Sumballo

But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.

Luke 2:19

As is my practice, I was just reading my morning devotion from Beth Moore’s Whispers of Hope: 10 Weeks of Devotional Prayer. I’m on my second time through this book and the accompanying Bible readings, yet I continue to be surprised by the content.  Perhaps that is because I am less than faithful in my ‘daily’ Bible study.  Or, perhaps it is because I have a short attention span.  For whatever reason, I am surprised and thrilled by the newness of God’s message to me.

Although my Bible reading has been haphazard, today’s ‘assigned’ reading is Luke 2 –the Christmas story.  The focus verse is the one above that describes Mary’s thoughtfulness after the birth of Christ.  Beth Moore says in her book that the word for pondered is sumballo “which describes taking many things, casting them together, and considering them as one”.  I can only imagine the moments that Mary had to ‘cast together’ — that long journey to Bethlehem, the moment when her parents discovered her ‘situation’, the tense conversations with Joseph, the labor and delivery in a less-than-ideal setting, the first glance at her child, the knock on the wall of the stable when the shepherds arrived, the visit from foreign dignitaries bearing gifts. When she pondered those moments “as one” what did they add up to for her?

I’m sitting here three days after Christmas in my little house by the river, and I, too, am taking a moment to ‘sumballo’. As a matter of fact, this blog has had a theme of ‘sumballo’.  For the last eighteen months I have been looking back over sections of my life, trying to ‘cast them together’ to ‘consider them as one’.  In doing this, I am finding so much meaning.

Sometimes we are  tempted to look at isolated moments as defining moments — that time that you lied to a trusted a friend, the year that your parents were divorced, the semester that you failed a class, that car accident that nearly claimed your life, the winning football championship, the Homecoming coronation, the birth of a child.  Certainly these moments shape us, but they do not define us.  From time to time we have to sumballo to put these moments into perspective as parts of a whole.

So, yes, I soldiered for ten years of my life.  This behavior was costly to my physical, spiritual, and emotional health and to the physical, spiritual, and emotional health of my family.  However, prior to that season, I stayed at home with my children for almost ten years — nurturing, hugging, reading, teaching, correcting, and guiding.  Within each of those periods were awesome moments  — young children singing happily in the car on a road trip — and devastating moments — the ones that you hope and pray will never happen to your family.  If we grasp onto any one moment and let it define us, we rob ourselves of the bigger message — the theme of our lives.

And what is that theme? I have said for years that the theme of my life is that I am ‘rescued by grace’.  I started saying that way back in my twenties when someone challenged me to write my testimony.  Even in those early years, I had a sense that God had rescued me even though I didn’t deserve it.  When I was careless, he protected me.  When I was selfish, He was benevolent.  When I was hateful toward others, He poured love on me.

As I am approaching fifty, I look back at all the events of my life, and I ponder them all in my heart.  Time and again I see my  failed attempts to do things on my own followed by God’s miraculous provision.  I see God transforming my pain into compassion for others.  I see my pride falling into humility.  I see the love of God.

I wonder what Mary thought as she pondered ‘all these things’ in her heart.  She had to see God’s miraculous provision in a faithful husband, a place of shelter, and safety from Herod.  She had to see God transforming her pain and embarrassment into compassion for others.  She had to feel humbled in the presence of the Christ child.  She had to see the love of God for herself and for all of humanity.

Despite our weaknesses, our poor choices, our sin — He loves us.  That is the message that I find when I sumballo.

Try Waiting in Silence

I don’t usually know what I am going to write about before I sit down.  Today’s no exception.  I find the time in my day and then sit down at my desk.  I read a devotion and then start moving my fingers over the keys.  Today, my devotional book, Beth Moore’s Whispers of Hope, which I am reading through for the second time, directed me to Psalm 62.  I read the Psalm and then turned to what Beth had written about it.  About half way through her page, she told me to go back to scripture and read aloud verses 1-2 and 5-8.  If you are so inclined, you could read them aloud right now:

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from Him comes my salvation.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.  On God rests my salvation and my glory; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.

Since, as of yesterday, I am getting back to writing my blog, perhaps this verse is a fitting reminder of where I started eighteen months ago. I had just committed to taking six months to be still and wait.  I, a self-proclaimed butt-kicking, name-taking soldier, had agreed to put down my weapons for a season in order to recover from some battle wounds.

In fact, if you recall, my injuries had rendered me useless to the soldiering business.  I hadn’t surrendered willingly, but had been pulled from battle per executive order.  I would like to say I left kicking and screaming, but in reality, by the time that I was summoned from my position, I was too exhausted to utter much more than a whimper of acknowledgement.

I was plunked down in this little house by the river with a laptop, my Bible, and nothing but time. If you’ve been reading with me for the past eighteen months, you know that my journey to recovery has been slow and circuitous. I have made progress in fits and starts, proving, time and again, that I am no longer fit for battle.

Nor was I ever intended to be. I wasn’t called to fight or conquer or even defend.  I was called to wait in silence.  I was called to run to my refuge, seek my shelter, and find my salvation in the Rock.

Now, it might seem that seeking shelter means taking myself out of the war entirely.  Not true.  I can enjoy shelter in the midst of chaos, in the midst of trial, in the midst of downright warfare.  I won’t be oblivious to the turmoil that surrounds me, but I will be safe, secure, and held.

For a very long time, I thought it was my job to keep peace, to quiet cries, and to overcome the enemy.  And, boy did I try.  And fail.  In fact, I would say that my efforts to fight battles that were not mine actually caused more harm than good — to myself and others because the battles were not mine; the war is already won.

That’s why I have permission to wait in silence.   If I am busy soldiering on, I miss the action.  But if I watch and wait, I “see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Psalm 27:13).  How do I know this? Because I’ve been seeing it.

I wonder if in your stillness you are seeing it to….

Back at it

When I started this blog about eighteen months ago, I had every intention of writing every single day.  I had read in Stephen King’s On Writing that he required himself to write 2000 words each morning before he allowed himself to do anything else.  That’s a lot of words. His theory was that the exercise of writing itself would produce better writing.  And, I mean, it has worked out pretty well for him, hasn’t it?  So, agreeing with his premise, I purposed to write every morning before I did anything else.

For the first six months, that writing was my anchor.  That, and exercise, and all the other healthful routines I built into my life for this Next Chapter.  The anchors were critical to my well-being.  I hadn’t yet made many friends here in Ann Arbor.  I wasn’t working.  We didn’t have a church family.  I needed those anchors to bring order and sanity to my days.

The bonus, of course, was that I had created a venue through which to process all my thoughts about the major move we had made and all the transitions it involved.  And, the unintended benefit was that I was also able to see, through my writing, all that had transpired during the soldiering years. This writing, this daily discipline, had become a pouring out of my soul in the presence of many witnesses — a confessional that provided deep healing.  So, I continued writing.

When I started tutoring last January, I was still able to maintain my daily writing, my exercise regimen, and my weekly Bible study.  It wasn’t until April, when I went back to work on a more regular schedule that something had to give.  And, as in the past, those healthful routines were the first things to go.  I let go of my regular exercise and instead tried to fit in a walk every now and then.  I stopped going to my weekly Bible study because it met during the day. My blogging became more sporadic while I learned to juggle work with family and sleep.

Even so, I was still able to find time for my personal Bible study and blogging at least a couple times of week.  This routine continued to anchor me and provide a venue for all the change that was happening inside of me — the learning, the healing, the growing.  And, in fact, I have been able to add back the other disciplines over time, too.

So I get to a day like today, where I look back and see that I have not blogged (or done personal Bible study) in seventeen days, and I say, “What’s up? For what have you abandoned this discipline? What have you decided was more important than this daily breath that centers you and allows you to process emotion? Have you been soldiering?”

Well, not exactly.  But kind of.  I mean, it is December — the month of parties, and semester finals, and travel, and gifting, and preparing.  So everyone has been busier than they were just a month ago.  And, yes, I have tutored more in the last four weeks than I have all year.  I have edited countless papers, met with more than a dozen different students, and graded close to one hundred essays.  I’ve gone to weekly physical therapy, and two doctor appointments.  I’ve exercised, socialized, cooked, crafted, and shopped til I dropped.

So, it’s time.  It’s time to get back to the discipline that orders my thoughts. It’s time to be still and breathe.  It’s time to get back to my writing.

 

[I] proclaim to you what [I] have seen and heard,…  [I] write this to make [my] joy complete.

I John 1: 3, 5 Rathje Revised Version