The Storm

The winds raged. I won’t say the volume of the storm didn’t shock me. It was a lot more than I expected when I set out with only light grey skies above me. Just a little rain, I thought, no more than a drizzle. Besides, the sea is small and I’ll be safe on the other side before anything can go wrong. Now I was grumbling curses at myself as I took down what was left of my shredded sail. My only option was to hit the oars. There was little light left, save the occasional flashes of distant lightning, and I was too absorbed in steadying my boat in the swell to worry about where I was headed.

“Can I help now?”

I started at the sound of His voice. I entirely forgot He was sitting there. I bit my lip stubbornly and shook my head. “Nope,” I said. “I’ve totally got this. You just relax okay?” I think my voice sounded convincing but just in case it didn’t, I averted my eyes from his face. The last thing I needed was criticism. I started up my mental recording of self help mantras and dug the oars beneath the waves with each one: I am brave. I am strong. I am capable. I know with time and effort I can achieve.

The waves were growing, it’s the natural outcome of the storm, but what I really wanted to know was why on earth my boat was shrinking. It definitely looked smaller. I thought I set out on a yacht. Where had this rickety old rowboat come from? Perhaps I had just been too arrogant to realize how unprepared I was for the journey ahead.

A heavy wave crashed over the side and snapped the rowlock off the frame. The force sucked my oar with it. I reached for it with two desperate hands, thereby dropping my remaining oar into the dark churning waters. They were both out of my reach before I could decide which to go for first. I watched them dip and bob, as though waving goodbye, while bucketloads of water rolled into my splintering wreck of a boat.

“Now can I help?”

I just flat out ignored Him this time. I hadn’t invited Him anyway, He just seems to show up everywhere I go. Besides, if I didn’t concentrate we would sink. I bailed with my hands, hoping against hope that there was an extra oar hidden at the bottom of the boat. The next wave knocked me off my seat almost out into the sea. Why wasn’t I wearing a lifejacket? What possessed me, a lousy swimmer on a good day, to drop themselves in the middle of a large body of water sans life jacket?

I struggled in vain for as long as I could. Perhaps those desperate hours were all packed into five minutes or maybe my floundering lasted as long as it felt. It wasn’t until the splintered wood around me had cut my hands and I was half drowned and choking that I finally dropped to my knees. The water came up to my chest. I wrapped my arms around His legs and buried my face in His knees.

“Okay,” I whimpered. “Okay please, help me. Please I give up. I can’t do this alone anymore.”

He was on his feet before the words came from my mouth. He didn’t need my words. He was only waiting for my heart to relent. He raised a hand over the sea.

“Peace be still.”

Instantaneous silence. The wind purred like a kitten as it ruffled the still waters, rippling reflections of bright sunlight across the glassy surface.

I cried and shook. My salty tears mingled with the water that dripped from my drenched hair down my wet face. He lifted me to my feet and took my face in his hands. I had to look in his eyes then. I always expected to see bitterness, anger, or rebuke when we came to this point, but I never did. The same tender expression he always wore when he looked at me calmed my trembling heart. The only change was the hurt I could see in his eyes, but the love that flowed from them made it almost invisible in comparison.

“Oh my little child,” He whispered. “Your faith is so small.”

“Forgive me,” I said then added with a soft choke of bitter irony, “again.” We’d been here before, same scene different setting.

He smiled and pulled me into his arms. I cried against his chest while the wreckage of my boat sank beneath our feet.

“Daddy, will you grow my faith?” I asked.

His gentle voice hummed against my ear. “That’s what I’m doing now. Walk with me.”

My tiny fingers locked securely in his strong hand, we walked across the still, peaceful waters to the other side of the sea.

© Rachel Svendsen 2015

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The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father God who art in heav’n above,
Hallowed be Thy holy glorious name.
Thy kingdom come. On earth Thy will be done,
Both here with men as in the heav’ns the same.

Please God provide us with our daily bread.
We ask no more than this lest we grow proud.
Our trespasses we beg you to forgive,
As we in turn forgive hurts from the crowd.

O lead us not into temptation’s way,
But Lord deliver us from evil’s snare.
For thine the kingdom, power, glory, be,
Forever, both in heav’n and everywhere.

Amen.

© Rachel Svendsen 2014

“My Sin” on a Wooden Cross

I’m a front-row-pew kind of Christian. Not that it matters where you sit. The truth is, I can’t read the powerpoint slides when I sit back further than the third row. I opened my vision corrected eyes and lifted my head when the prayer finished. My husband and I slid out of the row towards the centre aisle. Tonight we were doing something a little different for the Lord’s Supper.

In my hand I held a little card. The words “my sin” were written on it. A wooden cross stood just below the platform. I raised my hand. The head of the nail fixed in the cross, slid inside the hole on my card. I made my way back to my seat.

My eyes were already stinging with tears. There I sat. Once Christ’s enemy, now given the gift of nearness through his sacrifice. “My sin” hung on the cross. The only thing keeping me from God, completely covered. I know my heart. I know who I am: my motives, my thoughts, my desires. I know the depth of the sin he’s covered. I couldn’t help but wonder at the awesome beauty of this gift poured out willingly into my frail trembling hands. Someone died for me.

First row, first up, now I watched the others make their way to the cross. This sight was almost more beautiful than the sight of my sin leaving my fingers. A visual reminder of salvation’s scope unfolded before my blurred eyes. I watched others file past: men, women, children, young, old, a woman with a cane, a little girl with a missing front tooth, light skinned and dark, grey haired and blonde, nations, tribes, and tongues. These all came with their own stories, their own sins.

Woe to those who can’t see this beauty: deep, sweet, and endless. Whose sin blinded eyes would sooner cut off their own hand than relinquish the right to self and accept this gift from so loving a master. Can anything be more magnificent in purity or perfect in love?

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Body broken.
Blood shed.
I’m made white by his blood red.
Open my eyes lord.
Help me see,
To give up self and live for thee.

© Rachel Svendsen 2014

Be Careful What You Pray For?

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“I’ve heard it said, ‘Be careful what you pray for, because you just might get it.’”

My pastor’s voice came over the nursery loud-speaker. My arms were full of sleeping infant.  The woman beside me listened with closed eyes to the sermon overhead.

“Hmmm,” she grunted. “That is so true.”

My arms were asleep. I shuffled and looked down into the tiny face.  My mind ticked away. I failed to stop the words leaking from my mouth.

“No,” I said. “No, it isn’t.”

I’ve heard that phrase many times growing up. Most often when a preacher would stumble onto James 1:3. The passage says: “for you know that the testing of your faith produces patience.” The preacher would look up from his Bible and say, “This is why we need to be careful when we pray for patience.”

People…we’re missing the point.

What is prayer? Prayer is our direct communication with God. Sometimes it feels like God is so far away. Prayer is our link, our chain to him. It’s the time when we stop to talk to him. Sometimes we cuddle in his lap, cup our hand around his ear and whisper to him. Other times, we weep and scream. Our Father delights in all these moments. He wants to share them with us: the hurt, the fear, the joy, the sorrow. Looking at the Psalms you see hundreds of prayers. Those saints too whispered, screamed, cried, and sung for joy. It was just as essential in their spiritual walk as it is to us today.  It moves us closer to abiding in the beautiful, unfathomable love of God.

C. S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.” God made us for more, and as we grow closer to him we find our true love and desires molding to his, giving us the fulfillment we’ve always craved. Our defective sinful natures keep us locked in the temporal, but closer abiding changes us.  It changes our prayers.  Our prayers morph from “God I want a new car” to “God please give me more patience.”  God wants us to seek patience.  Increased patience will give us increased joy.  Permanent joy.  New cars give us temporal happiness.

So, should I truly fear to ask anything of God? What’s the worst that will happen? Truly.  Is it the “no” I fear?  That saying would teach us it’s the fulfillment of such I should fear.  No. The answer comes in the verse just prior to James 1:3. It says, “count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds.”  Joy people!  Joy!  Not happiness.  Not a faint smile, but real, deep, abiding, joy.

Ironically, seconds prior to these words over the loudspeaker, my companion and I had been discussing my miscarriage.  This time last year I was pregnant.  God chose to take my child from my husband and me directly to him.  It would be a gross understatement to say this has been hard on us, we both desperately want a child, but the fact of the matter is, I have never once been angry at God for doing so.  I ask him “why”.  It’s a legitimate question.  I don’t know the answer.  What I do know is this.  I learned through my miscarriage that God loves my husband and me.  I learned that he is in ultimate control of everything.  I learned that I can fall into his arms when I’m hurt and frightened.

We have two thoughts before us.  One: we need to be careful to ask God for things or we’ll get them.  Two: I received desired spiritual lessons from my miscarriage.  If we believe thought one to be truth, than thought two is a direct result of thought one. Thus the only conclusion we can draw is that I would be holding my baby today if I had never asked God to teach me to love and trust him more.  I submit to you that this is heresy.  If not, then it’s safer for us to restrict our prayers to the weather.

God is not the divine author of agony.  He does not sit on his throne waiting to squash us with trials, death, and fun sucking.  He wants the best for us.  He wants us to have peace.  He wants us to have joy.  If we truly believe that, we will never fear to ask him for anything.  Our spiritual growth brings joy to us and God.  I found joy in my trial.  Yes, I found grief too, but the joy is pervasive.  One day I will see my baby again.  I believe this. Until then I find joy and love in the arms of a God who will fill the aching hole that my baby left with me.

I have not stopped praying for God to teach me to love him more.  I will not stop.  And, so far, the roof of my apartment hasn’t caved in and my refrigerator isn’t infested with genetically enhanced arthropods.