Category Archives: Faith

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.

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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.

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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 drowns 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.”

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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.

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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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