On Monday, I left Alaska. I am going to keynote the Breathe Writers' Conference in Grand Rapids, Michigan this weekend----and then I’m not going home. For a long time. I don’t know exactly where I’m going, or exactly when I’m coming home but I’m not going alone. My two youngest sons, 14 and 16 go with me. And my husband will join us when he can. (Someone in this outfit must be gainfully employed.)
We’ll be gone for 8 months traveling throughout the U.S., Europe and southern Africa.
I wanted to leave rejoicing, singing. Remember my March into Gladness last spring, the long winter hikes, leaving sadness and griefs behind? This is that same travel, just longer, further, deeper. But I could not know this would happen: I left the day the news broke of the Las Vegas shooting.
We have all had too much practice living with horrific headlines. We are all too acquainted with grief. And we must sorrow, lament and grieve in these times. We must go to the Psalms, many of which include gut-deep howls and wails to the God who often feels absent, silent, in the very times we need Him most.
Awake! Why are you sleeping, O Lord?
Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!
Why do you hide your face?
Why do you forget our affliction and oppression?
O God, why do you cast us off forever?
Why does your anger smoke against the sheep of your pasture?
How long, O God, is the foe to scoff?
Is the enemy to revile your name forever?
Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand?
Take it from the fold of your garment and destroy them!
Don’t cut it short. And hold your place there in those grief-songs because they will surely be needed again. I cannot say that better days are coming.
But I also know there is more to speak and sing than sorrow. This is not the whole of human life even now in the aftermath of 59 dead and 523 wounded. Nor is it the whole of the Scriptures. Again and again I read words that speak of something else, something that is foreign to our tongues, especially now:
The apostle Paul writes from prison, “Even if I am being poured out like a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice withyou all."
David writes, "Every day I will praise you
and extol your name for ever and ever."
Paul admonishes us, "Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name."
The Psalmist writes, "As for me, I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more."
Do you hear this? The imprisoned Paul is GLAD? I will praise you more and more? Every day I will praise you? Let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise? I rejoice with you all?”
I want to be like this: glad, always hopeful, continually offering praise, but I am not good at this. I am good at lament and complaint and poor at praise. I have excuses. I don’t want to be the loony woman in a flowered hat pasting a red lipsticked “praise the Lord! PTL!” all over every life event. I don’t want to be the bright-eyed ever-chipper front pew-sitter ready to slap an upbeat Bible verse on every bent back. I don’t want to be the silver-lining addict pulling golden threads from every disaster. I don’t want to be the church clown handing out tracts and balloons at the door while the neighborhood burns.
This is gross hyperbole and stereotype, I know. But I want to be real. True. Authentic. Human. I want to own my feelings. AND I want to be true to what is most true of all---that no one is more worthy of our worship than Jesus, the bread of the world, our Savior, our Creator, the lamb of God who has died for us all. (Praise him!)
I want to be the kind of person who praises God with more than occasional parenthetical inserts (see above.) I want to be the kind of person who offers “The sacrifice of praise” the way He deserves to be praised. (But also surely praise is more than saying “praise?” And surely praise is more than singing praise songs at church.) And can’t we do this in a way that doesn’t necessitate a Bible verse every minute, that doesn't send the sane running for cover? Yes, many of the prophets and disciples were thought mad. Does it take a kind of madness, then, to praise "continually"? (Please, no!)
This is my quest this year. This is the path I am pilgrimming this year. I am following the footsteps of the apostle Paul (again). Where he lived, died, started churches. While on the road, I am also journeying into the Psalms and the life of David. There will be many detours and hijackings along the way. I will probably have to report on chocolate somewhere, and on getting lost, and breaking down, and running out of money and arguing with my sons and meeting strange angels and dangerous seatmates. Because that’s exactly how the crooked path toward praise and gladness goes. I hope you will come with me?
So there it is, my announcement. If you’ve signed up to visit Alaska every week, I hope you’re not disappointed. I am returning. And I'll likely use some of the 1500 photos I took this summer at fish camp along the way, especially when I'm feeling homesick. Like now:
But now----I am in the air, on the road, seeking to enlarge this poor heart, to teach this lame tongue real gladness and praise.
Don't we need it? Doesn't He deserve it?