The Road You’re On

mystical-road

“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 –

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Welcoming the Old with the New

 

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“That’s what people do who love you. They put their arms around you and love you when you’re not so lovable.”

 – Deb Caletti –

Bare branches in the trees are diamond crusted this morning. Hanging low and happily yellow, the sun smiles at its reflection in the powdered sugar snow.

As my favorite fictional redhead says, it is “a new day with no mistakes in it yet.”

That’s what I need, for sure.

Welcome is my word of the year, as I explained in my last post.

But I didn’t anticipate how far into me it would reverberate. I especially didn’t anticipate how much I would need to change.

But, now I see…Welcome can’t come into my life if I stay the same.

To grow a heart of welcome in me, God has to do some furniture rearranging. A dear friend of mine is currently living with my family. Today, she reminded me that welcoming in means we have to move some things out of the house. It means a bit of winter cleaning. It means we might bump into the furniture a little, because it’s in a place it has never been before.

But I learned something today about welcome—it is not just for the new people.

Sometimes, doors in your heart get partly shut. Sometimes, the hinges get a little rusty. And sometimes we avoid some halls in our hearts. They’re a part of us…but we cease to welcome them.

Maybe it is more tragic to be an insider who is not welcomed than it is to be an unwelcome newcomer.

I realized that, in my pursuit of welcome, my family was losing me. Somehow, my most favorite people were getting shut out.

It began when I decided not to tell a family member about certain thoughts or feelings, because I didn’t think they would understand. So gradually, I bumped that door, closing it more and more…

Until this morning, they came face-to-face with me, and I confessed that I feared telling them my true thoughts, because I didn’t want my feelings to be dismissed. They were shocked and saddened that I had not opened my heart-door and told them before.

I had been wrapping myself in silence–in a lack of welcome–in this relationship. And it took a toll. In my reluctance to bring them into my inner self, I pushed them away. I shut my door. I was slowly eroding a priceless relationship, by my own self-focus.

So I took a risk, when I confessed my hiding today.

And the sun came out, glistening on the snow.

ice-on-iron

Are relationships hard? Absolutely. Are they messy? Sure. Sometimes it seems better to hold certain thoughts inside…it seems safer. Definitely less complicated.

But love often means sharing anyway, making your feelings vulnerable to criticism…and also open to understanding. Love means you welcome the other person into your heart anyway. It means you risk getting hurt..but it also means you open yourself up to grace.

Don’t stuff it all in and walk away from conversations frustrated that, once again, they do not understand you. How could they? You never told them. 

I think we can hide from our families, even while rubbing shoulders with them every day. We can put walls up to keep ourselves safe, exhausting ourselves with needless protectiveness.

So I am posting a new welcome sign on my heart:

Welcome, family. You, too, are welcome in my heart. In fact, I’ll make you duplicates of my key, okay? Then you can come in whenever you like.

In fact, could you come right away? I’ve been missing you.


If you are joining me on the journey to Welcome this year, how are you doing in your family? Have you shut a door in your heart? Is there a hallway barricaded? What old relationship needs a little oil and polish?

Don’t shut out your biggest fans. God gave you to them for a reason. He can give you the grace to open the door again. 

Why don’t you ask Him right now?

“He gives families to the lonely, and releases prisoners from jail, singing with joy!”

 – Psalm 68:6, TLB –

 

 

 

The Language She Knew By Heart

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“The greatest honor we can give Almighty God is to live gladly because of the knowledge of his love.”

– Julian of Norwich –


What is love? A raw emotion? Something sacred to family? Romance? A word that works overtime as a noun and a verb? A churchy kind of feeling? An emotionless action? Something grown trite?

I want to know.

A while back, I was talking on the phone to a friend and we found that our spiritual struggles overlapped in an interesting way–we had both been questioning “practical love.” That is, we were hungry to know just What God wanted us to do and How He wanted us to do it, especially in our families. Mostly, we wondered how to pull off love when we just didn’t know how to begin.

So, the next several posts will make up a Practical Love Series, my ponderings and questions about what love really is.  This is the goal:

To pause and reflect on the Biblical portrait of Love, so that, by seeing Him, we might better see.


 

Our connection was immediate.

Disparity of age–more than twenty-five years, perhaps.

To communicate, we had to lock eyes. My friend is, mostly, deaf.

And years–I’m not even sure how many had passed since our last meeting. Five? Ten? I was a child last time I saw her.

Yet she pulled me into her arms like a dear friend. Her lips carefully shaped tones to speak my language.

English, my language. A language she could not hear.

Her fingers flowed with her enunciated speech, punctuating words with fluid American Sign Language.

Two women–almost strangers, a generation apart, and separated by state lines. Her finger-words and my oral language seemed to be barriers. Our bodies decreed the separation–I with ears young and whole; and she, who could be my mother, living in shuddery echoes of silence.

But a language transcended all these walls, a language of the heart that shone bright in her eyes.

I dove into the conversation, almost trembling with joy with the way our eyes drank in every lip movement, every finger twitch, of the other. I was caught up in rapt concentration, full immersion in the exchange.

I had long adored the mute grace of ASL, and it was pure excitement to be able to converse with someone bridging the gap between the language I knew and the language I loved.

Unmistakable was her energetic expression of abundance. This once-again friend shone with the joy of Jesus Christ. Patiently–apparently with all her soul–she sat with me and encouraged me.

You know that feeling, when hearts twine together?

“I’d love to learn to sign,” I said, with a radiant, wistful look.

She smiled. “You can pray that God will bring someone to help you learn.”

I laughed. “But I love to do so many things that I don’t know what to choose.”

“Take all the opportunities you can,” she advised. “Some doors will close.” A twinkle shot through her eyes. “Then look for a window to crawl through.”

I showed her, faltering, my attempt at the ASL alphabet.

“I”ll just stop you if you mess up.” She leaned back after a few signs, nodding. To my relief, she did not have to stop me at all.

“I think you could learn fast,” she told me.

Although our whole conversation overflowed with ecstatic words, one moment nestled the woman’s beautiful spirit into my heart.

“God has great things planned for you,” she said.

That night, lying in bed, I closed my eyes and could still feel the glow of our meeting.

We live two separate lives, with few intersections. But the grace of God bloomed at one of those brief moments and the love of our Savior became a language we both knew by heart.

Her fingers and my mouth weren’t even necessary to translate the language.

And now, I remember that sacred joy that welled up in my heart, and I long to take that same breathless love into every conversation, every day.

A thirty minute conversation opened a window to heaven for me. For a moment, I saw more than the woman seated across from me. I saw the evidence of Christ within her. In her smile, in the light of her eyes, in the joyous proclamation of her life that God is good, I recognized the imprint of my Master.

Through His strength, she loved me.

Weeks before, a telephone conversation began my quest for the “how-to” of love. This, my first lesson, fills me with inspiration.

For my first teacher, words weren’t even necessary.

I wonder what will come next on my journey?


My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge….”

– Colossians 2:2-3, NIV –

 

 

 

 

A big thanks to Public Domain Pictures and George Hodan for the photo today!

Wind, Light, and Forest Footholds

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“The steps of faith fall on the seeming void, but find the rock beneath.”

– John Greenleaf Whittier –

– – – – – – –

One thing is certain as I get older. Uncertainty. That ever-constant wind.

Sometimes that wind is warm and robust with adventure.

Sometimes it makes me afraid. Its fingers are cold and its face is wet and its chill wraps around and leaves me shivering.

Years ago, I set out on a path, led there by a Guide, the only One who knows–who is–the Way. Staying in that right way is hard; migrating off the course seems to come as naturally to me as to the dark, overhead arrows of south-veering geese.

Faith is a lesson that has come to me in these places, hunted me down, like Heaven’s Hound.

Faith has trailed me and found me in the dark, in the strange, lonely places where my feet slide in the path-edge crumbling. Many a weary time, I’ve looked down at the winding little trail, only shadows painting the ground beyond my current footholds. It’s true, those words–it seems there is “just enough light for the step I’m on.”

And for that one, I still have to squint.

Lead, kindly Light, amid the encircling gloom, Lead Thou me on! The night is dark, and I am far from home – Lead Thou me on! Keep Thou my feet; I do not ask to see The distant scene, – one step enough for me.

– John Henry Newman –

For some reason, in a journey’s thin light, my memory fades. If I were honest–if I were conscious–of all the places my Guide has brought me through before, maybe that next trembling footstep wouldn’t take so much out of me. If the way behind me wasn’t all fog and more shadows–shadows of dim remembrance–I might be able to hold a little bit less of my breath for the plunge forward into the unlit places.

So it is, that when I am hesitating here on the precipice from known to unknown–and I am here at this place, a thousand times today and yesterday and tomorrow–so it is that my Guide is all I have to go on. My Guide, and feeble rememberings, and grace that brings just enough light.

“All the way my Savior leads me,
What have I to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercy,
Who through life has been my Guide?
….For I know, whate’er befall me,
Jesus doeth all things well.

– Fanny Crosby, emphasis mine –

Sisters, all of us have forests with dark paths that wind into the distance. In my forest, I often travel alone–at least, alone with my Guide. But really, we are all together in this forest deep, threading through dim footpaths that intersect and mingle for a way and sometimes merge to go on the rest of the way together. We all have forest places where grace is our only light and faith our only foothold.

Let us look up, see the stars over the dark woods.

Light pinpricks, shapes of a thousand things to point us on and give us hope.

The adventure-wind whispers in the pines and dances in the oaks and shivers through the beeches and perches on my shoulder, trickling, tickling with its soft-breathed words. “The Guide who made these stars knows their names, each one. The Guide who grew this forest traced with His finger these meandering trails. The One who set your feet on this path counts the number of the strands of your hair shivering and streaming and shimmering in my breath. This Guide smiles on this direction you travel and braces your steps on the rocks with His own trail-worn hands and has promised to take you safely through this wood.”

“Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy…be glory….”

– Jude 1:24, NASB –

So it is that I am still stepping, my friends. I am still living an adventure here in this forest often dark, this forest called life. Sometimes the sunrise floods the silvered branches with light and I see the remembered shapes of what my Jesus has done and all it is that He has promised to do. I still close my eyes into the stiff, bright chill of the adventure-wind, smiling and hoping and praying.

This place, right here, is where I live.

Putting one step out in faith, waiting for the next glowing illumination of grace (2 Cor. 12:9). Jesus has never failed me, you know. He does all things well.

Even for this straying daughter who can’t seem to remember her way home.

Won’t you step out too?

– – – – – – –

“Nothing does so establish the mind amidst the rollings and turbulences of present things, as to look above them and beyond them – above them, to the steady and good hand by which they are ruled, and beyond them, to the sweet and beautiful end to which, by that hand, they will be brought.”

– Jeremy Taylor –

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A big thank-you to John Luty at Public Domain Pictures for this lovely photo!

Charting Paths and Planting Trees

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“To be born is to be exposed to delights and miseries greater than imagination could have anticipated; that the choice of ways at any cross-road may be more important than we think; and that short cuts may lead us to very nasty places.”

– C.S. Lewis, emphasis mine –

You could say that I was raised to be a gardener, to plant little round specks of seeds that would grow comfortable and familiar in my dusty palm before I really understood. Young as I was, I didn’t know enough to wonder what they would sprout up to become.

With equal truth, you could say that I was born to chart paths. Taught to read enough signposts, though, a girl can become numb to the meaning of the places etched on the wood. Adventurous lands erode into formless names. What was meant to thrill can fade into the rut of habit.

True– to be born in a place where planting seeds and navigating cross-roads is commonplace, must be a privilege. I’m conscious of the voices, the onlookers that wish that they’d been born in my place. Yet I still find the sacred ebbing into merely commonplace.

I, born to a call, wake up one day to find that “There” has grown to be a dull place to be.

And I wonder why opening up pages of God-words doesn’t knock me over with glory.

It bothers me that in the morning I can blink open my eyes to the orange-gold sun and not be flooded with speechless wonder.

When the people I meet are…just normal. Something I accept, without an accelerating flutter of my heart.

When my view of family disintegrates into “those people who live here with me.” When dear people’s embraces are expected, usual.

When I accept a day’s pattern with no more excitement than a shrug and a nod.

It’s not that love–life, the glory–is dead. I feel it, deep inside. But muddy, work-hardened fingers have gotten so stiffly mechanical that dropping the seeds into the soil no longer stirs dreams of what will sprout. “This is just what I do. I plant.”

Rattling off the proper turn to make on the journey has become patently logical. “I ought to go this way. It’s the correct way.” Never mind that I used to lie awake nights smiling to myself about the uncharted geography over the next rise. The crinkles in the old maps, the tracks of ridges and beloved valleys and heart-welling childhood glens hidden with faded-ink X’s on old cartographs–these used to quicken my pulse. Imaginings of the sweet, new-land air, the orange-and-spice thrill of mountains and falling waters and trees that stretch on and on to the sun. But now my feet simply go forward. I’ve forgotten how to stop and wonder.

Wake up!

“Awake, my soul!
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.” – Psalm 57:8

I shake the shoulders of my slumbering soul. “Wake up!” Tears start to my eyes.My skin bristles with a chill. I’m fearing vision eternally fogged with dream-sleep. Oh, that the charted paths would clear of dust and glow gold again. That the seed would slip again through tender hands, smooth of callouses. I ache to see the glory.

Frantic, wild attempts at self-stirring finally spiral into a gliding calm, a prayer to the only Heart-Awakener.

“Return the joy of your salvation to me
and sustain me with a willing spirit.” – Psalm 51:12, CEB –

Sleep fading from long-still muscles leaves a tingling numbness. But I am–so slowly–beginning to see the dawn.

A compass atop a faded map, waiting at the doorstop, beckon. An adventure waits for my feet to follow. A Friend lingers to walk at my side. He’s already pointing the way to the next rise. I can see He’s come this way before.

The Gardener calls and I realize, as if for the first time, what can spring from the seeds He holds out. Tiny in my palm, yet they may be trees.

Deeds, planted–today. Journeys, started in faith–yes, today I can step through the door.

Tucking potential deep into loamy furrows, I close my eyes and He lets me see the glorious things that may be.

At the beginning of my trek, He leads me to a mountain’s crest and I can see, in dawn swirling on low clouds, dim shapes of the wonders that await in the miles ahead.

“Restore to me this joy.” This time the words are full and breathless. He is so marvelously good to call back this life.

Storyteller Andrew Peterson paints it all in bright words, what this planting, this stepping out, is for us:

“We chose the spot, we dug the hole
We laid the maples in the ground to have and hold
As Autumn falls to Winters sleep
We pray that somehow in the Spring
The roots grow deep

And many years from now
Long after we are gone
These trees will spread their branches out
And bless the dawn…

…So sit down and write that letter
Sign up and join the fight
Sink in to all that matters
Step out into the light
Let go of all that’s passing
Lift up the least of these
Lean into something lasting
Planting trees…

So many years from now
Long after we are gone
These trees will spread their branches out
And bless the dawn
These trees will spread their branches out
And bless someone”

lyrics from “Planting Trees,” by Andrew Peterson

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“Awake, my soul!
    Awake, harp and lyre!
        I will awaken the dawn

I will praise you, Lord, among the nations;
    I will sing of you among the peoples.
For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
    your faithfulness reaches to the skies.

Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
    let your glory be over all the earth.”

– Psalm 57:8-11, NIV –

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Thank you, Public Domain Pictures and Larisa Koshkina, for today’s image.