Walking My Own Red Sea Road

sunset-over-mountains-11284647453zov5

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 –

Advertisements

Season’s Change

red-leaf-on-a-bench

My blog informs me that it has been a month since I’ve written…and what a month it has been. A month ago, I started writing a post on autumn and change…and it rings even truer today than it did when I began.

For more than three years, I’ve tried to blog weekly. Earlier this year, it slipped to every other week. Now, I don’t know when I will write..and I think that’s okay. Sometimes I may write weekly…other times, weeks may slip by. Life is changing, teaching me things, and I pray that I will still find the words to share these moments with you…and that you will stick with me and keep reading.

Thank you for 3 1/2 years of joy. Here’s to many, many more.


This is my favorite autumn.

I’ve had twenty-three of them–almost a quarter-century of changing seasons.

I’ve never leaned quite so hard into the crisping air, leaves shaking off the summer green, scents of spice and pine.

This is my favorite autumn and–quite unexpectedly–as the earth tips away from the sun, my seasons are changing with it.

I do not fear the autumnal shift into mist, short days, and frosty-orange mornings.

But I do fear this other litany of changes….

I love adventure, the bracing wind, the shivering thrill of unknown opportunities. But these opportunities seem to come in the form of deep sorrows and strained souls. Change isn’t all adventure and wild expectation. Part of me wants to snuggle deep into the autumn leaves and keep it autumn forever. Perhaps all the change swirling around me has a pause button. All I have to do it press it, and the leaves will freeze half-fallen in the air. My life will suspend in a quiet, eternal moment. Maybe I can just hit pause forever, and then things will never change.

Driving up a steep hill behind a lagging log truck the other day, I watched the leaves crouched on the roadside. As the crawling truck lumbered up the incline, the leaves bounced to their feet and tumbled into the road, dancing and swirling like an impromptu flash mob of giddy children. Since the truck was only going fifteen miles per hour and I had nothing better to do, I watched the waltzing leaves. They were golden in the morning sun, sweeping in carefree circles. They were asking me to dance.

I see the way the autumn falls around me.

It is really carefree, like an exhale.  The world lets go of her summer with such delight. She never seems to stop and cry for what she is giving up…I’ve never known the world to weep for a summer lost. I only see the way her face lights up with autumn gold and the way she gladly casts off her confetti leaves like she is welcoming home the frost.

And I stand in frost-air, tuck my hands in my pockets, and wish I could let go of seasons as well as the world does.

I am trying to stare into unknown corridors of life and see where my choices might take me. Time spent here, hours worked there, memories made everywhere…each of these is a deliberate spending of a season, and each of these is a choice I must continue to make, even as things change around me.

Is anything drastically reshaping my life? No…maybe not yet. But little by little I feel the change of the wind. Frost begins to blow in even now, and my blushing leaves are rattling to let go and join the blustery dance.

“To everything there is a season,” Ecclesiastes reminds me.

Leaves drift down, and I want to let go and fly gaily with them.

I once wrote about living with open hands…and this is like that. Autumn is teaching me how to let go and trust that a good season will follow.

If the whole world entrusts herself to her Maker, who am I to doubt the timing of His seasons?  Summer will fade into Fall, and Fall will chill the air for Winter. And we all know what comes after the death of Winter…the whole earth bursts into life again.

Each of my seasons, too, paves the way for the next. Will it be a better season? It’s hard to say, I think. Maybe it gets better as it goes along, but a dear friend of mine in her 70s says it best. “Every age is the best age,” she tells me.

I think she is right. This is the best age, the best Fall, the best season I have known.

And the next one will be the best too, because my Jesus leads the way. And I’ve never known Him to fail me.

So, with the leaves, I too let go and join the dance of expectation.


“This means tremendous joy to you, I know, even though you are temporarily harassed by all kinds of trials and temptations. This is no accident—it happens to prove your faith, which is infinitely more valuable than gold, and gold, as you know, even though it is ultimately perishable, must be purified by fire. This proving of your faith is planned to bring you praise and honour and glory in the day when Jesus Christ reveals himself. And though you have never seen him, yet I know that you love him. At present you trust him without being able to see him, and even now he brings you a joy that words cannot express and which has in it a hint of the glories of Heaven; and all the time you are receiving the result of your faith in him—the salvation of your own souls.”

 – Phillips paraphrase from 1 Peter 1:6-9 –

 

 

Living Already

 

“Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.”

 – Omar Khayyam –

Don’t miss it.

I know you dreamers, because I am one. This is what I’m saying to me today, and to you today.

Let’s not miss the life we actually have while we’re busy looking through pictures of other people’s lives–their best moments–caught on film. And we compare ourselves to that, and we live in that world, a world of people’s best moments sewn together like a patchwork quilt of reality. And then we look at our own reality, and it doesn’t seem to quite measure up

We spend hours on Pinterest and Facebook, looking at all the things people are doing and the places they’re going, and the things they have.

On Pinterest, we save all the things we’d like to get or do for ourselves…and we forget the things we already have. The things we are actually doing. The places we actually go every day.

In books, we take adventures, make friends, come to love characters. When I finish a book, I often wish the characters were real, because I love them so much. I would never be one to criticize reading, that’s for sure…but I wonder. Is this another place where we can accrue to ourselves people that we like, people who we identify with…and then forget that there are already people in our lives who, like it or not, are ours? People whom we are not just asked, but commanded to love, by the God who loved us first.

We dreamers can live in the future…all the roads yet traveled, all of the beautiful things yet to be seen or touched. The beautiful family we might one day have. The wonderful people we might one day know.

And we forget the simple magic of the hum of our tires on the roads that we travel day in and day out.

Lost in dreaming, we can lock ourselves away form the hard work of making relationships here and now. Relationships that are strong. Relationships that matter.

And I’m as guilty of this as the next person. I’ve pinned up all of the future glories that I dream of. I mean, I’ve spent hours pinning pictures of boots. Short boots, tall boots, ankle boots, knee boots…and it’s not even that that’s bad.

It’s just…today I woke up and the boots I’m wearing are the ones that were already in my closet.

And the way I did my hair is the way that I always do my hair.

And my fake little imaginary world didn’t change that.

I can drive down the road that I drive a couple times a week, not even seeing it. I’ve let myself grow dull to it. I’m so busy thinking about Pinterest-board trips that I don’t stop to enjoy the one that I’m on today.  I told myself that I’m tired of this road.

But why am I so tired of it? I don’t want to be.

Maybe it’s because I keep looking for the bigger and the better and the next and the someday.

I think that’s it. Someday.

It’s not even that I don’t like this road…it’s that I’m too busy thinking about the next one.

So, to all you dreamers out there like me, please. All we have, all that’s been promised to us, is today. This road. This family. These people’s love. These moments. These realities.

Please don’t stop dreaming. But remember that those dreams are just that…dreams. They’re not real yet. And if they do become real one day, enjoy them then.

I don’t think they will taste nearly as sweet if we wring all the enjoyment out of them before we even get to them.

I’m not so scared of my dreams not coming true. I’m more scared of missing the dreams come true that I already have, that I’ve forgotten were once dreams, because they’re real now. And maybe when they’re real, we dreamers go to the next dream.

I don’t want to be like that.

Today, this dreamer is going to live in today.

And tomorrow this dreamer is going to live in tomorrow

And I’ll keep pinning the pretty boots on Pinterest, and I’ll keep budgeting for long vacations, and I’ll keep dreaming about what it would be like to have a special family of my own one of these days. I’ll smile and I’ll dream. I’ll always keep dreaming.

But I won’t forget that I already have a family of my own–a different kind, but my very own. And I already have boots that I really like. And I already go places with people I love.

Thank you Lord, for the alreadys.

And help me not forget where I really live.

Maybe this is called contentment. Learning to live and love where you are.

Today. Already. Now.

 “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 
I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 
I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
 – Philippians 4:11b-13, NIV –

The Lesson of the Peony

 

dsc_0060-copy

 

“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 Measure of a Day

every-step-of-the-way

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”

But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”

In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan,as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

 – Luke 10:25-27, NIV –

I measure days all wrong sometimes.

I like to be productive, useful, and successful–all very good, God-honoring things to be. The trouble comes when I start to think that one particular kind of productivity outweighs the others.

Countable things, particularly.

I like to lay out those responsibilities on a piece of paper, turn them into a to-do list, and check my way through the day. It’s very satisfying to make those check marks. So satisfying, in fact, that I can forget that there are other ways of measuring the success of a life.

When I get to a day when nothing seems to get checked off the list, it is easy to feel like a failure. To a girl who is tempted to measure her worth by her productivity, a list without checkmarks is a sure sign of inadequacy.

When my performance-driven soul gets tied up in knots about all the “important stuff” that hasn’t been finished, I have to remember.

Sometimes I tell it to myself. Other times, someone takes my hand and reminds me why I’m on this earth. Sure, Jesus tells us to do our work well. But what is our main work? What am I here for, after all?

To make sure my to-do lists are perfectly marked off, every day? Primarily to dust the furniture, exercise, clock time at my job?

Or to love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength…and love my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:29-31)?

Some of the things on my list are important. They are even necessary to loving God with all of myself (Colossians 3:23). But do I really believe that, at the end of the day, they are the most vital parts of my life?

I don’t think I really believe that.

It’s possible to get so caught up in my to-do lists that I forget that the people around me are way more important than my agenda.

When I get discouraged about how little I’ve accomplished some days, I need to take a step back for a better look. Have I taken the time to look someone in the eyes while they tell me something important to them? Have I given out hugs and kisses, told the “old, old story” once again?  With my life, have I painted a living picture of the grace that I’ve been given? Have I loved, with all my heart and soul, mind and strength?

If so, my day has been undoubtedly full and rich and complete.

“Some think love can be measured by the amount of butterflies in their tummy. Others think love can be measured in bunches of flowers, or by using the words ‘for ever.’ But love can only truly be measured by actions. It can be a small thing, such as peeling an orange for a person you love because you know they don’t like doing it.”
— Marian Keyes —

There is something so compelling about a life centered around love of God and neighbor. Maybe it is the step out of “life” into “life abundant.”

I will probably always make to-do lists. God has given me jobs to do each day, and the little insistent voices of these lists help me remember my responsibilities.

But, when I get to the end of the day and inevitably find some piece of work that still needs to be done, I can set aside my notepad and pen and embrace the living to be found outside the neatly checked boxes.

I think I’ll call it “living outside the box.”

Or, better yet…

Loving outside the box.

“He has achieved success who has lived well, laughed often, and loved much;
Who has enjoyed the trust of pure women, the respect of intelligent men and the love of little children;
Who has filled his niche and accomplished his task;
Who has never lacked appreciation of Earth’s beauty or failed to express it;
Who has left the world better than he found it,
Whether an improved poppy, a perfect poem, or a rescued soul;
Who has always looked for the best in others and given them the best he had;
Whose life was an inspiration;
Whose memory a benediction.”
― Bessie Anderson Stanley

 

 

 

Little Things

 

coffee-break-1454539196eJw

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
― J.R.R. TolkienThe Fellowship of the Ring ―

Tiny choices. Normal conversations. Daily routines. A few seconds spent here and there.

These little things are not occasional time-outs from the epic, world-shattering, defining moments of my life.

They are my life.

You see, life isn’t often reshaped by an earthquake. More often, the slow erosion of wind and time and age does the shaping.

Change creeps up on us. Growth comes so slowly sometimes that we wonder if we are growing at all. Our faces never look different from day to day, but we watch the mirror and they somehow morph from childhood to maturity to old age, transforming unnoticed in front of our eyes. We set the course of our lives and one day look around to see that this is not the place we thought we were headed, for better or for worse.

This is the power of a moment.

Today, I woke up with 16 hours to spend. 960 minutes. 57, 600 seconds. I won’t save the world today. I will spend most, if not all, of this day in what people call “ordinary life.” I will clock in at work, write a blog post, unload the dishwasher, paint with watercolors, read a book, take a walk.

I won’t reach perfection today. Instead, I will try to love in the moment, choosing to focus on the person in front of me instead of the project in front of me. I will pray to speak the right things and have the right attitudes. I will strive, fall, get up again, and dust off my scraped knees.

These moments that people call ordinary is where almost all of life really happens. These little things are the things that reshape my soul and reorient my life’s direction.

My glorious resolutions have to have feet–and their “feet” are today’s choices. How I choose to think, how I choose to spend my 960 minutes, how I complete the most basic tasks are the real me. My best and worst moments do not define me as much as all the in-between choices do.

My life is a process of being transformed and renewed.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

– Romans 12:2, NASB –

Jesus doesn’t generally call us to a life of non-stop action. He calls us to everyday faithfulness. I don’t have to hunt for a new adventure, a “more-important” adventure.

“It is ingrained in us that we have to do exceptional things for God—but we do not. We have to be exceptional in the ordinary things of life, and holy on the ordinary streets, among ordinary people—and this is not learned in five minutes.”
 – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest –

And little things are not just about choices and change.

Little things are also about meaning and beauty and wonder.

Wouldn’t it be tragic if we could count all the beautiful moments of life on just our fingers?   A handful of exciting travels and life-changing events are just a tiny portion of the beauty of an entire life.

I don’t want to be able to number my treasures on one hand. I want to open my eyes and see the surprises and tiny gifts. I want to number every day’s gifts on a thousand fingers. I want to fall in love with the ordinary moments that God has granted to me. If He ordained for most of my life to spent in this way, how can I doubt the value of the small and ordinary?

“There is a daily-ness to my work, a small-moment perspective that whispers for me to connect with the work in my right-now hands, not because it’s going to become something Big and Important, but because Someone who is Big and Important is here, with me, in me, today.” 
 – Emily Freeman, Simply Tuesday
This past week, I’ve noticed some of these precious little things:

The hilarious quips of my ten-year-old movie buddy.
How children understand deep things.
How faces light up when people are encouraged.
Watching a boy grow into a man.
Finding insights in a Bible verse that I’ve never noticed before.
How beautiful people are when they are doing what they’re good at.
The way the light twinkles in the morning.
Problems that are leading to something good.
Growth even when I can’t see.

There is too much goodness around me to ignore, whether today is an easy day or a hard day. Whether the sun comes out or the rain falls. Whether I can see God’s hand in my circumstances or not.

The little things matter.

They change me, teach me, and grow me into who I am becoming. They teach me about a patient God who cares about the details.
And in their everyday ordinariness, the details of my life are spectacular.
“But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more [in love], and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you….”
 – 1 Thessalonians 4:1ob-11, NASB –

 

For When You Have No Words

the-english-landscape-1334507649HGf

Last week, I sat down at my laptop to write a blog post. I titled a page and began to peck away at the keys before everyone woke up.

The next day, I once again set the laptop on my knees and plugged away at words, this time careening in a different direction.

By the end of that typing session, I had two very different partial-posts and no ideas of what I actually wanted to write.

When writers look for advice, there is one thing we’re always told:

“Write what you know.”

In other words, go out and live life. Write about things you’ve actually done or experienced. You can’t write if you don’t have an existence outside the written word.

But, dear writing community, I have stumbled across another problem.

I have discovered that it is possible to live so much that you run clean out of words.

Thoughts worthy of blog posts can come in fits and starts, ordinarily. Lately, though, I have been so immersed in life that when I sit down to think of a good post topic, I lean my head back on my headboard and go blank. Ideas pop up and I quickly squelch them.

I wonder if there is such a thing as too much writing material.

Just now, I live in a new world everyday. I wake up to complications and emotions that I’m just beginning to learn how to ride out.

Learning how to be an adult, in a house of six adults. Trying to give daily, intensive love to eight other people. Discovering how my family members and I handle stress. Finding out just how unreliable feelings are. Caring for my big, crazy family, sometimes long-distance. Looking for new things to learn. Opening my heart to bigger hurts and bigger loves. Juggling a schedule that isn’t even funny. Hoping to pull off a good job for my supervisor. Trying to find out where social media fits in. Learning that my life balance is something I have to discover by trial and error…lots of error. Squeezing in a book or a podcast in there somewhere. Singing, a lot.

Sometimes life lessons crystallize in slow motion, over a period of days or weeks. These days, so many lessons pour over my head that I’m slow to catch them, much less be able to put them into words.

But, even here there is a lesson.

When life crowds out your words, go back to the basics.

Jesus. Run back to Jesus.

Life can get too confusing. It gets crowded–full of mess and hurt and blessings and busyness. Whether the days whiz by or crawl, they often don’t seem to get any lighter. Breathing can be hard, and living can be weighty. Life is hard to condense into a neat package and tie up in a bow.

But maybe, just maybe, it’s not supposed to be nice and neat. 

I think life is meant to be a paradox. Everything may be wildly incoherent and out of my control…but all wrapped up in the hand of God.

“I deliberately kept it plain and simple: first Jesus and who he is; then Jesus and what he did—Jesus crucified.”

 – paraphrase of 1 Corinthians 2:2, from the Message –

When the apostle Paul went to Corinth, he didn’t try to help people make spiritual sense of their lives with anything other than the Gospel. Jesus was the totality of His message.

You see, the Gospel merges the broken, jagged puzzle pieces of our lives into a coherent whole.

Jesus–the crucified and resurrected Redeemer–truly redeems. He buys back the lives, the days, the purposes of every detail of existence. Because of Jesus, the picture of our lives, though incomplete from our perspective, starts to make sense.

Life doesn’t work without Jesus.

In the book of Acts, Paul quotes the Greek philosopher Epimenides, using Greek poetry to describe the centrality of Christ:

“For in Him we live and move and exist….” – Acts 17:28

The book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus, “[by] his own mighty word…holds the universe together” (Hebrews 1:3, CEV).

This truth is the reason why, when I am drained of words, I still have one word:

Jesus.

I don’t have to make sense of my crazy, whirlwind world. Taking one day at a time, I just have to love the next person in front of me, “do the next right thing,” and offer up each moment as something I’m doing to make my Savior glad.

The Gospel says that Jesus is enough.

When I run out of understanding…

Out of energy,

Out of intuition,

Out of words…

He is still there.

In Him, I am not a chaotic mess. In Him, I am centered.

In Him, I am home.

 

Swords and Silver Boxes

woman-holding-silver-gift

“Thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword, but wisely spoken words can heal.”

 – Proverbs 12:18, GNT –


This verse made me stop in my tracks this past week.

I have probably literally heard it my whole life. I should know this, right? 🙂

Recently, a friend shared with me the deep pain that several people’s random comments and inappropriate words caused her. It was just this past week, as I considered blogging on the power of words, that I realized the connection to this verse.

The Bible has plenty to say about how we speak. Be kind to one another. Build up. Don’t curse one another. Speak the truth in love.

We know this.

But this particular verse especially stood out to me because people I cared about were being knocked flat because of words that people didn’t even intend to be hurtful. I can’t judge hearts, but I know these fellow Christians most likely did not intend their speech to be so deadly. But it was.

What does the proverb say again?

“Thoughtless words can wound as deeply as any sword….”

The verse doesn’t say “evil words.” It doesn’t say “malicious” or even “premeditated words.”

Thoughtless.

The reality of life is that you and I could walk into the world today and just blurt out something…and it could absolutely destroy someone.

Don’t get me wrong–people have choices about how they respond to wrong words. But God doesn’t expect us to blame our carelessness on the wounded. He places the responsibility of love directly the speaker.

Thoughtless words.

How many times a day do I carelessly throw out sentences? Many times in the last few weeks, I’ve become angry at the way other people fling thoughtless words at those I love. “That is SO insensitive,” I’ve internally ranted. “How can they not see how wrong that is?”

“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love to talk will have to eat their own words.” – Proverbs 18:21, GW

Recently, someone I dearly love and respect excused his quick, thoughtless words as “just his personality.” He stopped and thought something like, “I wonder if I should say that?” And then he verbally announced his mental process and proceeded to speak his mind anyway. He knew better. But, because he identified as a blunt person, he thought that gave him liberty to say what he was thinking in that situation. I wonder, if he knew what his words might have cost, if he would think his liberty was worth that much.

I’m not advocating over-sensitivity or timidity when it comes to conversing with others. But we should certainly strive toward more compassion and less haste, more tactfulness and less impulsiveness. More Christ-likeness and less me-likeness. This verse about thoughtless words compels me to examine my communication and pray for grace to enrich lives rather than reduce them to dust.

Ladies, we especially have power to build or destroy with our words. Proverbs contains several laments of men who would have preferred to camp out on the edge of their roof than be in the same house as a cantankerous girl. Our gender, famous for using countless thousands of words each day, would do especially well to remember the harm that unthinking words can instigate.

Florence Littauer, a dear Christian woman, wrote a book called Silver Boxes. In it, she recounts the story of a little girl who compared giving encouraging words to giving someone a silver-wrapped gift.

What a piercing thought.

Our words can be silver-cased swords, ready to cut to the quick…

Or they can be silver-wrapped boxes, filled with delight.

Practically, what kind of words come as silver-crusted daggers? While I’m sure situations vary greatly, here are a few examples of insensitive ones: physical appearance, mental or physical ability, psychological labels (even as a joke), misunderstood teasing, reminding people of past mistakes or sins, untempered criticism, or any words that belittle or discourage.

Whew. Not a fun list.

If those are the kinds of words to shun, what can we put on instead? I know, in my family, much of the above list is absolutely taboo.  We’re not particularly noble –- my brother and I were just never allowed to use them!

For me, then, my biggest challenge is the handoff between silver swords and silver boxes. Honestly, when I examine myself, I see more sins of omission in the area of words.

While I definitely say wrong things, mostly I don’t say enough right things.

“Pleasing words are a honeycomb, sweet to the taste and invigorating to the bones,” says Proverbs 16:24, NABRE.

What can you say? How about one of these: I’m proud of you. I really respect/appreciate you. Wow, look at what God has done in your life! Hey, how can I pray for you today? I love you. I am really glad you are in my life. What a good Father we have! I know He has this situation under control, even if we don’t understand. 

I told you at the beginning of this post that a friend of mine has been suffering from thoughtless words. What did these words do? They made a Christian girl have to work twice as hard to fight lies, because other people were unwittingly joining the chorus of temptations she already faced. They struck her with pain, because people she loved were using their words like knives. Unknown to those around her, they were actually siding with the devil, helping him tear down a soul. What a horrible thought!

And there I was on the other end of the spectrum. I was the one hearing the effects of these hurtful words and praying for words to pick up the pieces.

I get frustrated, because sometimes it seems to take 10 encouraging words to undo 1 hurtful word. But with this friend and with others, I now more clearly see the battlefield of communication. From time to time, God puts me on the front lines and gives me the gift of speaking truth into a hurting heart. He asks me to give out silver boxes.

If you think words can kill, you’re right.

But wait until God uses your words to bring life to dull eyes. This is real living, my friends. And I don’t dive into this abundant life nearly enough.

It is a battle. If you engage with encouragement, you are going to see some amazing things happen.

God gave us the gift of words. With the forgiveness and love of Jesus as our motivation and the grace of our Lord as our power, let’s make a choice to craft our silver into gift boxes of encouragement, not slicing swords.

Words are pretty powerful stuff. Whose life can you build up today?


“So continue encouraging each other and building each other up, just like you are doing already.”

 – 1 Thessalonions 5:11, CEB –

 

The Story of the Trees

spring-tree-1335527884wpA

“Spring shows what God can do with a drab and dirty world.”

– Virgil A. Kraft –


 

Winter is over, because the trees say so.

Driving the Arkansas hills this weekend, I saw the proof. Budding fruit trees—pink cherries, the snowy-white of the pears, the deep magenta of the red bud tree and flagrantly-golden forsythia—line side roads and dot the valleys and farm houses with splashes of color.

Spring is here. All is new.

I didn’t know how much I wanted the spring until it arrived. The hay bales lie sodden brown in the rain-soaked, brown and gray fields. Rain has greened up some of the grass on either side of the yellow-lined road. Cows speckle the mottled hills, finding the first tender blades of springtime between the straw stubble.

But my favorites are the trees.

Wordlessly momentous, they wear the wedding colors of spring.

It means something just out of reach. The brilliant simplicity of the trees carries a weight that I feel, but cannot yet quite grasp.

Maybe it is the abundant life sprouting up in the middle of the bare groves sticking their splintery branches into the sky.

Maybe it is the insistent return of joy.

Maybe it is the trees dressing up for no reason, just because it is a good day to be alive under the blue, blue dome of heaven.

Spring is springing, and my heart springs along with it.

Is life perfect? No. But His times and seasons are, whether sunshine or inclement weather, drought or abundant rain. Struggles are real, longings deep, battles hard.

But all is well. Spring is here. All is new.

It is a promise to the world, once again. “As long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night…” (Genesis 8:22, NLT.)

God says, “Do it again,” and again the celestial orbs take their places in line, to reenact the elliptical dance they know so well.

The renewal of spring reminds us of the refreshing He can always bring to the souls of His children.

“Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” – Romans 12:2, NLT

And the bright budding of spring tells a tale for which we wait:

“And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”“Behold, I am making all things new!’ ” – Revelation 21:5, ESV

Even as we wait for the world’s crowning day, daily He brings us newness, springtime in our hearts. “Your mercies are new every morning.” “There is therefore now no condemnation.” “The old has gone, the new has come.” (Lamentations 3:22-23; Romans 8:1; 2 Corinthians 5:17.)

Maybe that is why “my heart with pleasure fills” when I look out the car window at the triumphant white of the pears springing up in the fields.

Spring is the world going on, birthing life out of death.

Spring is God’s metaphor for what He does in our lives everyday. Refreshing. Renewing. Filling our bare branches with living color.

Today, again, He is declaring Springtime over our longing hearts.


 

“Spring is when life’s alive in everything.”

 – Christina Rossetti –

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 –