The Desert Will Bloom

Isaiah 35

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad; the desert shall rejoice and blossom like the crocus;  it shall blossom abundantly and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God. 

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.  Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.” 

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;  then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy. For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert;  the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; in the haunt of jackals, where they lie down, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.  And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way; even if they are fools, they shall not go astray.  No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there.  And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.  – Isaiah 35

As I read this passage of Scripture in the midst of sheltering in place because of Covid-19 I am encouraged. I am encouraged not because anything has changed this morning, unless what has changed is my perspective. The world remains the same, and so does God.

This was written to ancient Israel. It was written as a closure of the first 34 chapters of the book of Isaiah, in which the people of God were chastised for their idolatry and their injustice. They had failed to worship God with their whole hearts, to worship Him alone. They had failed to care for the least of these among their own people: the poor, the widow, the fatherless. Therefore God was going to exile them to a distant land. He was going to bring upon them their just punishment, in the form of ancient Assyria.

This passage looks past the exile to a time in which the people would again rejoice greatly and shout for joy. It looks ahead to the return from exile, the time in which God would do amazingly greater things than He had done. The prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel also see ahead to that day, the time of when the Messiah would come.

So I read this passage and see backward, to the day when Israel came back out of the land of Babylon, back to Jerusalem. It was a day of great joy. And yet, it was a day of great disappointment, as the walls were broken down, the temple was destroyed, and people’s hearts had not yet been made new. That New Day was still to come.

I read this passage and see backward, to the day when Jesus came. He lived an amazing life of blessing and healing. It was verses 5-6 and He quoted to John the Baptist’s followers when asked if he was the Messiah. Jesus ushered in this New Day, the Return. He is the Messiah who brings this New Day, yet mostly only in our own hearts, in our soul, and not yet in the culture and in the world as a whole. The New Day is here, but not yet fully.

So as I sit here, sheltering in place, listening to the birds, I have hope, for this passage reveals who God is. He is one who turns the desert into the oasis. He is the one who calls to us and says, “Be strong, do not fear, your God will come.” God will clear up this pandemic, this disaster that has come upon the world. It is a disaster unlike any other, though certainly not the worst the world has ever seen.

My fear is that people (myself included) are not actually looking to God for His saving hand. I hear much from leaders of plans, or no plans. I hear of reopening things, or not opening things yet. I hear little of prayer. I know there are people in different administrations that are praying, but this thought led me to pray for mayors and governors and presidents and kings today. I pray they would be given wisdom from on high, from God, who actually knows all things, unlike we broken and fallen humans.

I sit here and look forward to the day when we will return to hugging our friends, to going out to eat, to kids seeing their teachers and enjoying playing on playgrounds. Because God is who He is, these things will return. I do hope it’s a return to less idolatry and less injustice as well. I will do what I am able.

But mostly, reading this, I look forward, far forward, though I do not know how far. I look forward to that Day, that Final Day, in which God wraps up this age as one wraps up a cloak. I look forward to that Day in which He fully and finally creates that highway called the Way of Holiness. Right now that Way seems like a trail through the wilderness, in which faithfulness to God feels difficult and dangerous. One day, it will truly be a highway, and people of all nations will walk upon it, going to His temple to worship Him. “The redeemed will walk there, and the ransomed of the LORD will return and come to Zion with singing.” It will be a day in which “sorrow and sighing will flee away” finally and fully away. This is the hope of the Bible, that the earth will be redeemed. Jesus came to pay the way for us, to pay for our sin and rebellion by taking the just punishment of that rebellion upon Himself, so that we could go free.

So until that day when God turns the whole desert into an oasis (the New Earth), I wait. But I wait with eyes that see our true end, and I begin to sing.

“Some bright morning, when this life is gone, I’ll fly away.

To a land where joy will never end, I’ll fly away.

I’ll fly away o‘ glory. I’ll fly away.

When I die, hallelujah by and by, I’ll fly away…”

Frustration is real…

I sometimes feel like I am silly to be frustrated by the little details of my current experience with the Covid-19 crisis. After all, it is factually clear that what we are doing is critical.  We get to participate in protecting our communities and to be part of the global community that is facing this unprecedented health crisis (at least unprecedented in our time…).  My family is hardly bearing the weight that so many servants in our communities are living under, such as our amazing health professionals, grocery store workers, and emergency responders (Thank you!).

Nevertheless, the ups and downs are real. We are all experiencing ambiguous loss, in addition to many different real losses that vary from person to person.  The ambiguous loss creates an internal weariness—it is not knowing what is coming or what the long-term implications of our current experiences will be. It arises out of both fear for ourselves and empathy for others—concern for friends, family, neighbors, local businesses and charities… It is magnified by not knowing what to believe or how many articles to keep reading…

Is anyone else finding that they go in and out of frustration, sometimes within one day? Here are some of the silly things that I allow to scratch my frustration threshold. Maybe you can identify…

  • Getting angry at a child for not eating the apple sauce I gave them for morning snack.
  • Feeling like crying when my child won’t try to do any math problem by herself, but instead insists that I “help” her with every single one…
  • Spending half an hour confused about why my son’s computer won’t connect to the internet, only to realize that a manual tab on the side of the computer was switched to not allow any connections…
  • Getting tired of repeating “I really just need you to get into the habit of making your bed in the morning. For my sanity, OK?”
  • Wanting to roll my eyes at the child who throws a fit when I say we are going for a walk together, when he hasn’t even been out of the house all day…
  • Feeling exasperated that only 3 out of the 5 kids want to do my planned craft for the day (lets be real – that’s a majority and should be cause for celebration).
  • Feeling unproductive: I am so used to being meticulously scheduled (juggling 7 people’s activities and to do lists), that I am having much more trouble focusing without that…

So what is the solution to these frustrations? For me it is the simple practice of thankfulness. I know this is not headline news…not brain surgery…pretty obvious, really.  For example, for years I have had friends praise the practice of thankfulness they were inspired to live out after reading Ann Voskamp’s book One Thousand Gifts. I myself have had seasons of practicing the discipline. Yet I still need to be reminded.  Psalm 69:30+ talks about praising God in the midst of hard things, saying “I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving…For the Lord hears the needy…” When I turn my heart to thanksgiving, peace does come, despite uncertain circumstances. Philippians 4:6-7 is not making it up or presenting a pipe dream when it speaks of presenting our requests to God “with thanksgiving…,” indicating that the peace of God follows, not because our circumstances are miraculously changed or fixed, but because we are changed from the inside (by relationship with Him and by hope in Him).

When I stop and think about it, I have so much to be thankful for! I have a wonderful husband and precious children who all love one another and play well together (despite the daily bantering and bickering).  In the last few weeks, I have been enjoying time with the kids, and have been taking advantage of the extensive opportunities for family time. We have made time for activities that used to fall by the wayside among the bustle of the average Spring week in years past: more devotionals, novels read out-loud, board games, crafts, daily walks, etc.  I am thankful that we have enough food on the table and money to pay rent.  I am thankful that I in fact have enough to share with those who don’t have quite enough.  I am thankful for flexible jobs for my husband and I, and that my husband is even able to take time to go and help care for a family member recovering from medical challenges. I am thankful for ways to connect with family and friends who are also sheltering in place far away from us. I am thankful that I get to continue to mentor some awesome young college women (now just online) who I know encourage me as much as I do them.

Granted, it is easy to start comparing and wondering if I am doing enough school-wise for each child (yep, speaking to the choir here parents, right?). Surprisingly (ok, not really), I am not used to navigating individualized work for 5 different ages and state standards (even though I do have some experience with home school), in addition to still making time for my work for Cru. I like to measure up, and I can start looking at what other moms are doing, and feel inadequate…

Yet thankfulness takes the power right out of comparison, and it weans me from it. It allows me to be me—the mom, wife, friend, and employee that my unique personality and gifts make me—and to give myself grace. God has given me grace in abundance, and he wants me to flourish as I walk in it.

Today, I will choose thankfulness!