by Patty Morwood
One day I came across a psalm that instantly “talked.” Every line was rich with meaning for me. And oh, how I needed to be reminded of God’s economy of things.
Apparently I had long ago written in the margin of Psalm 73, “God’s sanctuary: the godly woman’s lens for life.” No other beckoning was needed. I put on my magnifiers and settled in with my pen and a cup of tea. This was going to be a slow meditation in search of a fresh, clean reset of perspective.
In the first verses I saw a common predicament that many Christian women live in: themselves saved by the redeeming work of the Lord Jesus Christ, but living and working among unbelievers - being worn down and sawed off raw.
For the psalmist, the salve for his oppressed state-of-mind came when he walked into the sanctuary, presumably packed wall-to-wall with thirsty and needy worshipers just like himself.
It’s true for us, too, the company of righteous believers is where we can rest, finally distanced from gangs of the wicked. For five or six days of any given week the lives of the ungodly live large before our eyes; talk of evil, always punctuated with laughter and jokes, floats through the classroom, the office, and sometimes even the hallways of home.
Do you feel like this psalmist, whose feet nearly slip because he is surrounded by prosperous ungodly people and it eats away at him?
Do you smart because the wicked wear pride as an adornment, a badge of power?
Weep because your colleagues or husband or students actually believe God will not know their sin?
Feel trapped in cords of ugly when they mock God’s wisdom and even His existence?
If you are worn down spend time with Psalm 73. Its author is finally healed of his great burden when he walks into the sanctuary where he is surrounded by the redeemed, where words of life and the beauty of worship dance with joy to the highest heaven.
Finally he understands: God has really set the wicked in slippery places, though the psalmist felt that he himself was sliding down at an accelerating rate. The wicked – those who persistently deny God and disparage His universal rule – will one day, in a moment, meet destruction!
What is the healing truth in this contrasting description of two people-types, the redeemed and the degenerate? It is the shout of victory in verse 25, the literary climax of the song: a believer’s desire for none else but God, Himself. This is the clear lens that reshapes perspective and renews one’s ability to do more than cope.
Let me paraphrase that verse: there is none in heaven but God Almighty and none else upon earth that I desire!
You and I may feel our hearts cast down, our physical bodies barely surviving, but in reality God Himself holds our souls and God Himself strengthens our bones.
It is good for us to draw near to the Lord, GOD in the sanctuary of believers … and also privately in the Word, specifically in this case, by praying through Psalm 73. Experiencing the Lord’s Presence teaches us to breathe the good stuff: His love and power toward us and our Christian sisters the world over.
How can we help but declare His works into the pathways of the wicked? How can we resist the call to stand in the sanctuary with other downcast women? This is our life mission. This is our vocation … and this can be our sheer delight.
by Patty Morwood
A few days ago I hiked through a forest with friends, bending down often to collect the fiery red and orange leaves strewn on paths and boulders. I remarked to myself, again, that leaves don’t really matter in this annual recollection; it’s the Tree itself that grips me.
It always does at this time of year when they begin to go dormant and release their deadening leaves into the cooling wind.
Just few years ago during this very same season, my husband and I rode an antique train up a mountain in West Virginia. A swath just a few feet wide had been cut through a vast sea of trees to allow the old tracks to still hold that old train as it made its eight-hour trek to the top, where miners who had worked deep in the mountain in the 1800s had built a town for their families.
Periodically a family member would take the long ride down to civilization for necessaries or to find a doctor. The ride down, the ride back up. Two days surrounded by trees.
To this day it’s the only sight to see through the windows. No structures, no light, no sky even. Trees stretched upward so high one doubts their top branches really exist. Trees packed together, marching in lock-step to the summit of their mountain. An endless experience for any passenger rocking to and fro with hours more to go.
But I was riveted. “Patty, what are you thinking?” he queried. “About the Tree,” I answered as thousands of them sped by my window, a silent witness.
The Cross is our reminder today of a saving love so startling that hymnists and poets over centuries have penned the most glorious language to portray it. But the Cross was a terrifying sight, an anathema to even speak of for those on the ground who witnessed its use in ancient times.
The Gospels barely mention it; we know His feet were nailed to the pillar and His arms to the crossbeam.
Instead they wrote of the week leading up to it: palm branches, poignant gatherings at Lazarus’ house, the Last Supper and Gethsemane, the trial and the screaming “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” of the midnight rabble, the brutal trek of a nearly unrecognizable Man through the streets of Jerusalem.
And they wrote of its victory-day afterward: women laden with spices suddenly face-to-face with the Resurrected One, followers on the road out of Jerusalem walking and talking with their Lord unknowingly, the lying collaboration between natural enemies: soldiers, government and religious leaders.
In those days everyone knew the inhumanity and the agonies of the Roman cross. Everyone had seen it. Why go into it when expensive scrolls were needed to explain the new fresh Gospel circulating where Paul and Peter and Barnabas and Luke had traveled with their life-changing story of love?
But you and I must take a long hard look at the Cross. We don’t see this sort of thing ringing our cities that teem with shops and theaters and walking paths and parks.
But the Romans would leave the pillar entrenched in the ground just outside the towns or even at a crossroads, standing mute as a warning to occupied peoples of what would be the fate for the next rebel against their rule. Afterward they’d throw the body into a shallow pit nearby for the carrion to feast on until they reached the stripped-clean skeletons layered underneath.
Their bodies were nailed as one would nail a marker or a sign. Huge nails; powerful blows hammered by soldiers deadened to the cries for mercy.
But that one particular Tree, that monstrous obscene Cross, was stained with a deep red drained from a God-man willing to be there. The most beautiful of men died impaled because of you and me. Because our sin so long ago had incurred the wrath of God and the greatest mercy of God … so long ago.
For us, for you and for me. For the joy of our salvation.
Why would I write this now? Why not save this essay for Easter Week?
Because fall is the season marked by millions of trees undergoing a remarkable change right before our eyes; many families plan excursions into areas of spectacular fall foliage. Because we decorate our dining tables with vibrant leaves collected from trees shutting down for winter. Because rustling is a sound that awakens and reminds.
Because I can’t any more look at trees in this season with a simple enjoyment.
Never again will I be able to hike a forest, wrap my fingers around bark for balance, bend down with the impulse to collect, without experiencing the deep mournful regret for sin and an ever-deepening awe and gratitude for our Lord’s bloody rescue.
foreword by Patty Morwood
I don’t remember exactly when I met Jean Berkmeyer, but it was shortly after she and her family returned from living in Switzerland. The whole church was ecstatic to have them in their midst once again; the excitement was palpable.
We did eventually come to know each other though we were never really involved in the same things. But I kept seeing her and hearing her voice floating down the halls, inevitably accompanied by laughter; and I couldn’t help but laugh myself though I hadn’t been in on the conversation. Jean affects people like that because she is genuinely a funny gal. In fact, she told me she believes laughter is the best medicine and that’s why she’s rarely serious for long. I’ve also found her to be spontaneous, caring, energetic, and always real.
Jean is a middle child, the daughter of a Southern mother and FBI agent father. Poor girl, she was almost kicked out of children’s choir because she was supposedly ‘tone deaf’ and yet she became a music major in college! God blessed her marriage with the man of her dreams who houses a stubbornness just as strong as her own; together they are raising three “beautiful and wildly different” children to the glory of God.
As editor of the church newsletter’s women’s pages, I was fortunate to learn that she can write so I asked her to contribute an article. Of course her answer was spontaneously in the positive! Over time she wrote several articles, all of which may eventually find their way into this blog at some point.
Her essay below is a personal take on Margaret Wise Brown’s The Runaway Bunny. I wonder if, when you read this story to your children, you see yourself there: your willfulness, how you confidently push against the bonds of love, and your secret delight in hearing always, no matter your blind self-orientation, a divine love-affirming response.
Jean has captured the essence of the story beautifully: God loves and God pursues; we are self-focused, ever-pursuing our own thing. For most of us though there is finally an acceptance of the ineffable … God’s saving redeeming love in every aspect of our lives.
by Jean Berkmeyer
“Once there was a little bunny who wanted to run away. So he said to his mother, ‘I am running away.’ ‘If you run away’ said his mother, ‘I will run after you. For you are my little bunny.’”
For a great deal of my life I have wanted to be “anywhere but here”, much like the little bunny in The Runaway Bunny. In case you are not familiar with this great children’s story, I’ll summarize it for you. The young bunny announces to his mother that he is going to run away. Wisely, his mother tells him he can but counters with her intent to be there for him wherever he ran. Similarly, at high school graduation I wanted to be a band director or a rock star, and to live a life as far from God as possible. This life of rebellion lasted three years. One night after miraculously arriving home, I spotted my Bible buried under some other books. Upon seeing it, I realized I wasn’t happy and I knew that God was the answer. It was instant. I prayed that night, confessed my sins to the Lord, and never looked back.
“’If you run after me,’ said the little bunny, ‘I will become a fish in a trout stream and I will swim away from you.’ ‘If you become a fish in a trout stream,’ said his mother, ‘I will become a fisherman and I will fish for you.’”
By the time I was 21, I wanted to be neither a band director nor a rock star. I wanted to be a home missionary. More than being a missionary, I wanted to be married. I expended a great deal of effort in this pursuit and was completely unsuccessful. By 26, I had given up hope of ever being married. Then my doorbell rang. As I napped on the couch, in walked the most amazing and challenging man I have ever known and 11 months later we married. Suddenly, I was an army wife living in Manhattan, Kansas. I was certain God had made a mistake moving me to Kansas, and while I appreciated His answering my prayer for a husband I did not appreciate the move being the cost. So instead of growing and changing, I made a new plan. I would find a way to move us to the south.
“’If you become a fisherman’ said the little bunny, ‘I will become a rock on the mountain high above you.’ ‘If you become a rock on the mountain high above me I will be a mountain climber and I will climb to where you are,’ said the mother bunny.”
Two years later I found myself a corporate wife in Mason, Ohio. Classically discontent, much like the little bunny, I planned my next move –and this one would be south. Not surprisingly, God had other plans. My move south was actually to Zug, Switzerland. While in Switzerland, everyday life was more than I could bear most days. I wept. I inwardly screamed. I was completely broken. The Lord carried me through despite my efforts to thwart Him. While He undergirded me in ways I did not see at the time, He used my hopelessness to show me that He had a plan and that He is in charge.
“’I will join a circus and fly away on a flying trapeze,’ said the little bunny. ‘If you go flying on a flying trapeze,’ said his other, ‘I will be a tight ropewalker and I will walk across the air to you.’”
Then like a blink that journey ended. We landed less than one half mile from our former Mason home. I thanked God for finally agreeing with me and for bringing me to a place of comfort and peace. It was neither. The Lord continued to change me and very little of it was pain-free. The marriage I had longed for was joyless and silent. I could not stand the life we were living and I felt alone. I wasn’t. God was there like the mother bunny fishing for her son or walking the tight rope as her son flew on the trapeze. He was unfailingly present. Being a patient sculptor, He whittled away many of the edges of me that did not belong to Him. While He worked, change came again in the form of a decision that I thought was mine.
For years I had talked about home education. Feeling certain that Jeff would never agree, I felt safe preaching on about its wonders. Apparently I talked long enough and loud enough to convince Jeff to attend a home school convention with me. After two sessions we met up for lunch. He looked at me with that serious gaze of his and said, “We are doing this.” I began to truly panic but, not one to readily admit fear, I plowed ahead. Four years later [now eight+ years] we stand in awe of the path God has laid before us.
“’If you become a tightrope walker and walk across the air,’ said the bunny, ‘I will become a little boy and run into the house.’ ‘If you become a little boy and run into a house,’ said the mother bunny, ‘I will become your mother and catch you in my arms and hug you.’ ‘Shucks,’ said the bunny, ‘I might as well stay where I am and be your little bunny.’” And so he did.
At 42, I feel like I am living in my sweet spot. I am a band director. I guide my kinds’ piano practice every week. I take them to the symphony and talk about the great composers with them. I’ve taught three classes of homeschoolers basic music theory through teaching them to play the tin whistle. I am a rock star.
I see it in their eyes when we have a great day of school or I explain a mysterious concept. I am a home missionary. Every day I pour my life into theirs with the knowledge that God will be faithful to complete the work He has begun in them.
I am married to the best man I know, and our marriage is filled with laughter and the knowledge that neither of us is the person we were in the beginning – and that is a good thing.
So as I look back over this year and all those that have come before and reflect, I am content and full of thanks. I am amazed by a journey that seemed so disjointed but was really the trip of a lifetime … making me all I ever wanted to be.
And like the little bunny, I plan to stay right here in God’s hands and be His.
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