Walking My Own Red Sea Road

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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.

(All quotations other than Scripture in this post are song lyrics from Ellie Holcomb’s transformational new album Red Sea Road, available on her website,  on Amazon, and on Spotify.)


“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.

Isaiah 55:8-9NASB

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.

  1. 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”).
  2. 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 –

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January Break

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.

What if There’s No Silent Night

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“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?

Not here.

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.

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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. 

Emmanuel.

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

 

A Child’s Expectation

 

56h

 “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 Slowby 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 –

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today’s Joys

119h

“What gives moments meaning is not the moments themselves but the presence of Christ with us in the midst of them.”
― Emily P. FreemanSimply Tuesday ―

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.

Thank you.

“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 –

Season’s Change

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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 –

 

 

Living Already

 

“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 –

The Lesson of the Peony

 

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“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 
and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.”
 – 1 Peter 1:3-4a, NIV –

Today, my friend Lizzie and I drove back and forth across town on a wild treasure hunt for a flower.

I’ve never grown peonies before , but I’m reading Roots and Sky by Christie Purifoy and her Instagram photos of impossibly-delightful peonies inspire me. Fall is in the air, and with it, my dreams of fluffy, dreamy, extravagant blossoms awaiting in the next gardening year.

So I needed a peony.

Now, my town is quite small. Only the arrival of tourists a few times a year manages to tip us over 3,000 people. “Driving across town” only takes about ten minutes. And our gardening options were very limited. We started with our favorite all-American corporate chain, proceeded to a grocery store with a tiny, empty 8×8 greenhouse, checked the lumber store’s collection of plants –actually the most impressive thus far–then drove to the local farm supply. It was our last great hope. But alas. No peonies in the whole town.

We thought our search was in vain. I picked up a few discount packets of seeds in a distant hope of spring planting and waited in the farm supply line to check out…and then the lady standing next to us overheard us lamenting our fruitless search. “There’s peonies at the lumber store,” she says. We explain that we had already looked there, among the spring bulbs. “They aren’t displayed with the bulbs,” she tells us. “She has them in pots.”

Liz whips out her phone and calls the lumber store greenhouse. Sure enough, they have a whole collection of $12.99 peonies.

Back across town we go and there they are…a cluster of black pots with tiny, gnarled, crispy-leaved plants tucked into the top layer of dirt, poking up little wrinkled limbs well past their prime. The tag promises a giant, perfectly-coral blossom.

“They die back in the fall and go dormant in the winter,” the gardener explains. “They’ll come back in the spring.”

So I buy a big black pot with a tiny, crusty-edged leaf hanging on to a twisted root half-unearthed. It costs $12.99. Almost thirteen dollars for a dying hope that won’t blossom at all until later.

I hand over a $20 bill and continue to pepper the woman with questions about how to care for this tiny, twisted hope. “Don’t be surprised if it doesn’t bloom for a few seasons,” she smiles. “It has to get big enough first.”

I nod and let my mind wander to a possible planting place. I’m dreamy with thoughts of spring.

So Liz and I load up the almost-vacant plastic pot into the back of the van and drive home. We grin because our treasure hunt was not in vain. I think finding a treasure after a long hunt must be the best part of an adventure.

The peony plant is safely tucked into the garage now, waiting for me to decide on a sunny growing place for it to call home. As I go about my day, I keep thinking back to that tiny, twiggy promise of a plant. People look at it doubtfully, because it really looks like the dying end of something.

My heart keeps jumping when I remember that this is not a dead and dying thing. My peony is a living hope. It is quiet and sleepy and browning. But it is alive. Something stirs in me when I think that the whole glorious potential of a 3-foot tall bush brimming with giant coral blossoms lies dormant in this dead-looking twig.

My peony keeps telling me stories, because it is itself a story, and a tying-together of my story.

I have no idea what tomorrow brings, what I will do in a year, or what changes may crop up moment by moment. While still a fragile, uncertain thing itself, the potential of the peony teaches me about steady things that anchor us in the middle of the ups and downs of life.

Planting this little whisper of spring is like putting down my roots and saying, “I will be fully here, as long as I am here.” It is a reminder that what I do today lasts, even as the moments fade away. It is a reminder that my Jesus put me here now, for this season.

This peony teaches me that there is an overarching story to the moments that I string together like pearls. Unique and tiny as each moment is, it is adding up to something bigger.

Sometimes I think anxiously about the future, wondering what it will bring.

But something about the peony ties my today and my tomorrow together in a rhythmic strength. Spring will come, as long as the earth remains, and when that spring comes, this dead-looking twig will jump to life and burst up with joy and blossom out in abundance.

And I smile when I think that all this life is packed into the wispy, fading, half-buried root waiting in my garage.

Lizzie says that maybe we are not just planting the peony. Maybe the peony is planting  us, down deep into life. Deep into faith in One who chases winter away every year with a new resurrection of creation.

“Spring will come,” the peony whispers. “There is more life here than you could ever imagine.”

“Look, the winter is past,
    and the rains are over and gone.
The flowers are springing up,
    the season of singing birds has come,
    and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.

 – Song of Solomon 2:11-12, NLT –

Lying-Awake Nights

moon-sky

I’m lying in bed and it’s 11:31 p.m.

And my face is sticky, because I’ve been crying into my pillow. My nose is dripping. I’m hoping to avoid a mirror for a while. Good thing it’s dark in here.

I keep rubbing the back of my neck, hoping for the words to well up again.

All I hear is “Great is Thy Faithfulness.” It’s playing from my computer speakers, speaking to me in a language I’ve known so long. The words that I know by heart echo inside me, even though all I hear are simple piano notes.

It’s like my heart knows the way home, even when I’m tired and it’s dark and all is ajar.

I’ve been praying my thoughts with Psalmist-like honesty. I know that I’m not alone in these nights. How many of you, my friends, have also laid awake in bed kept awake by your fears?

I keep finding myself on the edge of a negotiation with God:

“Lord, I know you’re in control. I just don’t know what that means for me. What does that mean You’ll do? I trust that You’re good…but how does that help this situation? I still don’t know what You’re going to do. What if it’s painful? What if it hurts someone I love? What if Your plan isn’t the one I want? If You’re going to do what You want anyway, does it do any good for me to pray for what I want?

You know, at least for me tonight, I’m not really asking God if He’s in control.

I’m not even asking Him if He’s good.

I’m asking if He cares about what I care about. I want to know if He loves my hurting friend as much as I do. I want to know if He cares about my future as much as I do. I know He’s powerful and working out all that is good.

I just want to know how that applies to me right now.

On nights like tonight, the built-up emotions swirl in me until I’m left dry and tired.

But I lifted my head out of a soggy pillow in sudden joy and grabbed for my computer to tell you this story.

As I prayed gut-wrenching prayers, the knowledge stole over me.

“Lord, you love this friend more than I do.”

“Jesus, You don’t withhold anything good from me, not for one minute more than necessary. Something else better is happening right now, or this waiting would be over.”

THIS is what can sustain me through a night of tears. It’s not just that He rules and plans. The thing that puts my heart to rest is that HE LOVES ME! He loves me, He loves my people, and He cares about the things that weigh on my heart.

The idea of distantly-loving and powerful God doesn’t do much for me. But a personally-involved and caring One? He is a God I can rest in.

So I sniff and wipe my tears and smile in the dark.

“Rock of Ages” plays now. I will hide myself in Him.

“Rock of Ages, cleft for me. Let me hide myself in Thee…

Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to thy cross I cling.”

 – Augustus Toplady –

 

 

 

Doing Battle

tree-and-storm-2

I wrote this post a few months ago, but I found it recently and thought it was still so applicable to my life..and, I believe, to yours. When we embrace the Good News of an alive and present Savior, how can it not change the way we see everything? Yes, today we do battle…but do not fear. He has already overcome, and is overcoming, and will yet overcome.

“We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.”

 – Ephesians 6:12, CEB –

Have you ever been on your knees, doing battle?

Today, I was.

“Certain thoughts are prayers,” author Victor Hugo wrote. “There are moments when, whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees.”

Although physically I was walking around the house, doing dishes, and trying to figure out the computer language HTML, my soul was truly on its knees.

Doing battle in your life means seeing how the present circumstances reach far beyond what you can see. Doing battle means taking everything to God. Doing battle means recognizing that you are not enough for what you face today. It means spiritual warfare, through prayer and Scripture reading.

Today, I was doing battle for a friend confronted with a difficult relationship. Some days, I am doing battle for my own heart, or for a situation close to my heart.

Over the past few years, God has brought several mentorship opportunities into my life, and I am completely in love with it. Mentorship teaches me something: Life just doesn’t work without Jesus.

I can encourage you, and you could walk away unchanged. But if God comes into the picture with His encouragement, neither one of us will walk away unchanged.

Christian mentorship–also known as discipleship–is like this. It is not enough for me to give someone a pep talk. Pep talks are powerless for real change. For habits to change, for hearts to heal, for attitudes to reorient, God has to step in.

 That’s what doing battle is all about. Real encouragement goes deeper than the surface, all the way down into the soul of things.

As we imitate Christ and bring His knowledge and love into situations, the tangled strings of life start to untangle. When your life is constructed around the framework and centrality of Jesus, the pieces fit together in a certain way. Life, although still hard, works. While not perfect or trouble-free by any stretch of the imagination, our God is so great that He is enough for even stormy seas. It’s not that the storms go away…but the vessel is equipped to sail on through the waves.

When a person’s life is built around anything other than Jesus Christ, life’s pieces don’t match up. Each person pieces together their own custom patchwork lens for viewing the world. There are holes between the pieces. There are inadequacies when storms hit. Just like the sand-foundation house in Jesus’s parable, their life system fails them, and “great is its fall” (Matthew 7:27).

When someone tells me about the way someone hurt them, or a friend shares about their hard day, I have a choice. I can skim the surface, or I can take their hand and point to Jesus.

Here is what I am learning:

The most vital part of Christian encouragement is doing battle.

When we acknowledge that life only works with Jesus at the helm, and we recognize that the people around us are shipwrecking their souls based on lies, there is only one remedy.

That remedy is Jesus.

Telling what our Jesus did, how He makes the pieces fit, is called the Gospel. Really, discipleship is just applying this Gospel to every aspect of our lives.

This is where the battle is. Gospel-sharing discipleship is a spiritual battlefield, because that’s where Satan attacks God’s glory.

Encouraging words can only go so far. They don’t have power to change souls–unless God’s own Word is part of our encouragement vocabulary. This is where mantras and  “girl power” speeches fall short. If inspiration’s power comes from you and me, people are in trouble. If we depend on humanity for the strength needed on the battlefield of life, we will fall. And great will be our fall.

There is power in the name of Jesus. And His name, His words, alone can break the chains of our past, our fears, our struggles, our failures, and our sins.

Do you want to encourage someone today?

Start on your knees.

And when you get up from your prayers for them, tell them about the Jesus who is both merciful Savior and conquering King.

It’s not just the lost who need the Gospel.

I need it. You need it. The Gospel is our lifeblood, and we should daily sing to each other the good news that Jesus saves us–not only at the moment we are made right with God, but He daily saves us and keeps us throughout eternity.

A pastor once asked his congregation how often they shared the Gospel with someone else. As we listened, my mom turned to me and whispered, “Does that count all the times we tell it to our people at home every day?”

Yes. Yes, it most certainly does.

You see, I don’t just want good news once, or once a week. I need Good News that covers every single breath of my life with light and hope.

So if you want to encourage someone, give them news that never stops being good: Jesus is alive. And His life can transform every minute of yours, without exception.

That’s where the battle is. This is where I stand my ground, in the transforming light of Christ.

Lift up your heads, my friends. Let’s do battle.

“Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you really will be free.”

 – John 8:36, CEB –