A cistern is an underground tank for holding water. A necessary thing for people not connected to a water source. A cistern with even the slightest crack not only leaks the water it held, it also lets dirt and other substances in. Broken cisterns contaminate what little water remains.
Now the truth is I have never owned a cistern. I have always been connected to a water source- whether an underground source that fed a well or a pipeline connected to the city water supply.
But just as our physical bodies need water to survive, our souls also need to be connected to a life giving source. And just as water is the only pure life giving drink, there is only one true source for the life of a soul. That source is Jesus.
We must be connected to Him in order to drink from His living water which not only wells up to eternal life but also causes us never to be thirsty again John 4:1-15.
We are born both thirsty and unconnected to the source that never runs dry. That’s were cisterns come in. We start setting out cisterns of all different makes and models at a very young age. Some of our cisterns come in the shape of a heart and represent the love we ache for. Some come in the shape of a trophy and represent our need for success and recognition. Others are formed to look like an iPod and represent how we fulfill our pleasure seeking drives.
The most insidious cisterns are often modeled after the great houses of worship we wander in and out of each Sunday. Those church buildings, whose facades are covered with stain glass windows and are topped with steeples and crosses that point to the heavens, represent our need for connection with God. They appear to be the legitimate cisterns collecting good clean water. But like the other cisterns in our life, religion cracks easily and will ultimately disappoint, leaving us as thirsty as ever.
Over the years, I set up all of these cisterns and more. With each cistern, I hoped I would finally be satisfied- that my thirst would be quenched. But as they sat daily in the sun-baked desert that was my life, they cracked and eventually ran dry.
The most painful broken cistern in my life is shaped in the form of a barren woman.
When I was a little girl my grandmother use to tell me that I would one day have twins. My grandmother explained that twins skipped generations in our family. I belonged to the blessed generation. I remember dreaming of having twins someday. I would dress them in matching clothes and take them everywhere with great pride. They would be both a blessing and a dream come true.
My grandmother was quite the prophetess because in 1994 I got pregnant, and low and behold, I was carrying twins! Even though my doctor had not confirmed my diagnosis, I knew my belly held two precious little boys. My dream was coming true.
Unfortunately my dream was short lived. On March 18, 1995, at just 22 weeks gestation, I went into labor and nothing could stop it. The next day, March 19 I delivered the most beautiful twin boys.
Joshua David came first, still born. William Scott followed shortly after his brother and lived a strong brave life for 15 minutes- each one of them in my arms. I watched as he labored to breathe. I cried as John and I sang Jesus Loves Me because I couldn’t take away his struggle.
At that moment, when I was in the middle of the biggest desert of my life, parched with thirst, The Living Water showed up. Jesus came and stood beside my hospital bed next to John, and He wept. I could not see Him, but His presence was palpable. If I reached out my hand, I could have touched Him. I knew, in a way I had never known before that Jesus loved me. And my boys. And John. And that He was all I needed and all I wanted.
Except of course, my little boys.
As soon as I got home I ran to my bedroom and opened my Bible. A story about a woman and her dead child kept tickling the back of my mind. I found it in 2 Kings 4.
A Shunammite woman had taken care of Elisha, the prophet of Israel- not be confused with his predecessor Elijah. In an effort to thank her, Elisha asked what he could do for her. She said she was satisfied and needed for nothing. Elisha was determined to do something for her; so he asked around and discovered her heart’s desire- a child. When Elisha told her God was going to give her a son within a year, the Shunammite woman begged Elisha not to tell her that. She did not want to be given hope that would only end with pain and disappointment.
A year later, the woman was a mother. Years passed. Then one tragic day the woman’s son died. That is when the Shunammite woman does an amazing thing- something only a desperate mother would do. She goes directly to the prophet and reminds Elisha how she told him not to give her hope. She refuses to leave his side until he agrees to go pray for her son.
Elisha runs to her home and in the miracle of all stubborn miracles brings the boy back to life. He returns hope and joy to the woman through the gift of her child’s life.
I read this passage, and in my grief I began to pray- not to a prophet, but to Jesus who had shown up and wept over my boys. I told Him I knew He had all the power in the world and that He could bring our twin boys back to life. He could turn time back and undo their death. He could raise them right out of the grave. It did not matter to me how He accomplished this miracle. All that mattered was that He do it, and that I believed.
And believe I did. I had the faith of a mustard seed. Unlike the father with the demon possessed boy who told Jesus he believed and in the next breath asked Jesus to help his unbelief, I had no doubts in Jesus’ capabilities to return my boys to me as he had the Shunammite woman’s son. I had seen- or felt- the presence of God. I knew what He could do.
I was determined to be like the persistent woman who would not leave the unjust judge alone until he gave in. I begged God for the lives of my children. And yet, in spite of my persistence and unwavering faith, God chose not to grant my request. And I didn’t know why. I still don’t. But this I did know: One day God would redeem the lives of my sweet little boys.
I often daydreamed that redemption would come in the form of another set of twins. Mind you, I am talking about God redeeming Josh and Will into my life, not replacing them; so I never looked for them in the gift of my next sweet child. I also never dreamed I would give birth to twins again. I wouldn’t want that anyways; Josh and Will have their own place in my heart. It is irreplaceable. Just as the place for each of my children is, but the thought has crossed my mind that maybe one of my children would be blessed with a set of healthy twins whom I could lavish love on as only a grandmother can do.
As I said, I didn’t know how or when, but I knew one day God would redeem my hope through Josh and Will. Unfortunately, I set my boys like a broken cistern in my heart. It has been a barren place that ached to be repaired and connected to the fresh, bubbling stream of living water that is my LORD and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Yesterday was Josh and Will’s 18th birthday, and in quite an unexpected way I discovered that God is very much in the process of fulfilling His promise to me. He is repairing my broken cistern, connecting it to Him. He is taking my barren life that can no longer give birth and making me pregnant with life.
Over the last few months God has been moving in mighty ways.
He showed me I really am healed and free from the pain in my life. He showed me I am ready to serve others through the opportunity to go to Thailand. Then he reminded me of the prophet Elisha and my prayers through a powerful sermon series called <Gr8ter>.
God asked me to burn my plow just as he had asked Elisha to do at the start of his ministry. He gave me a new direction away from school and told me it was time to start writing the stories he placed in my heart so long ago. He even reintroduced me to the Shunammite woman. At first, I wasn’t sure why. It hurt to be reminded of my miracle that never happened.
I started to write, but I struggled with how to tell my story. It is vast and complex. I knew where to start, but I had no idea where to end. Long ramblings with no point, don’t tend to endear readers. In an effort to gain direction and to narrow my focus, I talked things over with John. He asked me a pointed question:
What is the moment in your life when you first discovered the love you always looked for?
Immediately I knew the answer- when Jesus showed up after Josh and Will died.
John thought it was perfect. What better way to commemorate their life than to have it be the climax of my story. I couldn’t disagree more. There is lots of ugly, unpleasant stuff in my story. I did not want to mar my beautiful boy’s lives with it. I did not want them being the good thing that came out of all the bad. To me, their story was a separate story. It was set apart, untouchable from everything else in my life.
So, in good form, I became angry at God. I was ticked that He would want me to use my boys like that. How dare he try to redeem my junk with their precious lives! A whole series of deaths in my life ending with the worst death of all. I don’t think so.
That is until yesterday, when mercifully, Jesus cleared my vision. He reminded me during women’s Bible study that He is in the business of redeeming broken cisterns. All we have to do is stay connected to Him.
God revealed He has no intention of my life being barren. He gives life- and an abundant one at that. God showed me that He is going to redeem my twins through this book- not another set of twin somewhere down the road. God is going to use my book to give life to Josh and Will. Even if only for me.
God is redeeming my hope. My joy. My broken cisterns. He is performing a miracle in my life just as Elisha performed a miracle in the life of the Shunammite woman. Mouth to mouth. Eyes to eyes. And hands to hands.
And I can not wait.
With joy in my heart and a cup that is overflowing with life giving water!