When I was training for a marathon, I would fill my pockets with orange slices in Ziploc bags. As weariness snuck up, one or two slices popped in my mouth would push it back and give me strength to press on another few kilometers. God's words and His encouragement sometimes come in bite-sized slices -impressions, experiences, encounters - and are just enough to push weariness back and keep us pressing on a little further...

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Anchors Away... (January 23, 2010)

“Don’t fall, don’t fall, don’t fall.... don’t think about falling” My heart beat out the rhythm of the words as the slight heels of my brown boots teetered on the top wrung. It was the yellow ladder. The tall one. I could see the price tag taunting me from the back corner of the box, just beyond the reach of my scanner gun. The bar code slightly blurred as I contorted and stretched and prayed that my thin red laser beam would capture those stupid black stripes and reward me with its annoying ‘beep’ before my tremulous balance gave way to gravity. Almost..... almost.....

Inventory. Anyone who has ever worked in retail knows the horror of that word. Those who work it are doomed to endless hours of ceaseless counting. Since I am currently employed in a kitchen store and enjoy baking, I thought it would be fun to count the baking items. Silly me. I forgot that the baking section included such joys as sprinkles, measuring spoons, and a million and two paper thin Italian baking cups that, at four a.m., will cross the eyes of any hapless soul who dares to attempt numbering them. I know. I was hapless.

Somewhere between the heights of the yellow ladder and the depths of the cold concrete floor (“fifty-four, fifty-five, fifty-six... no wait. Is that? Augh! One...two...three...”), I thought about the inventory of my life. From the heights of blessings to the cold depths of trials and discouragements - if I numbered them all, what would I find?

If I let my feelings take stock, the cold concrete would have swallowed me up ten thousand and four Italian baking cups ago. To be honest, a general blueness has settled on my shoulders and when I’m not looking, it soaks right through to my soul. Many days I feel listless, tired, lonely. My heart scrambles to hold onto bright memories of the past, good times with good friends, and I find myself desperately haunting those echoes, trying to live in the vacuum of moments which have faded away.

I think the reason this move has been so different than the others in my life is because I feel like all the anchors of my identity have been removed. My friendships, my responsibilities, my creative outlets, my opportunities to express all my favorite things about myself have not disappeared - they have just been been placed out of my reach, accessible only in small doses, and mostly through ‘skype’. When I look in the mirror, I recognize the hair and chin and eyes, but I don’t know who I am anymore. I feel like everything that defined me is gone. 

There are people I know casually, but they don’t really know me. I hide big chunks of my life because I have been blessed with a remarkable amount of interesting friends, family, and life experiences - so remarkable, in fact, that to speak of them sounds like bragging. I’m not bragging - it’s just my life. I don’t have any other stories to tell. And although the thought of life in the absence of such remarkable people and places feels like a slap of cold, blue concrete, the truth is they are the bits which shine brightest as blessings. 

When I push my temperamental emotions aside and let Truth take stock of my life, building up an inventory of what actually exists (whether I acknowledge it or not), it quickly becomes clear that not all anchors in my life have been displaced. There is one Anchor that remains, one slice of my identity that cannot be stripped, no matter what else crumbles and falls.

But now, this is what the LORD says...
"Fear not, for I have redeemed you; 
I have summoned you by name; you are Mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. 
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior... 
You are precious and honored in My sight, and I love you...” (Isaiah 43:1-4) 

“It is impossible for God to lie. Therefore, we who have fled to Him for refuge can have great confidence as we hold to the hope that lies before us. This hope is a strong and trustworthy anchor for our souls.” (Hebrews 6:18-19).

My God is good and He loves me. I have fled to Him for refuge enough times to know this deeper and truer than I know anything else. When every other anchor in my life gives way, this Anchor holds. He will not allow the waves of weariness to sweep over me, the currents of loneliness to pull me away, the fire of my frustration to set me ablaze. Because He, the Holy God, my Savior, loves me. He calls me His Dear One; He reminds me that the core of my identity rests in the hope He has called me to. The hope that calls me by name. The hope that endlessly confirms I am His. The hope that I am precious and loved, because He is the Lord and He only makes high quality goods. This hope pierces through the echoes of my desperate haunting, whispering that through the best of times and through the worst of times, the very best is yet to come. I have seen His goodness - I will see it still.

It’s winter and all the trees are bare. I’m sure I would have known them if they were wearing their leaves, but now only naked branches rake the crisp afternoon sky, one looking no different than the others. Their identities have been shaken, fallen, and leaf-blown away. Yet it is in their humbling nudity that the strength for winds to come is revealed - each twig, each branch grows upward, contorting, stretching, praying to the sun that gives them life. Their new leaves are there, they are but hidden for a season, swallowed up by cold, rough bark. At the proper time, however, the trees will bloom again, and the seemingly weak winter branches will break into a thousand shades of vibrant green.

My new leaves are there. I just can’t see them right now. They are hidden under a cold rough blueness that sometimes soaks into my soul. This season is important - it is revealing my source of strength for winds to come. When all other anchors, all other defining leaves reside in corners of the earth far from the one I live in, when my feelings tell me that the inventory of my life is coming up short on blessings and long on discouragements, I must reach up to the Hope that is a strong and trustworthy anchor for my soul. The Hope which reminds me this season will pass and I will green again; a day will dawn when I look in the mirror and know who I am. 

He, by the way, has never forgotten. He, the Holy God, my Savior is the One who calls me by name and in my tremulous moments of being off-balance whispers, “Fear not; you won’t fall... you won’t fall... I am with you - don’t think I would ever let you fall”.

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