A Surprising Switch

Time is a funny thing. At one moment, it flies past at breakneck speed. The next, it creeps along slower than a slug. And often, in a moment briefer than a blink, life flips the switch between the two.

Today held one such switch. A usual Monday around these parts, I woke earlier than I preferred to ready my household for a full day ahead. First get the kids to school then commute to my office for a long day’s workload before an evening of sports, meetings, and possibly – hopefully – sleep. A large mug of dark roast into the day, messages began appearing in my inbox, messages that stopped me in my tracks and brought tears to my eyes.

Congrats on your work anniversary.

You see, its been four years now since I began working for the American Board of Pediatrics. Four years comprised of long days and overflowing weeks and months quickly bleeding into nearly half a decade of employment for the stay-at-home pastor’s wife turned working single mama; far more than hours clocked and commuted, far richer than all the gallons of coffee consumed.

Four years ago my life was in wreckage. Camelot had crumbled and I could barely recognize myself amidst the rubble’s haze. Everything I’d sworn would never happen in my life now dictated the day-to-day. It was there, smack in the middle of the shadows of dead dreams, God began weaving pain allowed into provision and scars into a redeeming story still in the making. There, God began turning bereavement into a bestowed blessing, one that not only provided daily needs but in fact began planting seeds of new dreams.

It did not happen overnight. Indeed, it took weeks and months and years of healing and grieving, of working and learning, of rising early and staying up long past the sun’s setting, to arrive at this working mama’s fourth employment anniversary.

So, as I respond to congratulatory messages with gratitude, I’m found humbled to my core. Today’s familiar blessings would have seemed beyond far fetched four years ago. Now, they mark my day-to-day as new seasons have begun unfolding with sparks of fresh dreams lighting up the corners of this mending heart.

As my favorite quote by C.S. Lewis well states: “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” 

Today’s switch finds me reflecting on the truth of these words, wondering what unseen gifts might lie in store in the days and years to come.  To say I’m grateful seems hardly adequate enough. 

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Filed under Chapel Hill, Generosity, God, Thoughts, UNC

A Year’s Reflection: Word Edition

As 2018 draws near its close, I’m often found in a reflective state of late, taking stock of twelve months come and gone.  It’s a humbling practice, this looking back on experienced highs and lows to find the redemptive thread woven through it all.

The year began with a friend’s question, “What is your word for 2018?”  I had observed this practice in loved ones’ lives before: asking God for a word for the next year and prayerfully waiting until a word resonated deep in their spirit.  For some, it was a virtue to aspire in growth towards.  For others, a promise to cling to through a season of waiting or trial.

My previous several years had been admittedly hard, enduring circumstances I’d sworn never to walk through and finding my faith stripped down to sure studs of grace.  Something about the nearing new year struck a fresh chord, a distant tune that perhaps this year might be different.  So, when I observed surveys circling during 2017’s final days, asking what my word would for 2018 might be, the question stirred curiosity of whether God perhaps held one for me.

Sure enough, whispers of a word rose to the surface of my mind, resonating as true to my wondering heart below.

On January 2, 2018, a group of girlfriends gathered around my table to celebrate and set the tone for this new year.  After indulging in scrumptious offerings of cookie butter, waffle biscuits, flavorful pies and toasts to our collective health, we spent hours exploring enneagram wisdom and related spiritual formation tools.  We dove deep into our stories, asking provoking questions and offering honest answers to trusted friends.  What Scriptures did each of us need to cling to in the new year?  What practices would fuel our faith and direct us closer towards the heart of our loving God?  And, of course, what word spoke to our souls for 2018?  Chalk in hand, 2018 took shape in colors and phrases before our eyes and together, we felt seen, sought, significant before our Maker.

Being an Enneagram Six, the verses 1 John 4:18 and 1 Peter 5:6-7 stood out as timely, passages on the perfect love of God dispelling fear and calling me to cast my worries upon the One who cares most.  Disciplines of Scripture memorization and fasting would promote further growth while grounding practices of singing, journaling, and meditating on God’s Word would stir faith where fear often tried to reign.

As for my word, it started stirring my spirit days earlier.  First heard as a whisper, it echoed in reverse, growing stronger with each refrain.  A notion of new life springing forth from ashes.  Phoenix.

Time passed, turning that evening’s events to memory as life for this solo working mama bustled by with ferocity. Those first few months of this new year seemed circumstantially contrary to the practices and promises scribed in chalk.  Had I misheard?  While “new life” remained elusive, ashes continued to abound.

In time, phoenix fell forgotten.

Now with another year nearly gone, December ushered in a new season of listening for a word.  Once work deadlines and scheduled festive mania subsided, I began reflecting once again.  What had transpired over the course of 2018?  Did the year’s end find me any closer to those elements shared with friends back at it’s beginning?

Thankfully, the chalkboard’s goals and guiding practices had been captured that January night.  I pulled out the photograph to refresh my memory.  In taking stock of the twelve months past through this renewed lens, a remarkable truth emerged:

Every item listed that night had occurred in 2018.

Scriptures memorized.  Seasons of fasting with prayer transpired.  Fears and anxieties brought to the mind’s forefront for purposes of growth and healing.  Songs sung in secret and on stage.  Journaling proven essential in processing the year’s highs and lows and elements between.  Lessons in casting cares onto the loving heart of God, learning to believe His love instead of loud fears (though admittedly this is still very much in process).

As for phoenix, evidence of new life springing from ashes covered the year.  Signs of fresh beginnings and revived dreams: personally, professionally, and in the lives of my children and loved ones.  Encouragement received and distributed in the telling of broken stories redeemed and past pain woven into provision.  Though it had not taken the form I anticipated on that January evening, elements of renewed rising had indeed come to fruition by the mighty hand of God. And it proclaimed grace – all of it.

Today finds me in a familiar space, reflecting on a year gone by while holding hopes for the coming year with open hands.  The new year’s word came in a moment, tucked within a conversation with my dearest friend and sister.

“Remember being brave doesn’t mean feeling brave and you are stepping into bravery with every part of this.  Trusting Jesus when it feels so close yet so far.  And maybe part of this is just abiding.  Not doing but abiding in the present season.”

It jumped from the screen straight into my heart, echoing affirmation all the way down.

Abide (verb): to bear patiently, tolerate; to endure without yielding, withstand; to wait for; to accept without objection

I know not what this new year may hold nor how this word will take shape as days turn to weeks, to months, to another year lived.  Indeed, for an impatient ginger named Patience, this call to deeper resting in my Author’s pen rather than scrambling to take control from my limited perspective feels daunting, unsettling, yet divine.  Looking back to find fingerprints of God’s faithfulness has fueled my faith today to trust Him as the unknown soon unfolds.

Phoenix rising
Now abiding
Beneath the shadow of Thy wings

Sovereign timing
Author scribing
Mine now Yours, an offering

What word might He hold in store for you this next year?

In my experience, its proven worth the asking.

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Filed under Faith, God, Patience, Poetry, Words

A Lesson In Laughter

Every December, a beautiful book comes off the shelf and into my family’s hands. Covered in patchwork colors, it weaves the ancient tail of Christmas from a Garden to a Promise fulfilled, wrapped warm within a manager. Ann Voskamp’s Unwrapping The Greatest Gift: A Family Christmas Celebration has become a treasured tradition for this mama. I earnestly hope it’s precious truths sink deeper year after year in my children’s minds and hearts. Only time will tell.

img_8481Tonight found us home for the first time this week with a few unrushed hours before bed. Tis’ the season when stressful….I mean “festive”…merriment abounds around every nook of the calendar. First world problems, I know. Regardless, my little brood and I found ourselves with time to spare, time enough for a timeless story. I grabbed this beautiful book from the shelf and turned to December 6th’s reading.

The Gift of Laughter – the story of Isaac

This story, both fresh and familiar, speaks of a promised child to a couple, barren and nearing triple-digit years. A covenant that could only be measured by an immeasurably starry sky. A long-offered prayer answered with a laughable word of hope. Could it be, after all this time, this dream deep and tender might come true? It was utterly absurd, rationally speaking.

“…She laughed too – but Sarah laughed sad…the way you do when you think someone is teasing you, and you laugh brave so you don’t cry hard.”

Even the clinical, doubtful dismissal by a waiting-worn woman would turn to joyful laughter as Isaac eventually entered the world by her womb.

God always answers prayers; He keeps His promises.

As I sat beside my admittedly distracted children, the heart captured afresh was my own. How many times had I heard this story? How often had it impacted my life already? Indeed – enough to name my firstborn after Sarah’s promised son. But tonight’s reading of familiar words and Ann’s poetic prose exposed a needed truth.

At times, I am Sarah who, upon hearing a good promise from a good God, responds with lacking belief or worst yet – interprets it as cruel. The words jumped off the colored page, straight into my exposed heart.

“Sometimes you use laughter like a shield to protect your heart. Could Sarah let down her guard and believe that God would be gentle with her dream to hold a child of her own?”

Could she?

Could I?

We all hold something deep and tender as Sarah did. Perhaps it’s for a struggle relieved, a relationship revealed or restored, a recognition long denied or a dream brought to reality. While our details may vary, we all can relate to Sarah’s angst in some way, understand her disbelief that her most precious hope might actually, finally, be brought to fruition. To a weathered soul, it feels an awful risk.

As this Sunday school story revived with tonight’s reading, I was struck afresh not only by the reluctant recipient of a promise but by the resilient generosity of the Promise Keeper. Sarah’s struggle to believe did not sway God’s bequeathing Hand. Rather He, in His perfect way, replaced her bared-teeth grimace with the purest laughter of a blessing made manifest, clenched fists now spread wide as they embraced the embodiment of laughter – in fact, it was his very name – Isaac.

As the story ended and my children dashed off to their next endeavor, I sensed that familiar whisper near while I closed the quilted cover.

“You’ve been like Sarah. And I am the God of Isaac. Trust me to turn waiting into wonder. After all – I always fulfill my Promise.”

Tonight finds me yet again beneath a warmly lit tree, struck in awe at the message of Christmas cast in new light. Like Sarah, I’m prone to doubt His kindness, to laugh dismissively over long-awaited prayers. But He – He is the God of Isaac, from whose line came the Ultimate Long-awaited One – Jesus, the Messiah. It has ignited my faith with renewed hope, not in outcomes, but in the One who came, who will surely come again. He who was faithful to Sarah will surely be faithful to you and me.

May the laughter of this season remind us all that hope placed in Him is never in vain.

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Filed under Faith, God, Isaac, Patience, Struggles

Beneath a Tree

It’s been a day, a wearying one, filled to the brim with projects, problems, and parenting. Also known as Thursday.

Before dawn’s light crested the horizon, this household of mine was on the go. Funny how the “most wonderful time of year” never ceases to coincide with year’s end mania. Every arena of daily life seems bursting at the seams with all that must be done. Today was no exception. Tonight finds me weary and worn.

And yet.

Here, in the quiet of sleeping babes and labors laid aside, of thoughts alight with needed do-overs and never-agains, of small successes and ample failures, I sit beneath a tree.

one

Warmly lit, small splashes of color clad forest hues, a tree bedecked in memories. Something about its glow ushers in thoughts of holidays gone by, of a Savior child come to live among us. Emmanuel, come to die.

Slowly, surely, the sounds of today’s missed moments and mishaps fade, replaced by a gentler, stronger song: Come. Come let us adore Him for He alone is worthy. Christ the Lord.

And with its silent melody, Peace.

Tonight finds me now grateful: for the privilege of enduring life’s chaos, for the harrowing honor to steward children’s hearts and youth for a time, for the quiet that now fills my home, for the Reason behind a glowing tree. This has become a Silent Night, a Holy Night.

Indeed, all has been made calm and bright.

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Eyes On The Horizon

There’s a sign in my room, crafted of pallet wood and paint.  A few inches wide and an arm’s length long.  Though unassuming in design, its message carries great weight in my day-to-day.  You see, it sits atop a high ledge, this sign, positioned precisely along my line of sight whenever I’m resting in bed.  Often, its message fills my last gaze before drifting off to dreams and it’s my first sight when I rise.

“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”  C.S. Lewis

The creator of Narnia and apologetic masterpieces, C.S. Lewis was a man familiar with sorrow, acquainted with grappling life circumstances against the Scriptures.  He did not shy away from hard things nor did he minimize struggles to match up to cultural norms.  A scholar at Oxford and Cambridge, Lewis was considered among the academic elite of his day.  He firmly held to atheistic views, such as those summarized by Lucretius: “Had God designed the world, it would not be a world so frail and faulty as we see.”  Yet in his pursuit of understanding the world around him, wrestling his experiences with pain and suffering against the theology of the Bible, Lewis became a “reluctant convert”, finding the God of the Scriptures ultimately irresistible.

“You must picture me alone in that room in Magdalen [College, Oxford], night after night, feeling, whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. In the Trinity Term of 1929, I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”  (Excerpt from Lewis’ Surprised By Joy)

Much has been written of this remarkable man’s life, as indeed much has been scribed by his own pen.  He holds my respect, this brilliant mind who only ever believed that which he fully wrestled with until he could find it irrefutable.  His stories of a magical Wardrobe filled my childhood as his weightier works continue to challenge and inspire my adult perspectives on life and faith.  A library surely is incomplete without the full works from this extraordinary scholar.

This man, well versed in sorrows spanning world wars and personal losses of illness and death, determined that even in the face of such surmounting pains, hope towards the future could still exist.   It echoes the Psalmist’s resolution, “Surely I would have despaired had I not been convinced I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”  (Psalm 27:13)

If the Psalmist could still hold fast to hope while running for his life from the one who swore to elevate it, if Lewis could hold firmly to believing in brighter days ahead even while walking seasons tangibly dark with pain, then so can you, so can I.

A dear friend gave me his quote on a gray painted pallet board during a time of dark clouds abounding in my life, and I will always be grateful for her kindness.  May we all wake with this reassurance and each night, lie down knowing it to still be true:  indeed, “there are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”  It’s often been a timely reminder for me.  Perhaps, you need to hear it too.

Eyes on the horizon, dear ones.  Brighter days are surely still yet ahead.

Better Things Ahead

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Filed under Faith, Literary, Suffering

Bestow The Words You Crave

Another long day, grappling past lies and current insecurities and future worst-case possibilities.  Craving words of reassurance to raw wounds open, I reach out to friends with said aching, seeking remedy.  Disappointment comes again as well-intentioned words fall hollow on these doubting ears.  Shame lays another layer down upon a battered heart.

And round about this carousel of craving I go again.

We’ve likely all taken a spin or seventy on this merry-go-round, seeking wholeness in the words of trusted friends for our scarred places, wounded spaces. Guilty as charged.  For me, it happens most often come evening. When the world slows, and children finally sleep, and I lie alone in bed.

“Am I enough?  Is God still kind?  Not to us all but to me.  Did my failures today scar my children for life?”  These are some of my frequent flyers.  I’m confident your list stands ready in the wings too.

What do we do?  What do I do?  I grab my phone and reach out to people to fill these aching gaps.  They respond as best they know how yet my holes within only expand under the weight of sincere yet inadequate platitudes.  This cycle repeats until loud lies feel true and worth seems lost and alone becomes more than a place but a defining status.

Maybe it’s just me.

But I know it isn’t.

Life happens, wounds happen, heck – simply human existence happens – and we reach out battered hearts for divine balm from mortal sources.  Funny how loneliness often perpetuates itself through the avenues used in seeking remedy.

Recently, I found myself on this well-worn path again.  Questions of worth, the purpose for pain, value where history had “proven” otherwise.  In the middle of the familiar reach towards my mobile, a soft stirring began to sound.

You’re not alone in loneliness.

I’ve heard it said that if we recognized how often people feel lonely, we’d find community within our loneliness.  Or something like that.  Bottom line – you’re not the only one aching, the only one seeking, the only one asking these same questions.

What do you long to hear?  To believe?  To have someone who knows your story believe of you, for you, speak over you?

Such questions gave me pause.  What did I truly want to believe as TRUTH in my depths?  Words began to fill my mind, snatches of verses often cliched in their application.  Words of worth, destiny, beauty springing from ashes and hidden hopes realized.

“Ok, Lord, I ‘know’ all these things are true, but I want to believe them, and I honestly don’t.”  His next whisper surprised me.

Who else needs to hear these words too?

Full stop.

I sensed the Lord challenging me to trade seeking for serving, to lift my eyes from sorrows, off licking proverbial wounds, and recognize those surrounding me.  It took conscious effort, this changing of perspective: wounds in one hand and desired spoken truths in the other, both held out before the One who ultimately bore all wounds, who alone bestows all healing.  And the results astounded me.

Slowly, surely, as names came to mind, a choice lay before me.

No, an invitation: set aside my own wounds to extend balm for another.  And if asked of its source, I’d only be able to point to the One who was pointing this all out to me.

Pick up a phone, select a person, type away.  Only this time, not in gathering, but in bestowing, in speaking life.  As their faces came to mind and words were sent on blessing’s mission, the most remarkable thing occurred: My own ache began to ease and texts started coming in.

“How did you know?”

“I so needed this.”

Grateful, I responded, “Me too, my friend. Me too.”

This paradox turned hurting on its head, bestowing community where moments before loneliness reigned.  It’s counter-intuitive when wounds screaming loud bleed raw and words from trusted friends fall flat on aching ears – to lay down craving in place of grace-proclaiming.  What if we transformed our intuitions to seek into commissions to serve?  Who else might need to hear the very things our own hearts long for?

Simply put – bestow the words you crave.

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Reflections Of A Summer Gone By

It’s been a gift, these past 3 months, wrapped in various packaging.

Near & far.

Brief & lengthy.

Joy & sorrow.

Filled up & poured out.

Lessons taught & wisdom received.

Laughter & lament.

Camps, car rides, & cookouts.

Memories. Oh the memories, new & re-remembered.

Summer break brought a welcome respite from our family’s frenetic school year schedule. While lunches still needed packing, this working mama reveled in the reprieve from early carlines & driving east simply to commute further west. Most glorious of all – NO homework! Praise be.

Of my many summers in motherhood thus far, this one stands out unique. A summer of healing, maturing, of digging deep & mending hearts, thoughts, lives.

I witnessed confidence return to a worn child.

I saw faces alight with fresh fun & freckles from days soaking up sea & sun.

I rocked sleeping giants & whispered Truths constant & prayed over dreamers whose hearts I now carried surely as once had my womb.

I learned to listen a bit quicker, to respond a bit slower, to relinquish control a bit less begrudgingly.

I offered broken hallelujahs with bittersweet celebrations, holding more tightly to things lovely while more willingly laying down arms.

I cried honest admissions & harrowing realizations & humbled celebrations of grace freely given.

I watched a daughter rise after a hard, hard season to shine her inherent light again.

I watched a son wrestle life lessons with resilient kindness & curious wonder.

I watched the woman in my mirror start smiling in reflection once more, beginning to dream, to dare for days brighter ahead.

I witnessed grace falling like monsoon rains, undeserved, unrelenting, free.

Three months come & gone. As tonight falls soft, this house quiet with sleeping babes & a mother reminiscing, a wise king’s words resound amidst the silence:

“To everything there is a season; a time for every purpose under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:1

Summer draws to its close as a new elementary academic year begins. When a new season dawns with tomorrow’s rising sun, may it find me grateful. It’s certainly been a summer to remember.

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