A New Day

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“Yesterday’s a closing door–you don’t live there anymore,

So say goodbye to where you’ve been, and tell your heart to beat again.”

– from “Tell Your Heart to Beat Again” by Danny Gokey –


When I was 6 or 7, I got a new bicycle.

Mom and Dad did all the things parents are supposed to do to teach kids to ride bikes. In fact, I’d been riding all manner of wheeled toys and smaller bikes for years.

But soon after I got this brand new bike, I crashed.

I was a tall, lanky little girl, and for the fellow tall people out there, you know that it takes a long time for us to fall. There’s just so much body that has to pass through the air before the ordeal is done with. In fact, that’s probably why I’m afraid of heights. Just walking around is a safety hazard.

For some reason, that bike crash put a sudden halt to all biking. For months, I refused to get back on it. Whether this was before the days of my family’s bike rides or whether my mom was just merciful and didn’t push me too hard to get back on, I didn’t get back on that skinny seat behind those pink handlebars for a long, long time.

It was a year later that I finally got up the courage to try again after my fall.

I was just a little girl who fell a few feet off a wobbly bike. Big deal. It wasn’t much of a risk. It wasn’t so scary. I certainly had the ability to get back up again, even immediately.

Instead, a year passed and I didn’t ride that bike once.

 – – – – –

There are all sorts of things I could say about that lost year. I could highlight the wasted time, or camp for a while on my imagined danger. I could tell you how real and powerful that protective instinct was–so powerful that I can still feel the grasping panic of my bike-riding phobia.

But my childhood bicycling experience is not just a silly story of a child’s irrational fears. It is the story of another thing that we humans allow to define us: our Past.

For 12 months, my abilities and my choices were defined by that bike crash. It didn’t matter that I had successfully ridden bikes dozens of other times. I was too afraid that failure would happen again. I was frightened of being frightened, pained at the idea of another endless moment of falling.

The Past often paralyzes us.

Sometimes it doesn’t take the words of others to cripple us. Sometimes it just takes history.

The Past can define a person in many ways. Mistakes, failures, tragedies, habits, memories, grudges, sins, losses, even the status quo–all these relics of yesterday can profoundly shape and even control how someone lives today.

We all have stories.

I have a story. My story includes a bike wreck that led to a year of lost fun. My story includes emotional highs and lows that threaten to trip me up even this week. My story holds mistakes enough to paralyze me, and sorrows enough to scare me away from fully living.

My friends have stories. They have told me their stories of betrayal, abuse, terror, broken friendships, dysfunctional families, psychological horrors, and medical nightmares.

These things can be devastating! And they often are, because somewhere along the way, we start believing that our Past dictates our future. Even worse, we start to believe that we can never change.

And that is understandable, if you believe in closed systems and fixed pies.

The concept of a “fixed pie” is something I learned about in economics. Think about Thanksgiving dinner, when Grandma pulls out the pumpkin pie. “Fixed pie” means that there is only a certain amount of pie to go around. If Uncle Jerry takes half of the pie, all the other family members have to split up what is left. If Uncle Jerry eats the whole thing, there’s no more pie. End of story. People go away sad and hungry.

This is how people treat life. “I was this way yesterday, and I did the same things today. What makes tomorrow any different?” It’s a fixed pie. You’ve used up all the pie, and there’s no more pie to make tomorrow any different.

But I don’t believe in closed systems or fixed pies.

So let’s try another look at Thanksgiving.

Grandma brings out the pumpkin pie and there goes Uncle Jerry. Everyone is horrified that there is no more pie…and then Grandma brings out another pie…and another…and another.

She is adding pie to the “system.” It is not a closed system (meaning nothing can be added from outside). It is an open system. Grandma’s goodness (and her uncanny cooking skills) can save the day.

You see, I believe that today is a new day, and tomorrow is too. I believe that, as important as the Past is to your story, the Past doesn’t get a say in today.

But I only believe that for one reason.

You can’t add anything to “the system.” You can’t make more pumpkin pie. When a new sun rises, there’s nothing extra in you than there was yesterday.

But there is grace–the only grace that saves, from the only God who saves.

That grace says that, in Christ, you are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). “My Jesus makes all things new,” as songwriter Andrew Peterson says.

That grace says the same power that raised Jesus back to life is the power that dwells inside of you, by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11).

Can you change today?

No. Not even a little.

But God can change you, from the inside out.

Whatever the Past is holding over your head has no power over you, if the Lifter of your head makes you new.

Do you know what being defined by the Past is?

In many cases, it is fear. It is fear of letting go of who you have been and trusting God to make you into who you will be. 

Fear always robs. Fear always drives others away. And, most often, overwhelming fear brings about the very thing that most terrifies you. “If you dig a pit, you will fall into it” (Proverbs 26:27).

What is holding you back? What do you think you will never escape? What part of your past seems to control you?

I’ve got good news for you.

Yet there is one ray of hope: his compassion never ends. It is only the Lord’s mercies that have kept us from complete destruction. Great is his faithfulness; his loving-kindness begins afresh each day. My soul claims the Lord as my inheritance; therefore I will hope in him.”

 – Lamentations 3:21-24, TLB

This is not just like all the other days you’ve ever lived.

Today is the tomorrow that Anne Shirley talked about, fresh and new and free of mistakes.

Today is the new-mercies day.

Will you cling to the fears of the Past? Or will you let Jesus make all things new in you?

“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 4:21-24, NLT –

 

 

 

No Good Thing

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When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.”

– Corrie Ten Boom –


Help me trust you.

I DO trust you. But I also fear you, dear Lord. I, silly child, fear that this one thing will be kept back from me. One incredibly good thing, scooted away from the table’s edge out of the reach of my grasping fingers.

But You do not withhold any good thing from me, do You?

“For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
The Lord will give grace and glory;
No good thing will He withhold
From those who walk uprightly.” – Psalm 84:11, NKJV

I was praying this last week, struggling with fear. Fear that my plans would go awry and all my carefully-constructed life would go tumbling off into uncertainty.

I’m not sure this has ever happened so vividly before, but as I was praying–nearly crying–over my fear, this verse popped into my head. “No good thing will He withhold…” I suddenly thought. The words were immediate and forceful. Not a voice, but a sudden assurance.

It took me by surprise. What a good God we have! Not a moment after I confessed my fears, He allowed this perfect verse to jump into my mind.

I was immediately both calmed and convicted. A moment before, I had been almost panicking because I was not getting my way. Now, I breathed and realized something:

If something would be good for me today, God would have given it to me.

The fact that He held back this desire of mine doesn’t mean He is not good–instead, it means that what I wanted wasn’t the best thing for me right now. Maybe it will be good for me later. Or maybe it will never be a good thing for me.

How simple! And yet, my heart was so comforted by remembering the God is not a hard taskmaster scheming for my misery. How often do we picture Him that way, just waiting to squelch our dreams?

He is not like that at all! He is a loving, indulgent Father who delights to bring us joy…but He also delights to strengthen our character. Sometimes that means doing things that we don’t particularly understand or even like at the moment. But it will end up for our ultimate joy and good.

“My brothers and sisters, think of the various tests you encounter as occasions for joy. After all, you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. Let this endurance complete its work so that you may be fully mature, complete, and lacking in nothing. But anyone who needs wisdom should ask God, whose very nature is to give to everyone without a second thought, without keeping score. Wisdom will certainly be given to those who ask.”

– James 1:2-5, CEB –

That is my big struggle, how about you? To believe that “God is up to something good for us in all our delays and detours” (John Piper). Because, honestly?

They just feel like plain ol’ delays and detours. And dead ends, sometimes, too.

But I believe they are so much more than that. Today, I chose to smile at that precious verse–that reminder that God will not withhold one single good and lovely thing from me. And I choose to trust that His definition of “good” is a lot more accurate than mine.

Take a deep breath. Isn’t that freeing? Today, God has given me every gift I need. Because He is so good.


“Outside of the will of God, there is nothing I want, and in the will of God, there is nothing I fear.”

 – A.W. Tozer –

 

Joy’s Nemesis

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As I talked to a group of girls last night–one old friend and two new–one of them started talking about the connection between fear and the lack of joy.

I realized that it is true.

Fear chases away joy, in just a whisper of time.

We, white-knuckled, clench imagined control…and joy evaporates.

There are so many fears that run at us and storm our hearts’ gates. They crunch down the doors with solid bolts of facts, worry, despair.

And you know what…maybe we have good reason to be afraid.

If your goal is to stay safe, untouched by pain, hidden from trouble, tucked away from loss, un-torn by loss of people you love–then yes, you have much to fear indeed.

I have to tell you a story–a story that is very, very true.

As a twelve-year-old girl, I was diagnosed with cancer. Lymphoma.

Yes.

That word that carries a host of terror. Cancer. I had it. Inside my body was a wild thing tearing at my seams.

But that is the short part of this story.

Because, you see, a host of prayers went up, and I went to M.D. Anderson where I clutched an oversized teddy bear named Andy and slipped into a hospital gown. They took out a biopsy from my side.

Weeks later, I was declared cancer-free. Doctors claimed to have made a mistake.

Funny thing was…I was okay, then. A little nervous. But I was young and–by some mercy–did not have to take myself to that dark place. I never considered the worst–that cancer kills, and I could be its next prey.

But I wasn’t.

I moved on with life–cancer-free and largely untroubled by the experience, except for a tiny puckering scar over my rib cage.

It was several years later that the fear stole back to haunt me.

I had been experiencing strange symptoms in the site near my scar, and the terror suddenly loomed over me.

I. Could. Die.

That terrible disease could creep over me again and…this time it could take me.

The reality of death hit me in the chest and sat there a while. I cried in the quiet dark. I feared.

And then I gave in. Gave over.

In that still moment, I surrendered my future–whether life or death–to the Lord. I shrank from the idea of pain, from the thought of wasting away before the eyes of my family. But I gave that to Him. (Of course, it was His already…I just needed to align my will with His!)

Easy?

Not at all. Desperately, terribly hard.

But there was peace…washing, cleansing peace…

And  wide-open gates of joy.

This was only one of my battles–vivid still in my memory. I’ve felt the paralysis of fear. It seeps deep into your bones, freezes your joints, immobilizes you until you think every scrap of bravery is gone.

Fear is being haunted by possibilities.

Fear is to stop living to keep from dying.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.” – C.S. Lewis

So…as I was saying above…you might have good reason for fear.

Believing in God doesn’t mean that you’re promised earthly happiness. The pain of this life is inevitable (John 16:33).

How will you handle it?

Because you MUST handle it. Or let it handle you.

You can run out to meet the fear, or let it catch you as you run. But you will meet it, and you will get to know it well.

I’m just telling you this straight: Life is hard.

So what are you going to do about it?

Are you going to keep running? Are you going to let the fear breathe down your neck every minute?

Or will you let go of the fantasy that you can dodge the pain?

The relief does not come when you hide from the bad things–it only comes when you accept the possibility and yet know that even if the worst comes, you will still be standing at the end.

How could you know this? How could this be your stand?

To face coming days in this way is Joy.

I have a vision of this joy. Maybe it was birthed in my imagination, or implanted in me by other tales. I picture a woman lifting her eyes to the dawn, face radiant. It isn’t a care-free face. It is lined with the trails of years and tears and many laughs. But as this woman looks up, her beautiful, worn face is lit with wild sort of joy–so much joy that it seems that a army could not trample it, or an ocean wash it away. It is a holy, unwavering thing–a way to laugh in the face of death. A way to smile as dawn rises on more trouble. A way to keep loving when it seems all that you love dies.

She is fearless.

And there is only one explanation.

Surely the righteous will never be shaken;
    they will be remembered forever.
They will have no fear of bad news;
    their hearts are steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their hearts are secure, they will have no fear;
    in the end they will look in triumph on their foes

– Psalm 112:6-8 –

This is the only well of joy.

Truly, “the joy of the Lord is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Fear cripples us–but trusting God’s eternal love breaks its hold.

The question is not whether pain will find you. This world is crying out, waiting for Christ’s final renewal.

The real question is whether you will take refuge in God’s love to carry you safely through the storm. He alone can hold you tight–even giving you faith enough to believe in Him.

I can’t promise you happiness… 

…nor a smooth ride through life…

…nor an emotional high that some call joy..

…but would you really want that, when God’s adventure awaits?

When His pure Joy is just on the other side of your fear?

Nothing is strong enough to part you from Him–not even fear itself.

So…will you run from fear?

Or will you run to your Jesus and together run at the fear?

May you throw back you head and laugh, for your future–however mysterious– is perfectly secure.


 “What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:

“For your sake we face death all day long;
    we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

– Romans 8:31-39, NIV –


My dear friend Emily wrote a post about this very thing. How about checking out “Whale-Lines, Foolish Elves, and the Faith of Laugher”?

Navigating the Tsunami: 3 More Emotional Survival Tips

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Ever had a storm of feelings bowl you over? I sure have! How do we deal with our wildly-crashing emotions Biblically? 

Last week, we looked at Emotion Facts 1-3. This week, I’ve got three more for you! 


4. Emotions are not indicators of spiritual experience.

“Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.”

 – C.S. Lewis –

Some mornings, the sun is streaming in golden through my window, my bed is so soft, and I stretch awake and pray it with a glad heart: “Good morning, Lord. Help me serve You today.”

And other mornings, my alarm blares and I groan. Half-asleep, all I can think is, “I don’t want to get up. Ugh.”

Sometimes, I’m this way when it comes to my walk with God, too. I’ll be ready to tackle the whole book of Leviticus one day. The next? I’m barely feeling up to the book of Jude.

However, a “mountaintop” experience is not a way you should gauge your spirituality. Even if your emotions don’t stand up and shout during your church’s service, you can still be in a right relationship with God. You can be praising Him even if you aren’t moved to tears with every song. You can be thankful without feeling a huge, overwhelming current of praise.

Sometimes we don’t feel much. That’s okay. Sometimes we just have to say, “Lord, I love you and I thank you for ____ even though I don’t feel like it. Please help me desire what You desire.” Act on what you know to be right. God is able to bring your desires around even when you don’t know how.

5. Emotions can be directed.

Emotions are crazy, knee-jerk things. I can’t concoct them, but I can choose whether to nourish them. I can fuel them, one way or another. When someone offends me, I can decide to dwell on the problem, or I can turn to truth. Reminding myself of how offended I have a right to be–that makes the sinful emotions grow. Reminding myself of how much I’ve been forgiven (and also that I’m not the center of the universe) helps realign my emotions with God’s word.

The emotion isn’t the problem. My response to that emotion is the issue.

Something I find myself doing often is this: When struck by a fit of feelings, I try to stop and pray. Right there, whether I’m unloading the dishwasher and feeling mistreated or I’m struggling to find a kind response to an out-of-sorts family member, I just have one refuge: God. I call it “shooting up a prayer.” It goes something like this:

“God, help me. I’m feeling____, but I want to honor You. Please help me respond like You would want me to.”

Those prayers lead my emotions, submitting them to God and asking Him to help me wrestle down these contrary attitudes.

As I said above, act on what you know is true and right. Surprisingly, I’ve found that my emotions climb aboard after the train starts rolling, not before.

6. Emotions are not the goal.

Chasing emotions for their own sake is a waste of time. Yes, following the way of our Master is the path to abundant life. I’ve often been blown away by God’s goodness, carried up on the heights of joy, or swaddled in the security of His peace. But seeking these blessings for their own sakes is not the answer. We can’t manufacture God’s gifts.

And, in the thick of swelling emotions, I recognize something deeper than my feelings…a settled thing called desire. It is more solid, more satisfying. It is something like believing that there is still a sun on the other side of the storm clouds.

Sometimes I feel out-of-sorts, but my deepest places long to glorify my Savior. Sometimes a fear  flickers into my life, but inside my fire still glows bright and strong with faith.


Truth is a foundation that stays solid even when the tsunami hits.

The secret is this: give your emotions to God. Whenever an attitude strikes, lift it up and say, “Here, Lord, please take this.” When you’re feeling awful and you don’t know how to hold yourself together, pray “Help, Lord.”

Enjoy the emotional highs, but don’t trust them.  When the lows hit, don’t believe their whispers.

Look to the hills, where your help comes from. Look to the Rock that is higher than you–and yes, the Rock that is higher than your Inner Tsunami.


“But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘Be of good cheer! It is I; do not be afraid.’ And Peter answered Him and said, ‘Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.’ So He said, ‘Come.’ 

And when Peter had come down out of the boat, he walked on the water to go to Jesus. But when he saw that the wind was boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink he cried out, saying, ‘Lord, save me!’

And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him….”

– Matthew 14:27-31, NKJV –

 

Sore Afraid

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“We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.”

– Plato –


In the gray dusk, the little girls skipped at my side next to the wall of the empty school building.

“Look at our shadows!” I pointed out my 5’10” shadow, looking disproportionately squat next to the shorter, equally-thick shadows of my small friends.

The nine-year-old giggled. “When Ingrid was little, she was afraid of her shadow.”

I turned and smiled at her seven-year-old sister.

The older sister continued. “She thought it was a monster chasing her.”

I nodded, raising my eyebrows. “That’s understandable.” The girls went on. I hopscotched behind them in the parking lot, trailed by the furiously-hopping three-year-old grunting with the effort of keeping up with the “big kids.”

I smiled to myself. “She was afraid of her shadow,” I mused. “Aren’t we all.”


This sin. This sin that so easily besets me. It crouches, lies in wait for me. And it catches me, pins me down, time after time.

For me, it’s unbelief. For another, anger. Or pride. Or jealously. Or fear. Whatever form it takes, sin sinks in its claws and refuses to let go.

And so, we become like little Ingrid–afraid of our shadows. Terrified of the past that trails us. Frightened that we will never get away from the monster chasing us.

We all are followed by a shadow.

But… I have learned a few things about mine.

1. My shadow is not a reflection of who I am

That squat, distorted blackness that follows me is not me.

Sometimes I sin. In fact, often I sin.

But there is a new, free me. I am a redeemed self: upright, and solid, and joyous and more like a reflection of my Savior than my shadow ever was. 

I am not my past. I am not my sin. I am not my regrets. I am a new girl, all washed and alive and real.

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” – 2 Corinthians 5:17 –

2. Only light brings shadows

When knowledge of my sin drags me down, I realize something: only a changed heart sees the darkness of sin.

Until the sun dawns, there is no shadow.

Until Christ dawned upon my soul, I did not know how black my heart was. I could not understand how grievous my unbelief, my pride, and my rebellion were until the darkness fled before His light.

“What came into being
through the Word was life, 
    and the life was the light for all people.
The light shines in the darkness,
    and the darkness doesn’t extinguish the light.”

– John 1:3-5, CEB –

3. Even the shadows can be redeemed

“Redeemed” means bought back, restored, or put to new purpose.

Jesus does not erase the memory of my sin, but He does repurpose that sin.

You see, the Light controls the shadows. Just like the sun’s position puts my shadow in a new perspective, Christ’s coming to me puts my sins in a new context.

No longer do I stand condemned. Now, even my shadow is part of my story.

Even my winding past is part of the journey that led me to my Savior. Even the lessons learned by heartbreak, or the sting of rebellion’s consequences are tools in my Master’s hands. Hateful though my sins are, my God is greater than my mistakes.

Sin is never a good thing.

But a good Savior can make even the crooked things straight.

Even the darkest past. Even the guiltiest mind. Even the worst sin. Even the rawest hurt.

Dear Ingrid: You do not have to fear your shadow. 

Dear Self: You do not have to fear your past.

Because, “if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7, NKJV).

Morning has dawned, and the shadows are nothing to fear.

My shadow is my tutor, teaching me that I have been made new, I have stepped into the light, and nothing will stop my God from turning all to my good and His glory.

If I were in the dark, I could not even see my shadow.

But I am in the Light, and my Jesus leads even my shadow by the hand.


 Thank you Atalie Bale Photography for today’s perfect photo!

Savoring the Gift

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“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”
– Dr. Seuss –


It’s easy to want to be wherever I’m not.

It’s easy to miss the moment for the longing.

And it is so, so easy to want to tweak God’s gifts.

I laid on my back on a blanket spread over the cropped green grass. The sky was blue–oh, so blue–and the little ships of clouds scudded along the uncreased waves of air. Sun rained gold down on my skin. A wasp hummed by, in search of a warm place to bask.

But I wanted to add a P.S. on to my letter of thankfulness to God.

Truly, my heart was full as I stared up at a sky with such clear-toned color, I could not describe its blueness. I grinned up at the clouds. And then I wondered.

I wondered if a moment could be so perfect again. And I amended my letter of praise:

Dear Lord, thank you…but is this the only moment like this I will ever have? Will the people I love not ever get to see this with me?

Like a child letting the warm sand slip through its fists, I clasped the moment–wild with the glee of warm, pouring life and desperate to somehow bottle it up and immortalize the perfect instant. I was so afraid of the trickling time pouring warm between my fingers. I was so afraid the breathless moment would be lost for ever.

So fear crept into my glorying, and tainted my joy.

Climbing a mountain, I think about those left at the bottom. Walking along a river, I wonder if I’ll ever return to the perfect moment again.

With each gift, I’ve found that my heart bends the joy into a sort of ache. Instead of just enjoying the gift, I ask questions: Will there be another gift like this one? What if I can’t remember this gift? Why can’t others share this gift with me? How long can I keep this gift?

A glorious dinner of laughing and fun. A breezy neighborhood walk with the acorns crunching under foot. A cup of hot tea. The soft weight of a baby resting in my arms, wiggling her toes in thoughtless glee.

All these things I’ve had. All these things are gifts.

Why, then, do I persist in spoiling the moment? I think of the absent dinner guests. I wonder if tomorrow’s walk will be spoiled by rain. I wish for another cup of tea. I wonder how many baby toes I’ll get to wiggle.

“Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives. We hunger for something more, something other.”
– Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts –

Yes, this is my fall: That I spoil the gift because I fail to trust the Giver.

I bow now, and repent. I give over myself–again, and again, and again. I will trust my God for His gifts. I will trust that He knows just what to give me–each day’s gift perfect for that moment.

Because every day…every breath…is truly a gift.


 “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow of turning. Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”

– James 1:17-18, NKJV –

The Making of a Lion Heart

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“The wicked flee when no one pursues, but the righteous are bold as a lion.”

– Proverbs 28:1, NKJV –


Perhaps C.S. Lewis’ Aslan is the most beloved lion in all literature, the great king of a mysterious place extending beyond the borders of Narnia.  And, as his subjects declared, he is not a tame lion…but he is good.

Symbolic of power and royalty, the lion is also one of the names of Christ, “Lion of Judah” (Revelation 5:5).

Interesting, then, that this majestic beast would be used to describe the righteous.

Me, a lion?

It sounds so strange and foreign to my ears.

But the idea is compelling and hauntingly reminiscent of childhood longings to be the kind of girl who could set her face to the rising sun and have no fear of the day ahead.  Courage to set out to sea and hear the wind scudding on foamy crests and whipping in the sail, ready for whatever God has in store just over the next wave.

What does it take for me to have this unnatural boldness?

I recently heard the story of John Paton, a man who left his comfortable life to take the gospel to an unreached area of South Pacific islands inhabited by cannibals. Before his departure, people confronted him, trying to persuade him to turn back:

“Amongst many who sought to deter me was one dear old Christian gentleman, whose crowning argument always was, ‘The cannibals! You will be eaten by cannibals!’ At last I replied, ‘Mr. Dickson, you are advanced in years now and your own prospect is soon to be laid in the grave, there to be eaten by worms; I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by cannibals or by worms.’”

Oh, to have that spirit in me! This is the victory-march of the Apostle Paul, when he wrote:

“…according to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:20-21)

This is the face of a lion, the mindset of a ransomed child who walks with upheld head, clear eyes, and a song. This is the face of a woman who has been with Jesus, who “is clothed with strength and dignity;she can laugh at the days to come” (Proverbs 31:25, NIV). This is the face alight with glory and joy, because it has seen the Lord.

Seeing Him, even a tiny shadow of his power and holiness and overwhelming love, I ask you one question:

“What can mere mortals do to me?” (Psalm 56:4b, NIV)

Today, you and I are not physically setting sail, or scaling a mountain, or going to face a host of cannibals.

More likely, we’re headed to work or class, to prepare meals, to deal with conflicts, to make decisions, to play with siblings.

Not cannibals in the least–but fear still penetrates our days, doesn’t it? It seeps like an icy current into every crack of living.

How do we find peace in this Wasteland haunted by terror?

“These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NKJV).

Fear comes from what I expect, what I believe. If I anticipate that each difficulty or tragedy that rolls my way will toss me out of commission, then I will be paralyzed. Although Jesus never promised us that troubles would go away, He did give a solution–peace in the middle of the battle, because the war has already been won.

How can I be Lion-faced today?

My Lion-King has already broken the floodgates and here comes the joy, spiraling in like a golden sea.

John Paton learned this–what can anyone really do to a blood-washed son of God? Worst case scenario, we get to see our Savior’s face. To me–well, to me that sounds awfully like my best case scenario. In a recent sermon I heard, the story was told of a man commanded to renounce the name of Jesus or face death. With a smile, he lifted his head and asked, “Are you going to threaten me with heaven?”

In the Bible, Satan also is described as a prowling lion, a devourer–but this lion has been wounded to the head with the heel of a King and his last desperate staggers proclaim his certain doom. Always aspiring to be as God, he puts on illusions–light, truth, beauty, even the royal nature of a lion, a hollow, fragile imitation of the True Lion. This head-crushed impostor roars against the might of his conqueror (1 Peter 5:8).

Again, the Apostle Paul testifies:

“At my first defense no one stood with me, but all forsook me. May it not be charged against them. But the Lord stood with me and strengthened me, so that the message might be preached fully through me, and that all the Gentiles might hear. Also I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. And the Lord will deliver me from every evil work and preserve me for His heavenly kingdom. To Him be glory forever and ever. Amen!” (2 Timothy 4:16-18, NKJV, emphasis mine).

And so, this is my prayer:

God, give me the heart of a lion, the passion and love to serve fearlessly, with all that is in me.

Give me the face of a lion, to turn like flint toward trouble and plant my feet in Your strength, trusting You that I will not be moved.

Give me the confidence of a lion, that boldness will flow from my absolute belief in Your love.

Give me the song of a lion, that I may roar with undefeatable joy and toss my mane in the golden glow of Your glory.

Great God of the heavens–and Lord of my soul–make me bold as a lion in Your righteousness.


What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written:

“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”

Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

– Romans 8:31-39, NKJV, emphasis mine –


 

Thank you, Petr Kratochvil and Public Domain pictures, for our lion photo today.

Of His Weaving

dew-on-a-spider-web

“The fear is suffocating, terrorizing, and I want the remedy, and it is trust. Trust is everything.”

― Ann Voskamp ―

Life.

Such a terribly sweet, sharp, messy thing.

A web,

Spangled through with silver-light threads

So easy, easy, easy

To snap with a searching hand.

So I walk on,

On, in this maze of misty strands

That pop and strain with tottery steps.

Tempted I am to

Shrink still, frozen,

Fearing with another footfall to

Break a fractaled weaving

From this shroud.

Or yet, fearing that with spinning fingers I might spout lines

Wisping, shooting into new-tangled lace not meant to be.

Shall I, oh shall I, crumple years’ weavings

Into a snarl beyond patching?

But calm, calm, blessed calm,

For the Weaver pushes His shuttle yet

To make taut the sure-silvered strand,

Send it flying, ducking here, leaping there,

O’erleaping scarlet, blue, and gold.

In all the right places, a web forms

Unbreakable, that spans out from

My trembling, time-bound hands.

And, I, still unseeing, do not see the forming mosaic, but

Fear yet that crucial bindings will be undone

By my own fingers.

But no,

No, the feeble glistening spinnings hold,

Though soft as silver breath, yet when I fall

Against them, are steel woven, thin-drawn but strong

As the immutable Hands that strung them.

Sweet, solid lines, may I not fear

To grasp you on the way,

For you, webbed art, are sure art,

And His hands are steady

In my faltering.

So will I hold tight to Divine weavings

As the taut sail lines cling to the Mast in the wind,

For in this way will I sail

And step on secure through the geometric filaments of His life-weaving

Not shrinking from a chance stumbling,

For nothing, nothing

Can unknot the threads of His tying.


Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

– John 14:27, NKJV –

Thank you, Petr Kratochvil at Public Domain Pictures for today’s photo!

In These Hands, Part 1

outstretched-cupped-hands

“Hold everything in your hands lightly, otherwise it hurts when God pries your fingers open.”

― Corrie ten Boom ―

Even Christians do it.

Some call it “snapping shut to grace,” the way pain and sin curl our hands into unbreakable fists of control (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts).

Toddlers do it, tightening hands until faces redden and screams peal for their way.

Angry people do it, when a leering face just beckons for that balled fist to take its best shot.

And fear–fear just constricts all of a person, doubling them until their curled-up body looks nearly ready to hide in the safety of a womb again. A vulnerable fetal position can quickly become the default position.

And I do it. Fearful, perhaps. Controlling, yes. Angry even, sometimes.

Yet, this week, my mind keeps drifting back to two ideas.

1. Unfurling Fingers

“I know not what He is about to do with me, but I have given myself entirely into His hands.”

– Catherine Booth –

First, that I must open my hands to Jesus. It’s hard, even in stillness, to be brave enough to open my fist and bare them to the cold air and expose them in vulnerability.

It seems that He asks to see what is in my grasp. There’s so much. Future. Dreams. People I care about. Ideas I don’t want stolen. Hopes I fear will be broken.

His prompting has continued for years. It still persists, my Savior’s call to unburden and release and open my hands. He took my wicked soul and made it new. But now I clench old again. He speaks.

So I uncurl my fingers.

It hurts a little. They’ve clenched too long. They’re stiff and a little unaccustomed to bending at His command. My fingers are numb and cold. I wonder, with a heart bounding, whether I’ve made a mistake.

Yesterday, I opened my hands again.

It’s something I’ve had to do a lot.

My journal tells the story, from a few months ago:

“My heart seems to be slamming on the brakes.

I am so full, so full–and my tether seems to be flying, coil upon coil.

Because I can’t keep focus for two minutes straight.

I don’t seem to be able to breathe without my eyes and heart going back.

And my eyes fill and heart clenches. And I fall again. O God, how many times today can I be laid out?

How many times, how thin can I stretch from something I’m giving over to You every minute it seems and taking back with more longing every other minute?”

What do I need to do? Yes, lay open my hands again. Hannah Whitall Smith has something to say about this:

“What you need to do, is to put your will over completely into the hands of your Lord, surrendering to Him the entire control of it. Say, “Yes, Lord, YES!” to everything, and trust Him to work in you to will, as to bring your whole wishes and affections into conformity with His own sweet, and lovable, and most lovely will.”

I’ve found that saying yes is not a one-time prayer.

It’s a way to live. More than that, in the hardest moments of surrender I have ever faced, I’ve found that it is a way to breathe.

When your heart is about torn in half, sometimes all you can do is breathe yes. “Yes Lord, Your will and not mine. Yes Lord, whatever the cost. Help me give over more. Yes Lord, I believe. Help me believe more. Yes Lord, I still love You. Help me love You more.”

The storm eventually drips and drains away. Wreckage strews your life in the aftermath. Things are blown a bit askew. You can hardly hope that you’ll ever be able to walk straight up again, after so many hours of leaning into a beating wind.

But it all fades. The pain of one moment or the dull throb of grasping at something that vanishes into vapor. When the ache seeps less and less, one things still remains. God was there with you. And in that hour you learned how desperately you needed Him to be there. Even more, you caught a glimpse of how much you need Him to carry you all the way through this life.

Trials that make us want to clench our fists can be one of two things. They are the tormenters that incapacitate us, or they are the teachers that show us how much our God can do. The question: Will we lay ourselves open, or close up tight and shrink from His touch?

“I have held many things in my hands, and have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”    — Martin Luther

For those of you who really paid attention, though, I did say there were two things I’ve been pondering. Opening hands, yes. But what more?

Will open hands cradle only air?

You see, God is really good at filling open hands.

How He does that will have to wait until “In These Hands, Part 2.”  But first, next week we’ll talk about the Christ who makes Christmas an all-year celebration. And I, for one, can hardly wait for that.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind….”

– Romans 12: 1-2a, NASB, emphasis mine –

Thanks to George Hodan and Public Domain Pictures, we had another great image for today’s post!

Half-Frozen Lake

hole-in-the-ice-1300720393b7o

“It’s wonderful to climb the liquid mountains of the sky. Behind me and before me is God and I have no fears.”

– Helen Keller –

My future is a half-frozen lake.

I’m standing on the edge, where the who-knows-how-thick present meets the sheer ice of what is to come.

When I lean forward, the frozen platform crackles, portentous.

Once upon a time, I dared to dream.

I took a step out onto the fragile thinness ahead and thought perhaps it too had crusted over. Safe to bear my weight at last. The first whispers of dreams were coming true—culmination of years of education and spiritual training and heart-to-heart talks with my family. In so many ways, my life was budding into what I thought it was to be. Calling, vocation, life service, my passion. Maybe it would all come together smoothly. So far, so good.

So I was out there, out on the just-frozen water, for a while. Dreaming that maybe these future paths could be real.

From the heavens, just yesterday, fell a stone.

Rough, ragged, sharp. The too-thin crust began to shatter.

Tears welled up, trickling warm on my pale, cold cheeks.

One of my dreams broke. Crumbled beneath my feet until my very heart depended on how fast I could leap back onto the thick, solid surface behind me.

I jumped and landed in a skid. I knelt on firmness as a thousand shards of ice-dreams floated away in the pale ripples.

I wasn’t heartbroken. Just sad, left with a dull ache of losing something I never had.

I wasn’t angry. Just disillusioned and disappointed. Disappointed with friends. Disappointed that I had fooled myself yet again. Disappointed that I thought life was clicking into place. Disappointed, yet left clinging to my best Friend of all.

As the little crystal pieces of hope drifted off, I held on to a song.

That the “trials of this life are [His] mercies in disguise.” Even “when friends betray us.”

And I’m thankful. So thankful, that my heart had not been tossed into that chilled lake when the future-ice gave way. So thankful, that wisdom had come through the words of a counselor all along, and kept me back from throwing all my weight onto the thinness.

So, again, I’m on the ledge. It seems like the thin places reaching across from the opposite bank are slowly stretching to meet my solid place.

The pieces of a future dream are melting into the past.

But now I fear stepping out again, fear testing the ice crusting over in front of my hesitant toes.

What if my dreams break off again? Isn’t it easier not to dream at all? The heart-sickness of hope lost is too much of a gamble, isn’t it?

That ice coming across the gap, smooth and sheening, enthralls me. It’s so beautiful. My eyes hurt with hoping that it’s not a mirage.

Future is fast merging into present, tomorrow becoming today.

Soon, the ice in front of my timid feet will cloud, translucent.

God never waits for the ice to go hard through, opaque.

He will call me to step out while the layer is still thin. While the dreams are tender and the hopes are fragile and I wonder if I really can stand it again.

“There are times in our Christian life when we cannot see beyond the next step. At that point, we have to trust God and venture out on the basis of His Word.”

– Alistair Begg –

One day, my feet will be on a solid bridge, a hope and a future that will not be cut off.

Ultimately, this hope is unshakable, eternal. Forever.

“We were saved in hope. If we see what we hope for, that isn’t hope. Who hopes for what they already see?But if we hope for what we don’t see, we wait for it with patience…..The one who searches hearts knows how the Spirit thinks, because he pleads for the saints, consistent with God’s will. We know that God works all things together for good for the ones who love God, for those who are called according to his purpose. We know this because God knew them in advance, and he decided in advance that they would be conformed to the image of his Son.”

– Romans 8:24-29, CEB –

Grace, a frozen merging of all my todays and tommorows.

I’m learning not to fear thin ice.

After all, I’ve got a Savior who walks on water.

“Strength of my heart, I need not fail,
Not mind to fear but to obey,
With such a Leader, who could quail?
Thou art as Thou wert yesterday.
Strength of my heart, I rest in Thee,
Fulfil Thy purposes through me.”

– Amy Carmichael –

Thank you, David Wagner and Public Domain Pictures, for the great shot!