Even in Darkness


Once upon a time, I had a really bad day.

A day that left me with an ache for days after.

Have you ever had one of those, a day that you knew God was there, but it was still so, so hard?

When you’d never been more confident in His plans, but giving over that stubborn piece of your heart got harder and harder each time you tried to lay it on the altar?

The day passed. I tasted the bittersweet. Bitter–because the sacrificing only got more costly. Sweet–because I knew my Jesus would be enough even in darkness.

The next days weren’t easy.

A lot of prayers. A lot of tears. A lot of wobbly smiles and Mom hugs and jumbled thoughts and wondering if this cloud would ever let the sun through again.

You’ve been there too–days that leave a stamp on your heart and you doubt the memories will ever really fade. And yet, God was there.

But that day, once upon a time, is not what I want you to remember.

It’s something else I learned, weeks after that day my light seemed to flicker out…

Sometimes God pulls back the curtain and lets me get a peek at His masterpiece.

This particular brushstroke in this painting we call history came to me in an e-mail.

On the dark day,

The day that laying down my self-will was so hard,

But I knew it was still worth it–

That day, God did something with me.

With a life that felt out of control, but was never really out of His.

Even when it felt dark.

When I thought that I couldn’t possibly be doing anyone else any good because I was so broken inside,

When just handing God my heart took all my breath away,

His grace was still amazing.

And He took this little flickering candle of a life and magnified the light, and this little light shone.

I didn’t know it, but a young girl was watching me on that day.

She saw me smile.

She saw me laughing, sharing a meal with my mom. Even when I was torn apart inside, God made a refuge for me and I laughed and loved and stuck close to my best source of hugs. (Thanks, Mom!)

And that little girl listened.

She learned that my mom and I are best friends. She could see that I respected her and that I wasn’t ashamed to be not just a daughter, but a friend to my mom.

The point?

It’s not that I was trying to pull myself together and put on an act.

But that even when I felt like I had nothing left to give, God was faithful.

Even when it took my whole soul striving to just keep moving forward, God was in the middle, still willing to use a vessel so broken.

And that bad, bad day?

I’m not sorry I had it.

I’d do it again, in fact, if I could get that email again too.

What did it say?

It was the mom of that little girl, and I could almost see the tears in the lady’s eyes as I heard her words.

After seeing how my mom and I are such good friends, that young girl decided she wanted to be friends with her mom just like that.

She hadn’t really seen another girl before that would admit to enjoying her mom. But God took my mom and I to just the right place.

And, licking an ice cream cone, I got to shine.

Even in darkness.

Sisters, don’t despair the black days. They aren’t wasted.

Don’t mourn the days that seem to spin far out of your control. No matter how hard it gets, keep surrendering.

In your pain, in your deepest weakness–this is God’s favorite place to work.

You may never know what a difference you made to a life.

But, then again….

….Maybe God will hold back the curtain and give you just a little glimpse….

“Take my love, my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure store;
Take myself, and I will be,
Ever, only, all for Thee.
Ever, only, all for Thee.”

– from the hymn “Take My Life and Let It Be” by Frances Havergal

Thank you to Edward McCabe and Public Domain Pictures for today’s photo!

Only a Smile


“Be thou the rainbow in the storms of life. The evening beam that smiles the clouds away, and tints tomorrow with prophetic ray.”
– Lord Byron –

There is a girl I have dreams about. Daydreams, I guess.

She always smiles–not one of those annoying grins with perpetually wrong timing, but a quiet, radiant upturn to her lips that occasionally breaks forth into a full-blown laugh. Even troubles don’t dent the assured joy that lingers through the tears.

She is the one that makes hearts skip a beat because the day was so long and life is just really hard. And then she smiles and it gets a little brighter.

In my dreams, she is known as “the girl who smiles.”

The future days are full of hope to her, possibilities, more lives to give sunshine.

She is the kind of person who has a song that throbs in her heart and she just opens her mouth and sings out a smile.

It’s catchy. It turns heads. Some people think she’s a bit loony. And some want to know what she knows that makes her so happy.

Cause she’s either naive or there’s really something, Someone, who can fill up like that.

Maybe you didn’t guess. That girl is me. Well, not me exactly. She’s who I wish I could be. She’s the girl I want to be when my feet hit the floor and I walk into a world that really needs a joy boost.

But usually I’m just trying to wrestle down my straying heart.

I still think that girl exists. I still long to live like that.

But how?

It starts with laying down self–not an easy thing, I know. Believe me, I know. It seems like every hour I am battling something that swells up like bitter waves. It’s something I hate. But it’s something that I somehow want to hold on to. This self-focus is strangling. And it’s the most joy draining thing we can do.

The only solution I’ve found: knee time. Of course, I don’t usually get on my knees literally. But as Victor Hugo said,

“Certain thoughts are prayers. There are moments when, whatever be the attitude of the body, the soul is on its knees.”

I have this habit of telling God what I’m feeling, how my desires are twisted into knots. Sometimes, often, I have to confess that I don’t even want a better attitude. Sometimes I’m just tired. And my soul falls to its knees. There is no temptation that we cannot bear with His help–He always gives a way of escape, so that we can bear it (1 Corinthians 10:13). Prayer is often that escape–but we must take it!

Another joy-drain–a big smile killer–is worry. Anxiety. Stress. Whatever you call it. You and I–we have to quit fooling ourselves that this worry is okay. It’s not–it’s a sign that we’re not believing in God’s adequacy. Can you trust Him? Can you leave everything in His hands, let Him handle it all? Can I leave behind my cares, cast them at His feet, and live in the release? Why do we torment ourselves with things we can’t fix anyway? One author calls God the “Blessed Controller.” Join me in this joy-journey and give over today’s cares. He is able to make you stand.

But there’s more. Unforgiveness. Ouch. Any bitterness you are holding in your heart will just DECIMATE your joy. Your prayers will be like a bubble bouncing off a wall. Your stomach will churn. Give it up. Give it over. Don’t deceive yourself–whatever is making you angry is a big deal to you. But it is nothing compared to what put Jesus on the cross. You and I, with all our sins, did more to Jesus than anyone could ever do to us. Ever. Because He forgave us, I have complete confidence in His ability to also forgive through us. Will we give it up?

The same thing goes for unconfessed sin. Is there something sucking the joy right out of your bones? Sin that lies putrefying inside you will do that. Confess. In the book of 1 John, He promises that he is faithful and just. Because God is just, He has fully accepted Jesus’ payment. This justice means He will always forgive your sin, if you turn from it and turn toward Him. His faithfulness and justice will always be there (1 John 1:9). In my family, we ask each other’s forgiveness ALL the time. I cannot describe sufficiently what a difference this makes in a home! Be quick to apologize–cultivate a soft spirit. The joy will spring up.

Oh, there’s another thing that drives out joy. Unthankfulness.  And its twin, discontent. Do you really believe God is good? Find out just how good, and praise Him for it. Look for little hints of His goodness all around you. Pause and be still. You just breathed. What a gift! Really–it is a magnificent gift. Let yourself be humbled, because He doesn’t owe you anything. In fact, we all deserve death. But there was Grace. And it’s still overflowing. Thank Him for it, this cascading, rippling, abundant, joy-welling grace.

So, those weights being cast away, there is a gift that you can give today.

You can make a life more full. You can make a heart swell with encouragement. You can give someone the courage to go on.

If you will.

If I will.

It begins with a prayer, something from the heart. Here’s mine:

“Oh God, I lay down my life today. Lead me where You want me to go. Interrupt my plans with Your plan. Replace my dreams with Your dreams. Intercept my attitudes with Your Spirit. Fill me, consecrate me, use me. Thank you, because I know my joy is full when I am poured out for You.”

And with the amen, an adventure begins.

Will you take that adventure with me today?

Today, we are on God’s mission.

Today, we are Sunshine Makers, as Mabel Hale called us in her lovely book Beautiful Girlhood.

Let’s shine!

Let’s go make the world wonder why we smile.

It’s only a smile. But it could make all the difference in the world.

“They might not need me; but they might. I’ll let my head be just in sight; a smile as small as mine might be precisely their necessity.”
– Emily Dickinson –

A big thank you to Atalie Bale Photography for the beautiful photo!

Dancing With the Daffodils

“And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.”
– William Wordsworth –

Dancing With the Daffodil

I narrowed my eyes at a vase of faded daffodils. Faded, I say, because every petal had grown stiff and the fragrance died away and the youth seemed to pour right out of them.

“I should just throw those away.”

And then I looked more closely. The vibrant yellow still shone on the frail petals. I cradled a single stem in my hand. All the daffodils still had their heads up, embracing the light streaming through the kitchen window.

In the language of flowers, a bouquet of daffodils represents joy. Now, maybe I’m crazy to think about the life-work of daffodils, but when I cradled that crisp happiness-flower, I thought about the joy that it brought my mom when my brother presented her with a bunch of daffodils, their golden heads bobbing in glee. Surely those plucked-up flowers were bouncing with the joy of being ripped from the soil and given away as a gift.

If I dare to go on in my speculations on the personality of a daffodil, I just know that a daffodil loves to smile. How could it not smile? It pushed through half-frozen dirt and slushy ice only to pop its head out and cry, “Spring! Look!” Its canary rays stretch and its little yellow Sunday bonnet quivers in the chilly wind—a wind that can’t quite decide whether to usher in spring or prolong the winter. The daffodil stretches its thin green neck as high as it can and lifts its bright face to the sun, basking in its Creator’s glory. It stands like a lighthouse, lone and erect in the winter’s deadness.

It’s a lot like the joy we are called to, joy in the midst of tribulation. The stand of the daffodil on a frozen hill is our stand. I am memorizing the words of Matthew:

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

– Matthew 5:14-16, NKJV –

The true Light is now shining, sisters. And we “are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power” (Colossians 2:10). Maybe you feel the frozen ground cutting you, so you can’t find the strength to rejoice. What is the secret?

Fix your gaze on the Son of righteousness. Dwell on the One who died that you might live. Remember the Savior that “ever lives and pleads” for you at God’s right hand (from the song “Before the Throne of God Above). For the darkness is past and the true light now shines (1 John 2:8).

Behold the Light and dance on the hill.

“Keep your face to the sunshine and you cannot see a shadow.”

– Helen Keller –