaggle of her giggly schoolgirl friends while the engine whistled, only to discover after several minutes of travel, that her parents were nowhere in sight.  The train had stopped quickly enough at another station, and she found herself whisked away in a frantic sea of commotion, losing sight of her girlfriends, as she moved onto the deck of a large ocean liner.  Panic set in for just a few moments, but her heart settled when she recognized faces from places she frequented often.  There was the woman who smelled of peppermint that she sat by in church on Sundays.  The man who carried her groceries to her car every Wednesday, shopping day.  Standing near the stern of the ship was her doctor recognizably outfitted in ill-fitting scrubs, and beside him, a handful of lipsticked women that gossiped too much, but that provided an easy comfort in places that weren’t too keen on folks being seen alone.  The ship had bobbed around on the waves for quite sometime, and just as the uncertainty of the strange venture was wearing off, a slick black helicopter had deposited itself on the massive deck of the liner.  Children had poured out and ushered her into the helicopter with them.  Familiar children.  Children that tugged her heart strings.  It was all so familiar.  That is until now.

Now it all seemed a blur.

The helicopter had hurled itself through a black sky, filled with the chatter and squeals of excited children, only to land precariously in the middle of a dense overgrown jungle.  An island maybe?  She couldn’t be sure.  The night sky had been illuminated only by the lights of the helicopter, and she wasn’t sure how they had been enough to allow the pilot a safe landing.  The children and the attendants in the chopper had all but pushed her out of the door, only to hurriedly lift off and disappear into the inkiness of the night.  Even now, she could barely make out the whirr of the blades in the far distance.

Her sweater was doing little to settle the shivers or the anxiousness sweeping her body.  Her eyes tried to adjust in the blackness, only to come up unsuccessful.  Her mind tried to retrace the journey, at the very least she found herself puzzled as to how, why, or what was happening. 

Hands outstretched in front of her, she pivoted, trying to find something to catch her bearings.  Nothing.  Just more darkness and thick air.  She could feel the sobs of uncertainty welling in her throat. 

Who had brought her here?  Thinking back now, she realized she had never seen the faces of those piloting the vessels.  And she wasn’t certain, now, that any of the familiar faces that she had followed and traipsed after had even been real.  What was this place?  It was more than dark here.  It was morbid and sinister.  The fingers of fear were snaking in and finding a resting place.  Confusion and despair and panic were setting in as she turned in circles searching every crevice of space for some signal of hope or rescue.

A light popped on.

It was dim.  And it was faint.  But it was light.  She crept toward the dusky beacon, apprehensive of what loomed in the covering shadows between herself and it.  As she neared the source, she saw that it was a lantern.  It was old and rustic and smelled of kerosene.  She quickly searched the tiny surrounding area that was now barely illuminated looking for the one that must have lit it and left it for her.  She saw nor heard a trace of anyone.  Although fear wracked through her body, she knew that her choices were to perch next to the lantern, wait for sunrise, and hope to survive the night.  Or she could take the lantern and search out some kind of shelter to escape the putrid darkness that she could almost taste and smell. 

Once her mind was made up, and her hand had taken the sturdy metal handle of the lantern, she noticed that just enough light was being cast out to reveal the beginnings of a stone pathway.  She moved the lantern in several directions and noted that stretching out in every way was just the mossy carpet of jungle floor.  Walls of trees and other plant life rose up barring all other ways, so she knew that the tiny patchwork of stone was her best bet.

She walked timidly, yet with awareness down the path.  The lantern swung in her hand, lighting up just a few steps ahead of her.  Enough to see where to place her next foot step, but offering up no indication of where or when the pathway would lead out.  She occasionally looked behind her, only to quickly redirect her focus to her steps in front of her, for it seemed as though the darkness to her rear was becoming more and more overwhelming. 

She walked what seemed to be a million nights.  Her legs were tired, and her body ached.  Her head pounded and screamed for rest, but the bleakness of the rushing blackness spurred her steps on.  She examined the lantern on several occasions, fearful that the fluid keeping the small flame alive would run out before she reached any kind of safety.  Unfamiliar noises and the oppressive nearness of strange surroundings kept her throbbing feet moving on the path.

A few times, shrieks and screams coming from deep in the jungle by some obscure creature threatened to take her consciousness.  And more than once, panic filled her mind causing her the desire to sit down and wish for death. 

Because she was busy contemplating her weariness and justifying all manners of self-pity, she almost missed the faint sliver of sunlight peeking through the thick barricades of tropical foliage.  When her eyes finally dawned on the realization of the impending sunrise, she was near exhaustion and resignation. 

It was with the ever-brightening light of the new day and what little light her lantern was still putting off that she first noticed her new surroundings. 

Behind her rested the deep foreboding jungle that held very little light, even now with the day, and its slim orthodox stone pathway disappearing into the deepness.  She, however, was now standing in the beauty of a wildflower infested meadow.  Glory and warmth and light radiated from every stitch of the expanse.  The sun shone hot on her face, and her feet felt light as she found herself twirling with arms-outstretched through the blanket of loveliness.  Her heart, for the first time since the beginning of her journey, felt at ease, and she found that she could breathe without the feeling that every breath was going to suffocate her. 

After moments of elatedness and restful frolic, she paused and took note of the lantern that she was still clutching tightly in her hand.  Dangling from the handle was a small leather pouch, cylindrical in shape.  She hadn’t noticed it during the darkness, but here in the light, she examined it.  Inside was a small piece of parchment, rolled as a scroll.  As she opened it carefully, she noticed that a letter was written in pristine script on the page.

My Precious Child,

I know that your wonderings are great and that your wanderings have been long.  You have many questions that cannot be answered yet, because you live in a time and place that doesn’t allow for their answers.  But, perhaps, your soul will be satisfied for the time-being with the just the knowledge that this whole journey has been protected and delivered by Me. 

You have spent much of your life just following after various fads, dreams, and people.  You have set about to do what others were doing, or when you weren’t doing that, you were just trying to please them.  You have searched through different means, thinking that someone or something would take you to your next destination, never really giving any real thought to Me or where I would have you to travel. 

I gave you the lantern.  It was all you needed.

I thought about giving you a torch.  I thought about illuminating this whole place with floodlights.  Headlamps and flashlights and 1000 watt lightbulbs crossed My mind.  But, in the end, I decided on a lantern. 

I know that you don’t understand, because it was so very dark.  I know you thought that if you could have just seen even yards in front of you, that your situation would be drastically different and better.  The faithful light of your lantern, though it seemed dim and faint, provided you little comfort during your journey, because you kept thinking of ways it could be better, easier, or less scary.

I’m so happy that you didn’t give up, My Child.  I’m so thrilled to share this beautiful new world with you.  This is where I have wanted to bring you all along.  I have prepared a place for you here.  I want nothing more than for you to stay here with Me and share in the beauty and the adventure of this new life.

This new life that I speak of won’t always be easy.  It rains here, and darkness will creep back in.  Rodents and insects have a tendency to swarm even here in this lovely meadow.  But, you have Me.  And you have your lantern.  We are all you need to survive.  You must trust that.

I love you more than you can ever imagine.

Love,

The Lantern Maker

She reread the letter several times and tried to make sense of it.  She didn’t know who this Lantern Maker was, and she was still puzzled as to this journey that she had been brought on.  It was then that the small stone pathway caught her eye again.  Just what had she come through last night?  Surely it was just the harmless inner workings of an alive jungle, nothing really to fear.  Curiosity steeped, and she picked her way through the meadow grasses back toward the jungle and its simple path.

Darkness started again as she entered the canopy, but it was light enough with the sunshine that she could see.  Even still, she kept the still-lit lantern in her hand.  It didn’t take her long at all to realize that her small piece of gifted light the night before was a blessing in the most extraordinary way.  For there, on either side of the pathway, setting only a few feet away from the stonework, were frameworks of fear-inducers for as far back up the path as she could see.

There was a section of swamp littered with the bodies of grotesque reptiles, perched halfway in the murky waters, looking as though they were long overdue for their next meal.

A pit of slithering snakes clothed in disgustingly brilliant colors were to her right.

She saw a mass of quicksand that seemed to be inching its way towards the stonework, greedily trying to devour it.

And then, small shacks lined up along one section with bony fingers and beady eyes poking out from the shadows of the windows.  Shallow shrieks and screams seemed to creep out of the cracks in the walls. 

Shivers ran the length of her spine, and her knuckles turned white as she gripped the handle of the lantern with all her might.  She couldn’t walk any deeper into the jungle, she just couldn’t.  She quickly spun and ran the rest of the way back out into the brightly lit meadow.

Once she was able to catch her breath and relax in the surroundings of the flowers and blue sky, realization donned on her.  Had she made the journey through the jungle last night with more than her little lantern, she wouldn’t have made it.  She was sure of it.  She would have most certainly been devoured or died of fright.  If floodlights had illuminated the horrific truths of the path, she would have succumbed to the fear.  If she had had a headlamp that would have shone into the depths, she would have buried herself in panic. 

Yes, this Lantern Maker had been right.  The little lantern with its trusty flame had been just what she needed to get through.  Just knowing where to put her next footstep was all she had needed to know at the time.  It was enough.  And it had saved her.  And had brought her to the most unimaginably beautiful place.

It was then that she noticed a small cottage set in the corner of the meadow.  Smoke curled itself in a spiral from a quaint chimney, and even though it was daytime, lights could be seen shining through the windows.  With a newfound bravery and a skip in her step, she made her way to the inviting lodge.

As she neared, she noticed that a sign was tacked to the sturdy little door.  It was made of the same parchment as her little lantern scroll and written in the same fine script were the words

Welcome Home.

She eased the door open, and her breath stuck in her throat as her eyes tried to take it all in.  Every nook and cranny of the cozy cottage held a lantern.  All sizes, shapes, and colors, but the same model of simple lantern that she was still clutching tightly.  The one-roomed meadow shanty was awash in the glorious glow of all the tiny flames.  Individually, they didn’t exert much light, but, here, together in this place, it was as if the blinding sun had made entrance.  It was remarkable.  She felt warm and invited and relaxed.

It was then that her eyes met those of a Man unlike any she had ever seen.  They were gentle eyes, yet they held the secrets of the universe in their base.  Kind, yet firm.  She immediately recognized Him with a keen supernatural understanding.  Awareness washed over her like a flood, and for the first time her hand dropped the meager lantern.  She ran to Him and allowed Him to envelop her.

As He continued to hold her tight to His side, He stroked back her hair and gazed into her weary journey-laden eyes.  He finally spoke.  With all the authority of a craftsman that knows His handiwork better than any connoisseur or expert, He simply said:

My lanterns.  They are always enough. 

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Furnace Giants

Remember that scene in Facing the Giants?  Coach Grant and Brooke Taylor are desperately praying for a child and continue to get bad news month after month.  In the midst of Grant trying to turn around the football team of the Christian school he’s coaching at, he is also consumed with wanting a baby.  The scene has Grant praying and searching the Word in the middle of the night, pleading with God for answers….

I love that part of the movie.  And then when God answers that prayer in the most beautiful way by blessing them with a baby, but only delivering the news after Brooke declares her love for God, baby or not.  Really really powerful stuff.

I feel like I’m facing some serious giants.  I have been blessed with children, and I certainly don’t coach football, but his really is a prayer of generic giants.  Those giants of fear are overwhelming.  And I’m tired of being afraid.  And I’m pleading that God show me something.

I just watched this movie over the holidays, so I guess that’s why it’s fresh in my mind.  But, the scenes have played through my mind several times as a reminder that God is in control.  That nothing is impossible with God. 

And I believe that.  I really do.

But I find that more times that not, my flesh argues with my heart.  I want to panic.  To be terrified.  To give up.  But then God steps in and uses something in that amazing way of His to remind me of His goodness and faithfulness and trustworthiness.  Even when it makes absolutely no sense to me.  And when all I see is darkness and dead ends.

Another story that has always spoken precious volumes to me is the one of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3.  The 3 Jewish friends stand up for what they believe in and disobey King Nebuchadnezzar by refusing to bow down to his fancy, newly erected statue.  So the king orders them thrown in the fiery furnace.  A great part of the story is when the 3 tell the king: 

O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this manner.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, THE GOD WE SERVE IS ABLE TO SAVE US FROM IT, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king.  BUT EVEN IF HE DOES NOT, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold that you have set up.  (Daniel 3:16-18)

That’s such a serious picture of faith to me.  And one that I pray that I, too, am able to say.  Claiming with absolute certainty that God is in full-out control.  He can rescue and save.  He can.  No doubt about it.  And trusting that He will.  But, also, believing at the same time that because He is Sovereign, He may choose not to save and deliver in ways that make sense to us.  But, even more importantly, claiming that I will love Him and trust Him anyway.  Like Grant and Brooke Taylor chose to do.

The beauty of the story of Rack, Shack, and Benny (a little VeggieTales throwback *smile*) is that God does indeed save them from the fire.  Which is so amazing!  He doesn’t save them from the furnace, though.  He still required them to take that very scary journey of being tied up and chunked into a furnace by huge Babylonian soldiers.  HOW TERRIFYING.  And God didn’t save them from that part.  These 3 uber-faithful men….and they still had to face the furnace.  Surely, the 3 were thinking, “Okay, I guess that part about God choosing not to save us is about to come to pass.”  (vs.19-23)

But then He showed up.  Yep.  He didn’t just save them from the fire, He showed up and endured the fire with them.  (vs. 25)  Can you imagine the looks on their faces?

And if that wasn’t enough, we find out that they not only came out of the furnace unharmed, but that they didn’t even smell like smoke. (vs. 27)  Wow.

I.Love.It.

I don’t know what God has planned.  It may be exactly what I see for me and my family in the future, or it may be something totally different.  It’s terrifying to walk blind…walking only in invisible and otherworldly trust and faith.  And I fail most minutes of my days.  

But, oh, how I pray for an answer to the prayer like that of good ol’ Grant Taylor….and a movie script ending would be pretty sweet, too.

But, even more, I pray for deliverance from the fire.  I feel like I’m already hogtied and heading headfirst into the doors of the furnace, so deliverance from that isn’t the plan for me. 

I do, however, pray for the ability to walk around in the midst of the flames and to come out unsinged.

Because I don’t like smelling like smoke….

And Then…

I must have been in denial.  Or dreaming.  Or just living in absolute oblivion. 

But I thought we were making it pretty well. 

Our finances were far from perfect, but…we were making it.  Our schedule with sports, work obligations, and extra projects was jam-packed; we met ourselves coming and going; but…we were making it.  We were working on making some of our dreams come true; some were farther out of reach than others; but…we were making it.  I was living and loving my life as a mom and wife; granted, I spent some days frustrated and aching for a break on a beach somewhere; but…I was making it.

And then. 

Two tiny words that will absolutely upset every apple cart you ever think about keeping upright.  And then.

And then the consequences of living in this ugly, dark, worm-eaten world didn’t just come knocking at the door, but came barreling in, battering ram and SWAT gear in tow, ready to steal, kill, and destroy every living, breathing, blood-still-pumping piece of life as I knew it. 

And they seem to be winning. 

Our finances are now in shambles.  I don’t even specifically know what happened, other than it is just another consequence of sin infestation and the devil’s putrid lies.  Our schedules are filled with confusion and weird messes of wonder if he wants to see the kids this night?  and wonder if he will be driving them to this place or will I?  The dreams we were working on have been reduced to rubble and are now replaced with my dreams of just hoping to have my husband living in the same house with me again.  Certainly a dream I never thought I’d have to dream.  And my life as a wife and mother?  The dynamics of those relationships have all but had to be reinvented and reexamined. 

I don’t even recognize myself anymore. 

I don’t know if personalities change through crises such as these, but if they don’t, mine must have taken on a new life for the sake of survival.  I used to be the carefree, laugh-it-off, go-to girl for fun and a good pep talk…..I don’t think I’m her anymore.  And it’s not that I’m a pessimist now either.  I just have so much swirling in my head all.the.time.  I’m being forced to think and worry about things that were never on my radar before. 

God and I have been having heavy conversations, sometimes heated, over all of this.  He knows how tired and weary and exhausted I am of waking up each morning only to wait and watch and wonder.  He knows how heavy my burden is.  He knows my worries about money.  He knows my struggle with trusting Him that He will make a way for my children to continue homeschooling.  He knows my grief and sadness when I have to tuck myself into bed for another night…alone.  He knows. 

But He is moving.  And working.  And answering prayer.  And strengthening me.  And the Spirit is interceding to the Father on my behalf when I’ve just reached a point of absolute frailty and weariness. 

So, as I sit here in the dark of morning before the house starts coming alive, I am reminded, once again, that God is in control.  I have zero idea what will happen in the next 5 minutes, in the next 5 hours, 5 days, 5 months, or even the next 5 years.  But God does.  I have no idea if checks will bounce, or if I’ll get the job that I’ve applied for.  I don’t know if this will be the week that the husband hits his knees in repentance before the Lord, or if it will be another week of rebellion for him.  But God does.  I don’t know if there will be a successful hour this week that I’ll be able to keep my eyes focused on Jesus and be able to walk successfully through the swelling waves and reach Jesus’s waiting embrace, or if there will another hour that I let the pain and worry overshadow me, and I have to be rescued from drowning.  But God does.  And He’s already preparing the way….

I sat down the other day to write in my journal about some of the day’s happenings and such, but, instead, my pen started writing out a list of reminders that were super personal to me.  I think God wanted me to absolutely remember that, not only, What time I am afraid, I will trust in Thee (Psalm 56:3), but also, that I can Cast all [my] cares on Him, because He cares for [me] (1 Peter 5:7).

Here’s what I wrote in my journal that day and am in much need of soaking up today:

  • God will not abandon me.
  • God will provide for me and the kids.
  • God will take care of us.
  • God does not think I’m trash.
  • God does not ever and will never want to trade me in.
  • God loves me.
  • God thinks that I matter.
  • God thinks that I’m beautiful.
  • God is always with me.
  • God holds me when I cry.
  • God thinks that I’m worth it.
  • God is my husband.
  • God is my fairytale ending and my knight in shining armor.

Just waking up in the morning takes all I have.  The knowledge of facing another day that could be like the one before zaps my strength. 

But looking over that list, I am refreshed with Hope that will be exactly what I need to get me through the minutes and hours of today. 

I trust you, Jesus.