“The splendor of a human heart that trusts it is loved unconditionally gives God more pleasure than Westminster Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel, Beethoven’s “Ninth Symphony”, Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers”, the sight of 10,000 butterflies in flight, or the scent of a million orchids in bloom. Trust is our gift back to God, and he finds it so enchanting that Jesus died for love of it.” – B. Manning
By your words I can see where I’m going; they throw a beam of light on my dark path. I’ve committed myself and I’ll never turn back from living by your righteous order. Everything’s falling apart on me, God; put me together again with your Word. Festoon me with your finest sayings, God; teach me your holy rules. My life is as close as my own hands, but I don’t forget what you have revealed. The wicked do their best to throw me off track, but I don’t swerve an inch from your course. I inherited your book on living; it’s mine forever— what a gift! And how happy it makes me! I concentrate on doing exactly what you say— I always have and always will. – Psalm 119:105-112
“It is the sum total of all delights. It is the music with which the bells of heaven ring; a song in a word; an ocean for comprehension, although a drop for brevity; a matchless oratorio in two syllables; a gathering up of the hallelujahs of eternity in five letters”
Last week I looked up a word I’d inadvertently saved in my phone’s notes. What I came across would have me delete the thousands of words I’d written to start again.
uncharted – adjective (of an area of land or sea) not mapped or surveyed.
“the plane landed on a previously uncharted islet”
unrevealed, unheard of, unexplored, untraveled, undiscovered, unfamiliar, unknown, strange, unmapped, unsurveyed
If you know me well, you know how much I love the ocean. It’s beautiful yet ravenous. It’s predictable yet unpredictable. It’s vast and deep. It rises and falls and carries with it the eco-system of all who live in its drink. Beneath it, above it, watching it, I’m always overwhelmed by the simple thought that I am small and God is big.
Much like life, the sea ebbs and flows. One day we’re travelling a smooth course and the next we’re off the radar, waves are pummelling the sides, the call of help is indistinct, we’re struggling for air. And despite the uncertainty of the sea, the weather, the day; there’s reassurance knowing that every night without fail the sky will close in on the sea in a remarkable union.
Our Heavenly Father is like the horizon. In every sorrow, in every storm, in every change He is steady, He is faithful. I’ll unashamedly admit that I’ve given myself over to The One that made the sea. He lifted my head above the waves, He pushed me past myself and out of the shallows. He has taken down the boards nailed to my soul and pushed me out into the great depths of His love, urging me into and onto uncharted waters. And that has made all the difference.
A couple of years ago I found myself being smothered by human effort and stifled by moral codes. Then God broke into my life and I haven’t been the same since. In the prelude, I exclaim at the bigness of God. It’s only a meagre attempt at an explanation but I remark at the lusciousness of creation and the decadence of his glory. I experienced the joy that comes with knowing God and He left me (and still leaves me) dumbstruck and so aware that he is magnificent and I’m not.
It was easy for me to accept his majesty and sovereignty but it wasn’t that easy being humbled by the same God. He nudged me about a Sunday morning years ago when I watched a homeless man walk into the row next to me at church. He was slumped in shame, smelling of stale alcohol and urine, wearing dirty clothes and a face sadder than I have ever seen. On the other side of the room there I was… with my family, well put together, back straight, singing the words to all the songs.
Brought up on the sidelines and front lines of ministry and with incredible parents, it’s no wonder people have commented on the way I carry myself. I’ve always been the model daughter, well-behaved youth leader, good example, and straight A student. I don’t say these things to boast but to bring attention to my self-righteousness. I fell so short of all the expectations people had of me, but because I was so ‘together,’ my flawless reputation and perfect track record remained in tact.
In my naivety I imposed my distorted view of God, on God. I made Him out to be as judgmental, small, and narrow-minded as I was. I thought if I prayed elaborately, He’d love me. I thought if I read my bible, He’d reward me. I tried to impress God with my morally good life and I was left feeling shortchanged, ripped off, and angry. In actual fact, I couldn’t live up to the moral standard I’d made for myself and neither could anyone else.
The truth became real to me over a few months in my bedroom. I was the same as that man visiting my church all those years ago. Unclean, filthy, carrying with me the stench of death, only I was wearing lipstick and expensive clothes. Jesus dying on the cross as me, for me, instead of me was frustrating, scandalous, and unbelievable. Nothing I did or didn’t do would ever change the unrestrained love of God and this brought me, quite literally, to the ground.
Eyes locked on His, I let go of all self-reliance and piety and fell right into Abba’s arms. Right where I belonged. Despite me, he still wanted me. Jessanah Lupe Betham, full of contradictions, falseness and pretense, was finally made aware of my fallenness. God rained on my parade, exposed my make believe and pointed out my foolishness.
I open myself up to be unravelled by my maker with ruthless trust and reckless confidence. He dismantles the careful structure of scaffolding around my life one piece at a time. I get vulnerable before the God that made the widest oceans and he breaks open my defences, chases away my religion, and destroys all notions of who I thought he was.
Not only does he take us apart but he restores us to himself. He works us into his excellent harmonies and rebuilds our lives to echo his grace. There is a reckless, unorthodox kind of trust we can put in that God. The God that intricately designed and thought about us before the foundations of the earth. The one that knows every detail, crevasse and movement of our lives. The one that remains despite what we go through and how we feel.
Instead of being excited about what God can do for me, I’m excited about who he is. Instead of trying to be a type of way I can come into his presence just the way I am. Experiencing his no-holds-barred love has been and is an experience like no other. I’m rendered speechless daily that the maker of the universe, the grand designer, the creative maestro, would value me. I’m so grateful he does.
All My Days
He garners me with the depths and breadths of his character. He shows me the colours, shades and hues of his love and I’m able to sing of him in every state I find myself. I love what Spurgeon writes: “what is my desolation? it is the black setting for the sapphire of his everlasting love. I will go in poverty, I will go in helplessness, I will go in all my shame and backsliding, I will tell him that I am still his child, and in confidence in his faithful heart, even I, the barren one will sing and cry aloud.”
I can speak of the aforementioned times the Redeemer has visited me. If I can’t talk of these, I can boast about the kind of love that comes from the heights of heaven for our redemption. I’ll continue to go to the cross. I’ll keep pressing my soul towards calvary, where I lost my heavy ladenness… where I continue to place my burdens to this day. I know that the same cross that gave me life might give me flowing streams of joy, fruitfulness, wholeness.
I’ll thank him over and over for giving me what I don’t deserve. For embracing me, when I punched him in the face with indifference. I’ll thank Jesus all my days, for coming after me, for pulling me free from the depths of myself. I’ll praise him for vying for my attention and continually romancing me with the fragrance of his faithfulness. Because He is God when my boat lazily moves on a calm sea and he is God when the temperature drops, the water churns and I find myself embarking on strange and unfamiliar waters.
Like a ship overcome by the the giant power of nature so too is God’s love for his children. All-consuming, passionate, furious, intense, majestic and powerful. Accepting His love has been the most magnificent thing I have ever done. Yielding to the relentless love of God is the crux of my existence. His love is unabated, unceasing and knows no limits and no boundaries. His love goes to any lengths and takes any risks to pursue us.
He’s enough today, he’s enough tomorrow, he’s enough forever. It is so freeing to know that any insecurity i’m clothed with, every amount of shame I’m wearing, all the expectations and unfulfilled dreams hidden beneath layers wearing thin are all meaningless when faced with Jesus. I don’t know what else to do but to leverage whatever I do for the glory of God and the good of others.
My adjectives are just stuttered, slurred attempts at expressing the inexpressible. Until I meet Him face to face, I’ll maintain the same confidence John had when he wrote of himself that he was the one whom Jesus loved. I hope you’ll do the same.
Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention. – Matthew 7:13
[The following notes are moments that took my breath away]
I’m running. I catch my breath at the top of my hill. A shooting star dances across the black canopy stretched before me. Everything in that moment seems so irrelevant, so unimportant. I’m just a minuscule human under a dome made for the moon and clouds.
Minutes later I’m lying in the middle of my driveway. The Creator of the Heavens demonstrates his bonafide power as if chalking specks and strokes onto blackboard skies. The display is nothing short of spectacular.
Curved like a woman, the Plimmerton Hills are an idyllic backdrop for spring lambs to run beside their mothers, for Mana Island to show herself majestic. Someone’s fence makes for the perfect vantage point to capture my view. But no image can ever wrap its head around the beauty of dusk. The divine meeting of sea and sky.
I’m tickling my four year old nephew for being cheeky. Screeching with laughter, he tries to get away but I catch him in my arms and won’t let go. His sweet laughter casts a net of joy over the room and I can’t help but get caught in it.
We’re staying on a homestead an hour from Carterton. Breakfast is cooking so we wander through farmland to the ocean’s brink. Jesykah squeals in delight, edging closer to my side as we watch the waves pouring over the rocks below us.
“Who made the water, Aunty Dinah?”, I hear her ask.
“God did”, she replies.
And she tells this curious little girl about Genesis one.
I’m on the Mt Victoria Lookout. Clouds are low on houses. A ship cuts through the glassy harbour. My friend asks me if I’m reminded of a circus up here and I begin to imagine carnival music, fairy floss, a red and yellow tent complete with a ringmaster donned in tailcoat and top-hat. Young and old are wide-eyed and they exclaim out loud with wonder and laughter as they watch aerial acts, flame-throwers, gymnasts…
We’re only a handful of billions gathered under this super tent. The stresses of life and the mysteries hidden away in my heart are forgotten for those few moments. I’m too preoccupied with oohs and aahs at the marvel of the show.