Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD,
but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake,
but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
After the earthquake, came a fire,
but the LORD was not in the fire.
And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
When Elijah heard it,
he pulled his cloak over his face and went out
and stood at the mouth of the cave.
~the book of 1 Kings, chapter 19, verses 11 through 13
This week, I’ve been caving.
I knew it was coming. I could feel it. The compulsion made me ache. And I know every other introvert alive can understand what I felt. Sometimes weariness is so palpable that it hurts, and the only cure for it is a little spelunking. So, I’m not sure I’m going to make sense today. When I’ve been in the cave, it’s sometimes difficult to remember how to speak.
I know it’s hard to imagine a coastal girl like me exploring caves. They’re dark and cool and drippy, and I crave warmth and sunshine and waves like a drug. But what happens to me is more like what happened to Elijah when he went in the cave on the mountain of God all those years ago, in search of a whisper that cannot be heard from the middle of the chaos.
I love my life. I live in the radiance of God’s glory, basking in the warmth of His embrace every day, and I laugh in wonder as I watch Him transform, heal, free, and redeem everything (and everyone) around me–beginning with my heart and extending through every strange and seemingly impossible challenge we face together. I rally for His victories, completely humbled by every single one in which I can be used as some kind of tiny instrument, powerful only when wielded by His hands. I want Him to replace my voice with His own. And if I can just walk with Him, I’ll have lived well. But I am so clearly human that sometimes it’s all just too much. This world, for all it’s trouble, feels like more than I can bear. Even though I am surrounded by love and I abide in joy, I am tempted by weariness to forget that the victory has already been won. Christ said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33).” But one step in the wrong direction, and I’m living in defeat.
Like Elijah, I want to run away. I echo him in my prayers: “I have had enough, LORD. (1 Kings 19:4).” At the beginning of this week, that about summed it up for me, and when I feel like that, God faithfully gives me enough strength to love my kids all the way to school that first day back, and then He takes me on a journey to the caves. I give myself permission to stay at home alone and dig out from under all the stuff that has been piling up on top of me, cluttering up my environment…and my heart. Together, God and I take a good, hard, honest look at what I’m thinking and feeling.
My heart is broken for everyone who has suffered losses these last months and days, from the people of Japan who lost 10,000 in the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, to those who lost loved ones, homes, and possessions in the tornadoes that whirled through our state on April 16, to those in Alabama and five other southeastern states who were devastated by tornadoes on Wednesday. More than 300 lives have been lost to these tornadoes. Every day, I drive past all the evidence of destruction outside my door, and my heart aches. And I don’t want it to be any other way.
So often, when things like this happen, I see the pictures on TV and all over the internet, and I feel something, at least briefly, and I pray, and then I forget. I go on about my life as though it doesn’t matter that so many other people are suffering pain that feels suffocating, that their lives have been ripped apart and they are left standing in the ruins. But seeing the pictures is not like living across the street from the wreckage. And the thing is…we need to feel something for each other. My neighbors who lost their homes have been told it will take at least a year to rebuild. So, for at least a year, will you tack one of those horrific pictures to the inside of your closet door or write a note to yourself and stick it on the mirror or in your car and join me in praying for those grieving someone or something they have lost? Because we all know that the pain of loss never completely goes away, and lately, there’s been so much loss.
In the face of so much tragedy, I feel the truth of how small and inadequate I am. I am a jar of clay, capable of nothing unless I am filled and used by our good and beautiful God, in whose hands resides the only power to truly heal and restore. And I know that it is God’s heart to redeem every single loss in some way. So, Kevin and I spend a lot of time praying these days that God will pick us up and use us as a balm to the hurting. Our friends here have echoed the sentiment. So deep is our desire to help that we are ready and willing and engaged at the slightest sign of opportunity, and I’ve been reminded that while we all need food, clothes, shelter, and basic necessities, what we need most of all is to know that we are not alone and that we matter to each other. The best that we can do is to pray, and give, and be ready to do everything we can to offer each other the highest order of love—self-sacrifice.
None of us know exactly what to say during times like these. We blurt things awkwardly, wanting desperately to convey our concern, feeling things so deeply ourselves, while knowing that the words will never be an adequate expression. Oh, Father, pour out your grace on us and give us the heart to offer it generously to each other. We’re all just blundering our way through this the best way we know how.
In the cave, I look directly at all that’s difficult and painful, and I see the truth. God is not in those things. He was not in the tornadoes, the earthquake, or the tsunami. He is not in death, nor is He in any of the thousands of other things that bring us suffering. He is in the gentle whisper that comes afterward, the one that has heard our cries and does not rebuke us for them, the one that makes us consider what brought us to the cave in the first place, the one that reminds us that we are not alone and urges us, when the time comes, to go back the way we came.
On Sunday night, Adam started telling me he didn’t want to go back to school.
“Tomorrow is Monday. No school on Monday. Track-out.”
“That’s right. No school tomorrow. One more day of track-out.”
“No school Tuesday,” he said, his voice cracking.
“Yes, you have school on Tuesday.”
He considered this. “No school Wednesday!”
“Yes, you have school Wednesday, too.”
“12:15!’ He said, desperately. That’s Adam for, “Could I at least have an early release?!”
It doesn’t matter if God has just brought me through the greatest victory of my life or given me an entire week on an island to feel near Him, sometimes this life just makes me so weary that I want to go spelunking and stay there, by myself, with Him. As He urges me to go and be clay in His hands, I’m so thankful that He’s already promised me an early release.
There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains. …Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. …For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again. If those days had not been cut short, no one would survive, but for the sake of the elect those days will be shortened. …See, I have told you ahead of time. So if anyone tells you, ‘There he is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here he is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.”~Matthew 24
~If you are living away from “ground zero” and want to help, I’ve seen three organizations making a huge effort here. I’m confident they are making an equal effort elsewhere as well: Samaritan’s Purse, The American Red Cross, and Churches of Christ Disaster Relief. Sometimes the most difficult thing is getting aid to those who need it the most, but these organizations and others like them work hard to do just that. I’m so thankful for their efforts. Last week, many of our wonderful teachers gave up part of their track-out to identify the greatest needs in the community and to turn our school gym into a distribution center for food and supplies. Once again, they’ve made an immeasurable difference, pouring themselves out to help others. I am so happy that these are the people influencing and teaching my children. We’re so blessed.