God's name is in the very breath you take

Your Name

Ancient rabbis believed that the letters [that made up God’s name] were kind of breathing sounds and that ultimately the name is simply unpronounceable because the letters together are essentially the sound of breathing. Yod, Heh, Vah, He. –Rob Bell, Breathe

In the morning, still drowsy from all that gentle dreaming, I wake up and sigh your name as I stir under my warm covers and rise to greet the day.

Yahweh.

Your name–so overwhelmingly holy and mysterious that it’s become  unutterable–becomes something that is alive and full of meaning when I breathe and think of you. Did you know, Father, that thinking of you first thing in the morning is beginning to come as naturally as breathing? Is it you who is making it so that praying to you is starting to become second nature?

I am breathing, and with it I am saying your name. I am conscious enough to know that life is a miracle, and I am reminded to worship you. My worship rises up in the form of a prayer; an act as simple as thinking, and as necessary as breathing. I squint my eyes and smile when the sun hits my face.

Another beautiful day.

Father, may every word that comes from my mouth today be true to the nature of the Holy Spirit who dwells in me. Because if it is true that that your name is in every breath I take… It would be akin to blasphemy to waste it in speaking idle, hurtful, or profane words. 

And it is when I think this, that the flowing river of worshipful prayer suddenly stops…

You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain. -Exodus 20:7

Can it be?

Can it be that I have spent most of my life, misusing your name simply by not considering every life-giving breath I take as holy? Can it be that misusing even the air I breathe–misusing the life you’ve given me–is actually taking your name in vain?

Breathe in.

Breathe out.

In.

Out.

I am, without a doubt, guilty. And still my heart beats steady. And still my lungs draw air. And yet… and yet…

How could I have thought that I was fulfilling this commandment simply by using some stupid euphemisms whenever I was angry or surprised? How could I have thought that this was one of the easiest–that’s right–EASIEST commandments to keep?

Because now I see, God, that it is the one commandment that holds me accountable for living my life right, without wasting a single word, a single moment, or a single breath. It calls me to make good use of this life, this air, this name that I breathe.

YOUR Holy name.

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Journal writing

2014 In Review

Every year I do the same thing.

Sometime around the end of December or beginning of the New Year I write a year-end review in my journal. I reflect on the year’s highs and lows and usually will reflect how my relationship with God progressed or regressed.  The following is an excerpt of this year’s:

* * *

January 2, 2015

About a year ago I rounded up 2013 in a very angry and bitter manner. I know why, and I am ashamed to remember it. I can only say that I am sorry that my lack of faith and my selfishness made me dishonor God in such a way.

2013 was a year of trials, 2014 was a year of…what?

Honestly, I have mixed feelings as I write. The end of 2014 brought an end to something that I’d been holding on for a while. My old love is officially old business; he has really moved on. How do I feel? I am neither bitter not jealous, just a bit… I don’t know… Is it wistful? Sad? Maybe just a bit resigned to the way my heart chooses to work. How did Anne Elliot say it? We women tend to love the longest even when all hope is gone. It’s silly, and to the most experienced I’m sure it’s laughable how in love I’ve always been the one to unreservedly give my heart to someone, and when it doesn’t work out it is the one that always lingers. But I have not been alone all this while, because despite the loneliness, the discouragement, the failed attempts, the uncertainties and the setbacks of this year, I end it in victory.

I have returned from my first day at my new job in a position that seems to have been tailored just for me, my skills, and my attention-level. It’s like God himself took that mental checklist I had about the job I needed and led me to it at the perfect time. I have finished December having passed my certification exams, I am planning to buy new gear—and have the funds to get it. I am starting a new business, I have acquired a valuable investor who believes in my vision. My family is healthy (I can hear their laughter outside my room), home is a warm place. I am happy, blessed, and so incredibly favored by my Heavenly Father. Is it presumptuous for me to feel warm and fuzzy when I think that the great King of Heaven loves me—indeed, favors me? Is it insane that at night the last thought I have is a prayer to Him and in the morning my first conscious thought is to breathe His name?

* * *

Unlike all the other years, there will be no resolutions this year.

There will only be a single prayer request every morning and every evening of every single day of the year. Yes, I will batter the gates of heaven every morning and evening with this single request.

Show me your will for my life.

Teach me to be able to discern your voice even in the noise and bustle of everyday life. Once I know your will and once I know that it is you speaking to me, empower me to obey you.

As to my heart—my foolish heart—I’ll leave it with you. I’m really, really sick of dealing with its excesses. So…this year I’ll trust you first to heal it and then to set it to rights, so that my heart will overflow with thankfulness and praise instead of aching from unfulfilled longing. Let it soar like an unfettered bird and let it sing with joy because of the hope that you instill in me.

For now, my heart beats steadily, strong and sure in my breast. My life feels very warm and quiet for now, and I like that just fine, for I’m gearing up for a very busy year.

What I learned in 2014 is that life with God is an adventure.

So with that in mind, Welcome 2015.

Samson

Until the Next Turn

This is my life, for now.

Round and round I go, treading the worn prison floor in the stifling heat and in my own incessant darkness. No use trying to break the bonds that now hold me—I know because I tried. The fetters that in the old life I would have easily gotten rid of are now impossible to break. And even if I could—where would I go? How would I make my way out of this prison, guarded and blinded as I am?

No. Better now to continue going round and round and grind at the mill. I can still hear, and I hear there is something in the air, some great event, and I am involved in their schemes. So for now, I will wait.

I will wait for the next turn of life. It will come quickly and unexpectedly, just as it came when I was undefeated and caught up in the bliss and the fever of love (or so I thought, dolt that I was)—just as my strength, my eyes, and my dignity were taken from me in a quick turn, so will this come to an end.

It’s not a blind hope. I believe it because I know one defeat does not mean the end. I believe it because in the depths of my despair, in the abject humiliation and the shame of my situation, I remembered the God of my parents—the God I serve. I remembered how he will use even a broken instrument for his purpose the way one could use an old donkey jaw to strike down a thousand men, and he’s not through with me. So I wait for him.

Hark! I hear someone coming. They’re coming for me.

* * *

The crowds roar when I appear in front of them. There must be thousands here at the temple of Dagon, and they’ve all come because of me. To complete their victory and my own degradation they have me entertain them. No need to do much—they are content to see me naked, shackled, filthy, blinded, and helpless without a guiding hand.

At last I rest between the pillars which support the building. The cacophony of their shouts and calls, their jeers, the dozens of trumpets, flutes, drums and cymbals, the sound of all the madness and debauchery, and the stamping of dancing feet make the ground shake under my bare feet.

My turn is coming.

So while they jeer, curse, shout, and taunt me, I pray one last time to the God who watches over me.

O Lord God, please remember me and please strengthen me only this once….

It should have been different, it should not have ended this way. I had been set apart since birth, a Nazirite to God from my mother’s womb. I should have had a long life and many children. If only… if only… and yet I am not allowed to fall into despair. My prayer is heard, my strength is returned to me. My turn has come at last—my last chance for redemption.

So let me fulfill my destiny—even if it means that I will perish with the foe. Let me die with these thousands, and accomplish more through death than I ever did while living.

If My People

When we finally went in to church, I took my usual seat in the back, and Zuri went on and took her seat at one of the front pews. A person sitting some eight pews in front of me turned and looked back. It was Tony. He looked strange—was he growing a beard? He looked much older. He smiled through the gloom of the church, and motioned me to join him there.

I waved back and smiled. And while a great part of me wanted to desperately cast away the melancholia induced by solemn talk I’d had in the car with Zuri, I shook my head and stayed where I was.

Zuri had told me to ask God what my purpose in life was.

But how to ask?

And how to know what his will was?

First of all, how could I dare? How could I draw to the altar and bend my knees in prayer, and ask God to guide me with the full knowledge that just today I’d hidden a stash of benzos I’d bought with money I’d stolen from Mara?

I contemplated my life, such as it was. It was distasteful. There was nothing to be proud of. Not even my GPA. The past I hated, and the future I dreaded.

The worship leaders got up on stage and began singing their simple songs.

I’d always listened, with detachment born out of scorn for the simple music. But for the first time I saw and heard it for the heartfelt music that it really was.

I closed my eyes, and bowed my head, hearing intently every single word of the song the others were singing. I’d heard this song before… or, rather, the words of the song. It was from the Bible… we’d read it in the study group—How did it go?

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.

I shivered, and hugged myself.

Not again…I thought, believing I’d feel sick as I had the last time I’d prayed with Tony. But it was different. Something like hope replaced the inner desolate void that had existed before when just the thought of prayer alone had made me feel nauseous and sick with grief. And instead of feeling cold I began to feel almost warm.

I don’t know how it happened, but I dropped to my knees. Hot tears streamed down my face, and I began sobbing. Softly at first, and then I had much ado to hold myself together and not draw attention. But it was ineffective. Dimly I felt someone come to my side. Zuri was rocking me in her arms. Soothing me, and praying for me.

Oh, God.

I’ve tried so many times . . . you know I have.

But I can’t draw close to you because I’m a thief, a liar, a drug addict, I question my sexual orientation, I drink, and I watch porn in my computer.

I’m really sick.

Detestable.

A monster.

A blemish in creation, and nothing short of death can put an end to the mess that I am. I wanna die and be lost in oblivion. And yet, I’m begging you. Don’t turn me away. Please don’t give up on me just yet. You listened once to me—twice, with the Terry thing—Can you do it again? Please?

If I’m going to die, then I don’t want to be afraid. I don’t want to be afraid of you, or of life, or of death. I want to make things right, and be right with you. So please save me . . .

Help me . . .

 

Part 18 of If You Only Knew

Antonieta

Until Mara’s conversion to a new religion back when I was eleven years old, we had never been particularly God-fearing nor religious. The weekends had always been entirely my own before then, and while I had been encouraged to be good and pray before going to bed, none of those ideals were ever enforced in our home.

Our home life changed drastically on that fateful day Mara decided to join a church full of weirdoes who took their religion much too seriously. Mara stopped wearing jewelry and makeup. She became a vegetarian, abstained from coffee, tea, sweets, and salt. She then began introducing hell into our home.

The way we fought and quarreled because she wanted me to join her in going to church, the way she criticized my appearance and anti-social tendencies when I began going to High School, and the way she one day hit me across the face because I had dared tell her that her God was a tyrant made me re-think my idea of hell. It was something that was experienced while alive as well as after we died.

It was during that time when Grandma moved in with us. Grandpa, Dad’s father, had passed away and Grandma was in need of healing in her time of grief and nothing seemed more convenient to that end than a change in scenery and surroundings.

At first I had been extremely wary of the woman. My maternal grandmother had not made herself loved and had even terrorized those closer to her until the heavens deemed it proper to relieve humankind from that querulous woman with the bellicose disposition. I suspect even Mara breathed a little easier after her own mother died.

But Grandma Jovita was much, much, different. She had a heart of gold, a honey-sweet temperament and a patient gentleness that I found absolutely irresistible. Her first words to me had been, “There’s mi nieta Antonieta!”

Ah!

It was the Antonieta that did it. No one else called me by that name, and hearing it from her brought in a rush of memories…

Before they had moved with Auntie Agustina in Dallas, Grandpa and Grandma had lived in the family home in Mexico. We’d gone vacationing there one summer back when I had been a small child, and if my memory is to be relied on, I spent the bulk of my time with her while Mara and Father went on days-long trips to who knows where.

Grandma had aged considerably since then, so we did not take daily walks into the sunshine as we had done when I had been a child. But she was content with sitting in our garden dozing or humming to herself as she embroidered. I practiced my Spanish with her.

“You didn’t bring your guitar with you, grandma?”

“Child, I haven’t played for many years”

“What happened to it?”

“It’s back home.”

“With Auntie Agustina?”

“No. Home.” I saw her eyes take a dreamy, distant look. Did she miss her old home back in Mexico?

“Are you tired, grandma?”

“A little, mijita. But I must keep working on this. It is to be yours when you get married.”

I hooted, “Like that will ever happen!”

“Everyone says that. I used to say it myself. I must have been around your age when I had my first proposal.”

“Fourteen!”

“Fourteen, my dear. But I had my lands, I had my own farm to run. Why would I ever need to marry? Still, a woman always needs a companion and protector, so in the end I married Eustacio who was the poorest of all my suitors, but the one whom I liked best.”

I wanted to know more about it, and would have asked, but looking at her quivering smile and her wistful gray eyes I knew that it was best to change the subject. I did so without realizing that it would make her even sadder.

“Grandma. Do you still believe in God?”

She started,

“What? Yes!”

“Even though he made Grandfather sick, and then took him away from you?”

“If it is his will that your grandfather had to go in that way, then who am I to say anything?”

“But Grandpa was good!”

“Your grandpa was good. But who can understand it all? He’d been so healthy and lively even on his last day. He even went to walk the dog and returned with a bag full of oranges. He asked me to peel him some for his breakfast. Suddenly he just collapsed. He didn’t even cry out. It was the dog who began barking like crazy. So they took him to the hospital, but he never woke up.”

I cut in, worried because she had worked herself up to tears, “I’m sorry Grandma. I didn’t mean to—”

“—I don’t know why God had to take him away like that. I—I—just—I wish he’d taken me too.”

Mara came in at that moment to intervene. She gently led Grandma into the house, then came out and gave me an earful.

Later when the sun was going down I sneaked into Grandma’s room. She was still in bed; her eyes were open and she was alert but very quiet.

“What is it, Antonieta? Why are you so far away?” she extended her arm to me and I took her hand, gingerly stroking the soft, age-spotted, paper-like skin on the back of her hand.

“Grandma. I’m sorry” I said, sitting down on the eiderdown cover.

“Sorry? For what?”

“I’m so stupid. I didn’t want to make you cry.”

“You are not stupid.”

“Oh yes I am.” I began to cry, “And wicked too. So wicked and evil. You just don’t know the things I do and the things I think about.”

“No you are not wicked. You are sweet and kind and good. You’re just going through a difficult time. We all go through it.”

“But I don’t believe in God.”

“Oh, mijita. Why?”

I couldn’t answer. I just continued crying. She scooted over a little to give me room, and once I had lain down next to her I just let go and cried and cried. It was a good thing Mara had set a box of tissues next to grandma’s bed, because I made good use of them.

Once I’d grown calmer, grandma spoke, “My little one. I love you very much. No matter what silly or awful things you may do I will always love you and you will always be my beautiful Antonieta. Can you believe me? Now, I am your grandmother. But God is your maker. He is your father, too. And he loves you very much. That’s who he is. He can’t help but love you. Yes—Yes, he does love you mijita. Much more than I can ever love you. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“And no matter what you’re going through, even when you’re in pain, you can always say the Lord’s Prayer, and he will listen and help you. Do you want to pray with me?”

“Ok”

“Let’s pray together”

“But you can’t kneel”

“My dear, you’ll have to do the kneeling for the both of us.”

I knelt beside the bed and took her hand. And just as she had taught me to back when I was a child, we prayed the Lord’s Prayer.

“Now repeat after me . . . ‘Our Father in heaven,’”

“Our Father in heaven,”

“Hallowed be thy name,”

“Hallowed be thy name . . .”

When we finished praying I once more put my head in her pillow with my hand clasped in hers. In silence we watched the darkness steal in the room. I felt a strange drowsiness come over me, and with my last conscious thought before I succumbed to sleep I prayed to God–Grandma Jovita’s God–to keep my grandma safe and healthy for many years to come.

 

Part 17 of If You Only Knew

Mountain of Intercession, Valley of Interaction

So Joshua…fought with Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill. (Exodus 17:10 ESV)

When the Amalekites attacked the Israelites camp in Exodus 17, Moses bid Joshua take men to battle with the assurance that he would be praying for him. Thus, the battle took place on two fields that day: In the valley of interaction with Joshua, and in the mountain of intercession, with Moses. Both battlefields are important.

  1. “Divine strength is to be combined with human effort— There is a saying in Spanish that says A Dios orando y con el maso dando. Literally it means “Praying to God as you strike with the hammer” God blesses human efforts, and his blessing come in proportion to how much energy and effort you put in.
  2. The success you get while in the valley of interaction will be dependent on whether you are winning or losing ground in the mountain of intercession. It was noted that whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed, and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed (Exodus 17:11).

Those are the “obvious” lessons. They deal with success in the valley of interaction. But there is one more that I’m driving at, and it deals with success in the mountain of intercession. It is a much more complex thing.

* * *

One of the things I’ve just now come to understand is that though the purposes of God are incredibly mysterious to us, they resolve beautifully in the end. That chain of events when life seemed to get out of control made perfect sense once I was able to look back, connect the dots, and see how God made much good come out of it. Oswald Chambers put it like this:

The circumstances of a saint’s life are ordained of God. In the life of a saint there is no such thing as chance. God by His providence brings you into circumstances that you cannot understand at all…bringing you into places and among people and into conditions in order that the intercession of the Spirit in you may take a particular line…to bring them before God’s throne and give the Spirit in you a chance to intercede for them.

So for the past two weeks I took this to heart. I made a list in a paper of the people in my life—family, friends, and other people I interact with and I prayed over them daily. My prayer time increased by as much as fifteen minutes. It was a short list, you see.

But each day as I prayed I thought of a new name, and added it to the list so that it grew and grew. It came to include people I love, and people I cannot stand. People I wish I could help, people I want to avoid. People I admire and people I secretly envy. People who have hurt me and people who have brought me joy. People that inadvertently make my life miserable, and people whom I have hurt. People I need to forgive, and people whom I need forgiveness from. People who are poor and sick and in great need. People who seem to have it all.

As you may imagine, my prayer time increased dramatically the longer my list grew. Praying more is, indeed, a benefit. However, I never imagined that after my first week or so I would have to encounter some people whom I could not face. People I literally hid from. They had been in my mind as I prayed, and in my heart of hearts I begged God to make them go away from my life.

The answer to this prayer came the next week. I was forced to encounter them, and yet it was so sudden and unexpected that I didn’t even have time to be embarrassed or nervous. Instead I was empowered to face the situation with grace, and I parted amicably with them.

It took a few minutes for me to realize that in reality, while I had been praying for other people, God had been at work in me, preparing me to go down to battle.

* * *

It is a tendency we all have to seek the Lord when we are in the greatest need. The truth, however, is that the victory in the battlefield is won in part by how we pray up in the mountain of intercession.

Why? Maybe it is because that is where we get out of ourselves. Instead of looking at our lives from the angle of our needs, our complaints, and our particular point of view, we begin to see it as part of a vast, living network. Each of us precious and important to God. Or maybe it is because we realize that there are others who are in greater need, in more pain, and whose troubles are greater than ours–Yet how awesome is it when we are reminded of God’s power when we see the answers of our prayers in other people’s lives? Super awesome. I just think that when we pray for others we empty ourselves and begin grow more and become more conscious of God’s work on Earth.

Sooner or later we all have to go down into battle, but until the next battle rages, are you preparing yourself in the mountain of intercession?

Tony

We were late on Monday for some random reason. When we got there, Elder Banks was about to conclude testimony and prayer time.

Zuri took her seat on the circle–as usual. I went to my corner, briefly scanning the room.

Tony wasn’t there.

Figures. Well, this is–after all–the last place anybody would want to be at…

I plopped on my couch as usual; the old frame squeaked in protest under my weight.

“…and now let us turn each other and claim the power of intercessory prayer. Turn to a brother or sister next to you, and pray for each other for a few minutes.”

I was not alarmed. They had done this before many times. That day, however, Elder Banks was filling in for Zuri who had come late. He must have felt the spirit or something, because he walked up to me, and with an evangelist’s booming voice and expression addressed me, “Daughter. Please join us in prayer.”

“Uh?” I squeaked.

“Come. You can pray with…let’s see…is anyone in need of a partner?”

The silence was eloquent.

Zuri was about to speak up when Martha and Horace—the oldest people in the room—said they wouldn’t mind having a third.

No. No. No. No. No…

Diversion saved me, however. It came in the way of a new arrival dressed in an elegant business suit.

What the–

“Why, welcome brother!” Elder Banks said stepping forward to greet him with a hand shake.

At first I didn’t recognize the newcomer. But then I realized that it was Tony walking in and taking a seat next to me on the vile, pink, couch. He flashed a smile at me and greeted me cordially.

“Hey, kiddo”

There was a murmur of surprise when it was understood that I, the mocker, had been the one to invite the new arrival.

I suppose that—being the good Christians that they were—they’d come to underestimate the power of the God they served, otherwise how could they fail to remember that He can use any situation and any person—even me—for his good pleasure?

For I’m sure it was his pleasure that Tony should be drawn to know and serve him.

* * *

Let me fast-forward fifteen years.

Tony has since then finished college and attended the seminary. He works as a Chaplain in the same hospital I work at and spends much of his free time at a youth shelter mentoring neglected youth to steer them away from a life of addiction.

Furthermore, he also bears the title “Doctor” as he recently earned his PhD—He’s even published two books.

I didn’t know what Tony would eventually become when I first saw him crying his heart out in church–not even that day he arrived at the Study Group. I didn’t even imagine either that Tony would be the person who would help me believe in the power for prayer again.

Life is funny like that. God certainly has a knack for surprising you.

I certainly was surprised by him the first day Tony went to the Bible study group.

 

part 13 of If You Only Knew