When I consider your heavens
the work of your fingers….
What is man that you are mindful of him…
that you care for him.
You made him ruler over the works of your hands..
from Psalm 8
The Lord formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living being. Man is both of the earth and of heaven…filled with the breath of God. The Lord formed woman from the bone of man. He took the bone from man, formed the woman, then brought her back to him. The plan was a good one. “Lord, why do you care?”
I stood at the water’s edge trying to determine if the tide was coming in or going out. The pelicans gliding just above the water’s surface caught my attention. The air was still and I tried to allow my soul to become immersed in the rhythm of God’s creation. “What is man that You are mindful of him?” Why do you love us as you do when we wander so far from the plan? Why do you love us so much that You continue to pursue when we turn away and hide…rejecting your gift of life’s breath. Why do You care still, after all this time? Why did you delegate Your rule to us when You knew we would think it was our own? You wanted fellowship. We wanted autonomy. What is man that You would love him still when he can’t put down his need or his wants and instead, like the rich young ruler, turns and walks away, heavily burdened with sadness.
Why? Why would You suffer for those who turn away and reject You? Why would you continue to love and suffer for those who are notoriously weak and unable to unclench their hands from their fears or who are so grievously self engrossed as to be unable to even see You standing in our midst. The gift You give is forgotten, lost in the busyness, put aside while we go on with the lives we create for ourselves. We have taken the authority you gave us and created our own little kingdoms where fear, selfishness, greed, anger, and bitterness shape our days. Yet, You do care. Your love never ends. The tides come in and the tides go out, washing away the words we speak…”I won’t” … ”I can’t”…”I don’t deserve it” … “I am unworthy”…Washing away the fear, the selfishness, the anger, the mistakes, the disappointments… Consistently, rhythmically, You bring us new life over and over. Why?
When Dave and I reached our 23rd anniversary we took a canoeing trip to the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. We paddled across Fontana Lake, up Hazel Creek to a beautiful camping area in a pine forest. Sometime during this trip, as we lay in our small tent, Dave suggested that for our 25th anniversary that we throw a big party and renew our vows. My silent thought was that I wasn’t sure we’d make it to our 25th. I thought it would be horribly dishonest to make vows to continue what I thought we had lost. At that time I felt all we had was a memory of our commitment. The revelation that the Lord gave me in 1974, as I drove my Volkswagen beetle home for spring break from UNC, was that Dave was the man with whom He would join me. That truth and the 3 children we were raising together were the ties that kept me from fleeing from what seemed long in the process of decay. Years of stressful circumstances had over time eroded the joy and playfulness of our marriage. Selfishness, weakness, inability, depression, family and work related anxieties piled up and smothered our peace. I was dreadfully tired and devoid of hope. The thought of the years dragging out with the past repeating itself made me cry out, “Lord, show us that You care. When I consider the heavens….what is man…? But, we are yours. You took the rib…you formed me…you took me to this man. You breathed life in our nostrils. We have not handled the responsibilities you honored us with. We don’t deserve your attention, much less your love that creates life out of death. But, please come.”
“What is man that you are mindful of him?” Man, to whom you gave so much freedom, took the gift and ran. Why did you go looking for him? Why did you call to him? Will you come this time? Do You love us with everlasting love? What does that love look like? Are You really mindful. Where are You in this mess? Have we screwed up beyond redemption?”
God is not a man. Man was formed by God from the dust. Love created and formed and shaped and then let go, allowing us the freedom to choose, to name, to rule. Did He know we would fail to live in His love? Did He know in 1976 that the man and woman He joined would find the life they had built together crumbling 20 years down the road? I believe He did, knowing that He would use it to continue His plan.
I hiked through the woods along the Eno River, pouring out my grief and my confusion, when I was stopped in my tracks before a decaying log. “Kick it”, the still small voice instructed. In doing so I realized that the death of the old would create a rich, loamy soil from which the new would grow. “Let it die.” Could I trust the Creator of the universe to grow a new life out of the old? Didn’t He need me? Why was I so afraid? Why did I feel so powerless, so hopeless? Why did life seem so meaningless?
To allow what was to die was a dreadful thought. To choose to trust in the Maker of this man and woman was to step onto the platform and let the noose settle around the neck of my self-rule. It was to take the authority to rule that was given to me and step under the umbrella of God’s rule, believing His rule is love. He asked me to choose without feeling, without seeing, without knowing what would come next. He asked me to return to basecamp and be reconciled to Him. He called to me to come out of my hiding place and confess my nakedness and my shame. He asked me to let Him love me. Why was this so hard? Why was I persistent in thinking I needed to make it right? Why did I think I needed to dress myself?
The fear that pounded in my chest took me far away from the love of the Creator. “I was naked and afraid.” I am tainted with shame. I have been wrong. I have failed. I have hurt You and another. I can’t do it. I fear punishment. I fear being found out. I am angry and bitter. I fear rejection. I fear seperation. And the list goes on. Reality was overwhelming. I wanted to hide. I retreated. I disappeared deep within myself. I wanted to succeed in dressing myself in love so I could come out into the light. But, I couldn’t.
When our daughter Rebekah was a preschooler she was fascinated with changing her clothes. Three or four times a day she would appear with a new outfit on. The combinations were creative and entertained us endlessly. She loved her pink “jellies” and her red, green, blue, and yellow striped skirt worn with her flowered top. Her brother Mark was equally in love with his outfit of cowboy boots, surfer shorts, and tank top worn days on end one summer. It was permissible to allow them the right to choose their own attire until it came time to dress for church. We couldn’t allow them to dress themselves, as they were not able. With great joy, I would dress my children in appropriate attire. I would fix Rebekah’s beautiful blonde curly hair and dress Mark up in sporty flannel pants and a red bow tie.
In this same way I had to present myself to my Father so that He might dress me in presentable clothing. Dave and I, in desperation, in all our shame, humbled ourselves before the representatives God sent to us. And they prayed on our behalf. They anointed us with oil. They walked alongside us. Slowly, the mystery of God’s love pealed back our layers of calluses. The challenge was to let go of what was, to lay down our agenda, to put aside our demands, and allow ourselves to be naked yet unashamed. Grace abounded through the love and patience of Christ’s ambassadors. I met weekly with friends God had anointed to bless me. They would wash me with prayers and dress me with love and acceptance. They would speak the truth of forgiveness and turn me toward God’s promised redemption.
And Dave and I made it to our 25th anniversary. We threw the big party. We renewed our vows and stepped out of the ashes, dressed in grace and forgiveness. The work of making that which is good out of all things continues on a daily basis. The wonder of God being mindful of us is a constant reminder of our need to humble ourselves and press on through this place in between. We marked our 34th anniversary this year. The journey continues.