Trusting God Behind the Veil

The drive wasn’t bad for a road trip. It was longer than we normally drive in the car with six kids, but all in all, it was an easy day trip. After numerous trips to Colorado in my younger days, my favorite part of the entire drive was the anticipation of seeing the mountain skyline in the distance. The climax, however, was driving into Denver through the Eisenhower Tunnel and being greeted by the looming “purple mountains’ majesty” on the other side.

But we weren’t going to Denver or through Denver. We exited Interstate 70 onto Highway 24 to drive into Colorado Springs. I’d see faint outlines of what I assumed were Rocky Mountains, but then I’d lose sight of them. Highway 24 is full of rolling plateaus. That first day of August, the sky was heavy with clouds while the sun played hide-and-seek behind them. The sky was dramatic, and the landscape of these rising plateaus held a beauty all its own. I drank it in.

I kept expecting the mountains to surprise us, and we’d really talked it up with the kids. We’d set an expectation that any minute, they’d be confronted with a glory their mid-western eyes hadn’t experienced. But I began to have a sinking feeling in my stomach. Had I planned the wrong vacation? Was Colorado Springs the right destination? Would our kids be disappointed? Would this failure of my planning be added to the ever-growing list I’d made in my mind over the years? Every rise and fall brought a real sense of disappointment and worry.

The friends we were visiting live just a smidge north of downtown Colorado Springs. We were coming into town, and we were a mere ten minutes from their house. The sun was now fully out, and it was close to 5:00 when a barely perceptible line drawn across the horizon caught my eye. I lifted my sunglasses to verify I was really seeing something, lowered them again and cried, “There! There they are!” All sixteen eyes fixed on the horizon, and I felt in that moment that Jesus had surprised me. He wasn’t holding out on me, rather, He was waiting until the perfect moment to reveal His masterpiece.

Though darkness seems to hide His face, I rest in His unchanging grace.

“The Solid rocK,” Edward mote–1834

The outline of the Rockies grew more solid against the bright afternoon sky, though it was tainted with a thick haze, a result of forest fires to the west. which disguised the details of the mountains themselves. The kids finally saw them, and my heart lifted because my God does not fail. He established these very mountains with the command of His voice. They remain as a testament that we, too, are like a strong mountain when we trust in Him. “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, having become High Priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-20, ESV).

In every high and stormy gale, my anchor holds within the veil.

“the solid rock,” Edward mote–1834

Sometimes, when life is hard, grief hangs heavy, and the valley of the shadow of death feels like a suffocating blanket, we have to choose to see His grace and rest in it. If He was willing to take care of our debt of sin behind the veil of the temple, entering as the sacrificial lamb, how much more will He do for us in our struggles?

“If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things…Christ Jesus is the one who died–more than that, who was raised–who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.”

Romans 8:31b-32, 34b, ESV

The sunshine doesn’t always break through the clouds immediately. We have to rest, knowing that behind the haze and clouds, there is majesty waiting to reveal itself. He is there even when we don’t feel lighthearted, joyful, or excited. He is there. There may be veil, but it is there, behind the veil that we remain rooted and grounded in His love. The storm will pass, but right here, right in the midst of it, He is our solid rock, our foundation, our God in whom we can trust.

Count Your Losses

I’m guessing if you’re a person on planet earth right now, you’re experiencing loss in one or more areas of your life. This year has been filled with an abundance of sorrow and grief as we’ve lost face-to-face relationships with people we hold dear, friends or family who have gotten sick or hospitalized and we were unable to visit them, loved ones who have passed away and we were unable to have the kind of funeral or memorial service they deserved due to restrictions of COVID19, or we’re weighted down by the choices concerning our children’s educational options for this fall. We, too, have experienced many losses in our cross-cultural life–most of our friends were unable to return to our host country because of border closures or security reasons, and this resulted in a huge loss of our friendships, neighbors, homeschool activities and learning opportunities, and even our church family. And in our own losses, we know we’re not unique; it’s been a pretty brutal year for the whole world.

We made a decision about five weeks ago to exit our host country, for good. The border closure is not looking favorable for Americans to return. There were political tensions mounting. We were looking at an indeterminate amount of time looming ahead of us with no hope for community for all of our kids. This is not to discount the wonderful people we still had in country, the ones who had loved us well the past few years, the ones we met right before we left, the ones with whom we had deepened relationships, and the ones we had come to love in a short amount of time. But as we examined the situation from the perspective of each of our children, we could see that as crazy as it is to move internationally in the midst of a pandemic, it would be a healthier option overall for our family.

And so we landed about a week and a half ago after nearly 37 hours of travel on four different airplanes in three different countries. We were welcomed by our best friends of ten years, a new-to-us vehicle, and a rental to settle into. It’s been a whirlwind of packing and selling and hustling from one place to another. As our time here has lengthened, along with our sleeping patterns, we have begun to feel the weight of our decision, both the gains and the losses.

Yesterday, we decided to count our losses for the year of 2020. We hoped this exercise would help us all process and name our hurts so that we could take them to God in lament. Some of us just had one thing listed. Others had 18. Some of us revealed losses that go back three years or even five. But what was most apparent in our losses is the commonality that we share with the entire world’s losses this year: circumstances, relationships, locations, stuff, and identities we had built for ourselves. Our losses aren’t really different in substance. We’re all losing the same things.

For my husband and myself, the loss of identity has been a pretty hard pill to swallow. I don’t think we do it intentionally–build up identities for ourselves. We know our ultimate, true identity is that we belong to God, and we are His, and He is ours. But somehow along the way, we’ve also added our roles and relationships and work to that identity. What happens when those roles change, people move, and the job is no more? Who are we then? Living cross-culturally comes with its own identities–we were expatriates, and we were foreign missionaries. Now that we’re back in the States, we possess neither of those titles. And it has rocked our boat a bit. Try as we might, we never intended for those roles to become our identity; yes, they were roles we filled, but they’re not the core of who we are. And in the loss of those roles, we find ourselves asking, “Who are we now?” “What is our family culture?” “What is our purpose?”

As I was praying about these losses yesterday, the Lord reminded me of Paul’s statements in Philippians 3. He says,

“For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh–though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith…

Philippians 3:3-9, ESv

Paul had his identities too–he was the ultimate Jew. He followed all the laws. He knew his tribe, where he came from, who his people were. No one could match him for righteousness or zeal. And his whole identity was wrapped up in those things he claimed and performed. He calls these identities “putting confidence in the flesh.” But then he met Jesus, and it all changed. In effect, he surrendered all of those identities in order to know Jesus. He counted these identity gains as loss. He counted them as trash in comparison to knowing Christ. And his instruction is to NOT put confidence in our flesh. And where I am right now, I can really identify with what he’s saying. I have suffered the loss of so many things I had gained prior to this year, and every single loss has pushed me into the arms of Christ where I have come to know Him in a new and deeper way. All of this loss was exchanged for being found in Him. Though I am grieving the losses of host country, relationships, stability, and misassumed identities, the truth, that is always true for the Christ-follower, remains the same: I have been lost, but I am found.

How are we “putting confidence in the flesh?” The very idea is counter to the life of a Christian. All of these identities, even though they’re not sin, in and of themselves, are not the core of who we are. Therefore, the confidence we have placed in them has proven to be untrustworthy and unstable, at best. And so we have to ask ourselves, “Where is my confidence? Who am I? Am I Christ’s? Am I found in Him?” Where we find our identity and our confidence will determine whether or not we walk by the Spirit of God or by our flesh. And as we lament our losses in His presence, we find that He’s still God, and He’s still good. He still loves us. We are still His. And as we process our loss of earthly gains, let’s do so in the truth that through it all, we have gained Christ, and we are found in Him. And because of this gain of Jesus Himself, we are, like Paul, “forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,” and we can, “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13b-14, ESV).

Sorrow and the Goodness of God

Photo by Zack Melhus on Pexels.com

Sorrow feels akin to a tide eroding the stony shore, hollowing out a cleft in the rock face. It overwhelms, all-encompasses, and deadens at once. None of us are immune to it. It crashes repeatedly in the years we’re granted on this spinning orb. People die. People move. Relationships are broken, left unmended, and we find ourselves carrying the weights of these sorrows on shoulders too narrow to bear up under them.

I’ve recently been experiencing a bit more sorrow than I have in the past as our life overseas keeps shifting like the sand. Our friends are packing. We’re having goodbye meals; the kids are sleeping over. A friend was touched by mental illness, and we rallied around her in her time of need. This is all in addition to the pain of separation we’ve felt from family and friends due to border closures, and of course, in addition to the pain of racism’s touch back in the US. It feels like sorrow heaped upon sorrow.

What I’ve found in these griefs is a growing empathy toward my fellow humans as we all wrestle with the question, some of us subconsciously:

Is God still good? Does He care about my life? My pain? My problems?

In my true fashion, when feeling overwhelmed by life, I must move my body. I put on my sneakers and headed to the park down the street for a walk. I always listen to a podcast when I exercise, but on this day, I stumbled onto Osheta Moore’s Instagram and saw a video in which she was graciously welcoming people into her space of “Breath Prayers.” She was playing a beautiful song on Spotify in the background called “In the Meantime” by Jess Ray. I passed the lily pad pond on my left and opened up Spotify on my phone to have a listen.

And in time,

I’ll let you in on everything I’m planning.

When it’s time,

I’ll let you see everything you’re asking me. When it’s time,

You will know why there are things

I’m hiding from you.

But I’m gonna satisfy

Everything in the meantime.

“In the meantime”–Jess Ray

These words spoke directly to the questions I’ve been holding in my heart. It’s been hard to understand why things are the way they are right now. Why is He allowing so much pain? He is good; I know this is true. But God, these circumstances just don’t feel GOOD; they feel hard and sad and long. It’s easy to confuse the goodness of my circumstances with the goodness of God. He doesn’t let up; the chorus rang out again:

But I’m gonna satisfy

everything in the meantime.

“In the meantime” –Jess Ray

With each step I took, my “whys” echoed one another. The lyrics continued to answer back that He is enough–for the meantime–for the future–forever. The Father’s desire is to satisfy the empty places in our hearts, and He knows how deep the caverns of sorrow reach. He knows that He has to reassure us that His plans for us are good, that He won’t leave us or forsake us.

I stepped up the ramp onto the sidewalk, and the playlist skipped to a song by Andrew Peterson. It was one with which I was unfamiliar. The lyrics caught me off guard:

Do You remember how Mary was grieving?

How You wept and she fell at Your feet?

If it’s true that You know what I’m feeling

Could it be that You’re weeping with me?

“Always good” –Andrew peterson

Isaiah prophesied Jesus would be a “man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” (53:3, ESV). He was human; sorrow touched His heart too. We get a glimpse of the most dramatic touch of sorrow in the Garden of Gethsemane when He told the three, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with Me” (Matthew 26:38, ESV). Remain here, and watch with Me. Remain where? I’m not sure Jesus was merely asking them to stick around in the Garden, though He knew they would run from there as well. What if He is asking us to stay with Him in the sorrow? Sitting in the sorrow is hard; running from it feels easier though it always catches up eventually.

You’re always good, always good

Somehow this sorrow is shaping my heart like it should

And You’re always good, always good

“always good”–Andrew Peterson

This second line above caught my breath, “Somehow this sorrow is shaping my heart like it should.” What is this? Sorrow serves a purpose? But isn’t it just a byproduct of sin? How can sorrow turn out for good? Should we let the sorrows of sin in the world really shape our hearts–and in that shaping, we gain His heart? Maybe staying in the sorrow, we can see how much He really gave? We can see how high the price was for Him to redeem it all, to make us new, to transform creation? Maybe the sorrow shapes us in a way that makes us more like Jesus?

That You’re always good, always good
As we try to believe what is not meant to be understood
Will You help us to trust Your intentions for us are still good
‘Cause You laid down Your life
And You suffered like I never could

You’re always good, always good
You’re always good, always good

“always good” –andrew peterson

By this time, my tears have welled up and fallen to the tiled pavement in the park, and I’m keeping my head down, avoiding eye contact with locals. This is becoming a habit, apparently. But I keep walking, keep listening, keep thinking about these lyrics. He suffered like we never could, but He asks us to stay with Him in His suffering. The writer of Hebrews said, “…who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (12:2b, ESV). Jesus was able to suffer because of the joy set before Him; this joy was multi-faceted: God’s glory, the restoration of a relationship with humans, the transformation of sin-stained humans into His kingdom-ambassadors in the earth, the renewal of creation, the utter defeat of sin, death, and the grave–this was the joy toward which He set His face like flint (Isaiah 50:7, ESV) .

Jesus’ joy is our joy. Paul finishes up Romans 8 with these words, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us…but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies…Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words…and we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (18, 23, 26, 28, ESV). We’re not in this alone. He wants us to remain with Him in His suffering, because He knows as we suffer with Him, He is shaping our hearts into hearts like His.