Day 99 — Presence

(The following blogpost was written over the course of several weeks, which have been exceedingly difficult with respect to pain.  Please see the “Med Status” page for periodic updates in this regard.)

“The gift of presence is a rare and beautiful gift.  To come unguarded, undistracted, and be present and fully engaged with the one whom we are with.  Have you noticed in reading the Gospels that people enjoyed being around Jesus?  They wanted to be near him – to share a meal, take a walk, have a lingering conversation.  It was the gift of his presence.  When you were with him, you felt like he was offering you his heart.”  John Eldredge.

“Jesus said to him, . . . “If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; and from now on you know Him and have seen Him. . . . He who has seen Me has seen the Father.”  Jn 14:6, 7, 9b.

“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  Heb 13:8.

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It’s 4:00 in the afternoon and as I type this I am in pain.  More so than usual for daytime.  Much more.  Stabbing pain on both sides of my lower ribcage region; dull, heavy pain in both flanks of my back.  Unusual in its severity for this time of day.   The bitter taste at the back of my throat is a brief reminder that I’ve just swallowed my third vicodin for the day, to go with the timed-release morphine that is constantly flowing through my blood, 24/7.  I only get six vicodin a day and I usually have the much-needed luxury of docketing all of those until nighttime, which has always been the most difficult (read:  painful) portion of each 24-hour cycle.  I taste, again, the bitter smudge of vicodin at the back of my throat.  Tonight I’ll get to take three vicodin, at best — half what I’ve needed in the past.

At this level of pain I can’t lie down – every position aggravates and thus heightens the pain in some area or another.  I discovered I can sometimes fall asleep sitting, however, and so when this level of pain strikes at night I sleep as best I can sitting up, migrating from room to room, chair to bed to couch to chair to floor, to get “comfortable” enough to doze off, if even for 60 minutes at a time.  Sleep an hour, wonder hither and yon throughout the house, looking for relief, and sometime later catch another merciful hour of precious sleep, an hour when the pain fades from my consciousness. . . . With a couple of recent exceptions, I haven’t slept more than two or three hours during any given night over the past two weeks.

But that torso/flank pain isn’t the worst.  Not by a long-shot.  The worst, the dreaded, for me, is agonizing lower abdominal pain that keeps me desperately pacing, usually in the dead of night. Although I have horrible lower abdominal pain quite a bit, the pain at this dreaded level has only happened twice.  When it comes, it is unyielding, constant.  Cycling throughout the night from horrible to tremendous to agonizing.  I have prescription meds for the abdominal pain, but they don’t even begin to touch these bouts.

Late Sunday night / early morning Monday of July 22/23 was the worst of the worst.  And in my moments of greatest pain, relentlessly on my feet (or sometimes restlessly kneeling for a moment or two), hour upon hour upon hour, from pre-midnight to after dawn, pacing, moving, without any relief whatsoever, exhausted but unable to rest, I cried out to God in barely audible whispers, unable to muster more than a few syllables at a time.  Spiritually, no longer able to praise Him.  Mentally, no longer able to pray through James 1:2-4 (“[C]ount it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience [perseverance].  But let patience [perseverance] have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing”), Romans 5:3-5 (“[W]e also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.  Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us”), or 2 Cor 4:16-18 (“[W]e do not lose heart.  Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.  For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.”)

No, all I could do was say the name of “Jesus”.  Over and over and over again, as I paced and stepped, kept moving, in pain, holding my hand lightly upon my lower abdomen, trusting He knew my heart, my need, and the prayer held within my whispers, “Jesus. . . . . Jesus. . . . . . Jesus.”

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Years ago I was staying at the Four Seasons Ocean Grande resort in Palm Beach, Florida, on a business “retreat” with the hundred or so other tax attorneys I worked with at a large, international law firm.  During a stretch of mid-afternoon free time I found myself settling into a warm deck chair on the small, private balcony of my room, eager to delve back into a copy of Mark Levin’s Liberty and Tyranny.  I quickly found that if I positioned the chair just right, I had a pretty decent view of the narrow beach fronting the Atlantic Ocean which, for its part, reached far back to the horizon.  Not that I cared all that much.  Although I was happy to have the backdrop, I was never one to be captured by nature.

Although my lukewarm response to nature didn’t bother me on that particular day, it had bothered me deeply for many years.  Previously my wife and I had occasion to ski at Banff, Canada, she being a black diamond expert, and me resembling Bambi on ice (well, not quite that good).  As we were driving along the base of the Canadian Rockies on our way to the store to stock up on groceries for the week, I realized after just a few short moments that I had seen enough.  “I feel so shallow right now,” I confessed to my wife. “Here we are in the midst of the beauty and grandeur of the Canadian Rockies – the Canadian Rockies of all places! – and after thirty seconds I’m completely bored with the view.  I should be deeply moved — awestruck.  At the very least I should not be bored of it after thirty seconds.  I mean, if I am really connected with the Father, shouldn’t I be awestruck by the beauty of creation?  I feel so shallow — so . . . ungrateful.”  And I did.  How could I be so disconnected from my Lord’s spectacular handiwork?  So utterly unmoved?  “How can I be here with You and not be moved be You?”, as the song goes.

And that aspect of my character bothered me for years.  But over time I became resigned to it, and then, ultimately, ok with it.  I decided the Father had designed my heart to connect with Him in different ways.  I figured He determined, for whatever reason, that I wouldn’t bond with Him in that fashion.  My oldest daughter, Megan, by contrast, connects with Him most intimately, it seems, through nature.  And I love that about her relationship the Lord.  Actually, I think that somehow, through the Lord allowing me to so appreciate Megan’s love of nature, I finally became ok with my lack thereof, was finally able to just let it go.

In any event, another reason the view from the Ocean Grande balcony wasn’t much of an issue at that moment was that I was almost fatally near-sighted (a condition that has since been corrected through surgery).  So in order to read, I had removed my glasses and hung them from the collar of my shirt, just under my chin, at which point the ocean was no more than the sound of waves rolling in from a blurred expanse of blue.

As I settled into the chair and read the next line or two of Liberty and Tyranny it dawned on me that I sat not on the chair I previously had brushed clean, but on its soiled twin.  Which meant my white shorts were crushing up against any manner of organic detritus that had blown to rest there.   Not good for someone who packs light.  I jumped up and made a sudden, arcing brush of my hand against the seat.  But the jerk of my body sent not only the dusty debris flying off the chair – but likewise launched my glasses off the balcony and onto the soft, untrodden grass several stories below.  I stared down toward the lawn several long moments, as it took more than a reasonable amount of time for it to register that, yes, in fact, my glasses had fallen off the balcony and I was now essentially blind.  Did that really just happen?  Yes.  Are my glasses really on the ground?  Yes.  Yes they are.

I cautiously made my way down to the hotel lobby, quietly wondering about instances like this:  why are they allowed in our lives; what does God do with such things?  I was uncharacteristically (for me) bemused by it all, the humor of the situation in which I unwittingly found myself.  With the help of a robust, good-natured bellhop, I found the eyeglasses a few minutes later.  Not a scratch.  The bellhop kindly advised me that the best way back to the room would be to swing around the beach side of the hotel.  As I walked along the beachfront I came upon a lawyer-friend who was kicked back on an over-stuffed lounge chair, absorbing the ocean scene.  We chatted a bit before I started back to the room, intent on getting back to the book.

“This really doesn’t do it for you does it?” he asked, meaning the scenery.  (My friend and I are close brothers in Christ who, at the time, met at least weekly, and so we knew a fair amount of the ins and outs of each other.)  “No,” I answered matter-of-factly.  We were both quiet.  I looked back out toward the horizon for a few moments.  “What do you see, anyway?”  I asked him, looking back, square into his eyes.  “I mean, why is this so meaningful to you?”  The faintest vapor of a long forgotten wistfulness was beginning to rise in me again.

“It’s just that it’s the untouched work of God,” he answered.  “The handiwork of God, untouched by man.  And it’s just so beautiful.  So restful.”  And all of a sudden my Father graciously reached down and miraculously opened my heart to this facet of Himself.  For an instant it wasn’t “just” waves rolling in by rote, one after another after another.  It wasn’t just various shades of blue blending together.  It wasn’t just clouds unceremoniously ho-humming across the sky like I’ve seen and ignored countless times before.  The sheer romance of it all gently unfolded inside my heart.  The textures, the hues, the gentleness, the peace.  The Hand and the Heart of it all.  The elegant romance.  For the first time it wasn’t “just nature”.  It was Him, it was His voice, His touch, unwrapping within me a gift of love that He has been cascading all about me with every fragrance of each passing season.  My Father, embracing me.  Again.  Why would He choose to bless me with that revelation in that particular moment, at that particular place, in that particular circumstance?  I have no idea.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s a gift.  And I embrace it.  Embrace my Abba Father — my Dad, my Pa — who loves me.

I remember the first time I came to experience God as my Abba Father.  For years I had been quietly sitting with Him each morning for a solid thirty minutes before I made my way to the gym.  And for years I had been asking Him why I didn’t love Him — and why I didn’t feel His embrace.  My time alone with the Lord felt like time alone with the wall.  And as I longed for His embrace year after year, I found myself wondering more and more if that were really even possible.  And the answer that more-than-occasionally wafted my way was that He was waiting for me to spend more time with Him.  That if I really wanted to know Him, if I really wanted to experience His love for me, I had to invest in the relationship more seriously.  That He is a treasure and I must pursue Him as a treasure.

For years I shrugged it off, and so for years He waited, silently pursuing, gradually and graciously allowing my heart to grow more and more desperate for Him.  And after years of saying “no” to Him – when my heart was finally prepared in ways I still don’t comprehend – He pointed out in His gentle, winsome way, without condemnation, that I was investing an hour each day in work outs at the gym but only half that time dedicated to knowing Him.  (Ironically, I was driving to the gym at 5:30 in the morning when He relayed that particular missive to me ☺.)  And so I decided in that moment that my morning time with Him each day would not be less than one hour.

And once I made that decision, and by His grace kept to it, our relationship began to flourish.  Over time I began to realize that there were many, many occasions where that one hour point was a touchstone of sorts – that as the second hand quietly swept past sixty minutes the Lord’s revelation began, the intimacy deepened, the still quiet voice was spoken and received.  So much so that an hour easily would turn into ninety minutes and more often into two hours, two and a half hours, because I couldn’t bear to leave our time together for what inevitably would be a world of distractions from being with Him, only Him.  And so it is to this very day (or was, until my health precluded it).

(Note:  I am not suggesting that a person must have an extended amount of personal time set aside with the Lord each morning in order to draw near to Him.  Each person is designed to draw near to God in a fashion that is unique to that person.  There are some common denominators, of course, like prayer and Scripture, but the details and recipes are as varied as fingerprints.  Some excellent resources to pursue your design in that regard are:  Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines; John Ortberg, The Life You’ve Always Wanted; Adele A. Calhoun, Spiritual Disciplines Handbook; A. W. Tozer, The Purpose of Man (Chapter 12).  It was an incredibly freeing day for me when I realized the tremendous variety of avenues that existed for delving into a relationship with the Lord!)

From that point, and for years afterward, my morning time traced a comfortable, well-worn pattern.  I’d pitch camp in a quiet corner of the family room hours before dawn.  Stocked with Charles Spurgeon’s “Morning and Evening” devotional, my journal, the Word, and a small palate of different colored pens, I’d sink back into a stuffed chair, set my feet up on an ottoman, and settle in for an extended time set apart with my God under the soft glow of small lamp.  A cup of thick, black French Roast alternately warming my hands and waking me up.

During our time together on the morning of June 18, 2004, as I was sitting in the chair, God, for the first time, opened my heart to Him as my Father.  I can’t explain the how’s or why’s or what’s of those moments.  All I know is that one moment, God was “just” God, and then, all of sudden, triggered by I-don’t-even-know-what, my heart somehow knew Him as my Father.  An experiential sonship written, without words, upon my heart.  Over six years into my walk with God as a Christian and, in a single, wondrous moment, God went from a God who is a Father, to God who is my Father, my Dad.  An experiential sonship by which my heart cried, “Abba-Father.

I can only describe experiences like this as moments of heart-understanding.  Truth and reason understood by the mind that the Holy Spirit then plants squarely on the heart.  As A. W. Tozer puts it,

[w]hen the Spirit illuminates the heart, then a part of the man sees which never saw before; a part of him knows which never knew before, and that with a kind of knowing which the most acute thinker cannot imitate.  He knows now in a deep and authoritative way, and what he knows needs no reasoned proof.  His experience of knowing is above reason, immediate, perfectly convincing and inwardly satisfying.

Not surprisingly, my Abba Father moved without delay to memorialize this foundational revelation.  For, the very next morning, before I could even take a few sips of coffee as we settled in together in “our” corner of the family room, He had this to say to me through Morning and Evening’s June 19 morning entry (emphasis added):

Life, comfort, light, purity, power, peace; and many other precious blessings are inseparable from the Spirit’s benign presence. . . . He descends upon the chosen as upon the Lord in Jordan, and bears witness to their sonship by working in them a filial spirit by which they cry Abba, Father.

Yes, those were the very first words that I heard spilling from His heart as I sat with Him that pre-dawn morning.  My Abba, my Father in heaven, aching to confirm for me that 24 hours earlier He had, by His Spirit, touched deeply within my heart, had sealed Himself as my Abba.  My God in heaven moving immediately to confront doubt even before it could begin its venomous whispers.  The Sovereign King holding me in those moments and confirming the pinnacle sentiment on His heart toward me:  that I am His son, one of His chosen, and He is – He is — my Father, my Dad.  My Abba Father who loves me with an everlasting love.  Jer. 31:3.

And, oh, the ever-surprising facets of His love!

In July 2010, my family went to Marco Island, Florida to visit Diane’s father and her brothers and their families.  This is pretty much an annual event.  For a week or two three families descend upon my bachelor father-in-law, who welcomes us with wide-open arms.  His home goes from sedate to sixty in one fell swoop, pedal to the metal for 10 days or so, and then the locusts leave, giving him six months to a year to recover.  Been doing that for 25 years.

Our family loves(!!) those trips for any of a dozen or more reasons:  family, boating, swimming, beaches, great food, great times.  Relaxation and refreshment.  Lots of memories-in-the-making, and lots of late, late, late nights.

Now, I’m not much of a late-night person, so I’m typically not involved too deep into those thrice-late nights.  Which means I have several hours or so at the beginning of most days to hang out, one-on-one, with the Lord, often sitting on the private dock just outside my father-in-law’s home.  I recall one such morning when the mid-summer air was warm and lightly fragrant as I settled into a comfortable deck chair and wrapped myself into the scenery.  The peach and lavender horizon was already giving way to crystal blue, promising another stellar new day.  A lone seagull meandered its way toward the not-too-distant mangroves, searching for the perfect spot, it seemed, to celebrate a pair of pelicans alternately soaring and plunging for breakfast.  Now and again a gentle breeze peacefully rustled the palm fronds overhead, off to my left, as the tide lapped lazily, rhythmically against the breakwall underfoot.  I sipped my coffee, breathed deep.  Relaxed.  From time to time the occasional reddish egret glided past, just out of reach, each press of its wings making a faint, razor-like sound that I had never noticed before.

Typically, I love restful, simple opportunities like this (or, better yet, entire weekends!) – times set aside and spent one-on-one with the Lord, ultimately immersed in Scripture. Theologian Dallas Willard likens these to long, hot showers:

 [I]ntensity is crucial for any progress in spiritual perception and understanding.  To dribble a few verses of chapters of scripture on oneself through the week, in church or out, will not reorder one’s mind and spirit – just as one drop of water every five minutes will not get you a shower, no matter how long you keep it up.  You need a lot of water at once and for a sufficiently long time.  Similarly for the written Word.

(Emphasis in original.)

But the morning of July 29, 2010 was not a typical “Marco morning” of solitude with the Lord, for I was in the midst of a “wilderness” period.  Indeed, the entire summer was a vast, seemingly endless wilderness for me in my walk with the Lord — a period when the Lord seemed very distant from me.  Uninvolved, unconcerned.  A period when the flame in my heart was doused, its embers barely glowing.  My relationship with the Lord seemed lifeless, without heart.  Dusty.  At best, I talked to Him, not with Him.  For all the while He seemed so very silent.  Yes, even as I became more familiar with some dark places within me, I was met with . . . silence.  Consider these excerpts from my journal during those months, including my time at Marco:

  • Abba, Father, I don’t understand why I am so unplugged from You.  I have no heart to praise and worship You.
  • Father, Jesus, Holy Spirit, I am so unsettled and down. . . . I feel so alone and so corrupt, so unchanged deep.  Pride, fear, foolishness, a lack of love from You, in me.
  • My dear Abba, Father, my heart seems dead to You; unrepentant, unloving, ungrateful, unmoved.  That to me seems to be the deepest truest part.  The part of me that comes out when my defenses are down.  I am weak and have nothing to offer You, though You are good and deserving of all my love. . . .
  • My heart fails. . . . [I feel] dead inside to You.  [You seem] superfluous to me.  A genie to me – unreal and burdensome.  My motivation is selfish and fearful.  Help me.
  • My dear Father in heaven, I feel so apart from You.  Please tell me why.
  • [After contemplating creation.]  Now Father I feel as though I must worship You not because I am in awe but because it’s right and good by Your estimation and I would be a bug if I don’t.  Like it’s expected so I better do it.  Meet me there I pray.  Because I want to be in awe of You and spontaneously-praise-You-because-I-am-bursting-to-do-so.  You deserve that from me, but I can’t give it to You.  I’m sorry.  Help me, I pray.
  • I see You as a hard King, despite Your gracious way with me repeatedly, a King who is growing fed up, and I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, . . . but [I’m] too entrenched in and hugging the world to want to change, to dance around You.  I am lukewarm, half-hearted.  I see You as superfluous.  I tolerate you.  That is a deep sentiment within me, toward You.  Show me that You are great.  Open my eyes to Your majesty.

So in the midst of this wilderness I found myself on the dock at Marco, one-on-one with the Lord, welcoming a new July day.  My journal reminds me I was hunkered down with Scripture, delving into the characteristics of God’s delight and His love, as best I could in my spiritual wilderness.  “Your love is,” I brainstormed, in fits and starts, “a delighting love, . . . a jealous love, . . . a selective love, . . . an awestruck love. . . .”  The list developed slowly, for I just couldn’t sustain any lengthy focus.  “. . . An unhurried love, . . . an honest love, . . . a personal love. . . .”  I kept finding my mind wandering down any number of trite and meaningless trails, before coming back to His love. “. . . .An experiential love, . . . a passionate love, . . . an all-knowing love.”  Meditation turned into movie possibilities or lunch options, but then veered back on track.  “. . . A consuming fire, . . . a pursuing love, . . . a giving love.”  Contemplation turned into heavy breathing (with perhaps some light snoring).  Prayer became empty thoughts of nothing.

So there I was.  Sitting on the dock.  Mind wandering.  Totally distracted and seemingly apart from God in the midst of a spiritual wilderness.  Trying to lean into the Lord but off in my own little world.  Glassy-eyed.  Entranced by nothing, oblivious to everything.  And then, all of a sudden, an enormous bellowing, blowing, other-worldly noise blasted from directly underneath my feet:

“WHHOOOOOFFFSHHH!!”

My heart bounded directly from chest to throat as my body seemingly launched a good two feet into the air, fueled by streams of adrenaline suddenly rocketing through my veins.  What was that?!?!”  My mind raced as I peered over the dock at the murky water, which at high tide was little more than an arm’s length from my feet.  “What was that?!”

Right on cue a solitary dolphin rather nonchalantly surfaced, just off the dock, and idled a few feet from me, exposing little more than its blowhole . . . which it promptly cleared (again!) — “WHHOOOOOFFFSHH!!” – before quietly dipping back into the intercoastal, thank you very much.

I love the ways He loves me (and you!)!  Think of the all the arrows my Abba-Father had in His quiver as my mind hopelessly roamed away from Him, my atrophied heart in tow.  He could have snapped me to attention in any number of ways.  Perhaps lay on some guilt along the way (which, by the way, He never does to His children).  So what did He choose to do in those moments, as I floundered in the wilderness?  He pulled a prank!  How hilarious!  To paraphrase my friend Dave, I can just see Him in heaven, calling some angels over, smiling – no, beaming – as my mind wandered for the ump-teenth time that morning.  I picture a broad grin filling His face, a light-hearted shake of His head as He says, bright-eyed, to His gathered angels, “Well, there he goes again ☺ . . . .  mind wandering all over the place. ☺  Yep, that’s my boy.  OK.  Watch this, watch this.  This is gonna be great!”

WHHHOOOOOFFFSSSHH!!

Our Father’s heart is so continually stunning, is it not?!?!  The sheer, unbridled, playful love in all of this is so disarming, so enchanting, so inviting!  This bit of slapstick was my Abba Father’s creative, loving, winsome way of reminding me of a truth I had read years before, penned by Pastor Reggie McNeal:  “God is patient in the wilderness.  He uses the experience to sculpt [a person’s] heart.  We see the wilderness as something to avoid or to spend as little time in as possible. . . . [But] God uses wilderness trials, even the devil’s wiles, as tools in his heart surgery. . . .”  Yes, of all things – of all things(!!) — my Abba-Father used the foghorn-blast of a dolphin’s blowhole amidst the utter stillness of a coastal dawn to let me know, in my wilderness trial, that He is the God of all creation and He is with me – yes, delights in me –though I cannot see Him.  That although He’s silent, it’s going to be OK.  That He knows I’m in the wilderness, but it is purposeful and right for me to be there, for reasons I do not know.  But He knows, and He’s there.  And it’s OK.

Another facet.  I added it to my list (possibly having read it earlier, I believe(?) in a Ransomed Heart newsletter):   “Your love is . . . a playful love.”

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

An unplanned afternoon walk on the beach scripted by my Father (in the most unlikely fashion!), an early-morning drive to the gym, the pre-dawn solitude and silence of “our” quiet corner, a dolphin amidst a wilderness daydream.  Markers – Ebenezers (1 Sam 7:12) — of His presence in my life.  There is no god like our God!  For “the gift of presence is a rare and beautiful gift.  To come unguarded, undistracted, and be present and fully engaged with the one whom we are with.”  An offering of the heart.  Yes, He offers His very heart!

Intimate, cherished memories of my walk with the Lord.  Memories, it seems, from a long time ago. . . .

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

All I could do was say the name of “Jesus”.  Over and over and over again, as I paced and stepped, kept moving, in pain, holding my hand lightly upon my lower abdomen, trusting He knew my heart, my need, and the prayer held within my whispers,  “Jesus. . . . . . Jesus. . . . . . Jesus.”

 *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

Our great forefathers of the faith testify that suffering is a path to deeper intimacy with the Lord, but, to date, I really haven’t experienced much of that.  I am trying to understand this concept, to learn how to draw near in especial ways in the midst of ongoing pain and suffering.  And there have been some wonderful revelations and experiences in that regard.  But thus far I would have to say that I am awaiting heart-understanding of those things — the Holy Spirit’s “illumination of my heart”.  And so, overall, the suffering has suppressed my daily intimacy with the Lord.  Indeed, between pain and fatigue and protocols and tests and trips to doctors, I find it harder to draw near to the Lord than at any time since my decision to give Him at least an hour each morning.

I guess this struggle with intimacy doesn’t really surprise me at this point.  I recall a teaching many, many years ago that went something like this:  some folks figure there will be plenty of time to draw near to the Lord when they fall ill.  That then, when they “need it most”, they’ll draw near.  But the teaching continued:  the problem is, when you’re sick, it will be so much harder to draw near because you just won’t feel like drawing near.

In some ways that is my life right now – the life I’ve had during the past month.  Although I have been home almost all day every day for the past four weeks, I’ve been in too much pain or experiencing too much sickness to passionately draw near.  Gone, for now, are the hours-long “showers” of conversation and heart-shaping.  Gone, for now, are long, intimate mornings in “our” corner of the family room.  And I cannot tell you how much I miss these times with the Lord!  How I miss being with Him in this fashion, pouring over Scripture to gaze into His face and hear His voice speaking to me.

This unmet longing suggests that there’s something more at play than not feeling like drawing near, not wanting to.  No, as a believer, my deepst, truest heart pants after His heart.  Ez. 36:26.  The problem is not that I lack the desire.  Rather, the problem is that I can’t truly draw near like I used to because in the midst of the pain I can’t give my Abba Father the gift of my undistracted, fully engaged presence.  The pain is too much.  I long to give Him that gift, but the pain distracts and precludes full engagement.  So intimacy has suffered.  And make no mistake:  there is no word I know of to describe the depth of my sadness at this turn of events in my walk with the Lord.  An experience far beyond the “mere” wildernesses I have lived through.

And so, just like a piercing sore throat makes me appreciate what it’s like to swallow smoothly, effortlessly, without even noticing, this “valley of the shadow of death” is making me appreciate more and more what it’s like to draw near to the Lord in the midst of carefree good health.  I long to sit with Him, fit and robust.  To walk outdoors during this magnificent summer and breathe in His presence with the freedom of vibrant, physical strength, instead of stepping gingerly out onto our back deck in sobering pain and weakness.  To thoroughly immerse myself in His presence for hours, instead of snatching distracted scraps of time here and there.

Oh how I long to give Him the gift of my presence.  Unguarded.  Undistracted.  Fully engaged.  Nonetheless, I am endeavoring to learn what it means to draw near to the Lord in suffering and pain.   I trust that that is possible — and expect it to even be beautiful somehow.  But at the moment I deeply appreciate, in subtle ways I never have before, the precious opportunity that good health affords to draw near to the Lord, to hear His voice, to experience His presence, His heart.  To know Him, unto life.  Jn 17:3.

Shortly after my cancer diagnosis, one of my band of brothers drew a parallel to the story of the paralytic whose friends lowered him through the roof of the house where Jesus was teaching, in the hopes that Jesus would heal him (Lk 5:17-26).  My Christian brother’s words were prescient, for at this point I am, in many ways, like that paralytic – the man who cannot come before the Lord (at least not like he used to) — and I am looking to prayer warriors (thank you!!) to lower me before Him, to bring me into His presence, for healing and ministry.  For despite my history with the Lord, and my passion to draw near to Him, my pain and sickness has been a stalwart roadblock that I generally have not been able to overcome these past several weeks.  I do have isolated moments of intimacy with Him (thanks be to God(!)) — Jesus was experientially with me as I rested my head sideways against the pillow the other night sitting up in bed — but nothing like before.

I have experienced, now, both good health and bad, and I now understand, like I’ve never understood before, that the blessing of good health is a treasure.  A wonderful, blessed treasure.  And at the moment, I don’t seem to possess that treasure.

Do you?

Do you possess the treasure of good health?

For, like all such treasures, it is meant to be shared and enjoyed with the Lord.  Shared and enjoyed, above all, by giving Him the rare and beautiful gift of your presence.

Unguarded.
Undistracted.
Fully engaged.
Presence.

And it is a gift He aches for you to give Him, for only you can give God the rare and beautiful gift of your presence.  Only you(!) — whatever that may look in your life, based on God’s perfect design of who you are and how you are made to connect with Him (see resources noted above).

And yes, it may involve rearranging your life a bit to create the necessary space, the “margin”, to draw near.  But to the extent your “life as usual” must go, it will be replaced by something – no, Someone — far, far better (Dallas Willard).  For even as He yearns to receive the gift your presence, so too does He give you the incomparable gift of His presence (Mt 28:20; Heb 13:5) – unguarded, undistracted, fully engaged(!!).  His heart, one-on-one.  Always.

Yes, He has “unplanned” walks He longs to take with you, quiet corners where He is waiting, even now, for you, playful times He has in store for you, words of love He aches to whisper to you, messages from His Word meant just for you, and feelings and experiences He longs to impress, without words, upon your heart.

Deep is calling unto deep, reaching for the rare and beautiful gift of your presence.  And this is the moment to answer that call.  Now.

Now.

For who knows what next year, next month, next week, or even tomorrow, may bring. . . .

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

I paced and stepped, kept moving, in pain, holding my hand lightly upon my lower abdomen, trusting He knew my heart, my need, and the prayer held within my whispers, “Jesus. . . . . . Jesus. . . . . . Jesus.”

For in those moments, that was all I could do.

6 thoughts on “Day 99 — Presence

  1. The words “Thank you” on paper just don’t give my feelings justice. Your sharing is raw and beautiful and a blessing. My heart crys out to our Abba Father on your behalf. I pray for His peace that passes ALL understanding to fill you, cover you and see you through these difficult times.
    In His Love,
    Carrie

  2. Thank you for ministering to me and letting God richly use you despite your terrible pain. What you wrote is exactly what I needed to hear. The body of Christ is a beautiful thing: I am one of the many who are holding you up, and you are ministering to us.

  3. Dear Joe: I learned of your illness and of your blog from Lisa Roberts-Mamone last week. I live with chronic illness and pain, due to Crohn’s Disease and back injury, but I, too, struggle to see God and His works in my experience. It is an ongoing challenge.
    May God continue to bless you with the faith you have and share, and may He ease your suffering in His way and His time. You and your family are in my heart and my prayers.
    Anne

  4. Joe:
    You have transformed suffering into goodness; in your dark days the beacon of your faith shines bright as a gift to all.
    Peace be with you.

  5. Joe, we are praying for you, but as I read your blog, I see that we need healing too–the healing which can only come by waiting on the Lord and communing deeply with him. Thank you for being so transparent, and so generous to share these rich thoughts–which are worth more than earthly treasure–from the depths of the anguish you are walking through: “…treasure in an earthen vessel.”

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