Today’s Joys

119h

“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 –

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 –

Doing Battle

tree-and-storm-2

I wrote this post a few months ago, but I found it recently and thought it was still so applicable to my life..and, I believe, to yours. When we embrace the Good News of an alive and present Savior, how can it not change the way we see everything? Yes, today we do battle…but do not fear. He has already overcome, and is overcoming, and will yet overcome.

“We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.”

 – Ephesians 6:12, CEB –

Have you ever been on your knees, doing battle?

Today, I was.

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

Although physically I was walking around the house, doing dishes, and trying to figure out the computer language HTML, my soul was truly on its knees.

Doing battle in your life means seeing how the present circumstances reach far beyond what you can see. Doing battle means taking everything to God. Doing battle means recognizing that you are not enough for what you face today. It means spiritual warfare, through prayer and Scripture reading.

Today, I was doing battle for a friend confronted with a difficult relationship. Some days, I am doing battle for my own heart, or for a situation close to my heart.

Over the past few years, God has brought several mentorship opportunities into my life, and I am completely in love with it. Mentorship teaches me something: Life just doesn’t work without Jesus.

I can encourage you, and you could walk away unchanged. But if God comes into the picture with His encouragement, neither one of us will walk away unchanged.

Christian mentorship–also known as discipleship–is like this. It is not enough for me to give someone a pep talk. Pep talks are powerless for real change. For habits to change, for hearts to heal, for attitudes to reorient, God has to step in.

 That’s what doing battle is all about. Real encouragement goes deeper than the surface, all the way down into the soul of things.

As we imitate Christ and bring His knowledge and love into situations, the tangled strings of life start to untangle. When your life is constructed around the framework and centrality of Jesus, the pieces fit together in a certain way. Life, although still hard, works. While not perfect or trouble-free by any stretch of the imagination, our God is so great that He is enough for even stormy seas. It’s not that the storms go away…but the vessel is equipped to sail on through the waves.

When a person’s life is built around anything other than Jesus Christ, life’s pieces don’t match up. Each person pieces together their own custom patchwork lens for viewing the world. There are holes between the pieces. There are inadequacies when storms hit. Just like the sand-foundation house in Jesus’s parable, their life system fails them, and “great is its fall” (Matthew 7:27).

When someone tells me about the way someone hurt them, or a friend shares about their hard day, I have a choice. I can skim the surface, or I can take their hand and point to Jesus.

Here is what I am learning:

The most vital part of Christian encouragement is doing battle.

When we acknowledge that life only works with Jesus at the helm, and we recognize that the people around us are shipwrecking their souls based on lies, there is only one remedy.

That remedy is Jesus.

Telling what our Jesus did, how He makes the pieces fit, is called the Gospel. Really, discipleship is just applying this Gospel to every aspect of our lives.

This is where the battle is. Gospel-sharing discipleship is a spiritual battlefield, because that’s where Satan attacks God’s glory.

Encouraging words can only go so far. They don’t have power to change souls–unless God’s own Word is part of our encouragement vocabulary. This is where mantras and  “girl power” speeches fall short. If inspiration’s power comes from you and me, people are in trouble. If we depend on humanity for the strength needed on the battlefield of life, we will fall. And great will be our fall.

There is power in the name of Jesus. And His name, His words, alone can break the chains of our past, our fears, our struggles, our failures, and our sins.

Do you want to encourage someone today?

Start on your knees.

And when you get up from your prayers for them, tell them about the Jesus who is both merciful Savior and conquering King.

It’s not just the lost who need the Gospel.

I need it. You need it. The Gospel is our lifeblood, and we should daily sing to each other the good news that Jesus saves us–not only at the moment we are made right with God, but He daily saves us and keeps us throughout eternity.

A pastor once asked his congregation how often they shared the Gospel with someone else. As we listened, my mom turned to me and whispered, “Does that count all the times we tell it to our people at home every day?”

Yes. Yes, it most certainly does.

You see, I don’t just want good news once, or once a week. I need Good News that covers every single breath of my life with light and hope.

So if you want to encourage someone, give them news that never stops being good: Jesus is alive. And His life can transform every minute of yours, without exception.

That’s where the battle is. This is where I stand my ground, in the transforming light of Christ.

Lift up your heads, my friends. Let’s do battle.

“Therefore, if the Son makes you free, you really will be free.”

 – John 8:36, CEB –

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 –

 

Ruts

sunrise-over-hoodoo

I don’t have to wonder how I got where I am.

Because every single day, I wake up with the memories pressing down on me with a pressure that no one else seems to feel.

Each morning, I wake up to scramble in the rut I’ve made, and I hope I can keep myself from looking around and noticing how deep in I am. 

And I keep fighting and fighting to get out of the rut. I pray. I ask for God’s help. I read my Bible and cling to the truth. I am doing everything that I am supposed to do.

And yet, I wake up, and I am still in the rut.

Sometimes I wonder why I keep fighting if I am always going to be a mess.

Have you ever felt like that? That, no matter what you try, you are just floundering in the same mistakes that you made yesterday, and the day before…and the year before?

Have you ever thought that maybe, just maybe, that all your fighting has just been spinning your wheels? Maybe progress is not just slow, but nonexistent?

Let me tell you something.

You didn’t dig that rut today. 

As humans, we often respond wrongly to the events of our lives. These responses can become habits, and sinful or unwise habits can dig deep trenches in our souls. Ruts.

We all dig ruts for ourselves from time to time. Instead of training ourselves to right responses, we choose another way. We choose to solve our own problems. And that’s where ruts come from.

But if you belong to Jesus, you are a new creation.

As I wrote several weeks ago in “A New Day,” your status as a child of God means that your sins are erased as soon as you confess them. When you wake up each morning, the mercies are new, unused before, untapped, waiting for you.

But in spite of the available grace, you still wake up in yesterday’s ruts, because habits are engrained in your soul like canyons and climbing out of them is a spiritual marathon.

Some days, you can’t for the life of you see a thing that has changed. The top of the canyon of your choices seems as far away as ever.

And the guilt catches up. “I dug myself into this mess,” you remember. “Maybe nothing has changed at all. I’m still in a rut, after all this time.”

After the guilt comes the despair. If you’re following Jesus with all your heart,  you might wonder what you’re doing wrong. Or, if you’re honestly giving your whole self to Him, you might wonder where He is. Why is it so hard? Why is the climb so long?

These moments can be truly frightening. Your last source of hope–that Jesus can do something with the mess of you–seems to be failing you.

You want to believe. You want to live and climb out of the rut and be free of its walls. But sometimes, you just don’t know if that’s possible. Maybe you can’t. Maybe it’s not possible, not for you.

My friend, today’s problem isn’t the rut. The rut is there. It is part of the geology of your soul. You put it there, yes. But have you been forgiven? If you have confessed your sinful failures, that rut cannot keep you from pleasing your Savior today.

The rut is now a temptation, a deeply-trained tendency, a devilish sort of gravity pulling down on your soul.

But He doesn’t remove the rut in a day, nor does He ask for you to climb all the way out of the rut today. He only asks that you keep climbing. 

Habits are not, generally, erased by grace. But in grace, God does reorient our desires so we can make new paths–paths traveling “onward and upward and outward” instead of spiraling downward and inward.

If you look around you and doubt if you are making any headway, stop and think about the new work that our Father promises to complete in all His children:

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” – Philippians 1:6, ESV

I get it. Climbing is hard. Perspective is elusive. Faith is sometimes the only shred of hope that remains.

Hold on.

 

Today, you get to do something hard and hopeful.

Today, you get to keep climbing out of the rut. Every battle you win, every time you choose to make a new, holy habit, every doubt you toss away, every prayer you whisper, every truth that you cling to, gets you closer to the top. It’s a victory. Every time you run for help to the Only One who can save, you are climbing out. It’s a win, a triumph of grace. It’s sanctification.

Whether you can see it or not.

Even stillness and rest propel you closer to the top of the rut. As you put your faith in Christ and His power in you by the Holy Spirit, your striving ceases and your footsteps become surer. Your position as child of the King is not up for grabs, or dependent on your performance.

And really, your climb is not supposed to go according to your plan. Only God knows when you will reach the top. For some of us, it might be tomorrow. Some of us may have to struggle longer. Life is that way. Actually, none of us ever climb out of all our ruts until our lives are over. Running out of sinful habits to unlearn is called glorification, and it doesn’t happen this side of heaven.

But remember, what some people call ruts are what others call valleys…and climbing out just means that you are on your way to the peaks of the mountains.

Climbing, struggling, working, praying, straining to see the top…these things are signs of life. It may be slow, but your rut-climbing looks a lot like scaling the highest of mountains to me.

Don’t lose heart. You are not condemned. You are not failing.

In the power of God, you are reaching heights you’ve never seen before.

“The Lord God is my Strength, my personal bravery, and my invincible army; He makes my feet like hinds’ feet and will make me to walk [not to stand still in terror, but to walk] and make [spiritual] progress upon my high places [of trouble, suffering, or responsibility]!”

 – Habakkuk 3:19, AMPC –

 

 

 

 

My Least Favorite Word

green-grass-1389455556r42

“Jesus replied, ‘You don’t understand what I’m doing now, but you will understand later.’ “
– John 13:7, CEB –

I get along quite well with most words, but there is one word I intensely dislike.

Waiting.

Not because I’m impatient (well, maybe a little…), but the word waiting is just so…dull. Lifeless. Boring. Blah.

When we talk about waiting–waiting to hear about a job, waiting for that scholarship board to make a decision, waiting for the right guy to come along, waiting for high school to end and college to begin–something settles over us.

When thoughts of waiting creep up on me, I think that I’m becoming discontent. Sometimes that is true, yes. But lots of times, I don’t think that is my problem. So, this is not a post about contentment. Sorry.

The word waiting seems so terrible because it takes my mind off the things God has me doing now, and puts my attention on the things God will do in the future.

The waiting isn’t the problem, actually. It’s not the poor word’s fault. The problem is ME. Even when I’m altogether happy with what God has given me to do in this season of my life, I can get wrapped up in the idea of waiting.

Waiting is not a bad word. The Bible talks about waiting on the Lord a lot. What I am talking about is the frequent use of “I’m just in a season of waiting,” as if we are not ALL in seasons of waiting. We’re always waiting on something, really. It’s not just a word for single girls to pull out to explain the lack of a significant other. In a constantly-changing world, there’s always going to be something coming up for us to dwell on. But that’s my point.

I would never tell you to stop thinking about the future. Single ladies, I would never tell you to completely stop thinking about getting married. Job seekers, I would never advocate ditching your career goals and living entirely for the moment. Mothers and wives, I would never tell you to stop thinking about when the kids will be grown-up, or when your husband will retire. That’s silly–the Bible commends wise planning and encourages us to look in hope to the future because God is in control (Proverbs 31:25; Romans 8:25; Romans 15:13).

However, I think the word waiting and I got off to a bad start because when I’m always thinking about what I’m waiting for, I lose the potency of the present moment. It’s good for me to smile at the happy things to come and to wonder what new bends in the road I’ll discover, but not at the cost of the Present.

You see, if I’m always focused on the waiting, I’ll never be able to concentrate on what God has given to me right now.

The concept of waiting has been rolling around in my mind for a while, and yesterday a novel I was reading helped me find the key. The book quoted from 1 Thessalonians 5:18:

“Give thanks in all things.”

Plenty of books have been written about giving thanks, but between a busy schedule and a large dose of forward thinking, it’s something I aspire to, but rarely do.

Do you know what else I’ve discovered?

Thanking is about trusting.

When I stop dwelling in the future and instead thank God for this moment (yes, even the hard moments), that is an act of faith. Deep down, I am declaring more than simple contentment. I am saying, “Lord, I have no idea what you will bring into my life tomorrow, but I trust you. I am not guaranteed one more moment than this moment, so in this moment, I praise you. In this moment, I choose to believe that You are good and faithful. With this moment, and every moment to come, I trust You.”

So…

Waiting is not really my enemy–but I refuse to make it my full-time job. Tomorrow holds adventure, it’s true. But I am not living in Tomorrow, I’m living Today. I will praise Him today.

God took good care of yesterday. I trust Him with today.

Tomorrow is in good hands.


“I do not know what next may come
Across my pilgrim way;
I do not know tomorrow’s road,
Nor see beyond today.
But this I know — my Saviour knows
The path I cannot see;
And I can trust His wounded hand
To guide and care for me.

I do not know what may befall,
Of sunshine or of rain;
I do not know what may be mine,
Of pleasure and of pain;
But this I know — my Saviour knows
And whatsoe’er it be,
Still I can trust His love to give
What will be best for me.

I do not know what may await,
Or what the morrow brings;
But with the glad salute of faith,
I hail its opening wings;
For this I know — that my Lord
Shall all my needs be met;
And I can trust the heart of Him,
Who has not failed me yet.”

– E. Margaret Clarkson –

 

Grace for This Day

king-of-the-world

“You say, ‘If I had a little more, I should be very satisfied.’ You make a mistake. If you are not content with what you have, you would not be satisfied if it were doubled.”

– Charles H. Spurgeon –


During my research for the recent posts on God’s will, I asked many of my friends to submit questions. Some of these questions made it into the Q&A, while others seemed to go beyond simply knowing God’s will. One friend brought up this great question:

“I know I’m in God’s will in what I am doing now, but feel drawn/want to do something else. How do I find contentment?”

Ah, contentment. As humans, we all suffer from dissatisfaction at times. As young people, we are at the threshold of so much future stretching out before us. There’s just so much Out There. It’s hard to hold back the desires that want to leap out into the stars.

As a young lady, I know how deeply the struggle for contentment affects us girls. For the young and unmarried among us, we sometimes feel like our lives are frozen in place, just waiting for the right guy to come along for our lives to really start. While singleness is not the only area of discontent that touches us, it is one of the most prominent in our thoughts.

Why is this? Why are we constantly wishing for what isn’t?

More importantly, what is the cure?

Why, why, why?

The idea to take something for ourselves before the time is rather…old. Very, very old. It goes back to the first people ever, in fact, when a snake enthralled Eve with a forbidden bit of pleasure.

” Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate. “(Genesis 3:1-6, NKJV)

One little nibble was all it took. The seed of discontent bore a fruit that tasted great…but how bitter it was in the end! That was true for the first people, and it is true for us still. Eve’s desires to satisfy her hunger,  her artistic sensibilities, and her intellect were not wrong desires. It was the way she tried to fill herself that was wrong.

When we deal with our hopes and dreams, they don’t have to be thrown away. They just have to be submitted to God. Eve’s weren’t. And, sorry to say, neither are mine a lot of the time.

I think I will always remember one night when I was sixteen. I sank beside my bed, struggling with the conviction that I had to offer up all my life to God, every aspect. I was afraid. Yes, I was afraid that if I said, “Yes, Lord,” that He would pack me off to be a missionary in South Asia or doom me to lifelong spinsterdom. Or probably both. (Don’t laugh. I was very serious. 🙂 ) With a multitude of tears and sniffles, I bowed my head and prayed that God would make me willing to surrender. If I wasn’t quite ready to fork over my “consent,” I was at least receptive to the idea. As one songwriter says, I was “willing to be willing.” And, in the quiet of the night,  His peace came.

I’ve had to go back to that place many times since then,  surrendering and re-surrendering. Marriage, health, opportunities–all these have come to the table to be sacrificed. I’ve found that the One who accepts my offerings is gracious. Sometimes the sacrifice can be a living one, subdued but released to caper around again like a spring lamb. Sometimes He hands back my dreams; sometimes He keeps them. But whatever He hands me next, I can accept it knowing that it is better than what I might have chosen. He is much wiser than I am, you know.

How can I find contentment here?

My friends, as much as we doubt it, joy is not a place. Joy is a choice. Joy is a gift.

A young woman, martyred for her faith, had this to say about her Savior’s faithfulness:

“And shall I fear that there is anything that men hold dear Thou wouldst deprive me of and nothing give in place? That is not so, for I can see Thy face. I hear Thee now. ‘My child, I died for thee. And if the gift of love and life you took from Me, shall I one gracious thing withhold to all eternity? One beautiful and bright, one pure and precious thing, withhold? It cannot be.'”

– Betty Scott Stam, “My Testimony” –

It cannot be, dear ones, that He will keep back anything good from us! The God who loves us for His own glory will not fail us.

“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)

Trust in the love of God is the root of contentment. If we hold to our God in trust, we can let Him take us anywhere. It is with Him that we will be happy–and nowhere else.

Pride, on the other hand, is the root of discontent. “I deserve this” is my unspoken theme song–how about you? I hum along to it when I set my sights on something I simply must have to be happy. (Because, obviously, my happiness is vital to the continued functioning of the universe.) I chant the “Deserve it” lyrics when I presume upon a future I cannot control, plotting and planning my course (Prov. 16:9). The “I deserve this” mentality cripples many God-fearing girls who are waiting for a spouse. Christian thinker John Stonestreet calls this assumption “Princess theology,” a Disney-like happily-ever-after that we girls think we deserve for all the suffering we’ve been doing during our single years. But we don’t deserve happiness, if we think about it. We deserve nothing less than eternal hell for our sins. Christ’s atonement means that we can stand clean before God–but it doesn’t mean we now deserve our every whim.

But–if marriage is a gift we covet, we must also realize that singleness is not a curse. It is a gift too. The most powerful, beautiful, comforting thought I’ve ever read in this area was written by missionary and author Elisabeth Elliot:

“Single life may be only a stage of a life’s journey, but even a stage is a gift. God may replace it with another gift, but the receiver accepts His gifts with thanksgiving. This gift for this day. The life of faith is lived one day at a time, and it has to be lived–not always looked forward to as though the “real” living were around the corner. It is today for which we are responsible. God still owns tomorrow.”

– Elisabeth Elliot,  from Let Me Be A Woman, page 31

So, my friends, contentment is about today. Not yesterday, with its regrets. Not tomorrow, with its hopes. Today–the beautiful, undeserved, fresh place that God has formed for us right now.

How do you embrace today? Not by never thinking about tomorrow, but by giving up your right to tomorrow and realizing Who has tomorrow well under control.

Contentment is about today. Contentment is about faith. Contentment is about raising that white surrender flag and flapping it as hard and high as you can. Contentment is the path to joy.

In her book Singled Out for Him, Nancy Leigh DeMoss tells the story of young William Borden, who left behind his family’s fortune to serve God, dying before he even reached the mission field. While he moved straight into glory, the impact of his life continues through his motto, found written in the front of his Bible. May it be ours:

No reserves.

No retreats.

No regrets.

Amen.


“Christian contentment is that sweet, inward, quiet, gracious frame of spirit, which freely submits to and delights in God’s wise and fatherly disposal in every condition.”

– Jeremiah Burroughs –

Grace Holds

tree in the light

Life sometimes presses down hard.

I feel this weight one morning, alone in my room. It seems that everything I am is being deconstructed, piece by piece. I feel alone.

And I sense my own failure and can’t see through it.

The pressure of expectations, of obedience, of the gap between what we want to do and what we end up actually doing.

It’s a mixture. Guilt when every caring person’s words stick in painful, a dart to the soul. Loneliness, when it feels like no one quite understands–and the people my heart longs to see just aren’t there. Anger–anger at myself for feeling down, for letting comments bother me when I know only love was behind them.

The weight stuck in my chest, closed off in my throat.

And for a little while, I wasn’t sure what to do with it.

I began to write.

The feelings started to unkink in little jerks at first. Then my fingers flew faster as the tears spilled over.

And, almost before I knew it, each tear-washed phrase became a prayer.

I felt so lost in a mountain of pulling-down emotions that I knew only One who could dig me back out.

Was He there? Did He care?

I lay on my back and prayed, tears squeezing from my eyes and dripping down the sides of my face. “Hold me,” I told Him. “If there’s anything between us, please, please forgive me.”

More than anything, I just wanted to be held by Him. To know He was there and understood. To remember that He has washed me and the only One I must please is Him.

I could let go of the people-pleasing.

I could let go of the self-inflicted pressure for good grades.

I could let go of being anything other than what He made me to be.

I don’t have to do anything but what He wishes.

And–better still–He will carry me through that as well.

So there, in my room, swiping at the tears, I began to pray for strength.

Not for my whole life.

Not for the rest of my schooling.

Not for the month.

Not for the week.

But for that day. Just that one day.

So after those minutes of tears and whispered prayers and comforts that crept around me like Everlasting Arms, I plunged into the day.

And I survived.

The next day, a thought twinged.

“He helped me. I stayed focused better yesterday. I got more done. He actually was there! I was able to rest in His arms, and I was able to get past all those fears and guilt-bogs and pulling-down thoughts.”

Because I got so desperate that I knew I couldn’t do it anymore.

Because I cried and He saw.

Because I crawled up into the lap of my Abba Father.

That’s when I could go on.

That’s when I could start living.

That’s when others faded and He became my only Audience.

There’s a man who knew that power. Charles Colson, a criminal turned saint, had this to say:

“Only when I lost everything that I thought made Chuck Colson a great guy had I found the true self God intended me to be and the true purpose of my life.

It is not what we do that matters, but what a sovereign God chooses to do through us. God doesn’t want our success; He wants us. He doesn’t demand our achievements; He demands our obedience. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of paradox, where through the ugly defeat of a cross, a holy God is utterly glorified. Victory comes through defeat; healing through brokenness; finding self through losing self.”

– Charles Colson, A Dangerous Grace, page 85

We often repeat the verse about God’s strength being made perfect in our weakness.

But do we believe it?

Do we live it, on those days when everything comes crashing down and we just want to cry forever?

Sisters, I’m on this road with you. You’re here with me.

It’s okay to be weak. Let’s remind each other of that.

He didn’t come so we could boast in how put-together we are.

Or so we could swagger around with our Super-Christianity t-shirts, thinking we have it all together on our own.

He came to lift the burden, ease the yoke.

Jesus came to walk with us, to lighten the load.

And He does, when we’re desperate enough to cry to Him and tell Him we just can’t do it ourselves.

So today, if the thought of doing it all again is making your bones ache and your heart fall and the tears start to well, just fall to your knees.

He’s here.

He’s here, just like when Peter took his eyes away from Jesus. That’s when Peter began to sink.

Isn’t that when we all start to sink?

But Jesus didn’t laugh and walk away from the sinking man.

“Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him.”

– Matthew 14:29b-31a, NIV –

If you haven’t ever felt Him catching you in your free-fall, you’re missing out.

Because those tears, those running-over emotions, the frustration–all of it was worth it.

Because He caught me.

John Piper wrote on his website Desiring God:

“One of the reasons we don’t know God deeply is that we don’t venture much on his pledge to carry things for us. Knowing God with a sense of authentic personal reality, is not merely a matter of study. It is a matter of walking with him through fire and not being burned. It is a matter of not being crushed under a load because he carries it for you at your side.”

Sisters, I want to know Him, really know Him.

So, I don’t know about you, but today, I’m letting Him carry the load.

When I let go, Grace holds.

“Cast your burden on the Lord,
And He shall sustain you;
He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.”

– Psalm 55:22, NKJV, emphasis mine-

Thank you to Petr Kratochvil and Public Domain Pictures for the lovely “Rays of Light” photo.

When the Days are Just Hard

DSC_0029 copy

I’ve approached this past week with a writer’s eyes. “What in the world will I write for Monday?”

And, truth be told, I have felt unworthy to pass on anything.

I’m sick of insights that somehow don’t translate into my living.

This week I longed for a victory so I could pass on some special spiritual secret to you.

Instead, I woke up every day to burdens and labors and jobs I didn’t want and attitudes that gripped me. One morning my world seemed to shift over a nothing–a slight departure from my neatly-pressed plans. It was all I could do to keep sharpness out of my clipped answers to my family. Words clanged in my ears and I could hardly breathe, hardly believe the hateful replies that my off-center mind presented. Things I would never want to say.

And I didn’t. But just my ability to think them startled me. It didn’t help my morning any.

So as I ponder what in all my crazy world could speak to yours, perhaps I’ve found it.

Maybe you really don’t need someone who’s conquered a fear or mastered a subject. You need someone who’s deep in the same life-death battle as you.

Maybe you really have no use for a perfectly cheerful morning person, but instead need to know I’m slogging through attitudes that snag me.

Just like you.

And most of all, maybe you need to know that I don’t have all the answers for you.

I don’t even have all the answers for me.

After a series of days that are spiritually just a bit fuzzy, there are foundations calling me back.

God has given us a Hiding Place to run for refuge. “When my heart is overwhelmed, lead me to the Rock that is higher than I” (Psalm 61:2, NKJV).

But I get so busy and so caught up in a self-constructed world that I keep running through the storms instead of running into the shelter He offers.

“You were reaching through the storm
And walking on the water
Even when I could not see
In the middle of it all
When I thought You were a thousand miles away
Not for a moment did You forsake me
Not for a moment did You forsake me”

– Meredith Andrews, “Not for a Moment”

What are real, gritty-living ways we can hide in Him? How do we keep living in the storms?

– Join me in digging deeper. I’m currently memorizing the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) with an accountability partner. Please, read. Please, dive in. Listen on CD, online, or on your iPod. Post verse cards on your mirrors and desktops and on sticky notes. And dwell there. Fix your heart on them, like anchors that are sure to hold in those gale-force winds of this next week.

– Sisters, pray for everything. It’s work–but so, so, so much joy. Pray for me to abide. I’ll pray for you. It is life-giving.

– Lay aside the dream worlds. I can tell I’ve stepped out too far into mine when reality makes me blink and I feel disconnected. Make sure that you aren’t spending so much time in alternate realities–even beneficial ones–such as TV, books (any kind), schoolwork, daydreaming, and your own plans that you lose touch with your family and the real living that is happening now. Today is our calling, not tomorrow–not even a dream tomorrow. Be here. Now. Rooted. As Jim Elliott said, “Wherever you are, be all there.” Join me in setting aside the music and the screens and the papers to look someone you love in the eye when they speak–is it showing love to keep your gaze rooted on your task and grunt a reply? (Oh, I’m preaching to me too!) Please, join me in a prayer for us to be real.

– Take up the pen and journal and give thanks. Write down 3 gifts that God has given you today. Or 5. Or 50. Thank Him, even when your heart’s not quite in it. Pray for help in the rejoicing. Seek His wonders.

Take a breath.

Say a prayer.

Live real, right here.  Right now.

He will make you stand.

“The only beautiful thing about a Christian is Jesus Christ.”

The Calvary Road, p. 102 –