Day 59 — His Voice

I went away recently for a couple of days, to be alone with the Lord, to hear from Him and be guided by Him, be guided by His Word, with respect to the treatment options that we were facing.  I didn’t know what that would look like — there is no Bible verse that says, “Here is the medical treatment approach you take to defeat advanced pancreatic cancer”.  All I did know is that my Father, My King, had called me to be with Him, alone, and had placed upon my heart a deep, deep longing to seek Him, to seek His face, in solitude and silence.

“When you said, ‘Seek My face,’ my heart said to You, ‘Your face, Lord, I will seek.’”  Ps. 27:8.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Earlier this year the Lord had me camp at John 10:40:  ”And He [Jesus] went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.”  I recall it was the sheer poetry of the verse – the utter restfulness of it all — that first caught my attention.  In a book (the Bible) that necessarily condenses its prose and invites the reader to delve deep into the text, led and taught by the Holy Spirit, this verse seemed to meander along quite unconcerned with word count.  “And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.”  In the peaceful pacing of those words, I heard my Abba-Father’s voice, His heart, calling to me, drawing me close.  And so I drew near, and stayed with Him there for a period that extended for days, a week, two weeks, and more, during the month of February.

But even after all that time, I had the sense that I was missing something.  There was a missing piece, something that I couldn’t quite latch onto.  A key piece, it seemed.  Sometimes the Lord will do this with me.  He will bring me to a verse simply to say “Mark this.”  He will make a verse or a passage stand out to me, and I will sit with it and meditate upon it — sometimes for a day, sometimes even for weeks — before I understand that now is not the time for His full revelation to me.  The point is, He is saying to me “Mark this.  One day I’m going to bring you right back to this verse to speak to you, but now is not the time.  Right now, I’m just saying ‘Mark this, remember this day, this moment, these words, because when the time comes for Me to speak to you more fully in this verse, I want you to know – to know, in an especial way – that it’s Me.’”

*   *   *   *   *   *

I vividly remember watching the sun rise one morning with my God and King at Brandywine Falls — a small, rather out-of-the-way waterfall near my home.  The Lord had invited me to do that with Him — propelled me to do that with Him (but that’s another story ☺) — one fall morning years ago.  That morning was a particularly intimate morning for us, and I’m sure it is written on my heart for all of eternity.  But for now I want to share just one small thing that happened that morning.  It was something I didn’t quite “get” — a “mark this” moment.  I saw a single leaf falling from a tree.  It variously lilted and tumbled and turned as it meandered its way from oak to stream.  Then another.  A single leaf, twirling quickly, its descent a bit more rapid before it settled abruptly upon the grass below.  Then another, its dance and its resting place altogether different.  And another, then another.  On and on, amidst the quiet of stream and breeze.  So restful.  So peaceful.  And I remember wondering “Lord, what are You saying here?  What do you have for me here?”  But there was nothing more.  It was a “mark this” moment.

Several months later I was sitting by the fireplace before dawn, after a fresh snowfall of four, maybe five, inches.  A peaceful Saturday was promised ahead as I warmed my hands against the soft glow of orange coals, certain the rising sun would soon unveil trees and shrubs gently wrapped, branch and twig, in delicate white.  My family slept soundly, safely upstairs.  For me, there was

solitude and silence.

God and me.

Alone, together . . .

He waiting to unwrap for me His gift of an untouched snowscape, and me excited to cherish that gift, that morning, with Him.  I set aside my journal and reached for some split cherry to keep the fire apace, wondering what Scripture to open, asking Him for guidance.  I had been longing for quite some time to meditate upon His voice, as described by the Psalmist, but I always got the sense that the timing wasn’t right.  From time to time I would move in that direction, but each time I sensed a soft, unspoken resistance of sorts, and so I would set it aside to wait for Him.

That morning, our wait was over.  For as I sat with the Lord, staring into the fire, seeking His guidance, I was surprised (and pleased!) when I sensed Him encouraging me to explore His voice.  I hadn’t asked, but it was time.

I had forgotten which Psalm it was, but recalled that I scrawled “HIS VOICE” in big letters on that page of my Bible so I would be able to find it when the time came.  I leafed through the Bible and found those block letters aside Psalm 29, settled in close to the fire, and began meditating upon His voice as revealed through David’s poetic heart.

3The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
The God of glory thunders;
The Lord is over many waters.
 4The voice of the Lord is powerful;
The voice of the Lord is full of majesty.
5The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars,
Yes, the Lord splinters the cedars of Lebanon.
 6He makes them also skip like a calf,
Lebanon and Sirion like a young wild ox.
 7The voice of the Lord divides the flames of fire.
8The voice of the Lord shakes the wilderness;
The Lord shakes the Wilderness of Kadesh.
 9The voice of the Lord makes the deer give birth,
And strips the forests bare;
And in His temple everyone says, “Glory!”

(Psalm 29:3-9).  For a time much of the Psalm was hidden from me.  I struggled.  I saw the sheer power and majesty of the Lord, but not much more.

“What do you have for me here, Lord?  Teach me, I pray.”

I meandered my way through the Psalm again.  Glory, thunder, power, majesty, breaks, splinters. . . .  As I came to verse 9 I pictured the Lord’s thundering voice just absolutely blasting a forest bare, in an instant.  BOOM!  Done!!

But in that moment my heart replayed a solitary, lilting leaf balleting its way, restfully, gracefully, toward the ground, quietly nestling into its place beside a gently flowing stream born of Brandywine Falls. . . . My Father unfolding for me the meaning of that long ago “mark this” moment:

“That is how My voice strips a forest bare.”

I thought back to Brandywine Falls — and suddenly I saw the quiet beauty, the sheer romance of it all.  There was no rush. . . . It was not frantic and hurried. . . .

It was slow –

– so slow that I didn’t even realize, as I sat by the falls, that He was stripping an entire forest bare, right in front of me, all around me, in those very moments.

By His power, by His might, He was accomplishing much(!) — transforming an entire forest(!!!) — but His voice, His heart in that, was subtle . . . it was thoughtful . . . and gentle . . . and creative . . . and romantic . . . and soft . . . and enthralling. . . .

And with that the Lord began to unfold His Psalm (Ps. 32:8; Ps. 94:12; Is. 45:3).  As I delved into the original Hebrew text the Word spoke to me of my King (v 3-6) and my Father (v 7-9).  A King who is almighty, full of majesty, in control.  And yet a King who is my Father, who searches out and speaks to my deepest heart with love and compassion and understanding.

My Abba-King.

And then, in those pre-dawn moments, “glory”, “thunder”, “power”, “majesty”, “breaks”, “splinters” somehow became not so much words or concepts, but poetry that my Lord laid upon my heart.  And even as my heart – my heart – knew Him as Omnipotent King in those moments, my heart likewise knew that those gently falling leaves expressed the voice of Someone in love.  That, yes, this King – the King — was so very much in love even with me.  My heart knew, felt, without words:

 God.

Loves.

 Me.

My heart broke within me.  I quietly, tearfully, moved down from my rocking chair, onto my knees — and before the warmth of the small fire, my heart trembling with love, gave myself, all of me, over to my God, my Father, my Love.

 *   *   *   *   *   *

May 2, the day we received the initial cancer diagnosis, seems like a long time ago.  And yet, in some ways, it was yesterday.  I remember we — Diane and I — returned from the Cleveland Clinic and stood together in the kitchen, talking.  During our conversation I recall there was a pause, a lull.  Silence.  For a moment, neither of us had anything to say. . . .

And amidst that quiet my Father silently spoke to me:  “And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.”

My mind, in seconds, recalled and replayed the context of the verse that I had bathed in for most of February.  Jesus had just been thrown out of Jerusalem, run out of the city He loved, by the people He loved.  Though He had tried for months to romance them – healing, forgiving, teaching, ministering, loving – they wanted Him dead.  He would not go back to Jerusalem until He returned for Passover, for His crucifixion, three months later.

In John 10:40, Jesus’ world was listing all around Him, and He knew He was three months from His death.

And in those very moments 2,000 years ago, the Father asked Jesus to come be with Him in a particularly intimate place – the place where Jesus was baptized.  The very place where, three years earlier, the Holy Spirit descended upon Christ even as His Father openly declared, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” For Jesus, a place of emotion and assurance and heart, where scent and sight and sound resonated, deep, with memory and meaning.  And it was a remote place, a restful place, of solitude and silence.  A place to detach from the world, and sink into the Father.  A place of refreshment, focus, fulfillment, and call clarification.  A place to breathe deep, with eyes and heart and ears and hands heavenward.

“And He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was baptizing at first, and there He stayed.”

As my Abba-Father spoke those restful, poetic words to me on May 2, I understood, I knew.  They shared not only His heart toward Jesus, His call to Jesus when Jesus’ world was listing and death drew near, but they likewise expressed His heart toward me, His call to me, as my world listed, as death (so I was told) drew so very near.  I realized, then, that the missing piece, in February, the part of the text I couldn’t “get”, was me.  The Lord brought me to that verse in February because He knew May 2 was coming.  That a day was coming when I would need to know – oh how very, very much I would need to know – that He was there.  With me.  For me.  Holding me, calling unto me.  In love with me.  Yes, He knew how much I would need Him.

Oh how much – how much! — I need Him.

And so He took the time, over the course of several weeks in February, to take me, His beloved, deep into that verse and, ultimately, to say to me, “Mark this.  One day I’m going to bring you right back to this verse to speak to you, but now is not the time.  Right now, I’m just saying ‘Mark this, remember this day, this moment, these words, because when the time comes for Me to speak to you more fully in this verse, I want you to know – to know, in an especial way – that it’s Me.’”

Yes, in those moments on May 2 I knew my Father was calling me, even me, to our special place, to Brandywine Falls.  A place, for me, of emotion and assurance and heart, where scent and sight and sound resonate, deep, with memory and meaning.  A remote place, a restful place, of solitude and silence.  A place to detach from the world, and sink into the Father.  A place of refreshment, focus, fulfillment, and call clarification.  A place to breathe deep, with eyes and heart and ears and hands heavenward.

And so, in mid-June I found myself there, alone with Him, in answer to His call, listening to His voice speak to me again, from Scripture and from sermons, through nature, and quietly in my heart. . . .

Oh, how much, how very much, I need Him.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Psalm 92, I believe, captures my heart right now, as I reflect upon the moments I just recorded here, and contemplate and cherish His greatness, His goodness to me, His eternal lovingkindness toward me:

 It is good to give thanks to the Lord,
And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
To declare Your lovingkindness in the morning,
And Your faithfulness every night,
On an instrument of ten strings,
On the lute,
And on the harp,
With harmonious sound.
For You, Lord, have made me glad through Your work;
I will triumph in the works of Your hands.
O Lord, how great are Your works!
Your thoughts are very deep.

Ps 92:1-5.  (Amen!)

I can’t even begin to comprehend the depth of His thoughts toward me, the depth of His heart for me, every moment of every day.

As He unfolded an autumnal ballet before me, He knew of an intimate fire quietly lighting and warming a room for a man who longed to know His voice – to know Him – more dearly.  And so, even as He passionately embraced me atop the early morning falls, He silently whispered to me of a time when He would satisfy, more fully, that yearning of my heart.  Unashamedly baring even His own heart’s desire for that moment by the fire.

And in the midst of a February winter, that heart – His heart – seemed to break for me even as He romanced me with poetry, with restfulness, and poured Himself out with compassion and mercy, so I would be assured of His care and provision, His love, on that fateful, second day of May, when my world would be listing, when death would seem to be drawing near.

What more is there to say?  Words fail me.  This is my God.  This is His heart.  The heart of my Abba-King.  He is deeply concerned — for me.  Deeply romantic — towards me.  Deeply in love — with me.  Unashamed of His feelings for me, dust, a man who deserves nothing, but who is worth everything, to Him.

And here, really, is the point of all this:

 This is your God.

I certainly hold no special claim(!!) upon His heart that He does not offer and shower upon you!  For Someone is deeply in love with you.  Yes,

He is deeply concerned — for you.
Deeply romantic — towards you.
Deeply in love — with you.

Unashamed of His feelings for you, dust,
a person who deserves nothing,
but who is worth everything, to Him.

I don’t know where this life finds you at this moment.  Perhaps on the cusp of a celebration, or gazing upon waves rolling in from the ocean, or setting aside your guitar.  Perhaps beside a campfire, or preparing for a nap, or baking.  Perhaps in an airport headed home.  Or away.

Perhaps you’ve just walked into your kitchen, holding a mortal diagnosis in your hands for the very first time . . . .

I don’t know.

But I do know this.  Wherever this finds you, God’s heart toward you is the heart of Someone deeply in love, and He is calling to you even now(!) . . . saying to you, His beloved, “Seek My face”.  For that is His heart.  He does not try to hide it, as all of Scripture attests  — and will attest, for all of eternity.

May you hear Him, hear His voice.  And may your heart say to Him, “Your face Lord, I will seek.”

Day 36 — Unhurried

While traveling back from Chicago a couple of weeks ago on the Interstate, we pulled into a rest stop for a break and some bottled water.  As I was checking out at the convenience store counter a man walked up beside me to check out next.  He looked to be in his 60s, but it immediately struck me that perhaps he looked 10 years older than he really was.  He had the look of a hard life.  Black, unkempt hair atop a deeply wrinkled, leathery face, mostly covered with scratchy gray stubble.  His dark eyes seemed tired, like life had been fighting against him far too long.  He wore a thin, dingy grey tank top, soiled, that fit loosely upon once-muscular shoulders.  On his left bicep I noticed a dark blue tattoo that, I suspect, meant something to him long ago.  As I stepped aside with my change he ordered generic cigarettes with a raspy, pack-a-day voice and firmly set a once-crumpled ten dollar bill against the counter, beneath his open palm.

“Why not him?” a silent voice inside me asked.

This question had risen up inside me before, and it’s ugly and black and mean.  It’s asking “why doesn’t this guy have pancreatic cancer instead of me?”  It’s filled with judgmentalism and darkness.  Standing at the counter, fitting my change into my wallet, my mind quickly fleshes out the thought in a rapid staccato:  “he obviously hasn’t taken care of himself;”  “he’s ordering cigarettes for Pete’s sake;” “he’s probably been smoking for 40 years, 50 years.”

“Why not him?”  It’s a question that surprised me the first time it entered my mind.  And, of all places, the first time it happened was at the Cleveland Clinic when I was headed for a biopsy to confirm my doctor’s 99.9% certainty that I had cancer.  The absurd irony of that does not escape me:  many of the people I begrudged were sick themselves, perhaps mortally so.  But as we headed to and then from the biopsy, walking the wide passage ways of the Clinic, I noticed resentment rising up against strangers who had lived long lives, and found myself wondering “why not them” as out-of-shape passers-by came into view. After a time, my mind thankfully was pointed to John 21, the passage where the resurrected Jesus explains to Peter that he (Peter) will be martyred later in his life.  Peter then asks Jesus whether the disciple John will also be martyred, and Jesus answers, “If I will that he remain till I come [i.e., if I will that he never die], what is that to you?  You follow Me.”  That helped.  A lot. “Yes, what is it to me, Lord?  I need only follow You, trust You, be with You.  Focus my mind, my heart, there, I pray.”  As we headed toward the Cleveland Clinic parking garage, John 21 reoriented my thinking.

And I fully expected it to be the end of the brief skirmish I had just had with minions of the evil one.  For make no mistake, that is what it was.  These types of dark and evil thoughts are born of hell, and we are tempted to cultivate them and cherish them in our own minds, deep inside ourselves.  If we do adopt them and agree with them, embrace them, as I had at the Clinic, those missives from hell transition from temptation to sin.

After the Clinic, I found that these missives came against me from time to time, but each time Jesus’ words — “If I will that he [be well], what is that to you?  You follow Me” — were enough to rescue me.  Enough, that is, until the interstate convenience store counter, where my mind suddenly embraced the arrows, bringing self-pity and then, as I stuffed change into my wallet, self-recrimination.  As I moved away from that convenience store counter and made my way toward Diane, I repented (again) and sensed the Lord (again) reminding me, with love, with compassion, “what is it to you if I will that he be completely healthy.  You follow Me.”

I tried to put this brief experience behind me, and frankly thought it was rather insignificant in the grand scheme of things, given all the other ongoing sin issues in my life(!).  Any yet it bothered me that the arrow found its mark once again.  Was this really an issue for me?  Did I truly begrudge strangers their health?  I honestly didn’t feel like I did, and yet I couldn’t deny that the arrows had found their mark more than once.  So what was going on here?  I was bothered by it all and yet, as I said, it somehow didn’t seem like such a big deal to me in the grand scheme of things.

A week or so later, driving across the Valley View bridge south of Cleveland, the memories of those skirmishes surfaced in my mind again.  “I don’t want to think that way, ever” I silently prayed to the Lord, envisioning the man at the convenience counter.  As I crossed the midway point of the bridge I sensed my Father asking me a question:

“Would you rather that he have pancreatic cancer instead of you?”

*   *   *   *   *

Looking back at that moment, that question, I marvel at the tack our Father took.  His love, His grace, His compassion.  How He deftly handled this issue, which “somehow didn’t seem like such a big deal to me.”  By tweaking my question (“Why doesn’t he have pancreatic cancer instead of me?”) into another question (“Would you rather that he have pancreatic cancer instead of you?”), He cut to the heart of the matter and made me see the utter depravity of it all.   The striking soullessness of it all.   I finally grasped, viscerally, just how black those thoughts were.  A desire, in the blackest possible sense, to deprive someone of something I wanted (good health) so that I could have it.

As I continued across the bridge, my heart immediately responded, on its own, passionately, earnestly, to His question.  There was no thinking on my part, no contemplation.  Just reaction.  Heart.

“Would you rather that he have pancreatic cancer instead of you?”

“No!  No way, no how, Lord.  How could I ever — ever — wish this, what I’m going through, upon someone else?  No Lord.  No.  I would never wish to be free of pancreatic cancer if it meant any other person would have it instead.”  I sensed Him healing my heart in that moment, and it seemed (and seems) as if that question, those arrows, will never again hit their mark.

Later, as I reflected on those moments on the bridge, they brought to mind a portion of John Eldredge’s rather poetic description of a wise and compassionate man:  “What he offers, he offers with kindness, and discretion. . . .  [H]is words are offered in the right measure, at the right time, to the right person.  He will not trouble you with things you do not need to know, nor burden you with things that are not yet yours to bear, nor embarrass you with exposure for shortcomings you are not ready yet to overcome, even though he sees all of that.  For he is wise, and compassionate.”  There are, of course, many different facets to compassion, but I see these particular facets in how my situation was handled by our Abba, our perfect Father.  Those dark arrows from hell found their mark in me more than once for a reason.  There was something deep in me — for how long I do not know! — that desired to hold onto those particular arrows, to grasp and cultivate those thoughts.  And until I was crossing the Valley View bridge, I did not see the utter hatefulness of it all.  But my Dad, all this time, had known, and seen, those shortcomings.  Deep inside of me.  Yet He did not burden me with those things, nor embarrass me for those shortcomings.  He knew I was not yet ready to face them (in His strength and grace).  So He prepared me, and brought me to that place when it was time, when I was ready to hear and receive those words in a place deeper even than where the arrows struck.

And notice how His words and counsel were offered not only at the right time, but in the right measure.  The easiness of it all, the lightness of His touch.  With a simple question perfectly chosen and phrased to resonate deep within me, the Lord was at once showing me, gently, compassionately, that those thoughts are a big deal, and yet settling me into a place of grace and truth where I could overcome those arrows (I pray once and for all), by His strength.  A place where, by His grace, by His work in my life and heart, I received and experienced a deep and true repentance.  A loving gift purchased by the blood of my Savior, and quietly placed into my heart by the strong hands of my Abba-Father.

But even in the midst of His love and compassion being lived into my heart, it is perhaps the calm, unhurried restfulness of it all that struck me most in this instance.  During this time of correction, which in retrospect began during my stroll through the Clinic, if not before, I never got the sense that there was some kind of rush, that somewhere God was standing over me with furrowed brow and a stopwatch, measuring my progress in minutes and seconds.  That He wanted to tick that particular outcropping of “hateful envy” off my long list of sins so that we could frantically move on to the next, and then the next, and then the next.  No, His heart in this, His heart toward my sanctification, seemed unhurried, restful.

I found myself wondering why this struck me most . . . and had to conclude that I just didn’t expect it.  For some reason I had to be reminded, yet again, that He has an unhurried, restful heart toward me with respect to my growth as a Christian.  Why does this so often surprise me, catch me off guard?  After all, God tells us He will lead us beside still waters, make us to lie down in green pastures, unto restoration of soul.  (See Ps 23:1-2.)  That’s His approach.  Sink in and breath deep, join Him where He’s at, and He will change you.  His way, He tells us, is restful:  Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”  (Mt. 11:28-30).

This is not to say that God is ambivalent about our sanctification, our growth in Him.  God is passionate about our sanctification (Ex. 34:14) — and yet He is never hurried.  Jesus certainly lived a wholly unhurried life while He walked the earth, and explained that this was the Father’s heart as well (“He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9)).  For the unhurried life, the unhurried heart, affords opportunity to immerse, sink in, relish.  It embraces depth and yields richness.  It has time to listen and appreciate and counsel.  (“Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 46:10a).)

A hurried life, by contrast, kills love (Ortberg).  I remember learning a new card game, years ago, with a few friends.  Fairly competitive friends.  The game was played two against two, and I was having some trouble keeping all of the rules and nuances and partner-signals straight.  As my partner got increasingly agitated with the slow pace of my learning, I got increasingly beleaguered of heart.  His attitude was “hurry up and learn already!” and my inward response was “get me out of this game!”  That’s the impact of a hurried life, a hurried heart:  churning, tension, overblown superficial concerns, distance.

The unhurried life, however, has time for intimate conversation and exploration, for nurturing and shared experience, for long embraces, unto falling more deeply in loveThose are the things our Father, our Savior, our Holy Spirit, is after with us(!), for He longs to have our hearts.  And so, by example, He invites us into the unhurried life that He lives and speaks of.  The not-so-surprising “catch” is that if we embrace Him, unto falling more and more in love with Him, sanctification naturally will follow, more and more:  “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (Jn. 14:15 (emphasis added)).

Like any man, I have inumerable sin issues in my life.  “Too numerous to count”, as they say.  Most of those issues I’m not even aware of yet, but many of them represent struggles that have plagued me for years and years and years.  God longs for me to be free of those struggles, is passionate about my sanctification — much more passionate than I am, I might add.  But, as Dominic Smart puts it, “at the heart of being with God is not successful performance, but a relationship of love” (emphasis added)So when I take stock of my life, and realize how little like Jesus I am, how little I’ve grown, I have to remember His heart in all of this.  He’s not in a rush, for hurry kills love.  I must let my sin remind me of His forgiveness, His glory, His love, His heart toward me, staked to a Cross.  (Yes, even that foul black sentiment I coddled at the Clinic and then again at the Interstate counter — Jesus took the punishment I deserve for that.)  To the extent I sense accusation, burden, guilt, or abandonment as I continue to struggle with “this that or the other sin”, I must recognize those sentiments for what they are:  more darts and arrows from hell, seeking to bring me down and take me out of relationship with my Abba-King, who is compassionate, who remembers that I am dust (Ps. 103:14), even if I do not!

As my Savior lowered Himself to personally teach and correct me on the Valley View bridge, He reminded me that far from being agitated or fed-up with me, He loves me with an everlasting, compassionate love, and He remains unhurried even when I fail, repeatedly, to catch on.  He will never say to me “hurry up and learn already!”  But instead, His message to me, and to you, is come, My beloved, just as you are(!) –sink in, right here, right now, with Me, and breath deep, unto abundant, everlasting life.

 

Day 32 — Too Wonderful

I remember coming to New York City in the summer of 2002 with my family.  Megan and Mallory were much younger then, 10 and 8, and we hadn’t adopted Cara yet.  We ventured into the city in our Honda minivan and crawled our way, pre-GPS, to the Marriott Marquis in Times Square, where we checked into a suite for a couple of days.  The overarching intent of our weeklong vacation was a “side-by-side” comparison of sorts.  We would spend a few days in the greatest city in the world and consider the best that “man” has to offer, and then immediately drive out to a mountaintop destination in the Pennsylvania Poconos for a few days to experience what God’s creation offers in comparison.

We were so excited(!) as we settled into the Marriott to begin the first leg of our side-by-side experiment, and what followed in New York was even more thrilling for our young family:  Times Square, the Museum of Natural History, Central Park, Rockefeller Center, subway rides, Statue of Liberty (from a distance), front-row seats at a Broadway play (“Oklahoma!”), street vendors, Grand Central Station, great restaurants.  People everywhere(!), by the thousands.  Wonderful times remembered with fondness and smiling eyes.

 *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Last Monday night Diane, Megan, Mallory, and I made our way to New York City a second time, in another Honda minivan.  (Cara had stayed behind with her Grandma and cousins, an hour or so away in upstate New York.)  It was the first time we’d been back to stay in New York City, together, since our 2002 vacation.   Ten years removed from our 2002 “side-by-side”.

And one week removed from our (my wife Diane and my) trip to the Block Cancer Center in Chicago.

Yes, once again, our travels centered around cancer.  We were in New York not because we planned an adventurous family vacation, but because I needed to consult with a pancreatic cancer specialist over the course of two days, and her offices are somewhat close to the theater district in Manhattan.

As you may recall, it was exceedingly, exceedingly hard for Diane and me to go to the Block Cancer Center in Chicago the previous week.  (Please see “Day 20 – Remembering His Kiss”.)   Although Chicago held no special memories for us whatsoever, it was the first trip we made for the purpose of figuring out my cancer treatment.  The first time we traveled together to an exciting get-away destination for something other than, well, a get-away.  And it was the first time I felt Cancer dragging me down, pulling me down emotionally and spiritually.

And here we are, now, returning to the site of one of our most memorable family vacations . . . because of cancer.  For cancer.  But God’s grace, His love, His light touch are evident to me as we check in.  God prepared Diane and me for this moment, this trip, by allowing us to grieve, as it were, in Chicago.  I can’t imagine how difficult it would have been to drive up to, check in, and settle into, “our” hotel had it not been for Chicago.  But even as I realize that my wife and I have been prepared by the Chicago trip, I suddenly realize our daughters haven’t been.  And as we ride the elevator up to the 28th floor, I know we need to talk about it, to get those emotions out in the open as a family, to fight the various spiritual battles each of us may be facing.  As the elevator doors open, I find myself quietly longing to talk about these things with our daughters.

And so the wait begins — the wait for the right moment.  I’ve learned the hard way that these types of discussions can’t be forced; my ambitions, my timing, must be set aside. The Lord must lead here.  I must yield this space, let Him bring the discussion to us in the ebb and flow of our lives, as He decides best.

As we unpack and begin to settle in I try to be alert for the right moment, the right “pulse” in our room, but it just doesn’t seem like the right time.  I ask the Lord to let me know if it’s time, but I don’t sense any feedback.  It’s very late, after midnight, and as the minutes tick by I begin to realize it won’t happen that first night.  I reluctantly realize we’ll be waiting until morning.

We lie down.

The initial gameplan is for our girls to explore Manhattan on their own during the day while Diane and I visit doctors, and then we’ll all meet up together at the hotel in the late afternoon.  On Tuesday evening we’ll have an early dinner and head to a Broadway play (“Once”), and on Wednesday we’ll head upstate to my brother’s house to reconnect with Grandma, Cara, and my brother’s family.  So, there is more of a vacation purpose to this trip than there was in Chicago, and I am hopeful this will take some of the sting out of the realities of the overall trip for my girls.  But still, for my daughters’ emotional well-being, I want to have this discussion before we get too far along.

Morning comes; we rise up.

We hang out in the hotel room and get ready for the day in a rather sleepy-eyed fashion.   We’re all together, no distractions — but somehow, still, the time is not right.  If I had my druthers, the conversation would take place before we leave that room, but it is not to be.  My heart sinks a bit as we step from Room 2832, knowing that this longing to minister to the girls will remain unmet for at least the better part of day one in New York, and I carry deep concern for them as, at Seventh Avenue and 36th Street, our paths separate.

We reconvene in late afternoon to dress up for an early dinner before taking in Once on Broadway.  Still, the time just isn’t right.  The vibe isn’t there.  The Lord seems very silent to me.  Again I am tempted to force the issue, but I hold back.  I quietly search for signals as to how they might be faring emotionally. . . . but all I sense is tremendous angst over which shoes to wear (Mallory!) ☺.

We head to a Scottish pub/restaurant that Diane and I scouted out earlier and, upon entering, elect to eat in the pub — a bit more festive, we figure, than the upstairs restaurant.  As we meander the path to our table we hear the comfortable and familiar sounds of good times quietly unfolding around us, in the booths and at the bar.

We sit down.

Our family quickly becomes part of the talkative background noise of the pub, as we weave the experiences of the day into the tapestry of our family memories.  The give-and-take at our table grows louder with joking and laughter as the various foibles of our day fully illustrate the foibles of our personalities, who we are.  The talk is fast and lively.  Megan.  Mallory.  Diane.  Me.  Mallory.  Me.  Diane.  Megan.  Diane.  Mallory.

And then, a moment.  It comes abruptly, takes me by surprise.  Mallory says something — I don’t quite remember what — but it was the perfect segue into the conversation I had been longing to have.  I finally sense the Holy Spirit saying, “now is the time”, and as I inwardly consider His still, quiet voice, and silently double-check with Him that yes, it’s time, I fear I’ve paused too long to make my play.   But in that elongated moment there is a lull in the conversation – the first of the evening — one of those pregnant pauses where nobody offers a witty repartee or re-directs the family to the next topic of conversation.  It’s as if the Holy Spirit is underscoring that “yes(!!), it’s time”.

The Lord has provided the direction and the margin.  The words come slowly to me at first, but I manage ham-handedly to tee up the family discussion. . . . And it flows wonderfully, with honesty and depth and truth.  The mood is light, the back-and-forth conversation relaxed and effortless.  We are all in – Diane, Megan, Mallory, myself — as far as each of us is ready to go, and it is goodVery good.

O Lord, You have searched me and known me.
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
You understand my thought afar off.
You comprehend my path and my lying down,
And are acquainted with all my ways.
For there is not a word on my tongue,
But behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.
You have hedged me behind and before,
And laid Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high, I cannot attain it.

 (Ps. 139:1-6)

True to His word, faithful to His character, the Lord took the time, as it were, to search me and know me deep, to understand my thoughts, my desires, and to meet me there, to counsel and guide me — even amidst the swirling distractions of pub and cancer (as my friend Joe later pointed out).  And so too, my family.  For reasons I don’t know – for reasons even they may not know — they weren’t ready for this conversation when we lied down at the hotel, or rose up the next morning, or made our paths into the city.  Not even when we first sat down at the pub.  But our Abba Father was taking stock, preparing each heart (Ps 33:15), charting and navigating the course each needed to take in order to meet in that momentary pregnant pause at a little Scottish pub on 47th street, off Broadway.

Yes, such knowledge is too wonderful for me.  It is high, and I cannot attain it.  Your grace, Your love, Your compassion, Lord, abounds.

Why me?  Why us?  (And you, believers, children of God, why you? — for such is our Lord with you!)  Whether in the car approaching New York City, or in an elevator being whisked to the 28th floor, or unpacking in a hotel room amidst 7 million others in New York, or chatting with my family over fresh baked bread and homemade butter in one of a thousand Manhattan eateries, You, my Abba, are with me, with us, searching us deep, knowing us intimately, anticipating our every word, ministering to us, speaking to us, loving us.  You are “all in,” all the time.  (As You are with each of your children!)

Where can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend into heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the morning,
And dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
Even there Your hand shall lead me,
And Your right hand shall hold me
.

 (Ps. 139:7-10.)  Your love, my King, it is intimate.  Your care, my Love, it is deep and wide and full.  Every momentEverywhere.

It is too wonderful!  I cannot attain it!

Those moments at the pub, such an embrace!  You not only whispered “now is the time”, and gave me the grace to hear Your still, quiet voice, but then You provided the margin, the lull in the table talk, so that we could respond, could follow Your lead, walk with You, at Your unhurried pace.  And so the conversation – far from being laborious, difficult, and stilted — was buoyant and deep, with joy and honesty amidst pain and uncertainty.

Oh my Abba, my Father, my Dad, may we know these truths about who You are ever more deeply.  How often I run off on my own, expecting You to follow my lead!  How often I plague myself with a “Ready, Shoot, Aim” mentality (as my friend Dave puts it)!  May I set aside these things!  May I set aside my desire to be in control, and re-direct that longing to You, the One who truly is in control, trusting that You will perfectly guide and direct me, Your son whom You love.  May I be patient enough to await Your timing, and sensitive enough to hear Your prompting, in every facet of my life.  For Your voice gladdens my heart, and Your timing, it is good.

For You – my Father, my Savior, my Holy Spirit – You are good.  It is too wonderful for me; it is high, I cannot attain it.