Friday, August 20, 2010

It’s a dry rain

“When it rains, I like to tell children that God is crying. Probably because of something they did.” ~from Deep Thoughts, by Jack Handey

I was born in a desert city, an arid place with high summer temperatures which people excuse with “It’s a dry heat.” There are few places on earth like this, where rain is welcomed with dancing in the streets, where people come out of their offices and homes to experience for themselves the big splatters of rain, the blasts of ever-cooler wind that take the temperature from 110° to 80°, the bolts of lightning striking the power substations. 

We desert people love our storms. Like gamblers coaching dice, we look to the eastern sky and beg the thunderheads building over the mountains, “Come on, baby, you can make it!”

It’s called the monsoon season, although it bears no resemblance to the monsoons of the Near East. When I was a child and the city was much smaller, the storms hit several times a week through July and August. Now that Phoenix is 100 miles from northwest to southeast, the column of heat rising from concrete and asphalt bounces all but the strongest storms back into the desert and its mountains.

The funny thing is, desert storms aren’t broad systems, but individual towering clouds only a few miles across. Sometimes the rain will fall 30 feet away on the neighbor’s property, but your own property gets nothing. Wet sidewalks there, dry here. The Doppler radar on your computer shows a big red blob headed for your neighborhood—but the storm splits and goes around, leaving you with all the dust, some of the cool, and a few of the sprinkles. But not the downpour that would wash away the months of powdered sand, stream off the roof, or sink into the thirsty ground. Someone wrote on Facebook, “It’s a dry rain.”

Here in this dry place, separated from loved ones, rejected by an employer, applying for jobs in the black hole of the economic recession, seeing no spark of a love life, unable to afford the reunion this year, lacking resources for health care, not qualifying for aid after paying taxes for 35 years, having moved away from a house that I made home, leaving friends in another state, and feeling unappreciated—I need rain. 

It’s been my practice to follow the advice of a friend, to “stay sweet and positive” in my relationships and communications. Certainly in this discouraging world, it’s important to present myself as strong and happy, that I have my act together and am successful in my work, that I'm invulnerable and have faith in God’s desire and ability to bless, that because I’m a child of God he supplies all my need. It's not hypocritical to want to portray God as my "everything"--it's called evangelism, sharing the good news that our loving God is the answer. But I confess that I'm the same as every other hurt child.

The danger is that my own friends and family don’t understand the need because they see the image I successfully projected. They have their own need to worry about, so if they think I’m doing all right, well, that’s all good. So day after day, month after month, I am a heat island, repelling the storms I need in the fiction that I-am-woman-hear-me-roar. No hugs, no touches, no heart-to-heart communication. No rain.

The powerful and beautiful storm clouds tower above, and there are precursors to a soaking rain. Then the storm splits and goes around, and I’m left as hot and dry as ever, but this time without hope. It could be days or weeks before the next storm appears, and it may roll over again, leaving its refreshing blessings on someone else.

Your Father in heaven… gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. Matthew 5:45 NLT

The point of the verse is to love the unlovable as well as the lovable, just as God distributes his grace to all, righteous and unrighteous. But at this beaten-down, vulnerable time (that seems to drag on endlessly), I just need to know deep inside that I’m loved by God and loved by people, that all this painful change is not the consequence of something I did or a bad choice I made. It's the way of the world that is not our home. However, it's the only home any of us has known thus far.

I need real, wet, soaking, refreshing rain. I need to feel that God is not punishing me; that he's not withholding blessing to teach me a lesson; that he's not closing all the doors—and windows, too. I need to know that he's not crying about something I did. Hearing people say they’ll pray for me is nice, but it’s not enough. I don’t know what will fill my empty reservoir.

Springs will gush forth in the wilderness, and streams will water the wasteland. The parched ground will become a pool, and springs of water will satisfy the thirsty land. Marsh grass and reeds and rushes will flourish where desert jackals once lived. Isaiah 35:6-7 NLT

That would be a good start to filling the dry desert lake. There would be enough water to release into the dry riverbed filled with rocks, prickly cacti, and mesquite trees, and let it nourish the lands beyond.

Surely I’m not the only person on earth going through the parched, empty valley, desperate for the pillar of cloud. Look around. Those who seem to have it all together—don’t. Millions have lost their jobs and had to make hard choices when they thought that their years of sacrificial work and good sense would allow them to thrive, not just survive. They've seen their immediate family turn away. They have deep wounds that they hide in an attempt to keep it together for an example to others, and to "witness" about godly life. God doesn't need our public relations efforts. He will be glorified anyway.

What can you do? Realize that everyone is a lost, lonely child. Start with a hug. When they pull away in embarrassment or confusion, give an extra squeeze as if to say "I just can't do it in only one hug." Don't believe them when they say everything's all right and change the subject. Your open heart might be rain to them. They might step outside, inhale the sweet breeze, soak up the raindrops, and begin to dance.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Perseids Meteor Shower

Mom and I would climb the ladder, take a blanket up to the still-hot roof, and watch the Perseids meteor shower in the northeastern sky while we talked softly and laughed. The brightest meteors fell after midnight. My dad and brother, early to bed, missed it all. When Phoenix, Arizona was a small city in clear desert air, we could see the Milky Way. Phoenix is a megalopolis now, and city lights have overcome the starry host. Sometimes, there are monsoon clouds obscuring the stars anyway.

Laurentius was a Christian deacon martyred by the Romans in 258 AD. They roasted him on an iron stove, from which he reportedly (and improbably) cried out, “I am already roasted on one side and, if thou wouldst have me well cooked, it is time to turn me on the other.” The saint’s death was remembered on his feast day, August 10, and the shooting stars of the Perseids meteor shower also became known as the fiery Tears of St. Lawrence.

The meteors we see are only the size of a grain of sand, with a few reaching the size of a pea or marble. They are the “exhaust” trail of the Swift-Tuttle Comet, which circles our Sun every 130 years. Earth passes through this grainy trail every year at this time, and the grains fall through our atmosphere at 37 miles per second, flaming with heat friction.

The Lord was not obligated to create anything, much less such fascinating beauty. But He has His reputation to keep up. The beauty was not lost on the ancients, either.

Isaiah 40:26 MSG: Look at the night skies: Who do you think made all this? Who marches this army of stars out each night, counts them off, calls each by name—so magnificent! so powerful!—and never overlooks a single one?

Song of Solomon 6:10 MSG: Has anyone ever seen anything like this—dawn-fresh, moon-lovely, sun-radiant, ravishing as the night sky with its galaxies of stars?

Daniel 12:3 MSG: Men and women who have lived wisely and well will shine brilliantly, like the cloudless, star-strewn night skies. And those who put others on the right path to life will glow like stars forever. 

This article featured on " Daily Inspiration and Arts Travel" at

Monday, August 2, 2010

Predictions and prophecies

I wrote this article in early June 2008. We all know what happened in September 2008: the collapse of multi-national financial institutions and the government admission that we, um, er, had been in a recession after all since December 2007. Hmmm, what a surprise. It was an even greater surprise when I was laid off in June 2009, and in September 2009 a financial expert declared that the Great Recession was over. Well, at least HE has a job.

June 2008– Some in-the-position-to-know newsmakers, pundits, and government spokespeople look at financial indicators and say that the economy is strong, to spend your tax refund on big-ticket items, and not to listen to the pessimistic forecasters--there will be no recession in 2008. Others say that not only is a recession predicted, it is already upon us. The local newspaper has changed its editorial format to reflect the many pages of legal notices about foreclosures and bankruptcies. Many newspapers have closed their operations for lack of advertising revenue and subscription losses. Two months ago, we heard that US gasoline prices might rise as high as $4 per gallon. In California, $4 is a dimming, distant memory. We've been there and done that.

On Sunday, June 1 [2008], a religious program predicted that Fred Thompson and Hillary Clinton would receive their party nominations, and battle it out for the 2008 US presidential election (must have been taped last December before primaries!), and that people should invest everything in precious metals against the coming economic meltdown. In 2001, the Iraq war was predicted by the Secretary of Defense to last no more than five months. Geologists predict that southern California will suffer a 7.8 earthquake in our lifetime. This hurricane season will be more terrible than others because of worldwide climate change. Every time the doorbell rings, my dog predicts that very dangerous people have come calling.

With all the alarms and hype, it’s easy to sink into a funk about how awful the world is. We Christians say to each other that surely, Jesus is coming "soon." But Jesus said that two millennia ago, and it doesn’t seem particularly immediate! Meanwhile, it’s definitely more difficult to make the income stretch to meet the expenditure, and the “bad guys” work even harder in myriad ways to steal your earnings.

How was it possible that in the midst of a hurricane of several days’ duration, and the impending doom of the ship carrying him, the apostle Paul was able to have peace, and tell his fellow sufferers that all was well, to have a meal, and they’d all be saved? How could Jesus’ disciples, experienced fishermen, be expected to know that their slumbering Master would calm their raging tempest with His spoken word?

Hebrews 13 has interesting prepositions and conjunctions. The writer exhorts us to keep loving both our spiritual family and the aliens among us; to cultivate hospitality because we may be honored with the presence of the angels; to honor marriage vows (even if you’re not married, be faithful to your future spouse); and then – “Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, ‘I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.’ So we can say with confidence, ‘The LORD is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?’” Hebrews 13:5-6 NLT.

How do those statements track? For? So? Surprising little words. Paul used the same little words at the end of the two-week gale that threatened 276 lives on the ship. So take courage! For I believe God. It will be just as he said.” Acts 27:25 NLT

This part of the story holds a huge surprise: cut loose your only hope and security, let it drift off and sink, and watch what God will do to your situation. 
Then the sailors tried to abandon the ship; they lowered the lifeboat as though they were going to put out anchors from the front of the ship. But Paul said to the commanding officer and the soldiers, “You will all die unless the sailors stay aboard.” So the soldiers cut the ropes to the lifeboat and let it drift away.  Acts 27:30-32 NLT

LET GO?? Be relaxed? Have peace? Put your hands down and stop struggling? That’s a lot like saying during the Force-Five tornado, “Peace, be still.”

A song lyric by Steven Curtis Chapman says, “Sometimes His voice comes calling / Like rolling thunder, / Or like driving rain; / And sometimes His voice is quiet, / And we start to wonder / If He knows our pain. / But He who spoke peace to the water / Cares more for our hearts than the waves…” *

We often attribute troubles and storms to the enemy. To the devil. But sometimes it’s God Himself in the raging hurricane or the earthquake or the fire. His voice, the same voice that created the heavens and earth, the same voice that declares our salvation, comes in a whisper, and it comes in a roar. Sometimes His glory and grace can best be revealed in what we perceive as trouble.

How was God’s glory revealed in Paul’s storm and shipwreck? Everything happened as Paul’s angel had said. No one even lost a hair in the ship’s breakup and the swim to the island. But better than that, when the poisonous snake struck Paul's hand, people witnessed God’s miraculous healing power and became believers in Jesus Christ.

Just by reading the news, we can see how predictions played out as the months and years pass, and we can make educated predictions of our own. But some predictions are not of this world: they’re spiritually discerned. That’s how we can predict with confidence during a crisis of finance or war, during a life-threatening natural disaster, that we trust in the Lord and have submitted all we are and have to Him, SO He is in control and we will have no fear FOR He is God alone.

We have faith. We trust that God’s glory will be revealed, and that we are His servants, His instruments to make peace where there is war, to create prosperity from disaster, to encourage and lift up the terrified and hopeless and abused.

We know that this world is the unreal, and that the kingdom of God is the ultimate reality. It’s all upside down and backward from what we’ve always known. The first is the last. The peace is found in the eye of the storm.

Predictions. We will have NO FEAR. All we have to know is that God will never leave us or forsake us. Ever. Because He is Immanuel, God With Us.

* His Eyes, by Steven Curtis Chapman, c. 1988.


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