Thursday, August 29, 2013

Lift Up Your Eyes

August 2005. New Orleans.

“Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” Psalm 34:19

I sat in a pew in the chapel and let those words roll over me. I heard power and confidence and promise in the voice of the big black preacher, as he emphasized every word. “Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all!” 

Amen. Yes. I agree with that.

I want to go to that man’s church, I thought. And I planned to, when my then-boyfriend came to visit from Georgia in just a couple of weeks, on Labor Day weekend. We would go together.

But Labor Day found me not there but in Georgia. Because my dorm room wasn’t dry anymore, it was under water. Because a hurricane swept through New Orleans and a hurricane swept through my life.

And the whole rest of that year becomes another story for a different day. But 8 years later I look back and I am still in awe of God’s providence in teaching us truth and then teaching us truth. In letting us hear something and say Amen, yes, I agree with that, and then in letting us live it and wrestle with it and get neck deep in it, until the very deepest part of us cries, Amen, yes, I agree with that.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous.

This is no prosperity gospel. This life that we live, it is dirty and messy. And sometimes the affliction is a hurricane. But sometimes it is a drought. Sometimes it is a tear-your-robe-and-put-ashes-on-your-head tragedy, and sometimes it is a bury-your-face-in-a-pillow-and-cry-because-you-just-stuck-your-bare-hand-in-a-poopy-toilet-to-retrieve-the-medicine-bottles-your-3-year-old-dropped-in-and-this-is-what-your-life-has-come-down-to moment. That might have actually happened. Yesterday.

These afflictions, they might be heavy or they might be mundane. But they are many.


But the Lord delivers him out of them all.

When my Daddy left me in New Orleans by myself, all 22 years old and just a little girl, when he couldn’t say any more words for the lump in his throat and the tears in his eyes, he pressed a small wooden cross into my hand. I watched him walk away and then I turned the cross over, and through my own tears I saw in his handwriting, the reference Psalm 121.

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
 Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul. The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in From this time forth and forever.

Words that my daddy taught me in the car as he drove me to school when I was a little girl. Words that my Father taught me when He lovingly stripped me bare. Words that remind me that His presence is my portion. These afflictions, they are not forever. And they are not meaningless. 

Lift up your eyes.

Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.