Wednesday, October 26, 2016

because life happens in a flash

For reasons undoubtedly learned in college child development classes but forgotten in detail along the way, age 4, in our parenting experience, was when imaginations began to soar.  Anything and everything could happen by simply pretending it to be so.  Each young blondie in his growth from toddler to all out boy traveled through the phase of make-believe.  While one or two have the definite signs of taking it to the core of their lifelong personality, it was still a journey for them all.

Our oldest at age 4 was thoroughly enthralled with a Flash costume.  This thrift store find was far from mint condition, but despite it's loosening seams, hanging threads and lack of ability to close in the back, to him it held a power to transport, quite literally, in a flash to anywhere his super powers were needed.  Over and over I would watch as he zoomed past me from the hallway, constantly asking "Did you see me?"  "Can you see me?"  "Am I going so fast?"

One day, my husband took a picture of that mini flash as he was zooming across again and again. The effect on camera created a blur of color following that little super hero as if he truly was running so quickly that the naked eye could never spot him.

Unfortunately, not every flash produces the smiles that a kid in costume can.

Change is inevitable.  Whether welcomed with open arms or fought against tooth and nail or dealt with somewhere in between, change happens constantly.  One of the hardest parts of life is when it sneaks up, unexpected, and in a flash your normal is not only different, you know it can never be the same again.

When someone, either just once or over and over, has experienced a figurative bomb going off in their lives, it may not bring the physical destruction that a wire and metal one can, but these crisis situations can leave an emotional and spiritual aftermath of distress, confusion, and upheaval that can take just as long or even longer from which to recover.

Inside, new pathways are created in your mind that now lead to distress, fear, anger and a host of other negative emotions.  Because of these new paths, any moment in the future that might even hint at a past difficulty causes the sequence to trigger and in less time than it takes to blink, your heart and mind are overcome with the emotions the past has created.  If by chance you are taken by surprise and have an unexpected reminder in the midst of your happy normalcy, the journey to distress feels even more immediate.

During a sermon recently we were asked if any of us felt like we were experts in any given skill. Often feeling like a jack of all trades, master of none, the pitiful list in my head was nothing to be impressed about.  One thing I do feel as if pro status has been achieved these past three years since my most significant bomb in life, is understanding triggers and the difficulty they can cause in someone's day.  I assure you, it's not a skill to be envious of as the sometimes debilitating emotions caused by anything from song lyrics, to foods, to instagram photos can shut down all viable senses for hours or days.

In a quick moment, it can seem as if more than one step has been taken back, in truth it can feel very much like a back to square one situation.

If there is any part of you who feels this, has felt it, can identify with it, please know, please hear, these moments do not define your well being, they do not get to say how much progress has been made or not made, they do not get to make you feel as if you are missing something vital or have been forgotten.  In short, they don't get to say.

Don't let them be what speaks to your heart.  There is One far better to entrust with that privilege.

Looking back, it is crystal clear that the journey to make believe was needed childhood experience in my boys' lives that not only created grand memories for child and parent alike, but opened minds and hearts to ideas outside of their tangible environment, ideas that would prepare them to be able to trust and have faith in something bigger than themselves, bigger than their understanding, bigger than their realm of possibility.

There is a common phrase swapped among parents, especially the mothering kind, that the days are long but the years are short.  As a firm believer that we are all learning the same Truths, though through many different ways, only believing one group can glean from that nugget seems wrong, selfish somehow.

For all of us, every being upon this earth, life is lived so often in flashes.  Like a creature finding it's way across a raging river by stepping on and leaping to whatever rock or tree trunk happens to be peeking above the surface until they have reached the other side, the bits and pieces of days can also feel separate from each other, just bits of stone and wood that are seen and leaped to to keep from falling in the water below.  The beauty comes in looking back and seeing those bits and pieces were really just a jagged path leading you safely to shore.

The Lord directs the steps of the godly.  He delights in EVERY detail of their lives.  Psalm 37:23

Delight in this Truth as He delights in you.

Every one of us has had experiences which we have not been able to explain: a sudden sense of loneliness, or a feeling of wonder or awe in the face of universal vastness.  Or we have had a fleeting visitation of light like an illumination from some other sun, giving us in a quick flash an assurance that we are from another world, that our origins are divine...I think we have not been fair to the facts until we allow at least the possibility that such experiences may arise from the presence of God in the world and His persistent effort to communicate with mankind.  ~A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God 

Hardships are not the only thing that come in flashes, His Good comes in flashes as well.

We can feel God speaking to us, the Spirit working in us, much like the sun rises.  Bit by bit, color change by color change, until finally the whole picture is visible.  Many parts of life require a wait, require that slow dawn of knowledge collecting and plans to be prepared before being revealed.  But daily we are given flashes of His goodness, reminders of His faithfulness, visible snapshots of grace and mercy, "assurances that our origins are divine."

Each of us will be presented with different things, different flashes to show we are loved and cared for, to show we have been given much, much more than asked or imagined.  This world will try it's best at times to block those reminders and replace them instead with negative memories and suggestions of failing.  At times the world will succeed, but only for a moment, for a flash, it will never conquer a heart held in the hands of it's Creator.  Hold on to Him, Hold on to the Hope He provides.  Look for the flashes of Light.

As always, I'm praying for you, pray for me.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

because he brings a felt difference

It is impossible to wake up and take one step out of the bed without seeing, hearing, or remembering something that is trying to get your attention.  If you are lucky, or maybe just more than human, there may only be one in the forefront of your mind, but for the majority the first opening of the eyes, the first sound that comes to the ears starts the assembly line track of responsibilities, needs, wants, distractions, and rabbit trails of the day.

Though a vague example to many, my deep in the throes of parenting young ones who watch cartoons self can, on countless mornings, hear in her head the deep overly dramatic voice of dear Mr. Pricklepants in the Toy Story Terror special saying "And so it begins!"  And so it does indeed, life in all its helter skelter, hurry scurry, hustle bustle beauty.

It never fails that by the end of the week there is a long list of items that were started and not finished, put on the back burner, or ignored completely.  Yes, yes it is not a secret that lists are my one weakness--please someone know that reference--but this time I am not referring to the tangible to dos of errands, appointments, and chores.

Instead, I am looking on the inside, thinking about the needs of the heart and soul, of what should have been and always be the main event being purposely pushed aside or accidentally left in mid meeting because something else popped up in its way.

A like minded chat was had about such a thing during a visit with family.  Outside in the almost fall like weather of North Georgia, I sat with my sister in law watching the children play, and doing what good southerners do, listening to a football game.  

This specific game did not capture my attention too much as it was a Bulldog playing instead of my Tiger of choice, but nonetheless I understood her thoughts because had it been the other way around those shoes would have definitely been filled with my feet.

As it became a little more possible that there would not be success for her group of boys on the field she asked her husband in a not at all freaking out and demanding voice to turn off the radio so that she could just sit in peace because what was blocking it had disappeared.

Empathetic to her dilemma, we discussed how relaxing it was to NOT watch and listen to football games.  To be sure, there are some who are able to sit and watch with no spikes at all in blood pressure, and while I no longer passionately and lovingly scream at the TV since my children were old enough to copy the behavior, I completely understand the peace of finding out later.  

When you are told after the fact that your team lost you can feel disappointed for a moment and go about your day, when you are told that your team won you can feel elated, maybe watch a few highlights, and then carry on.  But being in the middle of the stress brings to surface those emotional distractions and already said rabbit trails that knock you off course for longer than I'd care to admit.

Likewise, it is for these reasons that I will never write about politics, or to forewarn, any trending topic.  To share a well versed and educated view means research, engrossing yourself in the issues. All responsible things to be sure, but somewhere a twist can happen and the desire to keep abreast of current events turns into a desire to prove another wrong, to shout with a louder voice to prove your correctness while proving another's error in judgement.

Please hear me when I say not every football fan is mistaken in watching a game live or even taped, not every citizen passionate about politics is trampling on other's voices in a desire to make their's heard.  One is not holding sin in their hand by showing enthusiasm for their interests, but when that interest overtakes their thoughts, when that topic drives them instead of the other way around, when the moment your eyes open it is the first thing to demand attention there is cause to step back.

There are monumental times in my life where I restrained from dealing with issues that needed to be addressed and where I pretended everything was ok when not so deep inside I knew trouble was growing faster than I could stop it.  

I have learned, the hard way of course because is there really any other, what avoidance is and it is safe to say that that is not the problem my heart is feeling today.  The issue instead is prioritizing.  What comes first?  Who should I be shouting about instead?

"The best thing I [we] can offer this world is a well tended spirit, a wise and brave soul" says Shauna Niequist in her most recent book, so why is it that instead we so often offer up haphazard, depthless, brief and careless versions of ourselves in its place?

The quick and easy answer is because the focus is on a million other things instead of the One True need.  This is a Truth that not many already believers can argue with and that other non believers might be able to understand easily as well, however as my pastor would always remind us hearing and understanding is only half the goal, there needs to be that conviction in your gut before that Truth comes out in your life.

Please say it's not just me?  However if it is, then let this be another step of growth along the path coming closer to Him.

My father-in-law spoke of it this way in the sermon we were able to hear on our visit this past weekend, "For us to hallow, or sanctify, His name means that we give God the supreme place, that we set Him above all else in our thoughts, affections and lives."

Placing the bulk, the first fruits if you will, of our attention on God, our loving Father and Comforter, means He takes His rightful place in our lives.  He becomes Center Stage and those laundry list of items that come with life on this earth lose their neon signs demanding immediate attention or else. Even those stressful events or topics of conversation that some can not wait to argue about while others can't wait to hide from can be enjoyed or experienced from a place of peace, a place of compassion, because instead of your human heart leading the way, your spirit filled one is guiding instead.

There is a noticeable different in conversation, in heart's desires, in relationships, in blood pressure for goodness sake, when He is first.  It's not just a Sunday School answer, though it's a good one, it's a felt difference.

I sat across the table from a woman recently who in a mere ten minutes of sharing stories taught me more about following God's call in a life than the 34 previous years of mine. In a sentence, spoken with love, delivered with tears brimming, she said "There is no more perfect place to be than in the center of God's will"  I'll be unpacking that one for awhile!

My heart aches for many in this world, but none more than someone who doesn't know, who hasn't felt, the complete presence of peace that comes through Christ.  Regardless of the road you are walking, there is no more perfect place to be than with Him.

While we are all learning the same Truths from the same God, each of our hearts understands and is pricked by different things.  It's the amazing way He works, using our individual loves to bring us closer to Him.  Think about your hot button issues or your cold shouldered ones and place them lower where they deserve to be while asking Him to bring your attention higher where your spirit needs it to be.  It's not an easy task so

Pray for me, I'll be praying for you.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

for when you are wandering in the desert

"I don't see the desert as barren at all; I see it as full and ripe. It doesn't need to be flattered with rain. It certainly needs rain, but it does with what it has, and creates amazing beauty." Joy Harjo

Do I see what she sees, do you? 
There is simultaneous appreciation and hesitancy when a topic presents itself among my thoughts.  It usually happens at the oddest times and then comes with a waterfall of sentences, bullet points, phrases to research, ways to connect one wayward thought with another until a large and impressive knot is formed weaving in and out of itself connected, tied together, not to be unraveled.  Even if the point behind the words is less than impressive to others, I am always stunned by God's ability to show me things through the process.  Very important and humbling for this destination hungry traveler.

I wish, oh how I wish, that these lessons more often came through Pollyanna glasses, happily smiling and seeing nothing but the good.  Oh how I wish they came through cheering successes, things you rave about, brag about, without a seconds hesitation because they look as good on the outside as they are for you inside.  There are plenty of devotionals in this world with a verse, a paragraph and a pat on the back to start your day.  I can be both frustrated and thankful that that is not what is asked of me because while neatly wrapped and tied with a bow is what our human mind desires, the understanding of the hard cleansed with the brutal sacrifice of a Savior is what our human hearts need.

Dry.  Empty.  Lonely.  Bleak.

The very definition of a desert, the desolate land, completely contradicts these words above that have intrigued my mind and caused more than a bit of reflection.  

No one can say they have not felt results of a dry season, have not seen the effects of drought.  In the physical land it causes the ground to become parched, water sources to dry up, fields to lose their ability to yield the fruit they were created for, animals to become lethargic. Desperate for water to revive them they give up and lay down waiting for the inevitable, scavenge and search, walking until they seek out their need, or look to their caretakers for the help they can't get themselves.  

Our hearts are no different.  A spiritually dry period can be much different than one filled with trials though there is hard in them both.  There will be times where, like the fields in a drought, you feel parched, dried and cracking, useless as the fruit you were created to yield can not soak in enough moisture to bloom.  Like the wildlife we are tempted to give up and take it lying down or scavenge our own way to gain some ground in the fight for survival.  But as hopelessness tries to prevail I pray the Hope within overtakes and instead there is the remembrance to look to our Caretaker for the help we will never get from ourselves.

Paul spent a better part of 2 Corinthians 11 listing the sufferings he has endured.  False imprisonments, beatings, stonings, shipwrecks, dangerous journeys, robbery, sleeplessness, hunger thirst, cold and exposure were not just bumps on the road, but daily life events.  One of these events would be enough to stop a sojourner in their tracks but for him these were far from a sign to stop, they were fuel to continue.  For the sake of Christ [he says] I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities.  For when I am weak, I AM strong.

In every movie with a desert setting from Star Wars to Fievel Goes West, countless Cowboy films to classics like Lawrence of Arabia, there is a search for an oasis, a watering hole, a place that gives life in the midst of the dry and desolate.  Once found, life inside you changes.   There in that place with life giving water, you find peace from the fear, you see hope instead of doubt, you feel revived and eyes that once only saw the barren land can focus on the beauty in the hills and valleys among the dunes.

I can see the desert as full and ripe, I can see the amazing beauty it creates, but I can't see it on my own.  I need the Hope promised, I need the eyes of Christ to see that [He] will open rivers on the bare heights, and fountains in the midst of the valleys. [He] will make the wilderness a pool of water, and the dry land springs of water. Isaiah 41:18

On my own all I see is sand, all I feel is heat, in Him I can see the land of the living and the good He brings to it.

Praying for you in your desert places, pray for me.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

because you can wait

As always, I am sitting and praying and believing there is another set of ears in need.  Praying and believing that there is another heart desiring these words put forth somewhat humbly, somewhat insecurely, somewhat confidently sure that the thoughts do not come from me alone.

But today, making eye contact with the blue eyes staring back in my direction is essential. Reminders are needed. Truth is needed.  Hope, above all else, is needed.  Of course that could be said for everyday, necessary for everyday, but there are times where not one more minute can pass until that salvation you are working out requires some extra fear and trembling.

A couple years ago, after smiling at so many others' posts, I downloaded the Time Hop app.  Eager to enjoy smiles and tears of joy from past pictures of my baby boys who aren't quite babies anymore, I soon realized that I had no control over what from the past would make its way directly into my vision. 

Sure there were those lovely memories of cute babes and fun times with friends, but every so often a memory was triggered that did not bring smiles or immediate joy.  In its stead would come pain to a heart unable to handle the unwanted surprises.  After a week, pressing the uninstall button gave back a little memory space on my phone and started my days with less unexpecteds and a lot more peace.

Last week, Zach had a different experience with those memories involving social media sites, and his was one that I have not been able to get out of my mind.  Technology brought to his attention a photo he had posted of our church's first Sunday in its new space six years ago.  Captioning the photo were the words "I can't wait to see what God has in store for us."

I can wait. That's all I could think. I could have waited.

Because, spoiler alert, that beautiful place full of loving people closed its doors almost exactly two months ago.  Because within those years of growing in grace and wisdom and knowledge of God, among those years of serving together to help the unchurched, dechurched, teens, and homeless, friendships ended, betrayals hurt, marriages were broken, arguments were had, loved ones died, and longed-for children never made it into the world. 

If I knew what was coming, my caption would have read, I can wait.

There have been many a time in life where focusing on the hard times and the unwanted events has taken precedence.  We like to keep hopes high, to assume that the only thing coming up in the road is sunshine and happiness, cool breezes and sweet smelling flowers, laughter drifting in and out of fondly remembered moments.

When there is an inevitable bump, or in some cases a gigantic precipice followed by a seemingly infinite chasm in the road, all other previous moments are inconsequential in our minds. The only things that takes up all the precious space are the challenges, therefore blocking out the beauty beneath.  That evil one, man, he earns his name.

Many a time I sat at a table across from my pastor as he patiently heard my heart full of hurts, fears, and doubts, and on occasion, successes, growths, and dreams.  Many words were taken straight in and hung on to, but one phrase was written as to never be forgotten: "just because the outcome was negative, doesn't mean it was a wrong decision."

Let that simmer a minute.

Why does that assumption always find it's way back in? Why does it feel as if hard means bad, uphill means unnecessary.  Second-guess girl rears it's head again as past decisions are critiqued and Trust slips to the background, letting self take center stage.  To place your Trust in Christ, to believe that God truly is Good and in Control, is to submit to the bumps, peaks, and valleys, to keep your eye on the Horizon and see that though circumstances change, though you change, He never changes.  

Life is full of wait, a word and a lesson I have been called to ponder upon. To rush it is to miss the moments on the way.  God is working, always working, and as exciting as new beginnings are, the journy through them is equally as frustrating, equally as full of desires to quit, to cut and run.  Instead of saying I can't wait to see what He does my answer is instead that I can wait.

I can wait.

I can wait as he renews my strength so that I can run and not be weary (Is. 40:31).  I can wait and keep his way, knowing that I will be exalted to inherit a place in His kingdom (Ps. 37;34).  I can wait because He is good to those who wait for Him, who seek Him (Lam 3:25).  I can wait for the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4)

So I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope [Always Hope]; [May] my soul wait for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning. Psalm 130:5-6

There will always be that desire to jump ahead, to see what is coming up, to be expectant of the future, and that is ok. But don't miss what happens in the middle. Don't be in such a hurry for what's next. Don't waste the wait.

Pray for me as I try to relish the waiting, I'll be praying for you.