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 –

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 –

 

 

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 –

The Courtroom

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Hope is very important to me, which is why I always try to point back to the hope of the gospel in every blog post. This post dives into the discouragement we can face as Christians when we daily deal with our sinful selves and a confusing, sin-infused world. If you identify with my struggle below, I pray you will also identify with my powerful, joy-giving hope. It is an anchor for our souls.

 Every morning, I wake up up to preside over the courtroom of my soul.
I don’t mean to say that I am the Law for myself. I most certainly–first and only, body and soul— belong to my Lord and Savior.
But each day I climb up to the bench and try the cases of my heart, one by one.
I like knowing. I like certainty.
And sometimes facts and feelings plead their cases, memory and intuition wage war on the courtroom floor, prayers and fears duel on the witness stand, and I sink down behind the bench in dismay.
Because sometimes I can’t figure it all out. And when I do figure it out, often I, the judge, am implicated by the testimonies of my own courtroom.
Either way, the result is the same: my soul is left with a choice, to either despair or trust.
Despair, because I can’t figure out or fix myself.
Trust, because today I see more of my flaws than I could see yesterday—but I can also see more of my God’s goodness than I could see a day ago.

Coming Up Empty

As a child, it worked.
I could analyze all the pieces of my life and see how they fit together. Things were more black and white, people were more stereotypical, and my eyes saw through the rosy tint of childhood.
In my courtroom now, I have more evidence than ever. My storerooms are filled with interpretations, weights, measures, gauges, preconceptions.
And life takes on ever so many more shades.
Before, I could hold up the six stripes of the rainbow and match the color. Now, people and events are painted with shades I never knew existed and shadows I dared not imagine. Ever mixing tones on their own life’s palette, each person colors in their existence with shades of their own making, each creating never-before-seen hues.
The dazzling variety hurts my tender eyes. I don’t know the difference between azure and sky blue. I can’t discern between apricot, coral, and salmon pink.
I can’t even, often, decrypt the colors of my own soul.
So this judge cradles her aching head and sometimes has to leave the bench. And I’m learning that…it’s okay to lay down the gavel. Sometimes, I just have to find out how far God’s Word addresses the situation, pray for wisdom, ask questions, and–every once in a while–suspend judgment.
Sometimes swift and firm decisions are needed. I’m happy to bang the gavel on such occasions.
But others? I’ve worried my soul into a tizzy, pressing it for suitable evidence and arguments. I’ve harried my heart into tears, because I can’t split the fine hairs of my own thoughts.
In these times, I have to recognize my calling. Am I called to read my own mind and discern my own intentions, to the nth degree? Or is my utmost call the glory of God, as I rest and quiet my soul in Him?
Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this [love for one another] that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him in whatever our heart condemns us; for God is greater than our heart and knows all things.” 
 – 1 John 3:18-20, NASB –
It is so beautiful, so quiet, to finally lay aside my judging robes and commit my soul to “Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:23).

Coming Up Guilty 

Sometimes, I am my own worst critic.
And, many days, I am everyone else’s worst critic too.
Comparing, weighing their opinions against my own, sizing them up with my own peculiarly-developed standards—I am learning the unloving and selfish ways of my own heart when it is left to itself.
Not to say that I let it wander unchecked.
If you could step into my mind, you would hear the daily dialogue I have with myself. I raise criticisms and bash them down in a breath. I mutter and complain, following up with a “but you should really thank God for all the good things that happened today.” Then, the selfish part of me argues back.
I critique the behavior of those around me…then inform myself that I do the same things. Why should I hold them to a standard I don’t hold myself to?
And back and forth it goes.
So very often, my internal courtroom resounds with my own guilt. As I learn more and more of Christ’s worthiness and my own failures, I have to go back to the same place as I go when I cannot figure out things at all:
Quieting my soul at the foot of the cross…or, perhaps, restoring my soul at the door of the empty tomb.
“O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty;
Nor do I involve myself in great matters,
Or in things too difficult for me.
Surely I have composed and quieted my soul;
Like a weaned child rests against his mother,
My soul is like a weaned child within me.
O Israel, hope in the Lord
From this time forth and forever.”
 – Psalm 131:1-3, NASB –
My faithful God sent His Son for the mess of me.
My resurrected Savior conquered death so I might live in His victory.
My heart is daily renovated by the Divine Comforter, the Holy Spirit that dwells in His children.
While defeat and imperfection raise their voices in my courtroom, they do not get to rule. Although confusion and mystery chase me around the bench, they are not judge over me.
I have only one Judge in the end, and He is making me new, day by day.
How I long to be new!
I believe that’s just what I’m becoming. “New, fresh, with no mistakes”—as Ann says.
One of these days, I’ll get there. One of these days.
I know it.
“But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by a human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord comes, who will both bring to light the hidden things of darkness and reveal the counsels of the hearts. Then each one’s praise will come from God.”
 – 1 Corinthians 4:3-5, NKJV –

The Road You’re On

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“Well, could it be that the many roads you took to get here
Were just for me to tell this story and for you to hear this song?
And your many hopes, and your many fears
Were meant to bring you here all along.”

 – Andrew Peterson, from “Many Roads” –


Let me tell you a story about a farm.

I grew up in the suburbs of America’s fourth-largest city. Major league baseball, giant rodeos, shopping malls, and miles-long lines of cars waiting in “rush hour” traffic are all stamped on my memory, normal facets of growing up in Houston, Texas.

I just wanted a horse like all the girls in the books had…and a farm to put the horse on.

But I got older and older….and older. My fanaticism about horses capped at around age thirteen and then started, gradually, to fade.

I gave up on the farm.

But when I was 18, my family moved to rural Arkansas and bought a 23-acre property nestled deep in the winding roads of the Ozarks.

And suddenly we had our farm.

Why Arkansas, of all places? Why when I was 18, and not when I was 8? Why here? Why now? Why me?

When I look back on our move, the winding roads of circumstance are even more intricate than the crazy twists and turns of the mountains.

I didn’t know what was going on then, but these days I look back in surprise at how God led my family through these crooked hills to the place where He’d use us best.

And that’s exactly what He’s doing. He led us home…and now He’s using us to lead others home too.

It’s my favorite place to be.

And, six years ago, I’d have never, ever guessed what was in store.


My favorite Old Testament character is Joseph. I know that the men and women in the Bible weren’t perfect, and their life histories aren’t meant to be moral patterns for Christian living, but something about this young dreamer-turned-slave-turned-prince touches my heart. I love his passion. I love his wisdom and trust in a God who led him down many strange roads. And I love, as the Message paraphrase records, what he said to the brothers who tried their best to destroy his life:

“Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people” (from Genesis 50:19-21, MSG).

Evil. Hate. Revenge. Anger. Jealousy. All of these conspire together against Joseph. And God turns the tables and rips the status quo apart, and life and good and joy spring out of the mess.

There are no dead ends for His children, only “many roads” that deliver us right to the doorstep of destiny.

Where are you in the journey?

Maybe you are at an intersection and can look back to see how God seamlessly fitted together all of the pieces to bring you to this moment.

Perhaps you are in the middle of a deserted road in the blackest part of the night, and you don’t think that it could ever intersect with anything good.

Perhaps you’ve been on the same road for miles and miles, and you’re just desperate to come to a crossroad so you can try something new.

Hold on.

I’ve been just dazzled by a tiny phase this past week–“the patience of hope.”

Wow.

The patience of hope.

I’m not very patient. Often, I’m ready for my hopes to materialize, right now. Immediately. Pronto. “Okay, Lord, now is good,” I pray. “Okay, this is perfect. Now’s Your chance…Lord? Don’t you think this is a good time for an intersection? Lord?”

The patience of hope.

When we believe that God is “up to something good in all our delays and detours,” as John Piper says, how can we rush the road?

Is it a scenic path? Enjoy it. Don’t be staring up ahead and miss what is, right now.

Is it long and deserted? Even there, something good waits. Seek the Lord first. Love Him with everything, and let it overflow. Love the people on your road. Love them hard. The long roads can be some of the most blessed.

Is it full of surprises and uncertainty? The Master Craftsman is in charge of making your road lead somewhere, and He’s promised that every turn will be just what you need (Romans 8:28.)

“But [The Lord’s] joy is in those who reverence him, those who expect him to be loving and kind.”

 – Psalm 147:11, TLB –

What are you expecting? Is your hope patient, because you expect Him to be loving and kind? Whatever you expect, He will be loving and kind. Your hope will not be disappointed.

You are on this one road, out of many roads, for a reason.

And it’s a good reason.


“Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.”

 – Isaiah 41:10, NLT –

Therefore, I Hope

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“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed and broken. We are perplexed because we don’t know why things happen as they do, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. These bodies of ours are constantly facing death just as Jesus did; so it is clear to all that it is only the living Christ within who keeps us safe.”

 – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, TLB –


Something buried deep inside the human soul clings to hope.

Once I heard the story of a baby born months prematurely, at 23 weeks and 6 days gestation. Four months early. She was incredibly small, her skin bruising dark from the gentlest touch, her internal organs so delicate that they could give out at any moment.

Her parents didn’t know what to expect. The baby, whom they named Juniper, seemed always on the threshold of death. But time after time, she pulled through the night. Her tiny chest would still be rising and falling the next day, no matter how many times she flatlined in the night.

Her father began reading to her every day. Inexplicably, the child’s heart rate would lift as she heard her father’s voice reading a story he loved and wanted her to love too. He imagined that Juniper was interested in the story. I imagine that the voice of her father broke into that baby’s pain and gave her something to cling to.

She made it. Today she is five years old and bouncing with good health.

As unbelievers, her parents and the others who tell her story discuss ethical implications, viability, Roe vs. Wade, and the unearthly aura of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit they affectionately call “Nick-u.” They have straddled life and death.

In their daughter’s story, they perhaps see evolutionary triumph, or the inexplicable emotional attachment of a parent to a child.

I see the hope that God kindles in the heart of every living soul, a will to survive. Juniper’s survival declares to me that nothing is by chance, and living isn’t a coin toss. Living–hoping–is engrained in us.

Someone once said, 

“Man can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air…but only for one second without hope.”

It’s true that, short of despair, we grasp furiously at existence. Something deep inside drives us to “live and life abundantly,” and as long as hope lives, humanity’s will to survive is incredible.

I believe God placed this desire in us. More than just an instinctive fight for supremacy, hope is a highly spiritual thing.

Do I have a reason to take another breath? Yes or no?

Humans again and again weigh their options in the balance, stacking up pleasure against pain, measuring heights of clarity against depths of confusion.

Those who do not believe in the hope of God often lose sight of hope entirely. Rejecting the possibility of His goodness and power, they unknowingly reject the one and only unshakeable hope.

People pin the happiness of their existence on many things. Wealth, pleasure, love, success, conquering. When their anchor of hope can no longer hold them down, what is left for them?

Every object of hope changes, fails, ceases to satisfy.

Except Jesus.

He never changes, never fails, never ceases to satisfy, because He is our Creator God. He made us to thrive in His presence. Nothing else can ever quite fit the bill.

You know, I’ve set my hope in other things. And I see people around me all the time trying to fit something human into this God-shaped need. It just doesn’t work.

So a world full of people are on a desperate hunt for hope…and only a few actually find it.

What does Christian hope look like? What does it do?

Hope is something believed in, something that keeps people alive, some ideal they see as worth their devotion. Hope is our internal answer to the “why” of existence.

Christian hope is turning away from sin and turning to Jesus Christ as your only chance for this life and the next. It is placing the weight of your belief in His simultaneous divinity and humanity, His death that satisfied God’s justice on your behalf, and His miraculous resurrection breaking the power of sin and death. It is giving Him sway over your entire being, which, incidentally, is already His anyway. You stop running from Him and start running to Him.

This hope is a true anchor for the soul (Hebrews 6:19).

This is why, really, only Christians can be real Optimists. Of course things in this world are messed up. Of course it is sometimes awful, painful, and dark. But something good is coming. We know this for certain.

This is why the theme verse of this post rings true:

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but not crushed and broken. We are perplexed because we don’t know why things happen as they do, but we don’t give up and quit. We are hunted down, but God never abandons us. We get knocked down, but we get up again and keep going. These bodies of ours are constantly facing death just as Jesus did; so it is clear to all that it is only the living Christ within who keeps us safe.”

 – 2 Corinthians 4:8-10, TLB –

Christian hope can propel us through absolutely anything. We have a Savior who is both near and powerful, strong and kind, just and overflowing with grace.

To grasp on to this hope, we fix out eyes on Him.

He is the already-salvation who makes life livable, and the not-yet salvation who, one day, will make all things new.

Do you have this hope? If not, I assure you that nothing else you try is going to work. Jesus is the only hope that will satisfy the cries of your soul. Believe in Him.

If you have believed, but the pain of life is smothering your hope, don’t be afraid. Keep believing. This life may be marred, but it is marred beauty. It may be corrupted, but it corrupted joy. It may be dark, but darkness can never overcome light. Very soon, the marring and the corruption will end and the dawn will become noonday. Believe in Him.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for. In believing, you take hold of what is sure to happen, because God never fails, never changes, never ceases to satisfy.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever–the same Creator, Redeemer, and Restorer.

Therefore, I hope.

But seek His kingdom, and these things will be provided for you. Don’t be afraid,little flock, because your Father delights to give you the kingdom.

 – Luke 12:31-32, HCSB –

 

 

 

 

The Firm Foundation

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Today, I asked my friend Liz to share about how a building in downtown Seattle taught her something about God’s love. I hope you enjoy her story!


“It is the most sweet and comfortable knowledge; to be studying Jesus Christ, what is it but to be digging among all the veins and springs of comfort? And the deeper you dig, the more do these springs flow upon you.

~John Flavel~

Located in downtown Seattle, Space Needle’s height taunts the very essence of gravity. The tower’s delicate construction elicits from thousands of observers both the elation of Anne Shirley as she balanced upon a ridge pole and the terror of Diana Barry as she witnessed such a precarious victory.

Shaped like a flying saucer, the Space Needle’s observation deck pokes into the clouds on a thin base 520 feet above the ground. Visitors brave enough to ascend the 848 steps from the tower basement to the rotating deck enjoy a panoramic view of Seattle from high above her stores, waterfronts, and busy highways. This dizzying perch atop the building allows tourists to glimpse the far-off peaks of Mount Rainier, the sparkling night lights of downtown Seattle, and tiny blood vessels of cars as they snake silently through vein-thin streets.

When darkness falls, a looming night sky envelopes visitors who feel close enough to stroke the cheek of the man on the moon. Hovering high above the earth on the thin, single stilt of the Space Needle, they marvel at a view provided only by such height.

But the Space Needle Tower does not begin on the observation deck. Its foundation is buried thirty feet below Seattle’s streets. Weighing 5,850 pounds, the tower’s foundation contains 250 tons of reinforced steel, ensuring that the tower is neither shaken by wind or shifted by rain. Seventy-two bolts, each thirty feet in length, stretch from the base of the foundation to the tall needle perched atop the observation deck. Majestically, the 605 foot tower soars high above the city by sinking deep below the city, all the while connecting its deepest place to its highest height.

The Space Needle reminds me of myself.

Have I ever felt that a giant drill, removing dirt deep down in my heart, will be the only way for me to stand tall? Have I welcomed that possibility into the building of my character?

Not really.

In fact, I often find myself cringing when the faintest hint of a challenge, an ache, or a sandpaper circumstance threatens to create ground zero in my day. No, I do not practice the spirit of the Space Needle tower. I do not often linger over my choices, praying for lessons of self-sacrifice or solitude to make way for my faith’s firm foundation.

But God does.

With a hard hat larger than the Milky Way, God leans over the cordoned off areas of my life, His finger pressing surely over the place where the drills will land. He nods to Himself, His face filled with the fixed attention of a meticulous engineer. His finger hovers, His hand dips, His palm lands. And the digging begins in my soul.

Squirming in discomfort, I embody the words of author Thomas a Kempis.

All men desire peace, but very few desire those things that make for peace.”

Am I willing to let the roar of a hefty backhoe break into the comfortable spaces my unbelief creates? All too often, I let my desire for false security and momentary  tranquility to distract me from the shovels of God. When I ask God to follow my blueprint rather than His, my own ideas of peace utterly miss the mark.

I ask to meet Him on the observation deck. He asks to meet me at the foundation.  

I want to see Him in the 360 degree panorama. He wants to see my eyes just one degree away from His.

I ask for the unconditional guarantee of paved streets. He plans to guide me where excavation and salvation meet.

I tend to want a disconnected life, one which isolates my fragile heart from a harsh city and a hard world. Christ wants to connect my foundations to my pinnacles. He wants to strengthen me with steel beams that have been reinforced, planted in concrete, and laid to rest at His feet.

I may wish to see Him at the highest peak of a mountain range, the cheeriest part of a cheery day, or the happiest laughter in a spring-laden May. I wish He wouldn’t dig so deep, wouldn’t scratch away at the rocks in my thoughts. But He does.

For He says, “My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts. And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine (Isaiah 55:88-9, NLT).”

And I’m so glad.

Author Emily Freeman writes, “Let’s dig deep, not to create meaning where there isn’t any, but to see Christ, our companion, where he actually is, not where we wish he was.”

Though my dreamy heart wishes for spiritual heights, my adoring and thirsty soul longs for Him.

Him in the heartache; Him in the mistake; Him in the earthquake; Him in the stomach ache; Him in my soul…Him…even when He digs a hole.

He digs a hole to make me whole.

He wants to dig deep into my heart, pour Himself into my character, and build my faith on the bedrock of His Son’s ever-present, unmovable Gospel of Love.  

“That’s why growth in Christ is never going beyond the gospel, but going deeper into the gospel. The purest waters from the spring of life are found by digging deeper into the gospel well.”

~ J.D. Greear~

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Letting Go

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“Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.”

– William Butler Yeats –

I am a firm believer in wonderful things.

In fact, I am very good at setting my sights on things I want and wishing for them with all my heart.

If you’ve read my blog long, you know that I’ve talked about surrender quite a bit–empty hands, a whole heart offered to God, trust in the future that He determines.

But all that to say–I apparently still didn’t get the idea.

There are stages to journeys.

“One does not surrender a life in an instant. That which is lifelong can only be surrendered in a lifetime.”

― Elisabeth Elliot ―

First, God led me, years ago, to say my first, halting “Thy will be done” to His plans for my future.

once-in-a-blue-moon

Since then, over and again, I’ve laid my desires out to Him and given them over into His keeping.

Every once in a while, though, a big and lovely dream creeps into my heart.

It’s hard to know what to do with such a magnificent thing. I’ll tell you what I like to do–I like to frame that dream and hang it in the corridors of my imagination. I like to set it high on the shelf of myself and  lean back and smile over that dream a little while, pull it down and stroke it a bit, then set it back up to stare at again. For such a fair and perfect dream, I can spare no expense. Every highest thought, every best energy of my heart goes to it.

I have had such big, beautiful dreams, and sometimes I have handled them well. I have let go just enough to say, “Yet, if You take this dream too, Lord, I will love You and serve You even then.” I have been able to laugh in the dark and give even my desperate tears over to my Master. But still, that dream was something I often clutched. Willing to give it up…yes, for my Jesus. If circumstances made me. If others forced me. If God Himself set blockades in the way. But give it up on my own…why would I do such a thing?

blue-nature-wallpaper-14297133009ozOnce upon a time, I had such a dream–oh, it was the prettiest thing I had ever seen. I guarded it and kept it with all my might. Sure, I told God He could have it. I even meant it. Honestly, I wrestled and I came to the sincere conclusion that if this hoped-for thing did not come to be, it would be okay. I didn’t know how it would be okay, but I really did believe it.

But I will tell you something about dreams.

Sometimes, just being willing isn’t enough.

Sometimes a dream grows so large and heavy, so lovely and blinding, that it is a weight to carry along.

I had that big, lovely dream, and I toted it along in my heart. And, even though I said the Lord could have it, I also said, “But please, I like it so much, can’t I keep it?”


A father and his little girl were taking a journey together.

“Father!” she squealed, finding a lovely object on the ground. “Look at this! Have you ever seen something so beautiful?”

He looked down on his hopeful-eyed little girl as she hoisted a too-big load up in her thin arms, and he said, “It is very heavy.”

“But please, I love it. Can’t I bring it home with me?” this little girl pleaded.

And the father smiled to himself, because he knew the treasure was too heavy for the small one. But he nodded and let his little girl heft the weight along.

Soon she began panting.

“Why don’t you put that load down?” he asked.

The little girl’s eyes flew open wide and tears pooled in them. “If you say I must, I will,” she said, quietly. “I know you want what is best for me.” Then she looked up at him tearfully. “But please, can’t I bring it a little farther?”

As they traveled along, she began to moan quietly under the crushing weight of her burden. Each time the trail steepened, she cried a little on top of her treasure and gritted her teeth to carry it up the hill. It seemed like her load was getting heavier and heavier with every small, wobbling step she took. Soon, her arms trembled and her knees buckled. She dropped the load, barely pulling her small hands out from beneath it before it crashed to the path.

“You should leave it now,” her father spoke again, so kindly. “It is only a weight to you.”

“But…” she looked down at it, then saw the red blisters on her hands and the bruises turning blue on her forearms. She bit her lip and grabbed her father’s hand. “Yes, Father.” She got up, tears falling. She started to follow him down the path, but turned back for one last glance. “I will leave it here. I won’t try to carry it myself any more.” She took a few more steps. “Father?”

“Yes, dear one?”

“What if that treasure…is supposed to be mine?”

He smiled down at her and scooped her up into his arms. “Then I will carry it home to you when it is time.”


This has been my experience: Even though I battled with my dream, trying to keep it from becoming an idol, truly wanting to keep Jesus first, the battle wore me out. 

Finally, after heart-breaking after heart-breaking, I had to just let it go. I had to leave it at the Lord’s feet and say, “Here is my favorite dream. I’m not bringing it with me anymore. I’m not counting on it to come true anymore. I’m not letting myself imagine it is true, or picture all the ways I will enjoy it, or setting it at the center of my future. I am leaving it behind and letting You do with it what You want.”

I couldn’t keep tugging it along. It was dragging me down, wearing me out.

“God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.”

– Elizabeth Barrett Browning –

blue-flower-1354931252PeKPeople say that hope is a good thing. “Never give up hope,” they say.

But I think that sometimes you have to give up on a small hope to make room for a Greater Hope.

As the persecuted Chinese Christian Li Quan says in Randy Alcorn’s novel Safely Home, “That day, hope was dashed–and, no matter how painful, it is always good when false hopes are dashed. Since then, many have learned to trust not in man but in God” (page 94).

Every dream I’ve given up, every disappointed hope,  has only driven me deeper into my need for Jesus.

Sure, each time I open my heart to His ways instead of mine, a part of me dies. But isn’t dying to my way of doing things part of becoming who I am really designed to be?

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“If my life is surrendered to God, all is well. Let me not grab it back, as though it were in peril in His hand but would be safer in mine!”

– Elisabeth Elliot –

Dreams aren’t bad–I don’t regret my dreams, my disappointments, or the pain that has been my teacher. I only regret the time spent on lifting dreams higher than I lifted my love for Jesus.

However lovely, no dream is as beautiful as He is.

The question is, do we live like we believe that?


“I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God’s whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord!”

– Romans 8:38, Phillips paraphrase –

 

 

 

 

Repost: Why We Must Zakar

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Last year, I wrote this post as a reminder of why celebrating Christmas is something I hold dear. This time of year, people are especially hungry for love and meaning in their lives, giving us a great opportunity to share the gospel. So, whether you celebrate this season or not, please take time to remember the coming of our Lord and reach out to those around us who have no hope. Because we have hope, sisters! This day, and everyday, we have joy in the most precious gift ever given: God Himself coming to pay the price for our salvation. That, truly, is cause for celebration.


“He was created of a mother whom He created. He was carried by hands that He formed. He cried in the manger in wordless infancy. He, the Word, without whom all human eloquence is mute.”

 – Augustine of Hippo –

Zakar is Hebrew for remember.

Some things must be remembered.

One set of people holds these things dear by celebrating them all year long, because these things permeate all days, not just one or two.

Others recognize this, but also value a set-apart day–needing a reminder of the wonder, a day to refresh all the year’s living.

One of these days is Christmas.

We’ve always celebrated it at our house. And yet, dear friends choose not to. It’s okay, really. One of those things God lets us choose—let those who celebrate the day, do it to the Lord. And those who don’t—they do it for His glory as well.

And truly—Christmas. Christ with us. Emmanuel, always—not just on one holly-decked square on the calendar, but forever.

It’s the same with other days.

It’s impossible to cram into one day the wonder of His rising, of His death-quenching. It’s ridiculous to think it can be stuffed into a hundred thousand Easters. Millions of Sundays would not suffice.

A day of Thanks—as if all the other days were to be full of complaining? Not at all. But something in the soul is refreshed that the idea is important enough to have a day of remembrance. A day when the whirling-away  and the head-spinning and the busy commercialization must stop so that thanks can snuggle deep into the soul.

Just as a friend is every bit as special the rest of the year as she is on her birthday. Just as special. But to have a special day to say it? This is good. Maybe your friend knows you love her all the time. Friendship—her life—is just as much to be celebrated any other day. But that one day is for you—not her—in a way. Yes, on that day you thank God for her. But really…who is it that needs reminded of the wonder of having a friend? She may get presents on that day, but it is you who receive the greater gift. You are reminded of just how much you have, on her birthday.

Isn’t it the same for His birthday? The date does not matter. The tinsel does not matter—neither do the molasses-dark cookies shaped like pudgy men or the lights twinkling or the cinnamon drifting from the kitchen or the gifts nestled under an everlastingly-green tree.

The Tree

Ah—but the tree can remind us, help us Zakar. Some call it pagan. Whoever, ages ago, worshiped a tree or chronicled it as a symbol of paganism—this man did not corrupt God’s trees. The trees on this planet still lift leafy faces to the heavens. They don’t hang down or die away because their purpose has been stolen away. Not at all. Still, tree crowns grow high, pointing skyward to a Creator enthroned beyond our glory-stealing schemes.

And that one spicy pine or fringy spruce or musky cedar with which the halls are decked–its green fades a bit when the life is cut off at the roots. The holder of lights, stretching out limbs to cover everything, guarding the secrets till the Christmas dawns. An everlasting tree dying. Something like an Everlasting God-Man dying, cut off to be the gift. The Holder, Maker, Shaper of light, stretching out His limbs to cover it all, to flood every sin with bloody grace.  The great Secret of the ages, foretold in a host of whispered, echoing prophesies, now shouted out to the world. Emmanuel! Emmanuel! He’s here, with us. With us!

The Gifts

The gifts remind us. Those oddly-shaped packages swathed with way too much metallic wrapping paper. The little tucked-in-the-stocking goodies. Every tiny sneaked-in item that a relative crept around the store with, trying in vain to keep secrets on a mass shopping trip where every family member ends up hiding, arms full, in a separate checkout line.

“Christmas is based on an exchange of gifts, the gift of God to man – His unspeakable gift of His Son, and the gift of man to God – when we present our bodies a living sacrifice.”

– Vance Havner –

Gifts remind us that God stepped down out of splendor to be curled and vulnerable in a womb. Christmas is a refresher course in generosity, a day when prayers seep in deep and stinginess can seep away. A special set-aside time when a hunted-for gift is placed in quivering, open hands and delight begins its ecstatic dance in two pairs of eyes. Close your eyes and remember. Zakar for a while.

“For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given…”

– Isaiah 9:6 b –

The Nativity

Okay, so the wise men weren’t really there that first night that the angels proclaimed the royal birth. But a glance at the manger, at the faces bowed in awe, they too can help us Zakar.

“He lived among us…He made a throne out of a manger and a royal court out of some cows. He took a common name—Jesus—and made it holy. He took common people and made them the same. He could have lived over us or away from us. But He didn’t. He lived among us.

He became a friend of the sinner and brother of the poor. He touched their sores and felt their tears and paid for their mistakes. He entered a tomb and came out and pledged that we’d do the same. And to us all…He shared the same message. “Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me….I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also’ (John 14:1,3)

Some pretend that He doesn’t exist….Others hear Him, but don’t believe Him. It’s not easy to believe that God would go so far to take us home….But then a few decide to…venture out of their corners….”

– Max Lucado, from When Christ Comes –

While the contagious laughter rises around you and the coffee mugs clink together in the sink and the lights on the Christmas tree twinkle off the glittering ornaments, remember why He came. To seek and save the lost, so they could come home. Isn’t Christmas a foretaste of a forever-home?

“Some pretend He doesn’t exist.” That He never came. That Christmas is about hullabaloo and December 26th sales, chubby mall Santas and seasonal eggnog.

“Others hear Him, but don’t believe Him. It’s not easy to believe that God would go so far to take us home” (emphasis mine).

Zakar. God did “go so far to take us home.” Remember this, savor it with all your might. He came once. And He will do it again.

“And when we give each other Christmas gifts in His name, let us remember that He has given us the sun and the moon and the stars, and the earth with its forests and mountains and oceans–and all that lives and move upon them. He has given us all green things and everything that blossoms and bears fruit and all that we quarrel about and all that we have misused–and to save us from our foolishness, from all our sins, He came down to earth and gave us Himself.”

– Sigrid Undset –

For this Christmas, and every other, remember all His goodness.

Zakar. Always.

Thank you to Atalie with Atalie Bale Photography for today’s lovely Christmas photo!

Where Are You?

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The first time two souls went running,

What if nothing had gotten in their way?

If the briars and blood were all the answer

In the garden ruined by rebels that day?

On ground first stained with brother’s blood,

What if no curse was ever spoken?

What if murder was the natural thing,

Sure sign of power, not of true things broken?

Globe fast hurtling through space,

What if nothing held its spin in check?

If not a drop of care or thought

Was given to this blue-green speck?

Hearts wrung, strung along on faith

Constructed on dreams of sinking sand.

What if these were all to hope for,

Our wishful thoughts the only plan?

But God said, “Where are you?”

And rebel hearts must quake,

For none can hide the dark inside,

Or restore to new, or life awake.

Again, the call, “Where are you?”

Still-broken souls rejoice,

For a Judge to call means justice lives,

At least there’s meaning in the void.

But He once cried, “Where are you?”

And that time t’was God who died.

“Oh Father, You’ve forsaken me”

True justice and pure grace collide.

By the tomb she wept, “Where are you?”

By Mary’s side He was alive,

And Thomas, doubting, inwardly echoed,

The question that Mary had cried.

To the clouds Christ soon ascended

And now clouds await His returning shout

To His Bride, “Where are you?”

At last the joy destroying doubt.

Still He repeats “Where are you?”

Till all His sheep are in.

God’s call delivering the sentence,

God’s own answer absolving sin.