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 –

 

 

In These Hands, Part 2

rain-1 (1)

       2013 is almost over. New Years is approaching. 2014 is days away. And you’re back! I’m so glad we can share Part 2, after In These Hands, Part 1, was published two weeks ago!  Let’s dive in!

“God dispenses gifts, not wages. None of us gets paid according to merit, for none of us comes close to satisfying God’s requirements for a perfect life. If paid on the basis of fairness, we would all end up in hell… In the bottom line realm of ungrace, some workers deserve more than others; in the realm of grace the word ‘deserve’ does not even apply.”

– Philip Yancey, emphasis mine –

– Perfect Gifts –

God is really good at filling open hands.

If faith is ” two empty hands held open to receive all of the Lord,” as Alan Redpath says, then what is it that we receive?

Most important, if we belong to Christ, the most glorious gift is Him. God with me, God with you, always.

What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?”

 – Romans 8:31-32, NKJV, emphasis mine –

So, “all of the Lord” encompasses not only His sparing us from wrath but also His freely giving us all things.

I’m coming to realize, like a bright dawn that slowly lifts out of the darkness, that open hands are not necessarily empty hands.

Augustine had something to say about this: “

God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.”

This goes beyond a cotton-candy gospel and reveals that our sins are still clinging to us–or that we are clinging to them. Our self-will, our determination to hold on to our own ways, the control we crave–all of these show our fingernails-dug-in grasp on our idols.

That age-old quest, the prelude to the angelic fall–“I will be like God.”

Like God, able to hold on tight to things. Like God, controlling every detail. Like God–that power would feel so good, fill the empty places. We think so, anyway.

And so, even in our nice Christian wrapping, in our church-face facade, we bow before idols, wrapping our power-hungry hands around their feet.

Our hands are too full of trash to hold the good things.

In order to hold Him, to cradle the Best there is, we have to believe that He rewards the seeker. We have to trust that He is Who He says He is. We have to be awakened to the fact that our idols are coals burning us up even as we hold them tightly. We have to turn away in disgust at the filth we’ve been clasping fondly. Repent and believe. That He is. That He will reward you when you seek Him (Hebrews 11:6).

When we open our hands and release what we’re holding so tightly, our Father doesn’t strip anything away without giving us much more. This isn’t a health-and-wealth prosperity gospel or a follow-this-formula princess theology, as worldview teacher John Stonestreet calls it. This is God’s promise.

For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.”

– Matthew 16:25, NIV. emphasis mine –

When He awakens us and we see that He is a far greater treasure than anything else…

When our eyes open and we stare up into the face of a God  who comes down to our level….

When we throw off all we call life for a Better Prize

He strips off the sin, washes the guilt, pries our fingers off our idols, and then pours abundance into our open palms. He’s a God that blesses the cursing, gives gifts to the thieves, and ransoms the mockers. He’s a God that washes clean our pig-sty hearts and makes us hate the sin-wallows. He’s a God that tells you to let go.

Not because He doesn’t want you to have good things.

The truth is…you will never have good things if you always hold on to your things. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s words can penetrate our “God wants to make me miserable” fears:

“The right way to pray is to stretch out our hands and ask of One who we know has the heart of a Father.”

It’s faith again, girls. When we open hands, we have to keep stretching, keep unfolding, keep those fingers pried back. But the good new is that faith isn’t mustered up. You see, even faith is His gift to us.

And one step of faith gives birth to another. Stormie Omartian, a writer of women’s books on prayer, says,

“When we step out in that faith, God increases our faith. In other words, acting in faith begets more faith.…We have no idea what great things God wants to do through us if we would just stop out in faith when he asks us to” (The Power of a Praying Woman, page 232, emphasis mine).

Open hands are the only way, you see, to hold His gifts.

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

– Elizabeth Barrett Browning –

Open Hands are Brave Hands

When I was a little girl, I loved a book series about a girl stolen away by Vikings. I adored her fortitude and how her faith flourished in exile, as she became so much more than she ever could have by staying safe in the Irish hills.

When I read those books, one of her prayers thrilled me. It still is almost like a heartbeat to me:

“Give me a heart of courage.”

But now I see it’s not just my heart that needs a bravery boost. It’s my hands.

Only brave hands are strong enough to open.

Only brave hands can open and then receive God and all His gifts that He delights to shower.

And only brave hands can use those open fingers to reach out and grab another hand.

We can’t reach if our hands are balled into fists. We can’t receive anything. And we certainly can’t give. Closed hands reveal a closed heart. Whatever the reason for withdrawing, closed hands close off relationships.

Join me, will you? Join me in opening my hands from now on.

And those of you who are already working up New Year’s resolutions? Forget 2014 for this one.  A year’s too small. Let’s make this the Life of Open Hands.

Open, Gift-filled, Brave, Blessed Hands.

The prying-back might hurt. But can’t you see how much it’s worth?

And it all starts with saying yes to Him, in this moment.

“Yes Lord.”

Always yes.

“Take my life, and let it be
Consecrated, Lord, to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise….

Take my hands, and let them move
At the impulse of Thy love….
Take myself, and I will be,
Ever, only, all for Thee.”

–  Frances Havergal, emphasis mine –

 

Thank you, Atalie, with Atalie Bale Photography, for today’s photo!

In These Hands, Part 1

outstretched-cupped-hands

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

― Corrie ten Boom ―

Even Christians do it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Unfurling Fingers

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

– Catherine Booth –

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

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

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

So I uncurl my fingers.

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

Yesterday, I opened my hands again.

It’s something I’ve had to do a lot.

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

“My heart seems to be slamming on the brakes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will open hands cradle only air?

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

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

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

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

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