Today’s Joys

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

This week I have enjoyed the quiet company of old friends, the exuberant and spontaneous hospitality of strangers, an enormous rainbow emblazoned like a banner of love over my head, and the breeze ruffling my hair when I rode with the window down. I have felt the surge of looking-ahead, of wonderings and musings…and I keep trying to pull myself back.

“Thank you,” I whisper. “For this, right now.”

Why must I always compare this moment to something that was or something that will be?

It’s too easy to cling to the past seasons, or wistfully wait on what’s coming next…but it’s not very easy to just lay these things aside and embrace the fullness of Now. Today. This solitary, sacred moment. This is the only time I will have this moment in my grasp, and even as I possess it, it slips through my eager fingers like air.

More than just a sentimental connection with the moment, I want to grab hold of something. C.S. Lewis said that …”the Present is the point at which time touches eternity,” and I think it must be.

I have a tarnishing necklace with these words scrawled across the metal pendant: “Every day is a gift.” Maybe that is what I’m reaching for–to accept the gift of this day, the gift of this breath, with attention.

Have you ever seen a child bide his time, ripping open his many Christmas presents and tossing them aside as he waits for his parents to bring out the one gift he wants most. He may barely notice the other gifts as he unwraps them, because he isn’t really looking at them at all. He is really only thinking of one thing–and that one thing is something he does not yet hold in his hands.

I’m afraid I’m like that. I frantically unwrap seconds of my life, pile minutes into unnoticed heaps, stack hours on fast-filling shelves, file away days in the back of a drawer…and I forget to look at them twice as I fling the new-moment wrapping aside and plunge ahead to the “bigger gifts” I hope I can unwrap soon.

But lately…I’ve been trying to learn. My moments come and go faster than breaths, quieter than glances, but I reach out to accept more of them as they pass.

My bones chill with the temporary wonder of each breath. Joy breaks over me like laughter. Even pain invades my moments with something like joy itself–as if the love mixes with the pain to grow a heart larger and roomier than it was before. To make more room in it, perhaps, for more mingled laughter and tears.

I’m seeing the tiny wonders more clearly. People and relationships I often take for granted. The smallest of yellow flowers along the hiking trail. The tone of concern in a friend’s voice. The tears shed across tables and across miles. A rainbow that makes me laugh aloud, painted across the gray. The small graces of a Redeemer who seams my moments together with invisible, invincible thread.

I reach out for these small graces, because they are a way to lift up my face and smile thanks for another undeserved moment. They are a soundtrack for my worship. They are my cue to whisper praise.

So then, my lesson for today is joy.

Joy, in this very next gift of a breath.

Thank you.

“If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!”

 – Matthew 7:11, ESV –

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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 –

 

 

When God Digs a Hole

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You can’t build a great building on a weak foundation. You must have a solid foundation if you’re going to have a strong superstructure.

– Gordon B. Hinckley –

What is God up to?

This past week, full of thoughts and struggles, I heard a story called “Skyscraper.” Part of a collection of thoughts about God, this story, in a few short paragraphs, taught me to hope.

In this story, author Sally Lloyd Jones tells about the building of a high-rise building. First, long before the steel skeleton of a structure goes up, the foundation is dug.

“They are digging down to go up,” she writes.

In the years after being freed, Corrie ten Boom shared about her experience with her sister Betsie in a Nazi concentration camp. In one of her famous quotes, she spoke of their suffering as a deep pit–but it was a pit that could not go down deeper than the love of her God. With every painful shovelful that sank her deeper into that pit, God was making a solid, spacious place for her life to grow out of. One day, she walked out of that concentration camp. She lived to tell about the fantastic love of Christ that not only saw fit to place her in a pit for a time, but the love that raised her up triumphant to new heights.

This is the parable of the skyscraper.

In the middle of an amazing life, I keep feeling the scrape of rocks as my foundation is dug. Only, foundation-digging does not feel like progress. It feels like falling. It feels like the solid things in your life are being removed. It can feel like fear.

When our neighbors built a basement beneath their house, they hoped that the dirt beneath would not contain too many rocks. Unfortunately, we live in a county full of rocks, some of which run in thick layers beneath the surface. We do live in the Ozark Mountains, after all. So when the neighbors hired builders to dig beneath the house, they were dismayed when they hit a slab of stone only 18 inches beneath the dirt.

This happens in my life. God is digging deep into me, and even though it hurts sometimes, I am thankful. Then He hits rock.

“Great, Lord!” I grin. “That means you don’t have to dig anymore, right?”

Maybe our neighbors thought the same thing–maybe a deeper basement was impossible. Maybe the digging was over.

Then the digging crew brought out the dynamite.

Have you ever felt God pull out the dynamite? Have you ever thought the painful digging was done, only to feel your roots shake with blast after blast?

Using dynamite beneath a house takes great care and skill. Do you think our heavenly Father uses any less skill and precision and concern when He lays the explosive charges all around us?

“When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you.”

– Isaiah 43:2, NLT –

What does digging look like in your life? In mine, it looks like normal days at home that are anything but routine. It looks like deeper pains and joys than I have ever experienced. It is harder decisions and more impactful words. Digging looks like long talks and many tears. Digging means grabbing onto something solid when the soil is crumbling out from under me. It means feeling overwhelmed–and maybe that’s the point. “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2, ASV).

O taste and see that the Lord is good…” (Psalm 34:8). 

I never realized that this tasting might be with a dry mouth, and this seeing might be with teary eyes. And that His goodness would taste so incredibly sweet.

I have many days of delight, when the digging is not frightening, when I trust the Architect. And you know…in a way, they are not any sweeter than the days when I am utterly unmoored, but Jesus carries me. Do I wish for the hardest days? No. But when they come, they are the bitter that makes the sweet all the sweeter.

And so the digging goes on. Some days, I don’t understand. Some days, I want to hide all the shovels and run from the growth. Sometimes, I forget what He is making me into.

But today, I choose to be grateful for the dynamite, and thankful for the chipping away.

Today, I will believe the Builder. He is laying the groundwork for something amazing.

I will show you what someone is like who comes to Me, hears My words, and acts on them: He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. When the flood came, the river crashed against that house and couldn’t shake it, because it was well-built.” 

 – Luke 6:47-48, HCSB –

I step back to consider the wall that I have built,
A section of my castle where I laid my dreams in stone
Though the wall is new and short, the cracks already show,
And when the storm begins to wash it away, I fall on my knees and say

Lord, my Architect, come build me.
Lay my dreams’ foundation on the Rock of Christ.
Those words that broke off the stones around me
Can’t shake the castle You will build for me.
And one day I’ll wake up and see
The plan You’ve laid for me is the castle of my dreams.

I bring you dream stones glimmering with starlight from my eyes,
But stone by stone You clear away the best of the plans I have.
In Your strength I sweep the ashes, in the wind they fly away.
“My thoughts are not your thoughts,” You say.
I stretch out my empty hands.

The first floor is finished, the Builder’s strength undiminished
As the first golden plans begin to take place
New walls rise above me, my eyes shine with trust,
And my Architect keeps pressing on to build the life He has for me.


Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, by Sally Lloyd Jones (foreword by Timothy Keller), is an amazingly-profound book with gorgeous illustrations. Today’s blog concept of skyscrapers came from this collection of one-paged lessons on Scriptural themes, teaching poignant truths of the beauty of our God. Written especially for children, this book has encouraged me again and again. The wonders of God are for all ages! I highly recommend this breathtaking book–and the only reward I get for recommending it is the pleasure of seeing my friends love something I love. 

When Life Knocks You Down

snowball-in-hand2.jpg“A snowball in the face is surely the perfect beginning to a lasting friendship.”

― Markus Zusak, The Book Thief ―
Last week, the snow was light on the ground, drifting only in sparse piles on top of the vehicles and the edge of the driveway. I looked out the kitchen window, and this is what I saw.
Around the driveway drifts, two young friends of mine gathered, rolling snow into lopsided balls in an attempt to build a snowman. Somewhere along the way the lure of the snow was just too much for one of them and snowballs began to fly.

Before you knew it, the round snowman torso was being plundered for ammunition. One of my little friends, laughing in the thrill of the moment, suddenly caught a huge wad of snow in the head. He went flying backward into the snow, his red coat a streak of color against the blank palette of yard.

It was one of those magical moments.

Laying on his back, he grinned, laughing at being bowled over. Soon he was up again, and before long, not a trace of the original snowman remained.

This is the joy I seek.

To go down laughing when this world bowls me right over.

The boys playing in my snowy yard plowed through the cold like it was a joy to do it. They lay down in the stuff like it was comfortable. They took hits like troopers. It was all a blast–a game without risk or reason to fear.

Life seems a little more heartless. Its snowballs are packed a lot harder, carry a little more ice inside them. Adventures we once craved, we now see in their true light: cold, wet, hard things that we really don’t want to go out in.

No wonder so many of us stay inside ourselves, where it is warm and comfortable.

But there was something marvelous about my little friends trouncing through the snow. Their exhilaration in the beautiful discomfort. Their embracing of being swept off their feet.

So I think I know a secret, how life can be like a snow day. You can get cranky because the snow went down your neck and into your boots, and your gloves are soaked clean through, and your nose is dripping off. Or, when the big snowballs of life knock you off your feet, you can lay there a while and laugh at the sky above you.

Maybe that’s the best place to see the sky–when you are flat on your back. Sometimes it takes being knocked down to get you to look up. 

Maybe that’s when you can stop trying to prove how well you can stand up to the barrage, and you can just flop over and laugh into the cold sky.

“While other worldviews lead us to sit in the midst of life’s joys, foreseeing the coming sorrows, Christianity empowers its people to sit in the midst of this world’s sorrows, tasting the coming joy.”

 – Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, p.31 –

I think that hope teaches us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Life can be very, very hard. It is true.

But when we are knocked down, we can cry over our smallness and weakness…or we can laugh at it. We can marvel at a God who loves the little person bowled over by the snowball. And we can trust that the God of the snow knows all about snowballs…and He knows just how much we needed to take a long look at the sky and ponder what kind of Creator would gift us with such blue beauty.

“This is why we do not lose courage. Though our outer self is heading for decay, our inner self is being renewed daily.”

 – 2 Corinthians 4:16, CJB –

The God of snow days and of little boys and long, happy falls into snow banks is also my God. He has promised to make all this world into something fresh and new one of these days.

Until then, He gives grace for the days when we are knocked right off our feet. His redeemed daughters “smile when they think about the future” (paraphrase of Proverbs 31:25, The Voice.)

It is easy to be discouraged when life knocks us down.

But take a deep breath and look up at the blue, blue sky and laugh. Your Father is making it all come out perfect in the end.

That’s why snow days are worth celebrating.

As cold as everything looks in winter, the sun has not forsaken us. He has only drawn away for a little, for good reasons, one of which is that we may learn that we cannot do without him.

– George MacDonald –

My Journey to “Welcome”

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“May your walls know joy; may each room hold laughter, and may every window open to great possibility.”

– Mary Ann Radwacher-Hershey –

For this new year, instead of making a list of goals, I chose a word.

Welcome.

I lay awake just after midnight, in the first minutes of January 1st, and the word welcome jumped to life in my head.

For the past few months, I’ve been curiously poking around at the impact of community. I’m collecting articles of all sorts–on loneliness, crime, orphanages, homelessness, imprisonment–anywhere that isolation rears its head, I want to learn about it. More importantly, I want to know what Christians can do about it…what I can do about it. How could the Gospel I believe penetrate all these varieties of loneliness? Because I know it can.

This is why welcome is my word for 2016.

Meanwhile, God is doing things in my family that I would have never guessed. Our family is growing by “adoption” as individuals and families are coming into our home for a few hours…or a few months. Like never before, I am getting to welcome in new family members into the ups and downs of my everyday life. Not just company. Not just bringing them into a freshly-cleaned house for pre-planned hospitality. They’re literally living in my space. Literally becoming part of us. Literally looking for a home that we can offer.

Welcome, my friends. Welcome, my new family. Welcome.

At the same time, I am trying to learn how to welcome my brother and parents, in the context of time spent together. I am amazed that I have known them all my life, and yet still their desires and personalities baffle me so often. As part of welcoming them into my heart, I am beginning to discover –or at least trying to discover– what they love the most. “How can I be a blessing to them, today?” I am learning to ask. Not that it is easy…but maybe love is so beautiful because it takes work. It takes real heart, not just the leftovers.

This a year of learning to welcome.

What will the journey of 2016 look like? What new experiences will God call me to welcome into my life? What people will He give me to welcome into my space, my heart? What wisdom can I welcome into my soul? What joy can I make room for?

“….Good should be your objective always, among yourselves and in the world at large. Be happy in your faith at all times. Never stop praying. Be thankful, whatever the circumstances may be. If you follow this advice you will be working out the will of God expressed to you in Jesus Christ.”

 – 1 Thessalonions 5:16-18, Phillips –

Why choose the word welcome?

Welcome is an expression of joy at the arrival of something or someone. It stems from the idea of a pleasing, wished-for visit.

Making space for welcome in my year means making myself available for the journey God has for me. It means opening my eyes to opportunities I might otherwise ignore. Most importantly, it means becoming like Jesus, compassionately touching all those who enter my life in the days ahead. In His strength, I wish for my face to be a restful home for the weary.

“Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

 – Matthew 10:40-42, NIV –

That’s why I chose welcome for 2016. It’s about cups of water–giving away lots and lots of clear water to thirsty little ones.

It’s my joy. In fact, I think it is why I was made.

Will you choose a word for the year, or do you prefer to write out goals for the next 12 months? Whatever you choose, let me know in the comments! You all inspire me!

“I am strangely glad to get back again to you: and wherever you are is my home—my only home.”
― Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre ― 

The Best Place to Be

 

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“Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.”

– P. Yogananda –

Every once in a while, I stumble across something that thrills me through and through with so much joy that I realize what souls were made for.

It’s not always the same thing.

Sitting in the sun sharing Chex Mix with two children whose father abandoned them, loving them in their blunt, innocent pain.

Nina at the nursing home, who wheels her chair up until she rams the piano bench and keeps offering to be my sister, since I don’t have one of my own.

It’s not so much a place or an activity as a pattern. The Lord sets me in opportunities, and I realize with surprise that this is what I was created to do. This is where I belong. This is where my strange, mysterious, unexplainable mix of qualities can flesh out healing and love and joy.

On Thanksgiving Day, a friend and I were discussing personality types over turkey and mashed potatoes. We have very similar personalities, so we were enjoying comparing our in-common experiences with people.

“I often tell people ‘I understand’ when they are telling me about terrible things I have never experienced, ever!” I confessed to my friend. “I know I haven’t gone through those things, but I feel a little of what it must be like.”

Sometimes, that can be a lot of pressure. To discern the pain that someone is feeling and knowing that you have to do something is a big responsibility. Another friend wrote me about a woman fighting sex trafficking, who said:

“I know too much to not do something.”

Story of my life. Like that woman, I know too much not to do something.

Recently, another friend and I were talking about this mysterious piece of me, and I felt a little overwhelmed.

God has given me this strange, crazy ability to be able to deeply feel people’s’ pain, absorb their discomfort, cry their tears, exult in their joy.

And it’s a little scary. I have to be vulnerable–not only to my own life’s trials, but to all the pains and aches and bright places of the lives around me. I have to open myself up to others even when, at times, I long to insulate myself from the suffering of a broken world.

But as I thought about my personality this week, I realized something:

My happiest moments–the times when I feel most alive, full, and complete–are when I am loving God (and loving others through Him) in the context of my design.

That’s the best place to be.

If you’ve been questioning how you were made, wondering why you were given a particular gift…If you’ve been struggling to understand your calling…If you’re afraid of the hard, painful work of sharing love with the hurting and the hopeful…If you’re wondering why your life has played out the way it has, to bring you to this very place–this encouragement is for you.

“Our constant sacrifice to God should be the praise of lips that give thanks to his name. Yet we should not forget to do good and to share our good things with others, for these too are the sort of sacrifices God will accept.”

 – Hebrews 13:15-16, Phillips paraphrase –

I’ve come to believe that it takes vulnerability to embrace God’s gifts in our lives. The point where He made me to be strongest is also the point with the most potential to overwhelm and devastate me.

But it’s worth it.

When I’m doing what I’m created to do–and surrendering myself to coming out the other side changed and even scarred, if necessary–that is when I best worship God with my life.

When I am faithful to my design, my soul sings, because that is what it was made to do.

Maybe you’re wondering if it’s too risky to do what you know God have gifted you to do. Maybe it’s outside your comfort zone. Or maybe it’s your immediate instinct, but it costs you.

Are you afraid to give your special design, your amazing gifts, to God in worship? Are you running from your compassion, your teaching ability, your serving heart, your analytical mind, your artistic talent, your leadership capabilities, because you fear that diving in will cost too much?

I sometimes feel the same way.

But we know too much to stay quiet and unmoving:

“Tell those who are rich in this present world not to be contemptuous of others, and not to rest the weight of their confidence on the transitory power of wealth but on the living God, who generously gives us everything for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in kindly actions, to be ready to give to others and to sympathise with those in distress. Their security should be invested in the life to come so that they may be sure of holding a share in the life which is permanent.”

– 1 Timothy 6:17-19, Phillips –

We are the rich of this world–many of us literally, all of us spiritually. As Christians, we have everything we need to do the works that God has prepared in advance for us (Ephesians 2:10). “By his divine power the Lord has given us everything we need for life and godliness through the knowledge of the one who called us by his own honor and glory” (1 Peter 2:3, CEB).

That means He has given you resources and personal gifts that are too precious to waste. And trust me, nothing will give you greater joy than resting in the love of your heavenly Father and then sharing His love in the context of your design.

It’s what He made you to do–glorify Him by doing what He commands with a redeemed heart of love.

What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

– James 2:14-17, NIV –

If the Spirit of Christ fills us, we are equipped. We are ready. Nothing can hold us back from joyful obedience, when we surrender to His Spirit. He gives us all we need. Trust God with how He made you to love and go take the risk of loving. Put those scary, wonderful gifts He’s given you to work.

It sometimes hurts. It sometimes bursts over you with fullest joy. Sometimes, it is a mix of bitter and unexplainably-sweet.

But the center of His design is always, always the best place to be.


“And God is able to make all grace [every favor and earthly blessing] come in abundance to you, so that you may always [under all circumstances, regardless of the need] have complete sufficiency in everything [being completely self-sufficient in Him], and have an abundance for every good work and act of charity.”

– 2 Corinthians 9:8, AMP –

Wonder

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“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony.

But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

― G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy 


Maybe all of us have grown up too much, too fast.

And imagination has lost ground to dazzling virtual realities, so that we don’t have to stretch out with our creativity quite so much. Have you noticed that it takes more and more to capture kids attention these days?

Have we lost all our wonder?

Somewhere along the way, I have lost the wonder, like an addict who needs just a bit more to get his high.

And I walk by the flag proudly snapping in the morning wind, glance past the dusky velvet of the upturned caladium leaves, pass the wide-eyed child without even cracking a smile.

I do it without wonder, because brightness has blinded my jaded eyes.

You know, wonder, I think, is deeply tied to thankfulness. Being so full of thanks that it bubbles out in smiles and sparkling eyes.

So today I slow.

Like a child learning to walk again I try to school myself in the steps of wonder. I breathe, smile, try to pry my eyes open a little wider.

“Help me see.” It’s becoming a rhythmic sort of prayer.

Habits are such tiny, unseen, huge, life-shifting things. Have you, like me, fallen into the habit of finding fault with things around you? Have you become critical instead of thankful?

Or, like me, have you gotten so swept up in your to-do list that you forget to enjoy the thing right in front of you?

“Let not our longing slay the appetite of our living.”
― Jim Elliot

We get so focused on our plans for the future, or so bogged down in reliving — or regretting — the past that we let these things kill our zest for life. At least, I know I do. So easily, I take my mind off God’s goodness in the present in exchange for worrying over things I either cannot change or can’t know yet.

“I will bless the Lord at all times;
    his praise will always be in my mouth.” – Psalm 34:1, CEB

I pray that this becomes my reflex — that I will fix my eyes so much, so constantly upon my Savior that praise is always bubbling up inside me. I’m tired of missing out on the good things He has placed all around me. Today, I pray for my eyes to be wide, for my heart to be ready to soak up the wonder.

Are you ready to be made young again?



“Taste and see how good the Lord is!

    The one who takes refuge in him is truly happy!
You who are the Lord’s holy ones, honor him,
    because those who honor him don’t lack a thing.
Even strong young lions go without and get hungry,
    but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.”

– Psalm 34:8-10, CEB –

Earthquakes

straw-in-the-field-1318272103QII“We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

– C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain –


Just when life is nice and normal, something rumbles through and knocks you off your feet.

That happened to me this week.

I really shouldn’t be surprised by anything these days. Yet, again and again, events shock me and bring me to my knees.

Life’s earthquakes feel something like a light blow to the stomach. Not necessarily a gut-wrenching pain, but a sense of lostness, breathlessness. Disorientation.

Sometimes I actually start feeling grown up…until another earthquake rolls in and reminds me just how small and unprepared I am for the rigors of adulthood.

I’ll be 23 this year. That’s an adult, right?

But still part of me wants to go crawling into my mother’s lap for a while. Hide from the problem, hide from the people waiting on me for a life-changing answer, hide from the fear of bungling an uncertain future. Hide from the responsibility to sort out a complicated swirl of desires, relationships, convictions.

I guess I like to have it all together, and earthquakes remind me that I don’t.

Not at all. Not even a little.

Today, my dad got a funny tone in his voice and I just had a hunch. I asked “Is it ____.” And it was. Oh boy. Why did I have to be right? Just when I thought things were settling in, now things get complicated instead.

You know, crises come and go. Today, my mind was in a whirl all day, processing the latest “earthquake.” Tomorrow, or maybe the next day, things will calm again. Sure, maybe my dilemma won’t disappear. I still have choices to make. But the earthquake passes and the aftershocks ripple with decreasing intensity each time they visit me again.

And, you know, as unprepared as I was for an earthquake this week, I’m really glad it came.

It reminds me how much I need God.

See, I often try to float along on my own. I figure I can hold it all together pretty well. Maybe I don’t consciously think it, but my actions show that I tend to forget God’s present help, and lean on my own understanding instead. 

Earthquakes send me rushing for the only security I have — the holy love of Christ.

So somehow — beneath drama and options and strange events — I have an anchor.

Thus God, determining to show more abundantly to the heirs of promise the immutability of His counsel, confirmed it by an oath, that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us.

This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, even Jesus, 

Hebrew 6:17-20a, NKJV

Not only do I have a safe place to hide when life’s earthquakes try to bowl me over, but I also have the hope that all these interruptions, confusing choices, and complicated friendships will birth into something beautiful.

You never know when an earthquake might come rumbling in. When it does, where will you go?

Maybe you could join me, on my knees.

“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.”

– James 1:2-4, CEB –

 

 

My Inspiration

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“I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers. I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.”

– Ephesians 3:18-19, CEB –


Thinking of a blog post topic can sometimes be quite the challenge. Yes–believe it or not, I actually run out of words sometimes.

When I do, I think back over my week, or month, and ponder the struggles that my friends are experiencing. I think of what I’ve been reading. I mull over a verse or two from my family’s Bible reading time. Most of the time, I come up with something that I hope will be of use to someone.

So I came up with a topic a few days ago, and even started a draft today. I know at least two friends that would directly relate to the topic. I pondered making it into a list post. Lists are always good.

And then I stopped and realized…maybe this week we don’t need another how-to. Not this time.

Maybe — for just a moment — we need to stop and remember.

This morning, I read this quote:

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

– Julian of Norwich –

That’s it. It is very simple.

This is not a test, or an indictment, or an accusation.

I don’t want a show of hands.

I won’t ask you to rate your “living gladly” experience last week.

Because that isn’t the point.

I know you’ve messed up. I know I’ve shamefully disregarded an amazing love. I know that the sin we choose is sometimes piled a mile high. It is painfully apparent. We just don’t often live gladly.

We just don’t often ponder his love. At least for me, not often enough.

But take your eyes off your failure for a moment. And fix them on Him.

Live gladly.

This is not another task for the to-do list. Forget the to-do list.

Live gladly.

But…why? Why live gladly? And how…how in all this mess do we live gladly? In the middle of traffic and stress and neighbors that die, and friends that lie, and churches that split, perpetual bad news, and muffins that burn in the too-hot oven.

How can we live gladly? Why, even?

“Because of the knowledge of his love.”

Not cognitive assent. It’s more like fixation. Obsession. Total focus. Unashamed staring at the sublime mystery of grace. It’s less an academic exercise and more the awed gasp when the dawn clouds break away from the mountain tops.

Captivation with His love.

I can keep writing. I can spin you a few hundred more dancing words, but there is something else even better:

Why don’t you look at Him a little while and ponder His love for you?

You won’t ever live gladly on your own. You can’t. Not by following the commandments. Not by getting your life together. Only in turning away from your insufficiency and basking in His absolute sufficiency, you will unearth the only spring of joy. Or perhaps He will unearth it in you.

The One who alone can make your life glad with His immense goodness.

Now that is inspiration.


“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”
― G.K. Chesterton ―

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”?