Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Lord is My Strength and My Shield

The Lord is my strength and my shield;
My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped;
Therefore my heart greatly rejoices,
And with my song I will praise Him.
~ Psalm 28:7

Gilded sunlight is filtering through the gauzy clouds of morning. Birds pipe their morning carols, joined by a choir of crickets. Across town, Pike's Peak is mostly visible through what appears to be the last remnants of fog. However, if I think about it, when I take a deep breath I can smell smoke. I have smelled it for so many days that I don't think about the scent any more. That probably will not change soon. Nor will I soon cease dreaming of glowing orange balls of flame. Ashes still cover my car in a thin layer, or drop onto my computer screen whilst I type. When I hear sirens I will praise God for our firefighters and emergency workers. It is going to take some time before I stop bursting into tears of grief for those who have lost their homes and livelihoods. 

 The last several days have felt like a month. I have slept in my own bed once since the fire began on Saturday. This is mostly due to the hospitality of friends all around town who are offering their homes to shelter evacuees or former evacuees (like myself). Persons all over my community have given food, clothes, money, time, their homes, dinners, and most importantly, their prayers, non-stop over the last five days. Churches have opened their doors to evacuees, set up prayer services, and have visibly been Christ to the watching world.
Tuesday afternoon and into the night, I watched the most horrific sight I have ever personally witnessed. Clouds of smoke, and ash that fell like snow, swelled over all of Colorado Springs. The front range was covered in hundreds of orange bursts that looked like lava swelling down the close side of the foothills. It was as if Mordor had sprung to life before my very eyes. I could see circles of fires, whole housing communities  lighting up the night's darkness. Two of my friends lost their homes in what looks like a war zone.  

(The photo above, courtesy of someone on facebook, is my friends' neighbourhood. I do not show this to be sensational, but to explain the heartbreaking loss incurred, and how persons are praising God through it all.)

Yesterday I was back at work, listening to worship music as I packaged books and curriculum for Summit customers. One song, Our God is Greater by Chris Tomlin, came on and these lyrics caught in a lump in my throat: "Into the darkness You shine, Out of the ashes we rise. There's no one like You, None like You." Indeed, though nearly 29 square miles of my city and national forest have burnt, there is no one like God. Job's response to God after great calamity now makes more sense to me: "Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshipped.  And he said:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb,
And naked shall I return there.
The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away;
Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

 There is great grief and sorrow at the loss of so many homes - I even feared losing my home for a brief time. However, the LORD reminded me it is only 'stuff'. No persons have been seriously injured or killed in this fire. Our firefighters have tirelessly protected us from extreme danger at their own risk. God is still worthy of our praise, no matter our circumstances. I am seeing this over and again in my own life, and I have seen it displayed in the lives and attitudes of my friends who have lost their home.

Last night the fire was more contained. I didn't feel like I was in the midst of Armageddon or Chernobyl. During conversation with my friends, we looked up and saw a rainbow over Colorado Springs. God is still faithful to keep His promises. God is still good. He gives us hope, strength, and wisdom.  In our very weakness He is our Strength and Shield, no less. He is still worthy of worship and praise.

I am reminded of this truth: "Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.  For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal." (II Cor 4.16-18)

*Please keep praying for our firefighters and city personnel who are tirelessly fighting on the front lines or behind the scenes. I praise God for them daily.*

Under His Mercy,
~ Johanna

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Blessed Be the Name of the LORD

To those of you who make your way to my blog, I wanted to give a personal update... 

Yesterday a wildfire broke out not far from where I live and work. Early this morning my whole town was evacuated. I am staying with some wonderful friends across town. All of our Summit students and staff are staying at a local church who have graciously opened their building for us.

You can find the story and updates here: Waldo Canyon Fire. Please pray for cloud cover/cooler temps, rain, and for the firefighters out battling this blaze. One of our Summit staff is on the department, please pray for her to have energy and to get rest. 

I am reminded of all of the awful things that Job went through in his life, and how he responded, "The LORD gives and the LORD takes away, blessed be the Name of the LORD." Indeed, in spite of how close the fire is to my home, I know that God is good. He deserves praise whether I have a house to go back to or not. He is good whether I have a job after next week or not.  He is especially kind to provide me with a household of ladies who have opened their home to me and any others who need a place to take refuge. Indeed, blessed be His Name!

~ Johanna

UPDATE: 8pm Sunday, residents of Manitou are being allowed to return home! Praise the LORD! Please keep praying for our firefighters, the fire is 0% contained so far, but it has shifted direction.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Happy those early days! when I
Shined in my angel infancy.
Before I understood this place
Appointed for my second race,
Or taught my soul to fancy aught
But a white, celestial thought;
When yet I had not walked above
A mile or two from my first love,
And looking back, at that short space,
Could see a glimpse of His bright face;
When on some gilded cloud or flower
My gazing soul would dwell an hour,
And in those weaker glories spy
Some shadows of eternity;
Before I taught my tongue to wound
My conscience with a sinful sound,
Or had the black art to dispense
A several sin to every sense,
But felt through all this fleshly dress
Bright shoots of everlastingness. 
       O, how I long to travel back,
And tread again that ancient track!
That I might once more reach that plain
Where first I left my glorious train,
From whence th’ enlightened spirit sees
That shady city of palm trees. 
But, ah! my soul with too much stay
Is drunk, and staggers in the way.
Some men a forward motion love;
But I by backward steps would move,
And when this dust falls to the urn,
In that state I came, return.
'The Retreat' ~ By Henry Vaughan 1621–1695

  Have you ever "felt through all this fleshly dress, bright shoots of everlastingness"? For a moment we see through a veil of rain into Heaven. We trace the golden light of a sunbeam back to its source: not the sun, but the One Who said that the greater Light should rule the day.

Moments flash upon us where we see through the curtain of temporal things into the world of the eternal. We see 'bright shoots of everlastingness' and have hope that this universe is not all there is. We have hope that our drunken souls will be sobered, and that we will make progress along the way.

Vaughan writes of travelling back to the time before his tongue could drip with sin, or before He walked far from his First Love. However, his last stanzas reveal that all he ever does is stagger backward like a drunkard. He hints that regression is not truly the right direction.

We cannot go back to some golden age, in our own life or in the world. We will not be 'returning to the garden of Eden' as I have heard even pastors declaim from the pulpit. No, we will be brought forward. God began man in a garden, but when we look at the trajectory of the Story, we see that he ends in a city. Not a city like we have ever known, however. This will be a city with a  River of Life, with trees whose leaves are for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22.1-2). We will be made better than we ever were. There is no retreat, only forward motion for us.

~ Johanna

Monday, June 11, 2012

Call to Discipleship

 "If we answer the call to discipleship, where will it lead us?  What decisions and partings will it demand?  To answer this question we shall have to go to him, for only he knows the answer.  Only Jesus Christ, Who bids us follow Him, knows the journey's end.  But we do know that it will be a road of boundless mercy. Discipleship means joy."
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Introduction, The Cost of Discipleship

Discipleship means joy. Not happiness, or feeling good. It means that we see how wretched we were. We rejoice that God picks us up, cleanses us, and sets our feet on the path we should walk. We are no longer without direction. We may stray from the road, but He is faithful to redirect our steps.  This is His 'boundless mercy' indeed.

Discipleship means partings. We must separate from things that distract us, like 'sucker shoots' on a vine sap nutrients from the branches that need them. We must seek to have those thing pruned, even good things.

Relationships of various sorts, books or films, working out,  music, work, the Internet, and many other good things can at times be sucker shoots. Even things like 'small group' or church events can be a distraction from the LORD. We must part ways from such things, without sequestering ourselves from the world.

If we answer the call to Discipleship, where will it lead us?
Only where our Guide knows we need to go.


~ Johanna

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Fun on a Summer's Day

 I was playing with styles this afternoon...

These are a few photos of the result. :)


Happy Summer!