Psalm 30 (NIV):
I will exalt you, Lord,
for you lifted me out of the depths
and did not let my enemies gloat over me.
Lord my God, I called to you for help,
and you healed me.
You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead;
you spared me from going down to the pit.
Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people;
praise his holy name.
For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favor lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning.
When I felt secure, I said,
“I will never be shaken.”
Lord, when you favored me,
you made my royal mountain stand firm;
but when you hid your face,
I was dismayed.
To you, Lord, I called;
to the Lord I cried for mercy:
“What is gained if I am silenced,
if I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise you?
Will it proclaim your faithfulness?
Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me;
Lord, be my help.”
You turned my wailing into dancing;
you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise you forever.
So I went back to Italy and I was all:
“Is it time for Jay to eat because I don’t even know what time it is?” and
“Why’s Alex in such a foul mood? Oh yeah, Italians.” and
“I’m so worried about Alex’s parents” and
“Why is there never anywhere to park?”
And my friend Jaime was all:
“Oh my gosh! Look at the cool cars!” and
“I can’t believe I’m in Europe!” and
“Have I thanked you guys yet today for bringing me along?” and
“What can I do to help you guys?”
And I was all like:
“Did I pack an extra binky and enough bottle liners?” and
“Is there anywhere to change the baby?” and
“Look how dirty these streets are.”
While Jaime was all like:
“These buildings are so beautiful!” and
“Did you see that woman walk by? She was gorgeous.” and
“WOW! Look at that!”
All I could see was my feet in front of me, waiting for the next minute, preparing for the next stop. All Jaime could see around us was beauty. And you know what? Her attitude was contagious.
I started paying attention again. Jaime noticed things I’d never noticed or I had forgotten I’d noticed several years ago. She noticed that on all of the main roads downtown, all of the buildings had different windows and different balconies on every floor. She noticed the details in the architecture, how one street differed from another, how the Savoy buildings had a feeling and the Italian ones a different feeling. She noticed the patterns of the stones under our feet and the funny signs in windows. She chose to walk down streets I’d never walked. She asked people for directions and smiled even if no one smiled back, and she noticed how beautiful Italy is.
And it is beautiful. The food is beautiful. The buildings are beautiful. The people are beautiful. I mean, I thought it took plastic surgery to look like some of the people we saw just strolling down the streets. Once she reopened my eyes to it, I realized that we were the only ones standing in awe of the beauty. Everyone else was just like I had been — watching their feet in front of them, waiting for the next minute, preparing for the next stop. We were the only ones standing in the piazzas, looking up.
Don’t we kinda live our lives like that sometimes? We get into routine, and the routine is easy or at least doable and we forget to stop and say “WOW. Look at that!” We forget to look up.
When I do funerals, I see my job as explaining where the loved one’s story and God’s story intersect. And I sometimes wonder… why didn’t I tell them before they died? Because I see it while I know them. But I wonder… would I need to tell them? Or do they already know? Have they been too busy putting one foot in front of the other or have I? Or have we both? Have they stopped to look back at their lives or in moments of amazingness and said, “WOW. Look at that!”
Do you already know — where your story and God’s story intersect? Who are you to God? Where is God in your story? When is the last time you stopped putting one foot in front of the other and looked up?
I love Psalm 30 because the author did that. He knows where his story and God’s story meet. He tells his life story as a journey with God. First he was low and God turned aside his enemies and healed him. And then he felt really good and secure, but then God turned away from him. So he cried out to God for mercy and God turned his wailing into dancing, removed his sackcloth (his clothes of mourning), and clothed him instead with joy. This is a guy’s life story understood with God right at the heart of it.
This is not “All these things happened to me, and I believed in God.” It’s “I’m eternally grateful to God because God pulled me up when I was down, God challenged me in my security, and God showed me mercy and joy again.” God isn’t a sideline to this story; God is at the heart of it. And God is at the heart of ours. We just have to notice. We just have to look up.
So on our last day in Italy, Jaime and I went to the Egyptian Museum in Torino, the second largest in the world. It was amazing. We are pretty tired because we’d done a day trip to Florence the day before while Alex took care of Jay. So we’re kinda dragging. At the museum, Jay got hungry and I discovered I had forgotten to bring water. Of course. And nothing is easy in Italy, so I had to go off in search of water, which involved taking an elevator, speeding through the exhibit, getting stopped by security for speeding (whatever), finding a coffee shop, buying water, mixing the bottle, going backward through the exhibit, getting stopped by security for going backward through the exhibit (again… whatever), and finding Jaime (who was now on a totally different floor). All I can think about is the next step: feed the baby. I’m dragging. I’m frustrated. He’s fussy.
So I start feeding Jay. It’s just me and him in this corner of the museum, stuck between a mummy and some burial items. There’s a crowd near us, but he and I are essentially alone and face to face for the first time in about 36 hours. And he starts laughing through his milk. I take away the bottle and hold him straight up to keep him from choking. He wrinkles his nose, a twinkle in his eye and gives me a full grin that shows off his two teeth. I sit him down on my lap, still facing me, and he starts giggling. He reaches out and pats my face. I smile. He smiles. All the tension of the museum experience melts away. We have missed each other. He smiles. I smile. He giggles. I giggle. He pats my face some more. He rubs my cheek, cocks his head, and smiles. I kiss him. He giggles. I kiss his chin, his shoulder. He giggles. I lift him up and kiss his belly. He belly laughs. I belly laugh. He throws his arms around me. I throw my arms around him. I pause to look up, and all I can think is “Thank you, God, for giving me this kid to love!”
And then I remember I’m in a museum where people are being purposefully moved from one thing to another in a certain, somber order. One foot in front of the other. Jay and I are taking a disruptive breather in the corner, spilling formula on the carpet and giggling like a couple of loons. And when I look around, I realize we have now an exhibit to a small, captive audience of people who live around beauty they never notice but are now remembering what joy felt like — the young man who kept walking past us and sneaking furtive glances with a smile he was trying to hide, the middle aged woman who stood at the case next to us for ages with tears in her eyes.
Jaime looked up and inspired me to pay attention. Then I looked up. I recognized my story and God’s story intersecting in a museum full of mummies in a land that wasn’t my own or the mummy’s own. And maybe the people who observed our joy, observed the pause in the busyness of our life, maybe they were inspired to look up too. And maybe that’s part of what being devoted to God is all about… not waiting until the end but looking up often enough that you know where your story and God’s story intersect, where you realize when your weeping nights have been replaced by the joy that comes in the morning, recognizing when God has exchanged your sackcloths for joy, knowing that God is behind it when our wailing turns to dancing. We are supposed to stop and say, “WOW. Look at that!” And when we do, it inspires others to do the same. This psalm can inspire us to look up to the God who is with us in the heart of our lives. And we can then inspire others to do the same. Imagine how the world would be if we were all looking up at least once in awhile.
God is not something we believe in while we live our lives. God is at the heart of all our stories. God is in our lives, living them with us. God is working, God is helping, God is healing, God is acting, God is here. When will we look up? Amen.