Category Archives: Faith

Perspective

I once wrote a post on life’s blindsiding moments, on life’s before and afters, on grieving and growing through blessings in disguise. The past six days have required me to reread and remember my own words, something I’m still struggling to apply, if I’m honest.

This week began as any other and became, by Monday’s end, another before and after, rendering my youngest son admitted to a children’s hospital with a lifelong diagnosis: Type 1 Diabetes.

This week I watched my ginger, brown-eyed boy be cared for in a different hospital by the same physicians who helped sustain my ginger, blue-eyed boy’s broken heart 13 years ago.

This week I felt the embrace of sincere community while confined in an age of social distancing.

This week I remembered distinct antiseptic smells and pulse ox alarms, and the significance of small numbers flashed across a screen. I remembered huge, ugly-pink water pitchers and crunchy ice refills and sleeper recliners that never quite get comfortable no matter how hard you try.

This week I experienced the brilliance of bedside nurses and the solidarity of colleagues and the sacrificial courage of men and women who, having taken the Hippocratic Oath to first do no harm, are often overlooked in times of our own need.

This week I witnessed an eight-year-old boy ride the rollercoaster of grief towards acceptance of a new normal and take immeasurable strides towards maturity within four in-patient days.

This week I gained fresh appreciation for outdoor breezes and sun shining on the skin, of organs unseen and disposable needles and how a formidable diagnosis may contain the capacity to bring alignment to those otherwise at odds.

This week I reconciled my assumption that certain experiential boxes can be checked only once in a lifetime with the fact that one can never outlive any possibility while this broken world remains.

This week began focused on a pandemic and ended with a new perspective for pondering life’s weightiest things.

This week I returned to the world of fragile, chronic conditions and resilient children and unanswered questions, of treasured tears captured in an unseen bottle by a Physician, Great and Eternal, and the holy tension of honest lament.

Above all, this week reminded me that gratitude and grief can cohabitate a heart as it cries out to the only One worthy, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.”

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Filed under diabetes, Evan, Faith, God, Health, Suffering, Thoughts

Grace Isn’t Always As It Seems

Grace /ɡrās/ noun 1.) free and unmerited favor

It’s a word known and familiar.  Regardless of one’s personal convictions, its highly likely that nearly every American and countless many abroad hear the words “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound” whenever its familiar melody begins to play.

We are deeply touched, even unsettled, whenever we recognize its been given to us. At times, the role of “grace giver” can feel deeply satisfying. This lovely notion that has spurred on artworks and anthems, namesakes worldwide and notoriety to iconic figures through history: A tiny nun who spent her years giving orphans a home. A friendly cardigan-zipping neighbor elevating the dignity of a fellow human being above society’s dividing lines. A Babylonian king extending his scepter at the unbeckoned approach of an unlikely queen. A carpenter’s son who found greatest worth among the least of these. Hymns and homilies and hashtags have waxed poetic of grace in action while traditions and fairytales have shown glimpses of its worth.

Grace.

We all need it.  

We’d like to think we freely give it.  

And I’ll bet my bottom dollar, in one form or another, we all crave it.  Desperately.

At least, I know I do. 

Sometimes I recognize it when given.  Obvious signs of favor I neither deserve nor deny.  Evidence of mercy’s bestowing opposite twin; where mercy withholds deserved consequences without leverage, grace bestows favor without merit.  I see its evidence and feel its weight, warm as a cloak wrapped round the shivering shoulders of a helpless child.  It floods my heart with gratitude and fills my sight with awe.

But sometimes, there are other times when its evidence hides in plain sight, when the cloak is not warm but absolute as a deathly hallow, hiding the enclosed contents completely from searching eyes. In times like these, my mind runs rampant. I’ll recall those hymns and homilies, declarations of grace amazing and sweet, their comfort felt sharp as a knife and bitter on my tongue.

If I’m honest (and can’t we all just be honest), I quickly arrive at conclusions on my worth and the grace-giver’s intentions and all the reasons why this gift, by nature undeservable, has deliberately been withheld. Shaming conclusions and deliberate rejections. I look for grace and find shadows instead. And I determine my perspective accurate, informed, right.

You too?

It’s unnervingly easy to come to such conclusions. At least, I find it so. I look for grace like a river while sorrows like sea billows roll.

But maybe, just maybe, circumstances aren’t always as they first seem?

What if the shadows are not vacancies but evidence of a stronger light?

What if the pain is not a punishment but a provision to expose and spark rescue from a subversive deadly woe?

What if felt silence is not absence but rather the quiet nearness of a gentle embrace?

What if when we wrestle through the night, as Jacob did in times of old, what if the resulting limp IS the blessing?

What if hope is not in fact hollow but firmly rooted in a foundation eyes cannot currently see?

It’s a lesson lifelong for this girl named for what she must relearn again and again. A gift often wrapped in peculiar packaging.

Sometimes grace is a shelter and sometimes grace is the rain.

Sometimes grace is a placeholder, holding off the good as it keeps place for something greater on its way.

Sometimes grace is a cradle and sometimes grace is a crucifixion.

May my eyes behold this gift when wrapped within various forms and remember at all times, it bestows favor, unmerited and free.

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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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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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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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Mountains And Molehills

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Don’t make mountains out of molehills.”  If only I had a nickel for every time I heard that phrase in childhood…

Circumstance occurs.  Perception magnifies such & such to grandiose proportions, causing verbose lament of its significance to ensue.  Exacerbated parent/teacher/adult/any-reasonably-sound-human-being within earshot gets their fill of said ranting and responds with the classic wisdom: “Don’t make mountains out of molehills.”

This propensity is not merely my own shortcoming.  It’s common to us all, old as the Garden itself.  How effortlessly we overlook obvious good through laser-focus on the often small-by-comparison lacking bits of life.  A vast expanse of Paradise with everything free for the taking except that one little caveat that would ultimately spur Eve’s downfall.  She possessed more than a mountain; she’d been made ruler over Created Earth with Adam.  Yet of all the beauty – SINLESS beauty – surrounding, her eyes instead rested upon that one fruit from that one tree.  And we’ve been following her lead ever since.

Research has repeatedly shown it takes ten positive statements to compensate for one negative.  Spend an evening showered in complements and a single negative utterance can drown them all in memory.

Annie F. Downs recently made the case for “keeping the painful parts of your life small to live a full life”.  Now she’s not advocating we play Pollyanna.  After all, in the sage words of Taylor Swift, “band-aids don’t fix bullet holes”.  Silver linings won’t stop a severed artery from bleeding out.  No, pain demands attention.  Survival, in fact, depends upon pain for, without it, we would befall harm quickly and at great cost.  Pain provides necessary parameters for living when it comes to safety as those affected by CIPA (aka the genetic inability to feel pain) will tell you.  Though you may not feel the heat of the flame, you still bear its resulting burns and at far greater extent than if you had felt the singe instantaneously.

Pain has purpose.

That said – it plays a part but NOT the whole.  A life’s summation must be more than its collective suffering.  There must be cause for celebration somewhere.  While creation remains under a curse, STILL it cries out in worship declaring the glory of God.  If desert sands and parched ground, if ashen hillsides and flooded banks can sound forth praise, then certainly so can I in the middle of hard things.  Even the psalmist sang, “I would have lost hope had I not believed I would see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living.

God Himself declared to Moses, a man He spoke to as a friend, “See today I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing.  Choose life that you may live, you and your children.” (Deuteronomy 30:19)   Both exist in our reality: life AND death, blessing AND cursing, good AND bad, dark AND light.  Just as God instructed Moses, so He gives to us: CHOICE.  Choose life that you may live.  Neither are exclusive descriptors of existence.  Where there is life, death also dwells.  ‘Tis the way of all fallen flesh.  But where there is death, life’s remnant will be found.  Decay renders soil more fertile.  Ash alkalizes acidity.  It’s central to nature, both the law of entropy AND the reality that life will out.

Does this mean Annie’s statement of keeping pain small is unfounded?  Not at all.  Pain is and always will be present while this fallen earth remains.  Pain because of a curse, a curse resulting from a choice, a choice that existed SO THAT LOVE COULD BE POSSIBLE.  Love without choice is not love at all and that comes with great risk, at great cost.

Pain is real.  It demands attention.  But not all of it.

Even darkest nights reveal the shining through of stars.

We magnify what matters.  We measure by what we make much of.   Query the Psalms, ancient accounts of suffering and song.  They face pain head-on, crying out for justice, for mercy.  They do not deny life’s sorrows but rather take its full weight before the listening ear of God.  Even the most heart-wrenching psalms bear an element of praise, a remnant of hope.  Where pain is great, praise is made greater.  Where trials rage, thanksgiving rings through and true.  The determinant is choice.

With both options ever before mankind of life and death, what realm will we choose to dwell in?  Think of your own story.  Do you measure it in increments of suffering or joy, of failure or accomplishment, and by what lens do you define the two?  When you share your experiences, do you belabor the woes or delight in even mundane moments with gratitude?  As you look over your life thus far, what draws your attention, your affection, your energy?

Let’s labor together to take one step towards triumph, towards celebrating even the smallest of wins and not letting pain hold the final verdict on our life.  When all seems ashes, take heart.  May we be people who face pain headlong with tenacious thanksgiving on our tongue.  May we be known more for what we celebrate than the wounds we lament.  It takes courage to choose gratitude in what seems a graveyard; it feels an awful risk.  But it is one worth taking.  In the context of mountains and molehills, we determine which elements of life hold sway over our hearts.  May looming structures in our lives be marked by grace and gratitude, by praise resolute with hope, rather than majoring in the minors and magnifying pain over joy.

We all endure the rain.  Floods may rise and fall.  But if its hope you’re looking for, Charlie Chaplain said it best: “You’ll never find a rainbow if you’re looking down.”

praise

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Heard

It’s been quite a year, this 2015.

A hard one.

Hardest that’s come in my 33 years.

Funny looking back on seasons once deemed difficult, now paling by comparison.  Perhaps that’s an encouragement though – those valleys deep seeming shallow in rear view, after their hidden lessons were learned and the Author’s crafting, carrying, through it all made evident.  Perhaps those rifts felt foreboding then as these canyon-sized cracks do now.  Perhaps it’s just reflection’s rose-colored glasses.

Nevertheless.

It’s been a year of dark storms and brilliant silver linings, a year of fears actualized and unknown strength rising.  But let’s be honest – even that “strength” is simply weakness brought center stage, leading to greater dependence on the only One mighty.  If in weakness one is strong, then I’m Miss Olympia.

When walking sorrow’s road, there comes a point when our mortal core cannot carry gratitude’s banner any further, when the silver linings don’t make up for the massive clouds within, when you’re simply, honestly NOT OK and too weary to convince yourself otherwise.  ‘Tis the way of all fallen flesh.  Whether abandonment of provision, people, or plans, human hope only goes so far.

We cannot save ourselves.

Another exhausted day gave way to sleepless night.  As the last of my frayed rope’s end gave way, the guttural cries stored deep from this awful year came pouring out, silent cries giving way to sobs.  My life’s foundational belief in Yahweh, the One True God, the Ever-Faithful, Ever-Listening, Ever-Sovereign, Perfect Author of life itself, met its crux.  All the silver-linings and gratitude-fueled-hope could not sustain the weight crushing within.  God, I “know” You hear me but I NEED to know You’re with me, FOR me, RIGHT NOW in this make it or I’ll break moment.  Would my Cornerstone prove sure?

It all poured out with torrential force.  Anger.  Sorrow.  Fear.  Every awful emotion birthed from loss.  Nothing polished.  Raw.  Laid out ugly before Holiness in the dark of night.

Here, He showed Himself near.

A middle-of-the-night message sent from a friend woken, prompted to pray for me, for my precious children.  Slowly I heard His whispers.  I’m here.

Whispered nudges to a spent soul, Open your Bible app.  A book of 66 books.  Out of all of that, where do I even start?!  Just open it.

Psalm 116

I love the Lord because He has heard my appeal for mercy.  Because He has turned His ear to me, I will call out to Him as long as I live.  The ropes of death were wrapped around me, and the torments of Sheol overcame me; I encountered trouble and sorrow.  Then I called on the name of Yahweh: “Yahweh, save me!”  

The Lord is gracious and righteous; our God is compassionate.  The Lord guards the inexperienced; I was helpless, and He saved me.  Return to your rest, my soul, for the Lord has been good to you.  For You, Lord, rescued me from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.  I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.  I believed, even when I said, “I am severely afflicted.”  In my alarm I said, “Everyone is a liar.”  

How can I repay the Lord for all the good He has done for me?  I will take the cup of salvation and call on the name of Yahweh.  I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people.  The death of His faithful ones is valuable in the Lord’s sight.  Lord, I am indeed Your servant; I am Your servant, the son of Your female servant.  You have loosened my bonds.  I will offer You a sacrifice of thanksgiving and call on the name of Yahweh.  I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all His people, in the courts of the Lord’s house—within you, Jerusalem.  Hallelujah!  

He heard me.

I read the psalm over and again, awed how the phrases contained spoke directly to my cries.  It had just turned midnight.  I opened the app again.  A new day’s passage appeared.

I have told you these things so that in Me you may have peace.  You will have suffering in this world.  Be courageous!  I have conquered the world.  John 16:33

Comfort like rolling tides swept over as the One who holds all things together held me together by His Word, living and active.  Colossians.  SheReadsTruth.com was studying the book currently.  Colossians.  Well since it’s after midnight maybe the next day’s post will be up.  Opening it read:

So if you have been raised with the Messiah, see what is above, where the Messiah is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on what is above, not what is on the earth.  Colossians 3:1-2

Peace like lightening broke through my dark.  He heard me.  God was speaking to me – broken, battered, ugly-raw me, saving me from what I couldn’t save myself.  And His Words spoke Grace.  Grace greater than sin, ALL sin, mine, those against me and against those I love.  Grace, My child.

And with it – Hope.

It’s now another day into this year, this year that can’t fade to memory soon enough.  Perhaps one day those rose-colored glasses will find similar reflections on the valley of now.  Much terrain remains to be traveled as my surrounding circumstances haven’t changed.  But Ann Voskamp summed it best, “Every person needs hope planted at the bottom of their hole.  Because this is the thing.  Hope is what holds a breaking heart together.  Hope in a Big God is what frees us from big fears.  Hope is a thing with keys…”

At the blackest bottom of my hole, God gently placed mine.  Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.  Beneath storm clouds still raging, He renewed truth’s song in me.

Great is His faithfulness.

IMG_0776

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When It All Falls Down

What to do when your world needs fixing…

When everything teeters on the brink of crumbling, how do you cope?

You cry out to God, pray earnestly for His strong arm to mend the broken, to rescue before collapse. You search Scriptures, search your heart, search earnestly for something, anything, for remedy.

But what do you do when after all this – the tears, the prayers, the repentance – it all falls anyways. Prayers for repair seemingly return with rubble.

I’ve pondered this much of late: how to reconcile cries for fixing when the answer comes back in further breaking.

Was the Lord averse to my cries? Had my pleas fallen on calloused ears?

While emotions raged and circumstances spun, I sensed His gentle Spirit whisper truth to my weary soul:

I am not a handyman.

Patch this. Mend that. Indeed my prayers for fixing desired repair work on existing structures, keeping the status quo minus the cracks. “Here’s MY plan for fixing, Lord. Be a good handyman and get the job done.”

Oh the love of our patient God. As I wrestled with this new realization of my heart’s desires, He whispered again transforming truth.

You are clay and I, the Potter.

The Potter. Master craftsman. Clay always transforms into its destined design within the molding palm of His hands. Should cracks develop or walls weaken, He does not simply patch nor mend. The Potter presses the entire piece to the ground, flattening to scratch and building again from the bottom up. For the vessel to hold true, it must be made new. For the fractured, fixing requires breaking.

With this newfound perspective, I realized my cries for fixing had in fact been answered! Not by mere patchwork that would eventually give way to greater rupture but by the loving leveling of the Master Potter’s Hands. Not out of distain or frustration but clear vision of the full potential trapped within the my clay, potential that could only be realized by His molding touch.

He allowed all to fall so it could be built up in Him, strong and sure.

Take heart, weary one. You are not forsaken. When it all falls down, rest your battered bones in the palm of your Potter. His desire exceeds mere repair of fractured places. Know you are ever in His sight as the apple of His eye. He has a masterpiece in mind!

Therein lies the beauty of being broken.

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Grace

Grace beyond vast oceans’ deep
Embrace my soul with eyes to see
This glorious love, so strong, so free
Immerse me in its flood

High above celestial reach
It towers o’er grand mountains peak
This splendor reaches low to me
Poured out in crimson blood

Awake this soul once bound now free
Redemption’s call beckoning me
Chains broken on Calvary’s tree
Christ’s ransom – grace enough

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Truth To Cling To

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O Lord, You have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
You discern my thoughts from afar.
You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue,
behold, O Lord, You know it altogether.
You hem me in, behind and before,
and lay Your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
It is high; I cannot attain it.

Where shall I go from Your Spirit?
Or where shall I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there!
If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
even there Your hand shall lead me,
and Your right hand shall hold me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the lights about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to You;
the nights is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with You.

For You formed my inward parts;
You knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise You for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are Your woks;
my soul knows it very well.
My frame was not hidden from You,
when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in Your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me,
when as yet there was not one.

How precious to me are Your thoughts, O God!
How vast is the sum of them!
If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
I awake and I am still with You.

Search me, O God, and know my heart!
Try me and know my thoughts!
See if there be any grievous way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting!
———-
Thus says The Lord who made the earth,
The Lord who formed it to establish it –
The Lord is His Name:
Call to Me and I will answer you,
and tell you great and wondrous things you do not know.
———-
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord,
plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you a hope and a future.
Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me,
and I will hear You.
You will seek Me and find Me
when you seek Me with all your heart.
———-
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, The Lord,
the Creator of the ends of the earth
does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
and to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
and vigorous men stumble and fall,
Yes those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength;
They will mount up with wings as eagles,
They will run and not grow weary,
They will walk and not be faint.
———-
Do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Surely I will help you.
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.
———-
Thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob,
and He who formed you, O Israel,
“Do not fear for I have redeemed you;
I have called you.
You are Mine!
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be set ablaze,
nor will the flame burn you.
For I am the Lord your God,
The Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Psalm 139:1-18, 23-24
Jeremiah 33:2-3; 29:11-13
Isaiah 40:28-31; 41:10; 43:1-3a

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Pray For Joanna

Some families touch you for a season, others impact you for a lifetime. For me, the Dennstaedts are the latter kind.

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Throughout middle and high school, the Dennstaedts were like second family to me. Kevin and I were class mates, Brian was the big brother I never had, and Jenna and my sister were two peas-in-a-pod. Through the challenges surrounding my high school years, Miss Shirley and Mr John welcomed me into their hearts as their home became a frequent refuge. Truth be told, I’m not sure I could have made it through that season without their friendship, their love, their example and prayers. Time and distance has taken us all down different paths and to different states, yet their family remains dear to my heart.

Now its time to pour love, support and prayer back to them!

Kevin’s wife, Joanna, is a remarkable mother of 4, lacrosse coach, and all-around lovely woman. Hers is a life marked by faith and kindness. Just over a month ago, her world changed as a simple mole turned out to be malignant melanoma which metastasized to her lymph system. Today she’s under the knife for an aggressive groin lymph surgery – a procedure carrying significant consequences depending on what the surgeons find.

Would you please join me in praying for and supporting this family? I can attest firsthand that they have spent their lives loving Jesus and serving others well.

Pray for wisdom and skill for her surgeons.
Pray for peace to envelope Kevin and their four children as they wait for the surgery’s results.
Pray for strength and healing for Joanna as the recovery process is extensive.
And PLEASE pray that there would be No Evidence of Disease in Joanna. For complete healing.

I know from personal experience the tremendous support that can come via the blogosphere, from friends and strangers alike. Let’s surround this family with love as they walk cancer’s uncertain road.

You can follow their family’s journey at DennstaedtFamily.blogspot.com.

IMG_0609-0.JPG(Photo credit: Jensen Photography)

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Fog Of Failure

She set out to conquer her morning run.  Shoes laced, water bottle in hand, her body stretched and fueled. The familiar path brimmed with potential. 3…2…1… Run!

No stranger to the road, this experienced runner girded herself for the task ahead.  Hills.  Turns.  The mental struggle to keep going right before that euphoric “runner’s high”.  Nothing seemed to phase her focus and stride. She was ready!

But then the fog set in.

imageOut of nowhere dense clouds descended upon her path. Her surroundings faded like intricate stones beneath snow – all detail, all guiding markers lost in a blanket of white. She’d run this path so many times before undaunted through rain, wind, blinding sun, and fading light. But as the fog fell thick, her stride slowed to a timid stroll. All experience, all previous runs faded like her surroundings as her bearings blurred to gray. Though she could not hold the fog in her hands, its presence surrounded her to a stop.  Which path to take?  Which direction to run?  Where am I going?  Where am I now?!  Frozen.

Whether we’re runners or not, we’ve all faced this similar dilemma. Course set, skills honed, yet become wary of taking the next step ahead.

When the fog of failure falls, how quickly courage fades.

Perhaps its a familiar road. Perhaps its a new trail. Perhaps its a path long traveled, preparations years in the making. When failure rears its loathsome head, everything goes gray. The fog of failure can render us lost, afraid, immobile.

What if it happens again?
What if you fail?
Remember when they betrayed you? How can you trust again?
Don’t get your hopes up. Remember when…
Do you honestly think you’ll get it right this time?
You can’t. You can’t. You can’t.
Failure……

Failure immobilizes like a fog. But thanks be to God who shines in our darkness, who lights our path! (Psalm 119:105) Like a ship lost at sea, the Truth of God’s Word and character will give us our bearings, guiding us safely to our destination. It may be slow going for a time but we need not be frozen in the fog. He has given us mileposts, markings, lights to guide our way out through.

What if it happens again?
“I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deuteronomy 31:6 & 8)
What if you fail?
“My grace is sufficient for all your needs for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:)
Remember when they betrayed you? How can you trust again?
“For there is a Friend (speaking of Jesus) who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)
Don’t get your hopes up. Remember that past pain?
“”We rejoice in our sufferings knowing that suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)
Do you honestly think you’ll get it right this time?
“I lift my eyes to the hills from whence does my help come? My help comes from The Lord, Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber.” (Psalm 121:1-3)
You can’t.
“For I am The Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear; I will help you.'” (Isaiah 41:13)
Failure.
“The Lord is my light and my salvations – whom shall I rfear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid? Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear, though war arise against me, yet I will be confident. For He will hide me in His shelter in the day of trouble; He will conceal me under the cover of His tent; He will life me high upon a rock.” (Psalm 27:1, 3, 5)

Failures fog will fall. Rather than freezing in fear, we can fix our eyes on the unchanging One who stands strong, His faithfulness sure as the coming dawn. The going may be slow but with our focus set on the Light that shines in the darkness (and the darkness CANNOT put it out), we can navigate through the fog back to clear skies and full strides.

Keep moving forward, Beloved. You are not forsaken.

You are not a failure.

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Taking Stock

This week has taught me a simple yet profound truth: familiarity can blind.

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Twice a year, the NC State Fairgrounds fills with the gianormous Kids Exchange Consignment Sale. Thousands come to sell their used goods from kids clothing to computer systems, books to bikes, furniture to furbies. Run like clockwork, this huge sale brings an awesome opportunity for families to sell outgrown items and purchase others for a fraction of store costs.

I’ve attended this sale in years past but this time around, I decided it was time to purge our house of everything outgrown. As the gathering began, something caught me off guard to a stagering, humblingly degree.

In a culture of excess, I confess how easily I fall into the lie of lack. Comparisons, complaints, kids growing faster than my clothing budget. Without due diligence the slide into dissatisfaction grows slippery and steep. Like quicksand, the more I see, the more I want, the more others have, the more I feel I lack. Ugh. ‘Tis a dangerous cycle.

But as I sat amongst boxes and boxes and boxes of my children’s used clothes, reality reduced me to tears. I’ve been surrounded by this striking evidence of God’s tangible provision yet its familiarity blinded me. God has truly taken care of our family!

“My God will supply all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19

What amazed me most was the sheer amount of clothes from the seasons when we had stepped out in faith, leaving a salaried/benefits job to start a business, when we had to completely trust God for every new student, new client, new child born. It was from the seasons of smallest income that the tallest piles of clothes stood.

“Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

As I sorted this massive collection of clothes, memories overwhelmed me as the majority of items had been gifts. Memories of kind strangers, generous friends and unexpected finds flooded my mind. God truly had provided for our little family. He not only clothed my kids – He clothed them in style! This evidence of grace had sat unnoticed in my home for years. It wasn’t until I stopped to take stock of it all that I saw clearly.

God has been faithful.
God will remain faithful.
God can be trusted with the needs of today and tomorrow as I hold evidence of yesterday’s provision in grateful hands.

Familiarity blinds. Stop and take stock today of all He has already done, already provided, already shown Himself faithful and strong. You’ll be amazed by the treasure trove of blessings already in your grasp.

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:25-33

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Anchored

This may surprise you. It certainly surprised me. You’d think after nearly 5 years, the truth would have sunken in by now. But my eyes opened wide this week to new knowledge of myself, a perspective I’ve long yet unknowingly carried deep. Watching my children run strong and bubble over with laughter, it struck me as never before.

Eliana and Evan are growing up.
They’re alive!
And I’m.
Completely.
Shocked.

In an instant fear and wonderment collided as my children’s growth hit me afresh. As if scales had fallen from my eyes, I saw my children as the little man and young lady they’ve become and the babies they will never be again. Sounds odd, I know. But in awe I watched them converse like little adults, laugh at each other’s jokes and console their sibling’s occasional boo-boos. They’re growing up.

They’re still here.

Loss lingers long past its welcome, tucking itself down deep to rear its worrisome head when you’d least expect. Startling defenses, it stalls progress and silences hopes at their onset. Like the rolling tide, you may jump over the first big wave but if you don’t continue forward, the aftertide will quickly follow. You’ll still get wet. You’ll still feel its pull.

Loss leaves you changed. No matter if its death or disease or disappointment, loss is loss is loss. By His grace and faithfulness, God has bound broken heartstrings, cradled my woes and shone hope into darkened places of my soul. But I realized stark this week that the tides had continued to roll deep within long past its initial breakers. I never fully believed these days would come and had braced my inner depths for the assumed “worst” to follow.

Oh to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let Thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord, I fear it
Prone to leave the God I love
Take my heart, Lord
Take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above

As the tide of truth rolled in, realization reduced me to confession. Confession of walls built within from loss that in turn had inflicted loss – they had held me captive from fully enjoying each gift of today, from fully committing to daily now of my children, from dreaming of days to come.

Loss has marked me. Its tide will ebb and flow until my breath fails and pulse stills. BUT. Truth understood renders choice. Every fearful impulse, every braced breath, carries on its back the choice to succumb OR to offer it full to the only One with grace enough to make it through. Loss acknowledged can breed gratitude and faith-filled trust in the One who bore our griefs, who carried our sorrows to Calvary. Its a journey. A most humbling journey. But one worth traveling. As we offer our fears into trustworthy Hands with honest confession and resolve to see through grateful eyes, hope sinks down deep. Amidst the turbulent tides of this worrisome world, we can cling to our Anchor, firm and secure. Sure as the rising dawn, the hope found alone in Jesus will always hold fast and true.

My children grow before my eyes. I breathe deep in gratitude, trusting their tomorrows to the One who has renewed my hope today.

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Thank You, Jesus, for all You’ve redeemed. Thank You for loving every wounded place, for pursuing every fear-built wall with love strong enough to breech boulders. Thank You for grace to see beauty in ashen spaces, for joy in mourning’s place, for patience while we learn to trust You. Thank You for redeeming what You allow. Thank You for all my children. You have taught me much through them with lessons more in store. I am grateful.

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Filed under Eliana, Evan, Faith, God, Isaac, Motherhood, Struggles, Thoughts

Lessons From The Blueberry Patch

imageSummer finds me bent low often, stooped in search of something sweet. Tiny treasures hidden in foliage green. Gathering bites of blue has become a welcomed habit, gleaning far more than berries in a bowl. The yield of lessons has surprised me.

My mom, or Maima as my children call her, is an avid gardener. Since childhood, she has nurtured life and beauty all around her, creating lovely homes and providing for those within. Lining her backyard is a delicious hedge of blueberry bushes, three gleaning berries through June and three bearing fruit through the end of July. What a scrumptious sight! Her estimate of thousands of berries adorning the branches was no overstatement. Nearly a gallon-sized basket fills every few days with plump blues. Every year since their planting, these bushes have produced exponentially more berries than the year prior. Their first harvest was sparse, the berries somewhat sour. But rains came, Maima pruned and nurtured, God brought the growth.blueberry

While gathering today’s harvest, I sensed the Lord near. He who breathed life into creation, who began all things within a garden, dealt truth to me through my simple task: picking ripe blueberries. His voice came inaudibly, more as a stirring within, nudging my heart by truth reflected consistent in Scripture.

“You see,” I sensed Him say, “these bushes did not stop growing nor producing fruit based on comparison. They did not grow discouraged when their first berries weren’t just right. They simply kept doing what I created them to do: be fruitful. They’ve grown sweeter with time, more plentiful each passing year. Had they ceased to bear fruit, they would have been pruned, cut off, disposed of. But they bore down – against winds, through rain, enduring snow, standing against heat. They simply persevered.”

Another handful of dark delectable dropped into the bucket. I wedged through the densely fruitful branches, not wanting to miss a berry. Again He nudged.

“Do you see these? Shriveled and hard? They once were ripe, sweet and plump. But they were never harvested so their sweetness was wasted. Some remain stuck in place while others fall to the ground, slowly rotting away. Had the gardener come in time, they too could have been enjoyed.”

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A still breeze blew through the air and my soul, quieting all around.

“My child, you are this blueberry patch. I have planted you with intention, creating you with purpose. Your job is not to pull back based on a less-than-perfect outcome nor grow discouraged with early sparse harvests. Your job is to keep on, to grow deep roots, to do what I’ve created you for and trust the outcome to Me. Maturing comes with time. Be fruitful with what you’ve got now. It will grow sweeter, more plentiful as you endure.”

“My child, you are the gardener. Realizing the berries at their ripe potential keeps the bushes strong, feeds your family and provides enjoyment to those you share your harvest with. But when you neglect to gather what I have brought forth – your talents, your gifts, the opportunities I bring – then they shrivel like these hardened berries, once plump with potential now dropped to the ground. Don’t miss what I have for you nor neglect the harvest for fear of failure, of imperfection. If you never picked a berry from worrying that it may not be the sweetest, you’d miss out terribly and the bush would go to ruin.”

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“But oh my child, how great is My grace! Even those berries fallen to the ground can nourish the soil. Be not discouraged. Learn. Grow. Reap the harvest I have planted and TRUST ME with the outcome. I am the Great Gardener.”

Today I came to the blueberry patch to gather fruit but left with so much more. Oh how sweet the harvest!

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Blindsided

20140626-232500.jpgLife can jolt you sometimes. Jolt you so hard from your bearings that the world around seems spinning and you can barely catch your breath.

Perhaps its a diagnosis. A phone call. A freak accident. An unexpected complication. A conversation. A change of someone’s heart. A death.

Sometimes your journey from mountain high to valley low feels more like being blindsided with mactruck force that sends you tumbling with ferocious speed to the depths below. When the wind gets unalterablly knocked from you, when well-laid plans become nothing more than memories, when your life’s trajectory shifts forever by circumstances beyond your control, what do you do? How do you cope? How do you even breathe?

There is pain. There is heartache. At times even despair. My path has shifted unchangably multiple times throughout my life by things beyond my control. Family changes. Job changes. Deaths and diagnoses. Hopes dashed and dreams deferred. I’ve seen such shifts occur in the lives of loved ones and those known at a distance. The struggle is real! Questions, cries, tears when they can’t be held back any longer. What do we do with this?!

Breathe.

Cry with honesty and reverence to the God who is WITH YOU moment by moment of this awful, painful, terrifying mess you never asked for and prayed would never happen.

Breathe.

Beloved, even now – in the confusion, in the fear, in the pain – He holds you with love in His eyes and unfailing strength in His tender grip with desires for your good saturating His heart. God is the ultimate Author and sole Redeemer of things allowed through His sovreign hand. He is writing your story to stretch far wider and richer than anything you could have dreamed, drawing you to lean fully on Him because after all, He is the only One with strength enough to carry us through. He bestows significance on our stories.

Breathe.

I’ve seen God turn mourning into joy.
I’ve seen Him bring beauty, hope and blessing from barrenness.
I’ve seen God knit together the fractured, the demolished, the destitute into creations more beautiful and strong than anything they could have been if they had remained whole.
I’ve seen Him take diagnoses cloaked with despair and make them stories of strength and impact, taking small life plans and stretching one’s touch round the globe.
I’ve seen His love resurrect dead hearts.
I’ve seen His grace make formidable the weak.
I’ve seen His faithfulness mend the unmendable.
I’ve seen God breathe new life where all hope was lost.
I’ve seen Him turn blindsiding tragedies into awe-inspiring victories, tragectories, powerful testimonies.

Over and again since the beginning of time, God has been finding the lost things, the broken things, the dead things with a fervent, seeking love that names them precious, significant, His.

I know because I’ve not merely observed; I have tasted and seen firsthand that the Lord in fact is good.

Hang on, weary one. You are not forsaken. You are not forgotten. You are being held this very moment by the One who holds all things together. Breathe. Cry. And trust what is True: He who began a GOOD work in you WILL BE FAITHFUL to complete it.

“I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” Psalm 27:14

“As for you, you meant evil against me but God meant it for good…” Genesis 50:20

“As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, ” It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” John 9:1-3

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Fickle

“Fickle” barely scratches the proverbial surface of this winter’s weather in North Carolina.  No exaggeration – we’ve enjoyed sunny 70s one day then blizzard-like snow and temps well below freezing the next!  Just yesterday we opened windows, pulled out flip flops and played in the sun.  Tonight a thick ice blanket has Raleigh wrapped tight.  One certainly cannot gauge tomorrow’s weather by temperatures today.

It’s a lot like us, isn’t it?  We soar high on successes one day only to wake to struggles the next.  Today’s experiential climate does not guarantee the same tomorrow.  Perhaps the kids screamed all day.  They might wake tomorrow all smiles.  Did you hold your ground against that tugging temptation today?  Fantastic!  The fight to stay steadfast begins again in the morning.  Just as the snow tonight does not predetermine the sun’s warmth tomorrow, so previous missteps and misfortunes cannot dictate circumstances to come.  We are fickle creatures.

Oh what blessed comfort we find in the steadfast love of God!  Surely as the night’s black will light with the coming dawn, so He lavishes fresh mercies upon us every morning!  Even the most unpredictable weather screams this truth for no matter the day’s forecast, the sun still shines.  Whether warm or cold, windy or still, that magnificent orb of light remains, keeping all elements in our galaxy circling in precise orbit.  The darkest places on earth will never determine the strength of this celestial saturating light.  Snowfall here cannot negate the sun’s consuming heat; it simply stands as a temporary barrier to us experiencing warmth.

Has today wrung you out like a discarded rag?  Rejoice that God’s abundant mercy offers you a fresh start tomorrow. Did today go better than you could have hoped?  Thank Him for His generous grace!  So long as breath fills your lungs, He purposes hope on your behalf. (Jeremiah 29:11)

Come balmy breezes or ravenous storms, may we rest assured knowing the sun remains.  After all, only He knows what tomorrow’s forecast may hold with grace strong to cover it all.

“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:22-23

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Peace for the Broken

She lingered in the shadows, hearing a distant crowd draw near.  Her body a mere shadow of who she once was, frail from years of ailment and failed treatments.  Twelve long years had taken their toll.  What began as a simple bleed perpetuated into more than a decade of tests, treatments and tortured hope.  Every penny spent, every ounce of dignity gone, this woman bore within her veins a hopeless cause.  She had endured much at the hands of physicians trying to heal her constant hemorrhage.  Not a person in town didn’t know of her condition as illness bore witness over every ounce of her being.  For twelve years she had pursued all possible options and remedies.  But at the end of it all, she remained diseased, destitute and discouraged, worse off than ever before.  The crowd now came into her view.  Rumors of this Jesus has spread through the town.  A miracle man, a great healer, a prophet.  Some even called Him the Messiah.  As she heard their voices grow louder, this decrepit woman felt one last flicker of hope, that final spark before the flame completely went out.  Could this be the day?

This woman’s account in Mark 5:25-34 is a classic miracle story, one that had grown familiar.  But as Week Six of You Belong To The Bridegroom brought me to these verses again, I was able to see this passage with fresh eyes and a new perspective.  The Word of God IS living and active!  This was a woman who had spent over a decade in pain, isolation and shame.  At that point in history, Old Testament law still ruled in Jewish society.  Leviticus 15:9 & 25 states that any woman with bleeding was considered unclean as long as the bleeding persisted and anyone who touched her would become unclean as well.  So for twelve YEARS this woman was considered a source of defilement and shunned.  In remembering the Pharisee’s assumption that a boy was born blind because of either his or his parents sin (John 9:2), its safe to assume this woman bore the same judgement as well.  Unclean, outcast, shamed.  She had tried every remedy, spent every penny, saw every physician she could.  Yet she remained afflicted.

Matthew Henry said it well, “It is usual with people not to apply themselves to Christ till they have tried in vain all other helpers and find them, as certainly they will, physicians of no value.  And He will be found a sure refuge, even to those who make Him their last refuge.”   This precious woman found such words to be true that day.  She knew her desperate need for Jesus’ touch: “If I just touch His garments, I will get well.” (Mark 5:28)  Braving the shame and mockery she would face for going out in public, let alone a crowd, she pressed through the crowd till at last she touched the back of His robe.  Instantly she was healed!

The Scriptures tell us what healed this woman as Jesus “perceiving in Himself that the power proceeding from Him had gone forth.” (vs. 30)  As I wrestled with this phrase, I went back to the original Greek roots and came to a beautiful realization.  This “power” was no superhero, ultra-zap that my mind often assumed.  In true translation, it was Christ’s virtue – the full essence of Himself – that healed the woman.  Wow!  Christ and Christ alone brought healing to a woman.  How often do we seek His hand when it is His fullness that we so desperately need?!

Jesus knew this secret act of faith by the woman.  It pleased Him, it drew His attention, it was of utmost importance to Him.  This woman who felt unworthy of His attention but desperate for His power realized she would not go unnoticed.  She approached her Healer “fearing and trembling…and fell down before Him” (vs. 33)  The woman was wholly honest, vulnerable and humble before Jesus.  The Savior of the world stopped all the commotion around Him, fixed His full attention on a woman bowed low at His feet, and gave her restoration.  True, she could have been healed of just her physical affliction that day but as many of us know to be true, the emotions that had grown so familiar would have carried on.  Even without the bleeding, would she still define herself as outcast, wretched, ashamed?  How beautiful is the love of our Savior!  “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.” (vs. 34)  The woman sought mere healing; the Messiah bestowed a greater gift – peace.  He desired to remove more than her physical ailment; He desired to lift her head.

We are all this woman, battered by life’s circumstances.  Our afflictions may vary but our heart cries are all the same.  “If only I can get to Jesus.”  Beloved, His arms are ever open wide!  Cast away the shame that binds.  Press through life’s crowds and commotion to be with the only One who can set us free.  May we all find what He bestowed on the broken woman that day.  Peace.

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Withered

I’m currently going through You Belong To The Bridegroom (seriously cannot recommend this study highly enough!  Get it!!).  This week finds me in Mark 3:1-6, a passage familiar which packed a new-found punch.  In college, I traveled to India for two weeks and while there, one of my travel companions, Cara Powers George, shared an impactful message on this passage.  Today’s time in these six verses brought her words to memory as the Lord spoke fresh revelations to my heart.

The passage tells of a man with a withered hand who has a life-changing encounter with Jesus.  We know not why the man’s hand was withered.  Was it a birth defect?  A horrible accident?  The result of intentional harm?  No matter the source of his impairment, this man carried a physical reminder of weakness, inability and shame.  Every.  Day.  But rather than hiding in life’s shadows, we find him in the synagogue, the place of worship and teaching of Scriptures.  He had come to the place of religion but that day, he met the Source of Salvation.

Jesus called the man to Himself.  “Get up and come forward!”  One of disability, I wonder if the man blushed at the attention, slowly rising from the back of the room and walked timidly to the center of the synagogue.  Did he hide his hand beneath his cloak?  How often we too hide in our shame, embarrassed of the marks we carry of life’s afflictions and poor decisions.  Even in churches, we come knowing we ought be there or hoping answers will be found, yet put on a happy face, hiding the disfigurements we all carry behind smiles and cliches.

As he reached the Savior, this man heard the words, “Stretch out your hand.”  Expose your withered hand, your inability, your source of pain.  The very hand that had defined and limited the man was precisely what Jesus desired.  Bring it out from hiding into the light.  What struck me most in this passage was not just the Lord’s desire for the disfigured, but how He chose to heal him.  Verse 5 tells us that the man stretch out his hand (comma) and it was restored.  Notice the order!  The hand was restored after he exposed it to Jesus.  The man’s willingness to stretch out his hand, to trust Jesus with his greatest shame, brought forth His healing.  The Lord honored the man’s trust and obedience in restoring his hand.  How often He calls me to bring my withered parts to Him with healing in mind, yet I remain impaired by my own pride to keep it hidden.

I love how Jesus called the broken to Himself.  He was surrounded by Pharisees in this moment.  Men of discipline, knowledge and religious perfection.  Yet it was the man of withered hand, standing in the back shadows, that drew the Lord’s attention and affection.  Jesus did not ask the cause of this man’s brokenness.  In fact, He already knew it all.  But the cause was not of concern to the Lord.  Only that he would come forward and trust the messy result into His keeping.

We all have withered places: physical, emotional, mental, spiritual.  We all carry scarred results of past decisions and harmful afflictions.  But try as we might, we cannot mend ourselves.  Jesus calls us all to get up out of our shame and hiding, to come forward into His presence and to stretch out our disfigurements to Him.  Jesus loves us.  He longs for us.  And it is in our vulnerable trusting that His healing takes place.

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