After my dad’s diagnosis in May 2008, our family was blessed with a trip to the Philippines by a very generous friend. It was quite an experience for me, having never left the comforts of first world before. I was excited to see pieces of history from both my dad’s life and Mike’s, as well as spend some concentrated time with the whole family.
Those times were precious given that we suddenly had a heightened awareness that our days together were numbered. I was thrilled to journey outside of North America but I must confess I was a little nervous as both the men in my life warned me of the potential “discomforts” and teased me about not lasting a day.
We spent 3 weeks in the beautiful Philippines. We spent many of the days traveling around, seeing many sights including beauty and poverty. We shopped and tried bargaining in the market. My attempts at speaking tagalog were laughed at by the locals. We felt the sweltering heat and humidity. We all felt the rumbling in our stomachs of things we ate that didn’t quite agree with our insides. Air conditioning was a rare but welcome jewel during the day unless we were in the vans.
As much as we experienced the atmosphere of the outdoor Philippines by day, Mike teased me that it wasn’t a “true” experience. No matter what each day brought — heat, indigestion, sweat and/or thirst, without fail, we would return each night to the comfort of our hotel with air-conditioning, cold bottled water to drink, hot running water to shower under, comfortable beds to sleep in and flush toilets with toilet seats to sit on and, bonus… toilet paper. (I didn’t realize the last two were luxuries until we arrived there.)
Our dwelling place made all the difference in our experience.
Without the refuge of the hotel, my memories of that trip would’ve been very different to recount. Though it was a wonderful family time of treasured memories, my overall impression of the Philippines would’ve been greatly influenced had I not found rest every evening.
What God brought to light as He reminded me of this story was the idea of dwelling. To dwell means, "to remain, stay or set up home." We all know difficulty from experience on some level.
“Everyone, at some point or another will deal with pain and hardship. The question is not if a difficult time will come, but when. When it comes, how will you respond?” (J.D. Greear, Presence).
Where will you set up camp?
When my dad was diagnosed with ALS, God gave me such a longing to hear from Him. I'm the farthest thing from a morning person, but during that season, that desperation often had me up and out of bed before the sun. I remember one particular morning that He spoke to as loudly and clearly as ever from Psalm 91. From this passage, he gave me one of the foundational pieces for living forward in the storm:
“He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty."
As I`ve walked through a stormy season and watched others do the same, I`m convinced that this is one common thread that unites all those who choose to live forward and trust God’s presence in the present.
Where you choose to dwell despite where you might `visit’ during the day determines what you will have to say about your storm and about the One who sometimes chooses to bring the rain.
God seems to desire to accomplish some of the sweetest work in our lives during stormy seasons, but sometimes get caught up in forgetting to forget the past and not dwell on the former things. We don’t take Him up on his promise of refuge. Our view is obstructed by things like caskets, voids and pain, and we forget to look up for the way out of the wilderness. Instead, we stand out exposed as the storm beats us up.
I spent a great deal of time “visiting” many questions and allowing the painful realizations to sink in. I remember waking up in the days after the diagnosis only to realize that it wasn’t a bad dream. The sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach would return as I realized that it was in fact reality, my dad was dying. I remember crying just thinking of what it would be like to visit home and not hear the sound of tools in the garage. I remember realizing that he was going to miss out on so much. Painful realizations. Ongoing challenges. Tough stuff.
But I knew if I set up camp there, hope would become something of the past instead of a continuing reality for the present and future.
In those painful moments, God would very quietly ask me,“Will you trust me?”
Answering yes would not erase the pain or provide answers, but taking Him up on His offer would gently guide me back to the shelter of His love, faithfulness and promises.
I knew that saying no, whether or not the answer was intentional, was putting myself at risk. It meant dwelling on the “former” things and camping out in the wasteland. It would be like choosing to stand out in the sweltering heat and humidity of the Philippines, vulnerable to all of its effects, when all the while the refuge of the hotel was calling.
Sometimes we are tempted to camp out in the former things. The what if’s, why’s and if only’s. But the real shelter is only in His presence, the promises and the Word of the Most High.
Everything else is counterfeit. The enemy would love for you to believe that you're somehow better off to keep him at arm`s length and try to navigate the storm by yourself, but it is a lie. It’s a cheap substitute for the real work God wants to accomplish in you. There is no rest, refuge or shelter to be experienced by standing out exposed. We can pitch a flimsy tent and barely survive the storm but it will beat you up. All the while the invitation to the shelter remains.
The storm will rage whether or not you and I chose to trust Him. But the continual invitation to faith leads down two very different roads. He’s always making a way, and doing a new thing, but trust me, it’s a lot easier to see from the Most High shelter. There you are promised to find rest, refuge, protection, His faithfulness, courage, and rescue.
So, where will you set up camp? How will you respond when difficulty comes? Don't wait for the storm to get to know the shelter. It's a lot easier to find your way there in the storm when you've gotten familiar with it in the calm. Get in the habit of making your dwelling place in His presence.
Continue to seek the Lord and ask Him to take you to the place where experiencing His presence in the present becomes the reality of your day to day living. I promise He wants to take you there today.