The Present of His Presence

Grief comes in waves, and this was a big one, threatening to crush me and drag me under. Fear, shame, disbelief, hopelessness, and tears. The overwhelming circumstances magnifying the weakness of my flesh, the doubting in my spirt, the anxiety in my mind. A baby in my arms, a toddler at my feet, three little boys running through the house, my dinner preparation interrupted by the phone and doorbell needing me simultaneously. In a moment of frustration and anger, I held up my wooden spoon in the air and yelled to God, “If you are going to be a Father to the fatherless, now would be a very good time to start!” And, as if just waiting to be invited, God’s presence filled my little kitchen and brought me to my knees, sitting on the floor with my children who had gathered. An unmistakable, warm, weighty blanket of love, comfort, peace to my troubled heart and life. His presence, accompanied by his laughter. 

It has taken me many years to comprehend and experience the truth of the presence of God. The “I AM” and the “I will” of God that was the answer to my grief that day. The laughter of God that sees a victorious future that we cannot see sometimes. That despite all the facts of my natural circumstances and all the lies screaming in my mind, “You are alone, this is impossible, this pain will overwhelm you, you will be defeated”, the truth remained, as expressed in God’s presence, I was not alone.

And, as grace would have it, God didn’t come when we were all dressed up in our “Sunday best”, pretending to have it altogether, saying “I got this God”. He came into my broken, desperate, real life, with a sink full of dirty dishes, crabby kids, torn apart marriage, exhausted body, and broken heart and said “I have you”.

The gift of his grace poured out the first time I received Him was for my Salvation. While we were yet sinners God died for the ungodly. And then, His grace poured out again and again every day since that time. In my heart, I sometimes substitute another word for sinners… while we were yet….stubborn, hurting, anxious, fearful, enraged-- His presence, his unmerited, undeserved grace and favor comes again and again.

Thus, by God’s invitation to join him, I took my first tentative steps to know and experience God, as Father to the fatherless and the God of all comfort. Countless times, in practical and ordinary, and sometimes extraordinary ways, we experienced the unrelenting love, the fierce protection, covering, and provision of God. And, as I experienced the gift of the presence of God, the answer back in my heart, “It is you, Lord and thank you” a thousand times. 

And, he had so much more of himself to give and show and teach us about-- so many more ways to express his character. I think of the verse from John 17:3: And this is eternal life that they might know thee the only true God. And, as the years unfolded, in our needs, in our crying out to God, it seemed his pleasure to reveal himself. Need direction? The Good Shepherd. Wisdom? The Wonderful Counselor. Lack? Provision. Grief? Comfort. Anxiety? The Prince of Peace. Sin? Our Righteousness. 

When I think of Advent two things come to mind, the remembrance of Jesus first arrival as our Messiah, Jesus at Christmas; and what we wait for expectantly now, the Advent of his Second Coming. Yes, but also the Advent—the arrival of God into my heart and life circumstances today. Your Kingdom come, your will be done, your life and grace into this situation today. In the season of Advent, when I hear the Name of God, Emmanuel, my heart resounds with Joy, “Yes, you are with me”.  The present of the Presence of God is with me.

And to know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, that you might be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3:19

The Gift of Faith

Just over ten years ago, I faced a crisis of health. And received a gift of faith. 

I looked forward to the start of the school year with barely contained excitement. For the first time in over a decade, all of my children would be in school all day. I would have 8 hours a day to myself! I imagined a lot of possibilities: cleaning closets, getting in shape and planning a career. An expanding waistline triggered some medical appointments and a gym membership. With 5 children between the ages of 6 and 14, it was difficult to make any arrangements for childcare, so check-ups and work-outs had been difficult to schedule.

The first appointment with a doctor turned into an immediate ultrasound, which was followed by an urgent MRI. The medical professionals were kind, but their silence and expressions told me more than any words could have expressed. The expanding waistline was a tumor, not middle-age spread. It was large; the origin was unknown. Within days, I was a patient at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. 

The surgery was delayed, hour by agonizing hour. In a hospital gown, on a gurney, I talked with my husband, who patiently, and gently, discussed my worst fears with me. If I didn’t make it through surgery. . . . Who would perform the funeral? Who would care for our children?  My worries were consuming.

I was worried for our children. What impact would this have on all of them? What would this mean for our two adopted sons, in particular? One was adopted at 5 months; the other at 6 years. Both had lost both biological and foster mothers. It seemed supremely unfair that they would have to worry about losing a third mother. However, my faith reminded me that our God, who loves his children, far more than even his or her parents could, will fulfill the promise made in Philippians 1: 6. “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”

I was worried about the suffering that was ahead of me. It seemed likely that the surgery would be radical, and that the treatment would be painful. My faith reminded me that Jesus, at the cross, has gone before me in all suffering.

I was worried that I would die in surgery. My faith reminded me of Psalm 23. “Yea, though I walk through the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”. All of us will die. However, whether through a prolonged sickness and suffering, or through a sudden illness, we will fear no evil, no matter how death comes.

As I laid there, the gift of faith overwhelmed my fears. I had faith that, as Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,for those who are called according to his purpose.” 

I woke up from surgery to my husband’s voice. He had been assigned the task of telling me, that it was cancer, but, that despite its size, it was contained. The surgeon had removed all evidence of disease. I would have to remain vigilant for the rest of my life, since it could recur at any time, as long as I lived, but I was, for now, surgically cured. 

I received a lot of gifts in the weeks, months and years after that devastating diagnosis. The gift of healing restored me to physical wholeness. The gift of community nurtured me and my family. The gift of brokenness prepared me for more years in ministry for the Kingdom. The gift of gratitude allowed me to celebrate every passing year with delight. However, the gift of faith trumped them all. 

Faith that is Growing


For by grace you have been saved, through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.

Ephesians 2:8 (ESV)

I have heard that faith is like a muscle that gets stronger as we use it. On the other hand, the Bible talks about faith as a gift. What do we make of that?

It is evident that some people have been given the gift of faith. These are see God’s will as basic fact; they don’t question what God is doing and don’t struggle with the doubt that many of us seem to. The Bible is full of such people…Abraham, Moses, Nehemiah, and Job to name a few. There are also people in my life who are an inspiration with their faith in God through all sorts of troubles. They never seem to doubt what God is doing in their lives.

In my own life, I have seen God’s faithfulness towards me through difficult times, such as when I was unemployed and underemployed for almost 2 years.  I questioned God’s purpose for me often, and when I was at my lowest point, and crying out to God for help, He provided the opportunity that got me back on my feet. For me it was a true miracle.

And therein lies the connection between faith as a gift, and faith as a muscle to be exercised. The more I’ve gone through experiences in which my faith has seemed to fail, the more I’ve seen God’s faithfulness towards me, building my faith, so that when I got through the experience I would not only see that my faith was stronger, but that it was God’s gift all along.

I pray that I can draw on that experience in the future, to continue building the faith that God has given me!

My Senior Verse


“Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. Truly he is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to him, for God is our refuge.”

Psalm 62:5-8 (NIV)

Somewhere in the annals of Hillcrest Lutheran Academy is featured the senior portrait of an awkward seventeen year old with the Scripture reference Psalm 62:5-6 inscribed beneath. I still remember the night I “discovered” those verses. I had been perusing through the Psalms, waiting for a meeting to begin in the student lounge of the small midwestern Christian high school I attended, when these words captivated my imagination and gave a steadiness to the emotional roller coaster that was my teenage soul: Strength. Hope. Rest. God is enough. Here was something I could hold onto, words of promise to encourage me. And so like all the other students who had graduated HLA before me, I too had found my Senior Verse.

I didn’t completely understand it back then, but that’s the Gospel in a nutshell, isn’t it? Finding our hope and rest in God. Because our salvation and honor depend on God, and not ourselves, we can trust him in all things and pour out our hearts to him, our rock, our fortress, our refuge. But then, it’s taken many more years of living to discover that life is messy, that I need grace like I need air to breathe, that I need the Gospel. It seems the older I get, the more I live in this sort of paradox between Psalm 62 and the desperate father pleading on behalf of his demon possessed son, “...I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

As a parent, I can relate to that desperate dad. When the doctors pulled us aside in the ER to deliver the blow that changed us and our child’s life forever, when life became measured by before brain surgery and after brain surgery / when you could smile brightly and when you no longer could, we realized we have two choices: hold on to God with all we’ve got - doubts, fears, anger, sadness and all; or go it alone. The amazing thing is that in helplessly bringing all our mess to God, in pouring out our broken hearts to him, he proves himself to be all we need, and our faith increases. Our strength. Our great hope. Our rest. Yes, God alone is enough. This gift of faith, tested and tried through suffering, is becoming beautiful and enduring. Genuine. And someday that mysterious connection between faith and suffering will make perfect sense. Until then, I will let these words of N.T. Wright mull around in my brain, “But if we discovered a faith with nothing unexpected or incomprehensible, nothing to shake us from our cozy normal existence and assumptions, we could be fairly sure that it wasn’t the real thing.” Maybe this could be my epitaph.