Sunday, January 17, 2010

I've been burned!

January 14th, 2010 would have, could have been my 32nd wedding anniversary. But it wasn't.

Part of the traditional wedding vows I recited back in 1978 included these words: "...until God by death shall separate you."

Yesterday, while running some errands, I stopped by the graveyard to pay an anniversary visit to Patti's grave. On the gravestone are two names, separated by a line: Her name and mine. "Til death do us part..."

Fourteen years after her death, there is still love, warmth, and fondness, but there are no new memories. Death put a stop to that.

Besides the names on the gravestone, there are a pair of roses, one on each side. There is also a quote from Hebrews 11:13 -- "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth."

As I stood, I talked, I prayed, I sang, and I also pondered... What do I feel?

I've used the word heartbroken before, but this time, I found another label: I felt burned. God had burned me. "Til God by death shall separate you..."

Another verse came to mind... "That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire..."

And, "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you..."

Part of life involves being burned. Whether you aspire to be a man or woman of faith or not, fiery trials come. (Sometimes, instead of heartbreak, we get deliverance. But other times, bad things happen.)

These bad things try our faith in God. "In God we trust" is no longer an absolute, it becomes a question. Will I trust God?

On the cross, as he was expiring, Jesus said, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." As he was being burned, by family, friends, townsfolk, countrymen, and foreigners, he choose to believe. Even as he was being "burned" by God.

Pioneers blaze a trail, so that others may follow. "...fixing our attention on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of the faith, who, in view of the joy set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."

Fiery trials aren't meant to consume, they're meant to refine. What makes the difference? Faith in Another.

"That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth..." These is something more precious than gold: a proven faith.

Another pioneer of faith named the Apostle Paul came to a conclusion about fiery trials: "For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

A line etched in stone, symbolizes a separation, a loss, a burning. But what goes on?

As I stood at Patti's grave, I was reminded of a question that has echoed in my mind before, "Is it enough that I am your Friend?"

"...because God has said, 'Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.'"

"What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us?"

Life burns. Sometimes the burnings are small and repeated. Sometimes they seem to be a maelstrom. But in the worst of times, the challenge is to look to Another. "...fixing our attention on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of the faith..."

And what have I discovered in my refining moments? I was never alone.

Just like in days of old when King Nebuchadnezzar threw Daniel's three companions into a real fiery furnace, something amazing happens.

The king "...leaped to his feet in amazement and asked his advisers, 'Weren't there three men that we tied up and threw into the fire?'

They replied, 'Certainly, O king.'

He said, 'Look! I see four men walking around in the fire, unbound and unharmed, and the fourth looks like a son of the gods.'"

No, never alone. Not even in the fire.

When Job was being "burned" by awful circumstances, he made this determination: "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him..."

Will you?

"These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth."

And I left the cemetery with new insights.

Later, that evening, as I was watching TV, a scene included a song, by John Bunyun, a man "burned" in his own time...

Strangely appropriate:

He Who Would Valiant Be

He who would valiant be
'Gainst all disaster
Let him in constancy
Follow the Master
There's no discouragement
Shall make him once relent
His first avowed intent
To be a pilgrim

Who so beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound
His strength the more is
No foes shall stay his might
Though he with giants fight
He will make good his right
To be a pilgrim

Since, Lord, Thou dost defend
Us with Thy Spirit
We know we at the end
Shall life inherit
Then fancies flee away!
I'll fear not what men say
I'll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim


  1. "To be a pilgrim" is what we are called for, isn't it? Wonderful, insightful post Don. I like how you remind us of Job's faith and continued trust in God. We all need to remember that steadfast approach to handling tragedy or difficulties, knowing that God is carrying us along in the palm of His Hand.

  2. "He who would valiant be" is a great song.
    I once heard a series of sermons on the theme "Is it enough to be beloved" based on the narrative of Jesus' baptism and temptation. He hears his Father say "you are my beloved" and then he goes through the fasting and temptation in the desert, and the temptations all try to overthrow Jesus' trust in those words "You are my son, whom I love."
    It is a pretty radical thing, and you can speak to it from the authority of experience.

  3. If there is room here some words by Thomas Merton are relevant: "The wax that has melted in God's will can easily receive the stamp of its identity, the truth of what it was meant to be. But the wax that is hard and dry and brittle and without love will not take the seal: for the hard seal, descending upon it, grinds it to powder. Therefore if you spend your life trying to escape from the heat of the fire that is meant to soften and prepare you to become your true self, and if you try to keep your substance from melting in the fire -- as if your true identity were to be hard wax -- the seal will fall upon you at last and crush you. You will not be able to take your own true name and countenance, and you will be destroyed by the event that was meant to be your fulfillment."

  4. @September: Like you, I need to be reminded that God cares, knows best, and has my best interests at heart. The trials include the daily challenges of being a mom... like you!

    @Dennis: I hadn't considered the temptations in the wilderness in relation to the adequacy of the Father's simple approval: the Beloved. But it makes sense. Is it enough to be a child of God, in His care? (Yes.)

    @Dennis: Good quote and very fitting. In the insurance industry they make a distinction between friendly and unfriendly fire. God's fires are friendly, in that they are meant to form and transform. Thanks for your comment.

  5. Don, you've done it once again. Really, this is you at your best. I'm of a mind to print out this post and hang it on my wall. A lot of my life the past couple of years has been reflections on faith, and every single verse here is so powerful. Not only that, but the way entire entry is composed is masterful. Really, the highest praise (but none so high as that for God, of course ;) )

    BTW...I think it was Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in the fiery furnace? I could be wrong...

  6. @Saphron: Well thanks for the high praise. The light shines out through the cracks in our humanity, and I'm certainly cracked! ;-)
    I'm so glad to have you as a reader and commenter.

    BTW: You are soooooo right. I fixed it. Good catch. (A grand-dad I knew used to say, "Shadrach, Meshach, and To-bed-you-go!")

  7. Hey Dad - Enjoyed reading your thoughts here, I thought of you and mom that day. I like the thought that fires are not meant for consuming, but refining. Or maybe both, because they do consume the "junk" but leave behind the precious metals. Love, Joanna

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  9. Hey Don, I just realized I never responded to your comment about commenting my 365! The commenting system on tumblr is a 3rd party application, and I guess it only allows you to comment n the last 10 posts and nothing older? Im figuring it out, its weird, but what I like the most about tumblr is the fact my photos upload hi-res, blogger doesn't (which means I have to have the added step of uploading somewhere els then putting the code on blogger, bleh) anyways, the best way would be to email me!, just let me know which date so I know what your commenting on! Id love to hear some feedback! =) Hope you had a good long weekend!

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  11. Dang man. What an amazing post. One of those wish-we-had-time-to-talk-about-this-more-over-coffee kinds of posts. A rare treasure in the blogosphere. Thanks so much for taking the time and for opening up your soul.

  12. Hey Don. Me again. It is funny how you and I are in different places right now. I just wrote The Power of We on my NoahMatthews blog and I'd like your take on it - would like to know if you ever find yourself feeling the same way. I have lost some very important people in my life and you have been able to turn that into something that God can use while I have let it throw a shroud over my life. I wish I had your strength.

  13. Don, I had no idea you lost your dear wife. I am so sorry for your pain. This post brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for reminding me of the strength that can always be found in scripture.

  14. @Joanna: I'm glad you enjoyed the post. One of things blogging does is provide a look behind the eyes of another. I've enjoyed doing the same on your blog. I agree with you about fire: perhaps part of what is consumed is unbelief. -- Dad

    @its-all-good: Thanks for the e-mail address. I'm having fun following your 365. Keep it up! (And your 365 inspired my next post!)

    @CIS: Thanks for the comment. I'll check out your piece and comment. A lot of what you do is make art out of things cast-away, used, or unremarkable. I'm doing the same thing making art out of things broken and burned. Regarding strength, I've found that God helps me be, who I need to be, when I need to be it. How? "Casting all you care upon Him, who cares for you." It starts small, but it grows -- just big enough.

    @Deedee: Thanks for your comments and consolations. And although I've suffered loss, I've also experienced gains. Just like you... being "cut adrift" doesn't last forever.

  15. Lovely post. Very personal, and very moving. And hopeful. Thanks for sharing.

  16. @rae: Thanks. I've enjoyed catching up on your blog too. (My next post borrows a video from your web-site.) I especially enjoyed your New Years post. Personal and moving as well. ;-)

  17. I'm a little behind in catching up with some blogs, and only just now found this post. Which really hit me right into some of my own thoughts lately, while at the same time giving me (or reminding me of) some new words and images for them. Thank you.

    What translation is it you are quoting? Thinking especially of Hebrews 12, Jesus as the "pioneer". I like your comment to that: "Pioneers blaze a trail, so that others may follow." (I have a number of Bible translations in both Swedish and English; it has its disadvantages when it comes to memorizing, but it also has the advantage sometimes of making a familiar verse suddenly stand out in a new light!)

    Another fire image also came to mind for me too as I read this - Moses in front of the burning bush. Another example of what you say: "Fiery trials aren't meant to consume, they're meant to refine."

  18. @Dawn: The "pioneer" translation is New English Translation. I use and may grab from several translations. I don't always give chapter and verse either -- I think it breaks from the flow, and if someone is interested... to the rescue. Gone are the days when I use Strong's Exhaustive Concordance -- but I still have one.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the post. Moses and the burning bush is another good passage for the theme on burning. In fact, as I recall, what caught Moses' attention was not just the fact that the bush was on fire, but that even though it was on fire... it was not consumed. That's a good picture for the Christian in trial. (Very similar to Daniel's friends in the fire: they weren't hurt by the fire. Their clothes didn't even smell.)

    I have a co-worker: Hultberg. She's planning a trip to her homeland, your country... over the summer... I think. She like you: evangelical Christian. I've mentioned your blog to her. She was a foreign exchange student to Sweden a few decades back.

  19. Don, that bush burning but not being consumed by the fire was exactly why I thought of it in connection with this post of yours.

    I don't have Strong's Exhaustive, but I do have Young's Analytical Concordance in my bookcase! But as you say, the internet is usually a quicker way to find things these days... Sometimes, though, with the Bible, I find myself searching for things the old-fashioned way anyway out of old habit.

    Hultberg is a not uncommon Swedish name.

  20. @Dawn: I always see it as a bit of a confirmation of truth when you "magically" connect what's being said or read with other confirming Scriptures. It's kind of like the Holy Spirit saying, "Yes, that's true... and here's a few cross-references that confirm, expand, and personalize the message for you."

    I love when that happens.

    Old hand tools, old power tools, and the latest tools: all good. (Flipping the pages, using a print Concordance, or using a search engine: all good.) Nice to have options. Not everyone does.