Her smile greeted us as we piled out of the taxi-van that carted our jetlagged bodies around the streets of Ethiopia. Our differing languages separated us from telling jokes or stories, but her hands were enough to motion it being okay that I take her picture. I watched her with deep satisfaction as she shook and swayed the round woven disk, discarding anything that would later give the flour a gritty, undesirable texture. Toss and catch, toss and catch, over and over with perfect accuracy, no whole or healthy grain fell to the ground, nothing was lost with her skillful touch.
My faith has been a lot like that pile of teff being sifted and sorted and shook down until pure and ready for use. I'm sure you can relate - when God scooped you up, you had a lot of dirt that came along for the ride, a lot of extra minerals mixed in that were hoping to be overlooked, but God, like the Ethiopian woman at the doorway, wasn't going to let that happen.
2021 was a deep year of loss for me. In the span of a few weeks my uncle passed away from an incurable cancer and my younger cousin, this uncle's son, died without warning in the early morning hours while sitting in his car. I remember wondering what God was doing, I couldn't understand His plan as I had other times in my life. Even the difficult times that I could see coming around the bend seemed to make sense to me, but this? This was a sucker-punch that spun me quick, jaw twisting, slacked and contorted, a breath knocked from lungs event. I was left gasping for air.
It was a sifting of my faith. A shaking of the grain, letting it freefall in thin air over and over for hours, landing hard on that perforated mat until only the good stuff was left. The mat loosely woven that released the dirt through to the floor - the endeavor is always to use holes to make you holy. It hurt. It rocked me to my core and left me wondering in almost a childish way, "who is this God?" The God of tender ways seemed to have morphed into a Rocky Balboa in my mind with a really tight uppercut.
Faith that's rocked is oftentimes a rock-hard faith. That is, if it's threshed on the floor of grace. But my faith wanted answers, isn't that what rocked faith always wants? Answers. But somewhere between the threshing and soaring in thin air I did something that I will never regret. I answered my own faith question, who is this God? With pencil in hand and empty journal page looking up at me I closed my eyes and wrote out who I knew God to be...and this is what I came up with...
"He is mighty and creative, full of goodness and beauty. Bursting with idea and zeal from dewdrop to color wheel. He is accommodating in home-building, bringing forth island and seas, grass and trees, animals by kind, family's that bind, weather by season, friends that sweeten.
He is divinely loss-making in sacrificing his Son. He is the utmost in determination, single-minded in his love for us, unchanging in pursuit, unpersuaded and resolute.
He is stubborn and steadfast and strong-willed and intent on his redeeming you.
He is hearing and watching and smelling of sacrifice yet compliance and submission, a willingness to obedience are all that's required from Him.
He is a heavy cloud but a light load, the lifter of burdens, a presence made new with each waking sun.
He is the within us and all around us. The whisper in the wind. The quiet voice barely imagined. He's the forever here though feeling of gone. He's the searchable yet knowable Shepheard-God.
He's the disciplinary father, the brother who never leaves, the mother who feeds, the sister who helps and the friend who abides. He is the vastness that provides.
He is the peacemaker, my pacemaker the listener in the closet pray-er, being gone yet fully there, righteous beyond righteous, and unshakingly fair. The judge who knows each angle of the heart, no possibility of false accusation is within him. He cannot, He will not give-way to any-way that suits the sin-way.
He is the right-maker, shackle-breaker, grain shaker. He is the sea-parter, fire-starter, talking to Moses as with a friend. He can't lose you, only choose you. He's the defender of your soul, the payer at the toll, He will not let you go. He prays for you, speaks for you, leads you down to waters stilled and STILL - He is God.
Shake and fall, sift and filter, and let the holes turn you holy. God won't lose even one whole or healthy grain in the process.
"But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds." Psalm 73:28
"My life passes as swiftly as the evening shadows. I am withering away like grass." Psalm 102:11