"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord." (Isaiah 55:9)
Mild Autumn days. Trees shedding and leaves gathering in fragrant drifts on the forest floor. Skies are paler, dusk and dawn have a bite that foretells of the chill to come. We soak up the golden days, store them for times when the glow of our log fire and the Love in our hearts will be the only warmth to sustain us. For me Autumn has always been a time to reflect, a time to gather and prepare. Part of me wants to mourn for the Summer that is lost, but by knowing that Winter affords rest, so that everything can burst out with renewed vigour come Spring, my heart is lifted.
Little boys explore - their horizons widening and curiosity growing with each passing day. Just yesterday they asked if they could "go for a walk" - and somewhere an alarm bell sounded. But a mother hungry for some peace and quiet can sometimes ignore things that she should not. With the usual warning to stay within the boundaries of Inesi, I let them go. Time flew as I marvelled at how easy my daily tasks became, once uninterrupted... After an hour had sped past, another alarm bell sounded - also ignored. But then suddenly I stopped short - it was too silent for too long. Repeated calls and my loudest whistles were all met with more silence. A cold hand gripped my stomach, tightening until normal breathing became hard. The one neighbour had not seen them and the other was not home at the time. He has an open deep swimming pool and a stream feeding a rushing river. I knew the dogs were with them, but they would not be any good at retrieving a child out of a body of water. This part of the tale has a good ending - they returned safely and mother vented her pent up anxiety in torrents of anger and warnings until their eyes where big with fright. Then I held them tight, cried a little and the day continued. Some days I am too at ease in this wide and seemingly "safe" haven that we live in.
Later, as I was leaving a friend's house, my phone rang. The neighbour had lost a sheep, one of his dear pets, and asked if I had seen it. The dogs had chased (herded?) the sheep and one bolted. With long tufts of wool over his eyes, he could not see where he was going. The fist gripped my stomach again, this day was getting to be a rather "bumpy" one. I promised that we would pray and be over to help search as soon as we got home. We knelt in the path of my friend's home, got in the car and feeling reassured, set off home. Not only would the sheep return home unharmed, I thought, but the neighbour would also know that it was an answer to prayer. On the way my phone rang again. "No need to search anymore" said my neighbour and my heart soared. But then he continued with a heavy voice: "We found the sheep, drowned and floating in the pool". Finding it hard to control my emotions, I could only manage a series of "I'm so sorry" not knowing what else to say. It was not supposed to end this way. I had seen it all so neatly wrapped up in my mind's eye. This was messy - this stung.
How easy it is to feel disappointed in God when our prayers are not answered. When burdens are not lifted and the path seems thorny, barren and long. At times it is actually a hidden anger at myself, for allowing things to spiral out of control - and then expecting God to jump in quick and fix it up neatly, so that I don't have to face the consequences. And He has at times, which I admit I have taken for granted. Trusting does not mean letting go of responsibility, it is knowing that He is sovereign and is able to let all things work out for the good of His Kingdom, and my place in it, not my little world.
On this day I am humbled by the thought that my family is safe and saved. For now and for eternity. By a grace that remains free but was not cheap. To err and to fail is human, but when we stand in Jesus' victory, we overcome these failures with His strength. We can repent of our mistakes and allow grace to take the place of debilitating guilt.
This morning I read: "I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and then there shall be one flock and one shepherd" (John 10:15b-16). No sheep is considered too lost, too fallen or too soiled for His Kingdom. Being Gentiles, we were once part of a foreign flock. We were brought in because He chose to give us the chance to be grafted into the tree of life. Now is the time for the lost sheep to be gathered. If I experience times when the Lord seems distant and His voice faint - he has not forgotten me. I am safe. It is the lost that need Him most and our hearts should be turned toward His heart, which aches for these stray ones to be returned.
"As the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return to it without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire
and achieve the purpose for which I sent it out.
You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace,
the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
and the trees of the field will clap their hands" (Isaiah 55:10-12)