From Michelle.  September 18, 2013.

Dear friends and family,

It is September again, and my Facebook stream has been full of first day of school pictures, and wistful reflections on the fleetingness of those long and languid hours of summer.  Here in Manila, we do not experience significant temperature fluctuations, nor does the length of daylight stray far from its daily habit, shutting down around dinner time and reviving itself shortly before we rise at six.  The seasons here are marked only by how much or how little it rains, making it easy for time to pass unnoticed.  Yet I too feel a shift in the weather,  a fresh beginning.  The air is not crisp, the leaves will not turn and fall, but a new season is upon us nevertheless.  Returning from the lengthy and delightful disruption that is  our summer vacation helps us mark the change.  We return to a flurry of readjustment and activity.  In the first week of August the children start school.  Steve begins a new sermon series.  I begin new books and bible studies.  We get to know the latest influx of wandering expats.  The church becomes a flurry of activity.  I mentally rearrange the furniture and purge our filing cabinets.

This August and September are no different.  Steve will preach his sixth sermon in a study on Galatians this Sunday.  Since his accident, he has never preached more than three Sundays in a row.  The wear and tear on his body, along with his other responsibilities, has simply been too much.  I find him literally limping with the effort these days, running on pure spiritual energy.  I too am physically and mentally running on empty, over scheduled and exhausted.  I notice many of my friends feel the same, stumbling through the many transitions of the season, as we shepherd not just ourselves but our families through every change.  I wonder if those on other shores are not equally tired by the fresh burst of activity that is usually the Fall season.

As I was contemplating how to draw strength from the Lord in this season, I realized that, while reading scripture, praying, worshiping, singing, remembering and other methods of finding strength in God are good, the one that truly nourishes me is to listen.  To listen, I must quiet my soul.  To listen, I must lay down what presses in and look up.  To listen, I must step into trust.  And most fundamentally, to listen I must turn all of my self toward the living God, acknowledging his Presence with me.  Listening is so much more intimate than speaking.  Its very purpose is intent focus on the Other.  Even when there is no overwhelming response, the simple act is a release from myself, an affirmation of faith in God.  But when there is a response, most often so quiet, so loving, so deeply true that it never fails to reduce me to tears, I can feed on it for months, even for a lifetime.

As I read and study Scripture these days, I am noticing how often God promises his presence.  In particular, as I study the rich life of David, through 1 and 2 Samuel and the Psalms, it is impressed upon me again and again, that even when David is not given respite from war and suffering, he is offered God’s presence in the midst of it, and in the end it is His presence that makes all of the difference.

One of the great purposes of the cross was to bring His presence near.  The pillar of fire, the seat of the tabernacle now lives on the inside of us.  Shining through the cracks of our jars of clay is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, the holy one housed in all that imperfection.  We do not comprehend it.  Most often, we ignore it, perhaps overwhelmed by the implications.  I am tempted to feel shame at the unworthiness of my dwelling place for the Most High.  It is a humble space, its corners dusty, its furnishings clumsy.  But I know He does not feel that way about me.  The shadow of the cross casts love over all of that ugly imperfection, wave upon never ending wave of it.  That love shook the earth and tore the veil that hid God from our sight.  He is here, lovingly, awesomely present.

What is it about His presence?  When I taste even a small portion of it, I am overwhelmed.  Once, just once, after a long and emotional time of prayer with a friend, I tasted so much joy I began to laugh.  I will never forget the sheer delight, the overwhelming pleasure that surprised me in the midst of my vale of tears.  I only tasted it once, but I feed on it often.  When I begin to lose my sense of His character within a maze of worldly equivalences, I am reminded again of the utterly certain, bottomless, unending and unchanging wave of love that is poured out on us all daily, whether we know it or not.  I only tasted its joy for a moment, but its glory shone so brightly it still lightens my darkness today.

One of my favorite psalms says it best:

Yet I am always with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. – Psalm 73:23-26

Dear friends, if you are tired like we are, be still and look up, open the eyes of your heart and dwell in His presence for awhile.  It will strengthen you.  It is enough, even in the midst of battle.  Do not be fooled into thinking it irrelevant or impractical or unimpressive.  There is an endless spring of love and joy available to us.  Thanks to Steve’s sermon this last week, I am keenly aware of the price paid for that presence.  I do not want to ignore the gift.  Draw near, draw near, draw near.



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  • Geri & Harry H

    Thanks, Michelle. I needed that. Harry and I miss you both and miss Union Church. With love, Geri

  • Barry DeShetler

    Our hearts ache for you both and we pray for you, trusting that the vision of folks rising up on the wings of eagles will be yours.

  • Colleen Van Matre

    Amen and yes
    Thank you for this timely word

  • Kay

    Bless you all real good! am leaving Seattle 3rd oct with my fiance Catlin, to go to australia for 6 months, as I do every 4 yrs!

  • Michael Unruh


    Thank you. Our prayers go to you and Steve from our family here in Idaho!

  • mrsjbell

    You are a beautiful writer and I have continued to follow your family’s journey. I went to school with Mike and Steve and spent many years in their basement where their parents so generously opened up their home to Young Life meetings. I now teach in Cookeville, TN and my 7th grade class has been following the storm in the Philippines. The students in my classroom (rural, Title I school) have been asking, “How can we help?”. I thought first I would try and ask from someone who might be there first, rather than go through international charities. Please contact me through my school address if you receive this and can give our class direction. My name is Jenni (Foster) Bell and my e-mail here at school is
    Best wishes to you and your family — I hope this finds you safe and flourishing in His Will.