So fear doesn’t just pack up and leave a body alone.
Jesus tells a tale of a person who had an evil spirit. The person, depicted as a home, was “empty, swept, and in order” (Matthew 12:44). That spirit returned with a host of friends to an emptied-out house all tidied up and made ready for him.
Fear is just that way. We kick it out, board up the windows, clean the cobwebs out of the corners…and then what?
The moment the door is opened a crack, all the fears come swarming back in, more numerous than before.
We can’t leave our hearts open like uninhabited rooms, ready for any whim to rush in and capture us. The room has to be inhabited. In that same chapter of Matthew, Jesus said, “ For who is powerful enough to enter the house of a strong man and plunder his goods? Only someone even stronger—someone who could tie him up and then plunder his house” (Matthew 12:29 NLT).
We can’t just enter the strong house of fear and plunder it. We can’t just chase it out with a broom. We can’t take over the enemy camp without a stronger army to overthrow it.
And we can’t evict fear without something to put in its place. If we try to just root out the bad without replacing it with something else, we will find ourselves assaulting a fortress without an invading army.
Who is going to hold the fort once it is taken?
In Matthew 12, Jesus is the Someone Stronger. He is the invader who has plundered Satan’s stronghold of sin in our hearts. That strong man has been tied up and his house has been plundered by the work of Jesus on the cross. The fullness of Him is the only thing able to fill up the spaces of our cleaned-out rooms.
When He fills us, there is no vacuum for sin to rush into.
Theologian Abraham Kuyper said it this way: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
“Mine!” he declares over our hearts, every square inch.
When we get rid of something, we have to replace it with something. Physicists calls it horror vacui. Nature abhors a vacuum.
Sanctification abhors a vacuum too–we don’t become like Jesus just by sloughing off our sins (although we are helpless to even get that far without God’s power!)
Following Him isn’t just about who we aren’t anymore–it is all about who we are now.
“Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused. Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him. They have no sense of shame. They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.
But that isn’t what you learned about Christ. Since you have heard about Jesus and have learned the truth that comes from him, throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.”
– Ephesians 4:17b-24, NLT –
Put off, put on. Stop something and start something else.
Take off fear and dress yourself in something good to replace it.
But what? What can I put in place of my fear?
I set up myself to study fear in 2018. I knew from the beginning that, by drawing this line in the sand, I would launch myself on a frightening journey. How could I not?
I was throwing open cobwebbed cabinets and pounding the dust out of the fear-filled rugs of my existence. Dirt was bound to fly. Fear was bound to be raised. A challenge to my fearless declaration was bound to come. I was nipping at the strong man’s ankles and just daring him to come and get me.
A month and a half into my new year, I’m not sure the assault has let up since the ball dropped and 2018 began.
I began the year uncertain of what adventures would come next, thinking that fearless meant the adventure was about to arrive with at least a certainty of the next move.
Halfway into February, I haven’t the foggiest of what’s coming next.
Worse, I barely know what to want anymore. My hopes and dreams could go any number of directions, if it only knew which path will pan out. I’ve lifted up an open, prayerful heart again and again. I’ve pursued the next thing, unsure what direction life will take in the next moment.
Literally living from day to day as I have never had to do before, terror has not been far away. I used to know what the next 6 months would contain. Today, I barely know what I will do tomorrow, much less next week.
Fearless was supposed to be a victory declaration. Instead, it was a battle cry.
I declared war on the anxiety in my heart, anything keeping me back from a whole-hearted embrace of the glorious liberty of Jesus, and any secret whispers of inadequacy holding me back from what He wants from my present and future.
The fear often settles over me like a cloud of sad restlessness. I start losing sight of what I love. I stop being able to see the beauty. Even as I give mental assent to my God’s plan, my heart turns to anxiety to keep me safe. If I can somehow apprehend this narrow road, if I can just wrap my mind around all the possibilities, if I can prepare my heart to survive any scenario, maybe…just maybe…I can make it through all this uncertainty.
So, in practice, I come back to this thought: What can replace fear in the spaces of my soul? Instead of the habit of anxiety, what habit can I, by grace, cultivate to make my Jesus glad? What can take root in my heart instead of the cold taproot of fear?
Verses trip through my heart:
Jesus never leaves me alone with my fear. To the terrified, the first word are always these: Do not fear!
“Immediately he spoke to them and said, ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’” Mark 6:50
“Jesus told him, ‘Don’t be afraid; just believe.’” Mark 5:36
Last night, I read through the She Reads Truth Lent 2018 study, Day 5. As I read God’s words to Moses, I underlined everything God did in response to His people’s needs and paraphrased His words to His beloved ones:
“Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last.’” Revelation 1:17
“Do not be afraid. I Am before all the terrors and problems and pains and fears.
I AM, and will still be standing in victory, after all those things fade and crumble and slip away into nameless defeat.
Do not be afraid.
I see you. I hear you, I know. I have come down to rescue and bring you to somewhere good and spacious. I see how you are being treated, I will be with you. I have already sent help. I have paid close attention to what has been done to you. I have promised you that I will bring you up from the misery. I have met with you. I have a plan. I have people already on the way to you. I am paying attention.
Don’t you know My power? I am the Resurrection–the power of all life exploding from the most hopeless state a human heart can experience. I am the Life, the Writer of the Eternally Happy Ending that awakes only after the Misunderstood and All-Hope’s-Lost Tragedy.”
What is strong enough to replace fear in my heart?
Only Jesus, dwelling in my heart by faith (Eph. 3:17).
Belief-saturated praise is the habit that kicks out anxiety, as I fix my eyes on the Source of all perfect love and peace.
Listen up, everyone! The Strongest Man is in the house!
Don’t you see?
Fear doesn’t have a chance in the world.
Love has won.
Last year, my word was discover. It felt adventurous, curious, hopeful…I didn’t quite know what would unfold during the year, but I was sure something was unfolding.
I was right. 2017 was a mixture of many different kinds of discovery. It held triumphs and pains unlike any other year I have ever had. Discover, I learned, didn’t mean reading through National Geographic on a more routine basis, or taking more nature walks, or finding a new hobby.
Discover meant that I unearthed things about myself that I would have rather left buried. It meant that I discovered my capacity for intense pain. I learned about my Enneagram personality number, and all the necessary steps to growth that come with it. I discovered that, as emotional as I thought I was, I was not very good at feeling things in the moment. My emotions take a while to steep and process–and boy, did I have a lot to process in 2017.
Discover was a lot harder than I thought. And, honestly, welcome, my word for 2016, took a lot of unexpected twists as well.
So, as I pick fearless as my 2018 word, it’s, ironically, with a bit of fear.
It’s sort of like the story of the girl who prayed for patience, but got upset when the Lord sent turmoil into her life. I would like my fearlessness bestowed upon me in a Divine impartation.
“Do you mind, Lord, if I skip the trial and tribulation and fearful part of becoming fearless?”
For me, being fearless in 2018 means looking forward to a year that will likely involve intense change. I am planning a move across state lines sometime in this year, from Arkansas back to my native Texas. In the months to come, I will be changing jobs, changing states, changing homes, changing churches…pretty much everything constant and stable in my life will rearranged or replaced.
But that’s not all. As I discovered more about myself in 2017, I learned that I am very fearful of venturing out verbally. I might not be fearful of a giant, transformational move…but I am fearful of telling you what I think, particularly if my opinion could cause you discomfort.
As I consider the ramifications of being fearless, I wonder what it would be like to finally let go of all this burden. What if I could finally stop fearing that God disapproves of me? What if I could enter relationships freely without being afraid of others not accepting or enjoying my presence? What if I could stop second-guessing my family’s pride in me? What if I could stop reliving the haunting memories out of the fear that I will miss an important life lesson?
I have no doubt that fearless is the perfect word for this year.
There is freedom waiting for me on the other side of fear.
And, as afraid as I am of this word I have chosen, I still pick it.
May I chase it. May I study it. May I get a taste of what life could be without a drop of fear. May I lean fully into the Everlasting Arms that promise to never, ever, ever let me go.
“The Lord is my light and my salvation—
so why should I be afraid?
The Lord is my fortress, protecting me from danger,
so why should I tremble…
Though a mighty army surrounds me,
my heart will not be afraid.
Even if I am attacked,
I will remain confident….
For he will conceal me there when troubles come;
he will hide me in his sanctuary.
He will place me out of reach on a high rock.
Then I will hold my head high
above my enemies who surround me.
At his sanctuary I will offer sacrifices with shouts of joy,
singing and praising the Lord with music.”
Join me in 2018 as I explore what I am learning about my journey to fearlessness! Each month, I’ll be back with a new aspect of how fearless is changing my year. I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t afraid. But I’m also very excited. Won’t you come along?
When I sit to sort out what kind of lesson I could bring to the table, I pause, uncertain. I am learning so very much from extraordinarily sharp and powerful moments, but their lessons are coming so slowly.
Hopefully, I will be trying to sort through my thoughts and feelings here on the blog over the next weeks and months. And where do I start? Perhaps with my acute need. So, let’s walk arm in arm on the beach, my friend, and let me tell you about a great God who has seen me through once again.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts.
It’s a hard thing for a writer to be struck wordless. But after over 3 years of consistent blogging, I stumbled into a desert. I felt blasts of emotion like the onslaught of the desert sun. Circumstances bit into my skin like the blowing sting of a sandstorm. Have you ever tried to shout into a violent wind? My words were snatched away much like that. Even when I was still speaking, how could anyone hear me over all that thundering violence? Besides, even in my own head, I wasn’t sure how to parcel out my feelings and discoveries. Whenever I would attempt to revisit my pile of thoughts and experiences, I would type and stare, finally coming away with nothing.
Now that I think about it, God doesn’t ask us to always be able to neatly package our lives, especially when we are in the middle of living them. If His ways aren’t my ways–and I’m glad for that–then why should I be able to explain them?
It’s a good thing, then, that God doesn’t ask for neat packaging. He asks for trust.
Over the past months, I’ve walked through the deserts of loneliness, relational upsets, odd situations, and inadequacy. I’m not sure I’ve discovered any real secret, except for two things.
- I have to come to my relationships with a repenting and willing-to-trust heart (even when I feel like withdrawing to keep myself “safe”).
- I have to come to God with my nothingness and let Him fill me up with His total sufficiency.
This is a summary of a thing impossible to summarize. This is a inadequate definition of God’s ways, which are utterly impossible to find out.
A few weeks ago, I was battling with my burden for the pain of the world, personal struggle, and emotional exhaustion. Unknown to me, a music album I ordered showed up in my mailbox. As I played the words in the car, it was like every song was written for that moment.
“It’s not the news that any of us hoped that we would hear
It’s not the road we would have chosen, no
The only thing that we can see is darkness up ahead
But You’re asking us to lay our worry down and sing a song instead”
So I did “lay my worry down and sing a song instead.” With fears lurking all around me, I picked up Ellie Holcomb’s Red Sea Road album and began to commit it to memory. Truths from God’s word–sometimes even word-for-word Scriptures-washed over me like I had never heard them before.
You are loved
Not because of what you’ve done
Even when your heart has run the other way
Nothing’s gonna change His love
I hadn’t realized I was so thirsty for refreshing truths. I hadn’t known how desperate I was to be assured, again and again, that God was with me, for me, living inside of me, and accomplishing His purposes through me.
And I didn’t know I’d find You here
In the middle of my deepest fear, but
You are drawing near
You are overwhelming me, with peace
So I’ll lift my voice and sing
You’re gonna carry us through everything
You are drawing near
You’re overwhelming all my fears, with peace”
I’m not sure whether the music lifted me into a sort of resolution, or if it merely reflected a quiet place already forming inside my soul…but it came at just the right time, reminding me where my only hope is found.
In her album, Ellie talks about our Red Sea roads–impassable paths that God asks us to travel. Impassable, impossible paths. But these lyrics echo the song I have already been learning to sing.
This road is not impassable or impossible if the Road Maker is here.
And He is always, always here. Whether the road ahead is desolate desert or the unforgiving waves of a sea, He is here.
We will sing, to our souls
We won’t bury our hope
Where He leads us to go
There’s a red sea road
When we can’t see the way
He will part the waves
And we’ll never walk alone
Down a red sea road
We’ll never walk alone.
I’ve chosen a difficult way. More and more, I see the hand of God upon my circumstances and passions, directing me into the hard and dark corners of people’s lives. I have to have a light to take there. I can’t venture into those difficult, painful corners of the world without a way to fight back against the dark.
That’s why I have to remember. This Red Sea road is scary and this journey might be voted “Most Unlikely to Succeed.” But with God?
All things are possible. Amazing things are likely. The Best is guaranteed.
So walk the beach of the Red Sea with me, my friend, and look out across the rippling water.
You see, this isn’t just a stroll. That sea is getting ready to move out of the way.
“Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Just as it is written,
“For Your sake we are being put to death all day long;
We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us.”
– Romans 8:35-37, NASB –
Hello dear girls! Somehow it’s February 6th already, and somehow I didn’t post a single syllable in January.
Blogging is very dear to me. I love sharing my thoughts and life lessons with you. Not only do I pray that my words are encouraging to you all, but blogging also gives me the opportunity to discover what I think.
“I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.”
― Flannery O’Connor
God has been stretching me in many ways in recent days, and sometimes I come to the computer with only the whispers of ideas, hoping I can come up with some lesson worth sharing out of the many half-baked ones that He is still teaching me.
If you won’t give up on me, sweet readers, I hope and pray I’ll be back soon with some more tales of my heart.
Until then, “…let the mighty strength of the Lord make you strong” (Eph. 6:10, CEV).
He is up to something marvelous.
“And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
– Luke 2:7, NASB –
For every weary and worn and worried…tomorrow is Christmas.
You may think that’s bad news, that Christmas is peeking over the edge of tomorrow and driving you distracted with to-do’s and undo’s and what-to-do’s.
Your Christmas won’t be like other people’s. You’ve known that for a while. It’s inevitable. You can’t just pretend that all the pain or trouble, sickness or grief, conflict or loss will just evaporate for one snow-covered day on the calendar.
And as much as you’ve struggled to identify with that serene nativity scene you unpacked a few weeks ago, maybe you can’t quite manage it. The silent night, calm and bright, is far away for you today. It is a whirring, bright, noisy day, and where on earth is the place where we can identify with that Child sleeping in the straw?
While He sleeps in heavenly peace, you wish you could sleep straight through Christmas too.
How could you hope to meet Him here? Crazy life, rocketing stress, messes that make the Christmas glow grow dim. Hardly a quiet Bethlehem night. Hardly a place for a holy baby. Hardly a place for celebration, because the inn was full and life is full too…full of circumstances that crowd out the joy and the wonder.
They ring the bells on the corners and your head rings right along, because you’re flurrying toward Christmas and there’s no quiet space for a manger cradle and a silent night.
Christmas is coming for you, ready or not.
Not. Not ready. Not really sure how you could be. Not sure when things will be sane enough to be ready for a jolly day of cheer.
But you see….dear, dear friend, that’s the good news.
Because we’re never really ready for Christmas….So Christmas had to come for us.
And, so often, we get it all upside down and backwards, like we have to get something ready. We have to clean the inn and change the hay in the manger. We have to do something to make this Christmas a fit place for a King to be born.
But that’s the whole point, you see.
Jesus didn’t come for clean streets and silent nights. He didn’t come for the well and happy and put-together (Mark 2:17). He didn’t come so you could show Him that you’re worth it, that you’ve got it, that you don’t need Him desperately after all.
He came before you knew Him, before you could ever be ready for Christmas, before you could ever get yourself good enough, ready enough, or peaceful enough for a King’s welcome.
And He didn’t come into a silent night.
He came into packed-out Bethlehem in the throes of tax season. He was born to a teenage mother, into poverty (Luke 2:24) and pain and noise and racism and political tension.
That first Christmas was like yours. Loud. Bright. Certainly not quiet. Certainly not merry. Certainly not full of gifts and soft lights and warmth.
It was raw and broken. It was real. It was just like your life.
Because that baby in the manger was not just a royal guest. He didn’t come for all those things we think makes a perfect Christmas.
He came because your Christmas day, your every day, is broken and impossible and sin-stained. He didn’t come to make your Christmas perfect…He came to save you from yourself. The ceaseless driving, striving, never-satisfied you can come to rest in this kind of Christmas day.
God’s rescue plan commenced with a bloody, squalling infant laid in a mound of dirty straw.
Your Christmas may look a lot like that first Christmas so many centuries ago. There may be noise and tears and tension. There may be inadequacy. There may even be the aching question…
Is God truly Emmanuel? Is He truly in this mess with me?
But He came in blood and He died in blood, and He rose to wash us in the triumphant blood that says Yes!
Yes, Emmanuel is with us in all the joys and agonies of life, and He has made a way.
In this way, Christmas is not about the number of shiny ornaments or the quantity of gifts wrapped under the tree…or even if you have a tree.
Celebrating Christmas becomes an exhale into the grace of what God has done.
He did it.
Somehow, He took a mess and made it beautiful. He took the worst of this world and flipped it on its head to win the day.
So, you see, tomorrow is your chance to believe that Jesus is making something beautiful. And He loves to use a mess to make a miracle.
For every weary and worn and worried…tomorrow is Christmas.
God is with us.
Weary souls, rejoice. He is with us to drive out the dark. And so He will.
“There’s a statue of Jesus on a monastery knoll
In the hills of Kentucky, all quiet and cold
And He’s kneeling in the garden, as silent as a Stone
All His friends are sleeping and He’s weeping all alone
And the man of all sorrows, he never forgot
What sorrow is carried by the hearts that he bought
So when the questions dissolve into the silence of God
The aching may remain but the breaking does not”
– from “The Silence of God” by Andrew Peterson
“Beware in your prayers, above everything else, of limiting God, not only by unbelief, but by fancying that you know what He can do. Expect unexpected things, above all that we ask or think. Each time, before you Intercede, be quiet first, and worship God in His glory. Think of what He can do, and how He delights to hear the prayers of His redeemed people. Think of your place and privilege in Christ, and expect great things!”
– Andrew Murray –
Ann Voskamp says she likes to read a lot of books at once because “the books start talking to each other.”
Or in my case, a two books, a psychology course, a Bible study, and a friend all started having a conversation.
I am not typically a cynical person. I tend to see the bright lining of every cloud and the possibility hiding beneath a dusty surface. I dream and hope and generally think the best of almost everyone and everything.
But not too long ago, I found myself giving in. I’ve seen a lot of things in the past few years, and they started to get to me.
Driving around a curve in the Ozark Mountains, I mulled it over to myself. “Maybe God just doesn’t work in those ways in reality,” I started to believe. “Maybe this is growing up. Losing the naiveté that expects anything to happen.”
I started to loosen my grasp on expectation. Instead, I started to expect less out of grim situations. At the best, I saw the dreaded slowness of possible change. It was all very drab and slow and grim. But I felt a slight satisfaction. At least I was growing up.
That is, until I realized something.
What kind of crazy world is this, where I need to lose a little faith in order to measure up? What kind of game was I playing with myself, getting satisfaction out of dimmed hope? And what kind of strange, awful thing was it to stop expecting good things to happen?
I don’t want to be Pollyanna. I don’t want to be annoyingly buoyant.
I want to go back. I want to go forward. I just want the eyes to see the possible again.
I’ve been reading a book about how our minds work called Thinking Fast and Slow, by Daniel Kahneman. He talks about something called the availability heuristic. This means that we humans tend to answer questions based on what we can quickly think of. If I asked you to estimate how many stray dogs live in your city, you would probably use the availability heuristic to answer me. First, you would stop and think of all the stray dogs you have seen recently. If you haven’t seen any, you would guess a number a lot lower than a person who has seen 3 this week in their own neighborhood.
We can do that with God too. “God, I really haven’t seen You do something like this lately. How am I supposed to know that You really do it at all?”
Fill in the blank. Does God save marriages on the brink? Does He drastically call and redeem lost people? Does He really give help to the ragged and torn? Does He really protect, deliver, heal?
If you haven’t seen it lately, maybe your availability heuristic is answering for you. “Nope, God’s not in that business anymore,” your mind tells you. “I can’t remember a time when that happened.”
But, see, there’s a problem with the availability heuristic: it’s inaccurate. Just like your neighborhood might be a bad sampling of how many strays are in your town, so your recent memory might be a pretty awful indicator of the power and plan of our Father.
Let’s talk probability. Is it more probable or less probably that God will make something beautiful out of your situation? Well, that’s pretty good odds, since He always 100% pulls through on that promise.
But what about that falling-to-pieces relationship, or that unsaved family member?
What kind of God do we serve? He’s not some powerless or uninspired Deity that sits back and watches. He’s involved in our lives. And last time I checked, a broken home, difficult person, or stubborn situation wasn’t a challenge for him.
So what’s the probability that He will do something in your situation? Well, 100%.
And what’s the probability that He will do something amazing and glorious?
I’d say it’s pretty good.
See, my cynicism isn’t about growing up after all. It’s about faith.
My friend Liz says that a car taking off into the air and flying is a perfectly reasonable expectation to a child. They aren’t so tied down by assumptions. Anything is possible. Today in Bible study, Liz and I read the account of Isaac’s birth… a totally miraculous impossibility. But it was possible…with God.
Do I expect the Lord to part the heavens and start sending me direct revelation? No. He’s already given me all the Word I need for living. But is it ridiculous for me to expect Him to be living and active in my life? Is it odd for me to have hope for the seemingly-impossible and hopelessly-broken situations around me?
Is it crazy, or naive, or Pollyanna-like to expect a limitless God to make amazing changes in lives?
If I stop believing that God works, I must stop believing His promises. And if I stop believing Him…not one speck of this life is worth living.
So, I am taking a step.
Not into natural optimism. Not into jaded cynicism.
Into faith that actually believes. Childlike belief in a God who still does impossible miracles every day in hearts and souls.
What am I, if I do not believe this?
The same power that raised Jesus from the dead lives in us. So, I believe.
I believe God is definitely, doubtlessly, undeniably up to something good. Whether I can see it coming or whether it blows me away.
And Jesus said to him, “‘If You can?’ All things are possible to him who believes.”
– Mark 9:23, NASB –
“What gives moments meaning is not the moments themselves but the presence of Christ with us in the midst of them.”
― Emily P. Freeman,
This week I have enjoyed the quiet company of old friends, the exuberant and spontaneous hospitality of strangers, an enormous rainbow emblazoned like a banner of love over my head, and the breeze ruffling my hair when I rode with the window down. I have felt the surge of looking-ahead, of wonderings and musings…and I keep trying to pull myself back.
“Thank you,” I whisper. “For this, right now.”
Why must I always compare this moment to something that was or something that will be?
It’s too easy to cling to the past seasons, or wistfully wait on what’s coming next…but it’s not very easy to just lay these things aside and embrace the fullness of Now. Today. This solitary, sacred moment. This is the only time I will have this moment in my grasp, and even as I possess it, it slips through my eager fingers like air.
More than just a sentimental connection with the moment, I want to grab hold of something. C.S. Lewis said that …”the Present is the point at which time touches eternity,” and I think it must be.
I have a tarnishing necklace with these words scrawled across the metal pendant: “Every day is a gift.” Maybe that is what I’m reaching for–to accept the gift of this day, the gift of this breath, with attention.
Have you ever seen a child bide his time, ripping open his many Christmas presents and tossing them aside as he waits for his parents to bring out the one gift he wants most. He may barely notice the other gifts as he unwraps them, because he isn’t really looking at them at all. He is really only thinking of one thing–and that one thing is something he does not yet hold in his hands.
I’m afraid I’m like that. I frantically unwrap seconds of my life, pile minutes into unnoticed heaps, stack hours on fast-filling shelves, file away days in the back of a drawer…and I forget to look at them twice as I fling the new-moment wrapping aside and plunge ahead to the “bigger gifts” I hope I can unwrap soon.
But lately…I’ve been trying to learn. My moments come and go faster than breaths, quieter than glances, but I reach out to accept more of them as they pass.
My bones chill with the temporary wonder of each breath. Joy breaks over me like laughter. Even pain invades my moments with something like joy itself–as if the love mixes with the pain to grow a heart larger and roomier than it was before. To make more room in it, perhaps, for more mingled laughter and tears.
I’m seeing the tiny wonders more clearly. People and relationships I often take for granted. The smallest of yellow flowers along the hiking trail. The tone of concern in a friend’s voice. The tears shed across tables and across miles. A rainbow that makes me laugh aloud, painted across the gray. The small graces of a Redeemer who seams my moments together with invisible, invincible thread.
I reach out for these small graces, because they are a way to lift up my face and smile thanks for another undeserved moment. They are a soundtrack for my worship. They are my cue to whisper praise.
So then, my lesson for today is joy.
Joy, in this very next gift of a breath.
“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”
– Matthew 7:11, ESV –
My blog informs me that it has been a month since I’ve written…and what a month it has been. A month ago, I started writing a post on autumn and change…and it rings even truer today than it did when I began.
For more than three years, I’ve tried to blog weekly. Earlier this year, it slipped to every other week. Now, I don’t know when I will write..and I think that’s okay. Sometimes I may write weekly…other times, weeks may slip by. Life is changing, teaching me things, and I pray that I will still find the words to share these moments with you…and that you will stick with me and keep reading.
Thank you for 3 1/2 years of joy. Here’s to many, many more.
This is my favorite autumn.
I’ve had twenty-three of them–almost a quarter-century of changing seasons.
I’ve never leaned quite so hard into the crisping air, leaves shaking off the summer green, scents of spice and pine.
This is my favorite autumn and–quite unexpectedly–as the earth tips away from the sun, my seasons are changing with it.
I do not fear the autumnal shift into mist, short days, and frosty-orange mornings.
But I do fear this other litany of changes….
I love adventure, the bracing wind, the shivering thrill of unknown opportunities. But these opportunities seem to come in the form of deep sorrows and strained souls. Change isn’t all adventure and wild expectation. Part of me wants to snuggle deep into the autumn leaves and keep it autumn forever. Perhaps all the change swirling around me has a pause button. All I have to do it press it, and the leaves will freeze half-fallen in the air. My life will suspend in a quiet, eternal moment. Maybe I can just hit pause forever, and then things will never change.
Driving up a steep hill behind a lagging log truck the other day, I watched the leaves crouched on the roadside. As the crawling truck lumbered up the incline, the leaves bounced to their feet and tumbled into the road, dancing and swirling like an impromptu flash mob of giddy children. Since the truck was only going fifteen miles per hour and I had nothing better to do, I watched the waltzing leaves. They were golden in the morning sun, sweeping in carefree circles. They were asking me to dance.
I see the way the autumn falls around me.
It is really carefree, like an exhale. The world lets go of her summer with such delight. She never seems to stop and cry for what she is giving up…I’ve never known the world to weep for a summer lost. I only see the way her face lights up with autumn gold and the way she gladly casts off her confetti leaves like she is welcoming home the frost.
And I stand in frost-air, tuck my hands in my pockets, and wish I could let go of seasons as well as the world does.
I am trying to stare into unknown corridors of life and see where my choices might take me. Time spent here, hours worked there, memories made everywhere…each of these is a deliberate spending of a season, and each of these is a choice I must continue to make, even as things change around me.
Is anything drastically reshaping my life? No…maybe not yet. But little by little I feel the change of the wind. Frost begins to blow in even now, and my blushing leaves are rattling to let go and join the blustery dance.
“To everything there is a season,” Ecclesiastes reminds me.
Leaves drift down, and I want to let go and fly gaily with them.
I once wrote about living with open hands…and this is like that. Autumn is teaching me how to let go and trust that a good season will follow.
If the whole world entrusts herself to her Maker, who am I to doubt the timing of His seasons? Summer will fade into Fall, and Fall will chill the air for Winter. And we all know what comes after the death of Winter…the whole earth bursts into life again.
Each of my seasons, too, paves the way for the next. Will it be a better season? It’s hard to say, I think. Maybe it gets better as it goes along, but a dear friend of mine in her 70s says it best. “Every age is the best age,” she tells me.
I think she is right. This is the best age, the best Fall, the best season I have known.
And the next one will be the best too, because my Jesus leads the way. And I’ve never known Him to fail me.
So, with the leaves, I too let go and join the dance of expectation.
“This means tremendous joy to you, I know, even though you are temporarily harassed by all kinds of trials and temptations. This is no accident—it happens to prove your faith, which is infinitely more valuable than gold, and gold, as you know, even though it is ultimately perishable, must be purified by fire. This proving of your faith is planned to bring you praise and honour and glory in the day when Jesus Christ reveals himself. And though you have never seen him, yet I know that you love him. At present you trust him without being able to see him, and even now he brings you a joy that words cannot express and which has in it a hint of the glories of Heaven; and all the time you are receiving the result of your faith in him—the salvation of your own souls.”
– Phillips paraphrase from 1 Peter 1:6-9 –
“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”
– Omar Khayyam –
Don’t miss it.
I know you dreamers, because I am one. This is what I’m saying to me today, and to you today.
Let’s not miss the life we actually have while we’re busy looking through pictures of other people’s lives–their best moments–caught on film. And we compare ourselves to that, and we live in that world, a world of people’s best moments sewn together like a patchwork quilt of reality. And then we look at our own reality, and it doesn’t seem to quite measure up
We spend hours on Pinterest and Facebook, looking at all the things people are doing and the places they’re going, and the things they have.
On Pinterest, we save all the things we’d like to get or do for ourselves…and we forget the things we already have. The things we are actually doing. The places we actually go every day.
In books, we take adventures, make friends, come to love characters. When I finish a book, I often wish the characters were real, because I love them so much. I would never be one to criticize reading, that’s for sure…but I wonder. Is this another place where we can accrue to ourselves people that we like, people who we identify with…and then forget that there are already people in our lives who, like it or not, are ours? People whom we are not just asked, but commanded to love, by the God who loved us first.
We dreamers can live in the future…all the roads yet traveled, all of the beautiful things yet to be seen or touched. The beautiful family we might one day have. The wonderful people we might one day know.
And we forget the simple magic of the hum of our tires on the roads that we travel day in and day out.
Lost in dreaming, we can lock ourselves away form the hard work of making relationships here and now. Relationships that are strong. Relationships that matter.
And I’m as guilty of this as the next person. I’ve pinned up all of the future glories that I dream of. I mean, I’ve spent hours pinning pictures of boots. Short boots, tall boots, ankle boots, knee boots…and it’s not even that that’s bad.
It’s just…today I woke up and the boots I’m wearing are the ones that were already in my closet.
And the way I did my hair is the way that I always do my hair.
And my fake little imaginary world didn’t change that.
I can drive down the road that I drive a couple times a week, not even seeing it. I’ve let myself grow dull to it. I’m so busy thinking about Pinterest-board trips that I don’t stop to enjoy the one that I’m on today. I told myself that I’m tired of this road.
But why am I so tired of it? I don’t want to be.
Maybe it’s because I keep looking for the bigger and the better and the next and the someday.
I think that’s it. Someday.
It’s not even that I don’t like this road…it’s that I’m too busy thinking about the next one.
So, to all you dreamers out there like me, please. All we have, all that’s been promised to us, is today. This road. This family. These people’s love. These moments. These realities.
Please don’t stop dreaming. But remember that those dreams are just that…dreams. They’re not real yet. And if they do become real one day, enjoy them then.
I don’t think they will taste nearly as sweet if we wring all the enjoyment out of them before we even get to them.
I’m not so scared of my dreams not coming true. I’m more scared of missing the dreams come true that I already have, that I’ve forgotten were once dreams, because they’re real now. And maybe when they’re real, we dreamers go to the next dream.
I don’t want to be like that.
Today, this dreamer is going to live in today.
And tomorrow this dreamer is going to live in tomorrow
And I’ll keep pinning the pretty boots on Pinterest, and I’ll keep budgeting for long vacations, and I’ll keep dreaming about what it would be like to have a special family of my own one of these days. I’ll smile and I’ll dream. I’ll always keep dreaming.
But I won’t forget that I already have a family of my own–a different kind, but my very own. And I already have boots that I really like. And I already go places with people I love.
Thank you Lord, for the alreadys.
And help me not forget where I really live.
Maybe this is called contentment. Learning to live and love where you are.
Today. Already. Now.
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”– Philippians 4:11b-13, NIV –