Wednesday, June 28, 2017

for when you spend two hours writing only to have your chromebook erase all of your work

Y'all I am in tears, streaming, forcing myself not to ugly cry in the middle of a coffee shop.  Back on my beloved Wednesday morning I have been sitting here pondering and pouring onto the keys praying that my words would be an encouragement to another.  And then, a frozen screen, a restore, and nothing.  The site that usually, dutifully saves every word as you go, did not do it's job.  Minutes from being finished, a paragraph away from a conclusion, and now nothing is left except the tears on my cheeks, an empty cup of tea and a half eaten piece of blueberry pound cake.

My mind is reeling, wondering if it's God who did not think my words were glorifying or Satan who did not want them read.

I hope I can conjure back up the heartfelt reminders and encouragements about the call to be pioneers in our lives, about letting Faith guide us to blaze new trails for others as we ultimately follow the True Pioneer of Christ, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who is able to empathize with us in every way.  But that time is not right this minute.

Until then, please pray for me to see His hand in something as little--and big--as a technological failure and as I pray for you I want to leave you with this...

"Father, you know us in secret, and you know all our secret places.  What we do to benefit your kingdom will not be lost if it is not seen by others, for you see and you reward according to your grace and mercy."  G.K. Chesterson

Friday, June 16, 2017

because He wants our first fruits

Alongside of our circle drive, in the perfect location for me to accidentally back into them on those early morning school runs when the sun has not quite yet sent it's rays down upon us, sits a large patch of blueberry bushes.  While their age, to us anyway, is unknown, they have been planted long enough to tower over seven feet and have enough strength for their blossoms to withstand this years early Spring freeze that demolished every azalea in the county.

Going on three summers we have watched and waited as the little round green nubs grew and changed colors until the bushes are full of dark bluish purple berries ready to be picked and either popped directly into your mouth if you are my children or turned into delicious muffins, cakes, and cobblers if you follow my line of thinking.

Those first fruits that come off the tree never cease to bring a feeling of awe to my heart.  They are a testament to the process started by a seed that continues to cycle around for almost no other reason than God created it to happen in that way, at that time.  A physical, tangible reminder of how He sets things into motion and cares for them until the fruit is borne.  Whether through frost and drought, or the perfect growing season, we, and the occasional bird and deer, are blessed to take from the branches.

There was a time when the giving of the first fruits of your harvest was required by law, with reverence and a holy fear, these items were offered up and only after were the rest able to be taken and used either for use or profit.  This first fruits offering found its fulfillment in Jesus, as "He is the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor 15:20) 

Because of Christ, we do not have to earn favor from God as we are each His favorite if we are hidden in Christ, the Spirit inside calls us and guides us to desire to give our own first fruits to Him.  There is nothing we can do to make God love us less, and likewise, there is nothing we can do to make God love us more. But, to both glorify His name and as an outlet for the overwhelming thankfulness that builds up when you seek to learn and understand how much He has, is, and will do, our Spirit longs to offer our own personal first fruits to Him.

In this scenario, minds may jump first to money, giving back some of that which the world counts as most valuable in our society.  Some may think of giving their time and service, helping their brother in need, coming alongside their neighbor, sacrificing to walk with another and bear another's burden.  Each of these have their place of importance in the Kingdom we are called to live in, however, if the first fruits of your heart are not set aside and offered up, than any act done comes before Christ and not with Him.  He wants us first, and we need Him first.

While reading through Life Together, some wonderful ladies and I struggled through Bonhoeffer's suggestions of how a day for a believer should look.  When you get a group of moms together there will inevitably be talk of how there is not enough time in any day to feel as if you are caught up on anything.  And while Dr. John Trainer--though it's often credited to C.S. Lewis--does say "Children are not a distraction from more important work.  They are the most important work." there is still a great desire to feel accomplished and productive outside of that realm.  When your list of what you consider are needs and desires is constantly growing, it is most difficult to be told that your day needs to include even more.

Excuses were made that this book was written so long ago that obviously we can not assume that it is applicable to our day and age, but we each knew there were Truths set forward that were more than just good advice, but items necessary for our hearts to be set in order.  Just as God does not often work on all parts of our hearts at the same time, neither do we need to try to overwhelm ourselves with incorporating all the things we see simultaneously either.  For me, this was where the thought of first fruits began to grow.

Taken from Psalm 57:7-8, Bonhoeffer says, "For Christians the beginning of the day should NOT [emphasis mine] be burdened and oppressed with besetting concerns for the day's work...let the first thought and the first word of the day belong to him to whom our whole life belongs."

Our thoughts and words, the first fruits of our day, given to Him.  An act of praise and thankfulness with the first conscious moments of a new day full of new mercies so graciously given again and again.

In the last few months there has been special attention placed upon those first thoughts and first words of mine after turning off the alarm but before my feet touch the floor.  There have also been wondrous closeness felt with my creator and savior because of it.  He is faithful when we are faithful.  But praise Him even more, He is faithful when we are faithless (2 Tim 2:13)

Because, lest you think I now am living the utmost holiest of lives uttering nothing but praises as soon as the sunrises, think again.  Just as you encounter in your life, I know all to well the constant pull of countless items that fight for your attention.  Some, such as the caretaking of your children, home, profession, friendships, family, church community, living community and the like are noble and necessary.  Others, like the temptation to peruse various social media venues, desires to fulfill dream like scenarios, and the occasional or not so occasional desire to hide and distract from real life through a countless list of activities can be given no noble title, yet are succumbed to much more than any other thing.

But when there are so many things clawing at you, demanding that you look at them first, it can be difficult to distinguish in that moment which direction to give your focus.

When in high school, if I was confronted with a difficult or dangerous situation that needed to be avoided but could cause embarassment or uncomfortableness from my peers, my parents would tell me to just blame them.  Let them be the reason.

God has given us the answer of where our focus goes first.  He has given our 'need to make everyone happy hearts', an 'out' so to speak.

He, and He alone, gets our First Fruits.  Period.

To be able to give those first fruits in our first moments, that will inevitably train our hearts to give him our first fruits in every moment, our minds and hearts need to first feel thankfulness for those moments to begin with.

This comes through three things...

          1.  Abiding in Christ.  When you are seeking him, hiding in his word and being, your inner dispositions
               change.  It is an involuntary action.  As your inner dispositions change, you begin to see how your
               Spirit longs for more of Him, more of Him in those first moments and in every moment after.

         2.  Practice.  Wake up tomorrow morning and thank Him for the new day.  Ask Him to help you be a                 blessing to someone.  Ask Him to help you see His hand throughout the days events.  Ask Him to
              help you wake up the next morning and thank Him again.  The words do not matter as much as the
              heart behind them.

         3.  Give yourself grace when you fail.  I promise He will.  You will wake up one morning and check
              facebook instead.  You will get halfway through your day and suddenly remember you were
              anything but thankful.  You already are forgiven and you will be loved anyway.  You fail daily.  He
              has promised to love you for eternity.

This is an ongoing challenge for myself that I am now extending to you dear friend.  Give Him your first thoughts, your first words, your first fruits of the day.  It can take no more than a moment but that moment can carry you, because it's Him carrying you, for much longer than you can imagine.  

I'm praying for your first fruits to be for Him, pray for me.

Friday, June 2, 2017

for when you need courage to take the next step

When on a vacation with your extended family which includes 12 adults and just as many kids all of which are under the age of 10 and more than half of which are 5 years old and younger, peace and quiet is not something you count on achieving.  Though fun and energy are most definitely daily tasks that are being checked off, when your soul leans more to the introverted side and thoughts do not tend to come to fruition until quiet moments are found, a writer's heart, such as mine, assumes that another week will go by where that part of herself needs to be placed to the side so that the energy needed for creativity and pondering can be funneled instead to being in the moment and enjoying it to the fullest.  Are there those in the world who do not have to voluntarily transfer their mental energy on the daily? If you are one such soul, be thankful my friend.

However, my doubt was overcome by His promise yet again and on a morning with a cup of tea in hand I sat on the front steps in Florida air mixed with humidity, a faint breeze, and the mottled noises of a houseful of folks beginning their day and came away with one thought that has continued to grow since, "It's time to keep going forward, I promise I'll tell you if you need to stop."

He speaks friends.  When you listen, you hear.

One of my children not only needs step by step instruction, but he needs it clearly written and sequential in order to complete everything needed.  If instructions are spoken instead, he requires the time to complete one, maybe two at a time, before adding to the list.  If given too much at one time, all is forgotten and nothing will get accomplished.

I simultaneously love and get frustrated with this quality of his.  The love comes from my own inner need for order and lists and wanting to make sure everything is done that is needed to get done.  The frustration comes from not understanding how, even when it's the same routine over and over, there is not an immediate and habitual moving on to the next thing.  What is keeping that little mind from using past experiences and context clues to just keep going?

Can you see where I'm heading with this?  The dawn of understanding pieces of yourself often comes through observation of others.  This is not judgement, in its negative sense, it is the judging that brings understanding, wisdom earned through situational discernment with a good dose of humility on the side.

The Christian life is full of unknowns, not for our Creator of course as He wrote our stories before the beginning of time, but for us and our minds personally.  Situations that have not yet come to past, experiences that have not yet been lived through, and wisdom that has not yet been gained are all dotted along our paths to be.  Sitting there for their planned time and place.

However, like my precious boy, we can find ourselves waiting, hesitant to take the next step because of the uncertainty of what will happen when we do.  Whether we admit it or not--and I have a feeling most of us would admit it freely--there is a great desire for a list of steps.  A sure, written in stone, sign that says go and do this exact thing.  Forgotten are the Words left with us and the example of those gone before us.  Distrusting are we to the people placed in our lives presently that mentor and guide.  Even ourselves we doubt.  What if we did not really hear what we thought we heard?

So instead of using our own context clues from the information given, instead of allowing our habit of walking in the Spirit propel us forward, instead of living in Faith and taking our own "leap from the lion's head" we sit, and wait, and look for a 100% no fail guarantee.  Both instances, the childhood chores and our spiritual stalling, stem from immaturity.  Both do not just improve with age, but with practice as well.

There are times we are called to wait.  Where there is a deeply felt need to stop trying to constantly take control and to sit and be still instead.  I have experienced a season of wait myself.  Never is a true wait on the Lord wasted, because not only is the wait required for building up those lovely qualities of patience and contentment, within it is also a process of preparation.  Whether God is preparing your heart, mind, soul and strength for the next step or preparing other people and places for your arrival, there is work in the wait. Says Oswald Chambers, "To wait upon God is the perfection of activity.  We are told to rest in the lord, not to rust."

Some can sit, wait, and look for a lifetime.

"It never works to wait for God to do what he has clearly called you to do."  ~Paul David Tripp

For myself, there are three things possible on the horizon, three things firmly planted in my heart, and for almost a year I have been trying to discern which one was supposed to be first.  Agonizing over taking a secure step forward and instead circling around trying to pick the right path.

I do not know what has been placed in your heart, but I do know that if you have prayed about it, sought the counsel of another about it, and it is still firmly planted--assuming whatever it is is not completely heretical of course--that it's time to leap, it's time to keep moving forward trusting that He will tell you when to stop.

He promises to make those paths straight, not smooth or easy or quick, but straight to where He's guiding.

The end results might matter and they might not, what changes your heart the most is the walking forward when you do not know the way but ever Trusting that God does. So go, and in the words of the ever wise Will Ferrell, "Enjoy the process of your search without succumbing to the pressure of the results."

 I will be praying for you as you discern and take those next steps in Faith, pray for me.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

For when you long for peace

It has happened more times than I would care to count. There I am, sitting in a state of mind full of peace, calm, and contentment that suddenly turns into a state of anxiety, emotional chaos, and irrational thought.  The reasons may vary, the environment may change, and the intensity may wave, but the core remains the same.  An event, a situation, a response lets flesh attempt to take my heart captive and push out the Spirit to make a home instead. 

Peace, that blessed feeling that sends hearts back to normal rhythms and breathing back to a purely involuntary action, is one that is gifted to us through Christ.  One that means to be complete, to be whole.  Third on the list when describing the fruit given through the Spirit, Peace, when truly felt, provides your heart with such an amazing, tangible comfort that many times it can stop you in your tracks forcing you to feel it overpowering all of your humanity placing instead a feeling of awe from the warmth enveloping your soul filling all your empty places.  Wholeness.

Those distinct moments in life where you can literally feel the wave of Peace that passes all understanding are worth writing down and remembering because it is those memories that hold reminders of the Faithfulness of a Good God who loves well.

There have been many times, countless times, that I wished life were a list of tasks to check, lessons to learn and move past because once learned, never forgotten, much like riding a bike.  However, Peace, that contentment of soul, like all the other gifts, is not one and done.  Instead, they are journeys full of practice and mistakes, knowledge slowly becoming wisdom as you gain a little ground at a time as that promised daily renewal continues.

After a recent episode, that may or may not have been instigated by a 7 & 8 year old baseball game, there was prayer and reflection and a bit of begging to understand better the ins and outs of a lack of peace.  Why when it seems so solidly in place, does it also seem to leave so easily?

Yes, yes I know, and I pray you know as well, that true Peace is not found in circumstances, it is found with, through, and by Jesus alone.  This is the base of any and all things, HE will keep us in perfect peace, but this personal search was for the specific trigger, the flipper of the switch.  When you ask, when you seek, be ready to listen, because a still small voice--or in my case a completely normal tone because my Creator knows how much I hate whispering-- might be quick to respond.

Expectation robs you of Peace.

It is well known that comparison is the thief of joy, but so many other things take away that fruit promised to us, and your expectations, my expectations, of how life should go, how people should act, how situations should play out, will rob you of the Peace gracefully given and humbly received.  

We, whether we would like to admit it or not, expect our children to listen, we expect our spouses to respond with kindness and compassion, we expect our friends to be there every time we need them and say the exact words we would like to hear, we expect strangers to agree with us, we expect teams to win, actions to be rewarded, disagreements to be resolved.  We expect that no one will shove pennies in the WiiU console--hypothetically speaking of course.  But when they don't, when the world and everything in it proves again that it is far from perfect, those expectations come crashing to our feet taking the self created peace from perfection with it.

Expectation robs you of peace and then it points to a deeper root, unbelief.  

Losing your composure, not clinging to that peace given and allowing it to carry you, is most definitely natural, but is still a side effect of unbelief.  It is an attitude and posture that does not, at that moment, believe that whatever the outcome God is sovereign, that does not believe He can and promises to work everything for good, that does not believe it might be needed to redirect hearts, to sanctify, to guide, or to even bless another.  His top priority is not to make our wishes come true.  He is not making sure we win win win no matter what.  His top priority is to crowd our hearts and fill them to overflowing with Him and Him alone.

We build up our expectations because we want to create the ideal life but in doing that what is actually being said is we do not believe that the life that has been created for us is good enough.  That does not mean you sit idly by while life goes on as if you have no responsibility in the matter, it just means that if peace is never felt, then maybe you are expecting too much of yourself and of this world instead of expecting perfect plans and perfect love from the only One who can fulfill, in His way and on His time.

Peace comes from abiding in Christ.  That is where it starts and where it ends, but on the way are twists and turns that will teach you how to remain abiding in Him.  Expectations rob me of peace but that is not the exhaustive list.  Each heart is different, each person is different, each one is searching to remain in the One who is never different, always the same.

What robs you of peace, what tempts you away from abiding in Him, from forgetting that contentment comes through Him but instead placing that role of peace giver in another?

I pray you will continually grow in Spirit, asking and seeking and learning the ins and outs of your heart and His peace, pray for me.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

for when you need to say things out loud

I remember what his face looked like.  The expression of complete regret and fear with eyes that were starting to show relief.  He sat across the room, knees apart serving as a place to set his elbows, hands up ready to catch his head if it fell forward from the raw emotion swimming inside.  I knew what was coming and even though it was the last thing I wanted to hear, I begged for him to just say it, say it out loud, because then the ice would be broken, then it would be out in the light...

Our lives revolve around communication.  Even in the most isolated places on earth there is language, the ability to speak and respond in some manner so that community can work together, rejoice together, disagree with one another, and live life.  However, unless you are under the age of 4, one can not just go around saying aloud every thought that comes through the mind.  Honestly the under 4 category probably shouldn't either but so far I have yet to find someone with the skill to enable that filter.

Words harm and words heal.  The phrase "If you don't have anything nice to say then don't say anything at all" is well shared among the southern states.  It is also well known that if you are told hundreds of wonderful, positive things about yourself and then one negative, it's that one negative that will stay with you the longest.  It is for these reasons that we are told to be kind to one another...(Eph. 4:32) and to no unwholesome word come out of your mouth but only what is good for building others that it gives grace to those who hear it. (Eph. 4:29)

Filters are a valuable thing.  They strain out impurities so that what you are taking in holds only that which is good for you.  In the world this may be referred to as your conscious.  Good ol' Jiminy Cricket sang a very catchy song about letting your conscious be your guide.  Listening to the inner voice telling you what is right and wrong.  In Christianity, we believe this is the Holy Spirit.  What Jesus left with his children here on this earth living inside you and guiding is your filter. Through it, with knowledge of the Word, filters our words, actions, and thoughts sifting out impurities and changing them to be more like Christ.  A point worth mentioning however, is that whether we follow the Holy Spirit's leading or not we are still loved and forgiven and never left alone.

I know no one who does not have regret over something they said that they wish they could take but as we talk today about words we speak, it's not the ones we have said to others that is the focus, it's the ones we haven't said, the ones we hold onto inside.

Maya Angelou said, "There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you." And while it is easy to immediately think that she is referring to letting out that budding writer that may be inside some, it can also be very easily applied to the story we each live out.  Each life is a story written by the greatest Author, meticulously planning and allowing experiences that will mold and shape us to become what He has designed us to be at story's end.  But within life there is beauty and despair, joy mixed with sorrow, refining and rebuilding that needs to be done and our hearts and minds often want to pull away instead in hopes to keep away the difficult parts of the process.

While much concentration is done to learn to filter our words and only let out what is helpful to others, there is an equal amount of concentration by us to hold our words inside because of what others may think if we let out our true selves.  

I would be willing to bet there is at least one thing that even right now you are keeping inside, afraid to say out loud because of how it might come across, how it will sound, how it makes you sound, because it may be wrong or because of what another may think as soon as you finish the sentence.

If you are scared to say something, that is a usually a good sign that you need to say it!

Words can eat at you if you leave them hidden, causing agony as Mrs. Angelou said, and worse keeping them in darkness, away from the Light, where they can be twisted so violently that you begin to believe the lies instead of allowing in Truth.

As a "counselor in dreaming" I have developed a simple two step process to help release those words from inside your heart.

1.  Find someone to say them to-  Lucky for you, there are two people with you all the time that you can speak to.  One is yourself, the other is God.  Yes having a bosom friend or spouse who will listen and love you no matter what you say is a pearl above price, but please do not think you need to drive anywhere, wait for your next girls' night/bible study/community group/workout/counseling session or wherever else you might have conversation.  The first priority is not to have your words heard, it's to get them out and give them a voice.

2.  Say them out loud-  Quite often this one small but not so small action is the only thing needed to bring healing and relief to your soul.  It takes courage to speak out the things you have hidden and as soon as the words have left your lips there can be peace and understanding that what you have feared so much to say may not be scary after all.  This one action is an act of faith and that act is rewarded with a precious peace that passes all understanding.

Everything we say out loud that is bottled up inside will not be right.  We have hearts full of sin and our thoughts will skewed, our opinions will be unjustified, our words will be full of envy, or unforgiveness, or doubt.  Even if more steps need to be taken to process through whatever the words reveal, they will be out, confessed, given a voice, and brought into the light and THAT is when healing can begin, when perspective is given, when wisdom is gained, and when our inner dispostions begin to change.

You may say hard things, you may hear harder things but He is faithful and just...He will cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

I pray that you will give all the parts of your story a voice so He can do just that, pray for me.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

for when you are looking for joy

This isn't the first time this exact subject has been shared, it's not even the second, or even the third.  It is in fact the fourth version of this post that has come from keyboard to screen to others' eyes.  So for a list of verses that will pull your heart in please take the time to visit one of those links.  
The original reasoning behind sharing this again was because for the third time this year some yucky germs have filtered their way through our family and constant cleaning, laundry, care taking and/or being cared for has been happening for a week straight.  Writing something original today felt like a task weighing too heavily upon my shoulders, yet skipping completely, though done before when need arises, didn't feel right either.
However as thought and word came together, the original reasoning took a back seat to fact, I needed to ponder these words and verses again, to be reminded of their truths, and to see the growth that has come because an ever faithful Father has been working in me, always working.
There have been countless times in my life where I have struggled with finding joy.  Times when I didn't feel right, just not quite myself.  Years ago, God started opening my eyes to the circumstances around these feelings so that I could begin to pinpoint when it might happen or at least recognize the cause when the lack of joy was felt. At the time, four triggers were noticed that caused the heart to dip and joy to leak instead of remain full, (1) exhaustion (2) feeling overwhelmed with too many tasks, thoughts and decisions (3) not spending time with friends who encourage me (4) letting the lives others make me feel discontent with where I am in my own life. Since the original list, another has been added.  (5) letting past trials take up too much presence in my present.  
The past longs to haunt you, to bring you back down to where you were or who you used to be but all the while God is reminding you that you are not who you were, you are a new creation, being renewed day by day.
Today the past had no hold on me, and in a situation where frustration would usually reign, where triggers would  usually flip and hard roads would be trodden down yet again, Joy was there to greet me instead.  The most beautiful part was that I didn't even have to choose Joy, Joy chose me. 
O joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
Months ago, literally, there would have been more than one pity party, frustrated outburst, and emotional meltdown mixed in with the extreme search for joy in the midst of the not so normal.  Even with the hard learned knowledge that my joy does not come from me or my surroundings but only because I am a child of God and that I have an amazing Savior who sacrificed himself so that I could not only have everlasting life BUT that I may also enjoy the life he has placed me in here on Earth despite the circumstances I am in, there would have just been non-holy guilt for not living that out instead of the Joy it so beautifully describes being able to live out regardless of life's bumps.
Joy came in the morning.  It fought against flesh and won the battle and in turn reminded me that no matter how many times I have failed at this in the past, the Spirit is constantly working and changing those inner dispositions to be more like Christ so that each day I can look and see that He is good.  He is so faithful, completing that work in each of us.
But Joy is not alone.  The fruit of the Spirit takes many shapes and we each struggle with different aspects of it at different times.  We look at life and get discouraged that we aren't as patient as we would like to be.  Not as loving.  Lack self-control.  And yes kettle, this pot may be calling you black but listen anyway.  Remember you are being renewed day by day, not immediately.  Don't be discouraged by your failings, be encouraged by the one who continues to pull you forward especially when you fail.  Because when you "ask  it will be given to you; seek, you will find; knock, it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened." (Matt 7:7-8)
I'm praying that you can see Joy, but even if right at this moment you see anything but, I pray that you will ask for it and seek it out because if you are abiding in Christ you will find it.  Please pray the same for me.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

because in the midst of beauty and despair there is always a faith that keeps walking through

“How is faith to endure, O God, when you allow all this scraping and tearing on us?
You have allowed rivers of blood to flow, mountains of suffering to pile up,
sobs to become humanity's song--all without lifting a finger that we could see.
You have allowed bonds of love beyond number to be painfully snapped.
If you have not abandoned us, explain yourself.
We strain to hear...

The juxtaposition of beauty and despair is a constant for us all. The scales may dip to one side or another, staying down at times longer than anyone would wish or staying up so long the next dip down catches us by surprise more than it should. Growing up you learn in school about America and it's Melting Pot of colors, faces, cultures, foods. I, for one, do not remember specifically being taught that life is also a melting pot of experiences, the good the bad and the ugly as it were. There was always work hard, follow directions, and do your best with either the assumption or adult given guarantee that everything would be okay. But then things do not work out the way you thought. The formula didn't equal the intended result.

Recently I was lying by a pool with a view of Zach in a beautiful pool playing with our boys in the foreground and the mountains of southern Utah in the background while reading a book about a young girl abandoned by her mother, for her own protection, to live in extreme poverty in Nazi Germany yet still understanding compassion for all others when the world around her claimed superiority. Beauty and Despair.

It's difficult to share a cross country experience with your sons the same day you read about Syrian children losing their lives because of chemical warfare. Or checking on social media to look at pictures of a beautiful newborn right next to another showing pictures of their young son diagnosed with cancer. Or feeling helpless as you hear about yet another couple's marriage falling apart because of sin and selfishness when your own, after a similar heartbreak, is full of grace, forgiveness, and healing. Beauty and despair.

There are a few responses our hearts and minds revert to when faced with these two opposites living side by side. There's guilt, much like survivor's guilt, that your life seems easy compared to the struggle of another. There's naivety in believing that another deserves what they're getting while you deserve the rewards you are reaping--consequences are part of actions, but grace is the only reason we see blessing in our lives--Then there is that pesky desire to ignore other's plights while you just concentrate on your "good fortune" doing whatever you can to make sure the tide doesn't turn. You have probably guessed that none of these seem to be the path we should take.

A goal for many in everything life related is calm, peace, no waves, just a constant state of positive. Actions are directed at keeping the scale dipped as low as possible to the side of our earthly vision of beauty. Heaped on top of that plate to weigh it down are a combination material possessions, shared experiences, church visits, donations, and all things that bring a sense of happy no matter how short lived.

But how do we explain with our earthly sense when the scale seemingly stays tipped to the other side whether in our own lives, the lives of our friends, or the lives of strangers on the other side of the world?

The opening quote is one by Nicholas Wolterstorff in his book Lament for a Son. But that is not the full quote. It ends with this, "But instead of hearing an answer we catch sight of God himself scraped and torn. Through our tears we see the tears of God."

When you picture that balance scale in your mind, and just so you know my picture includes a very LOST like image with black and white stones on either side, picture God, His Son, and His Spirit fully present on both sides so that one never outweighs the other because in every beauty there is an understanding of despair that would come if we did not have Him to call on and in every despair there is an understanding of beauty because He is always with us.

Hope always exists in every place hopelessness tries to overtake.

Emily Freeman said, "By faith, we trust he is building his kingdom even while we wait for the day when we can see with our eyes how he is making all things right again.

Much like my pastor's definition of love, Paul David Tripp has one on Faith that is simple to understand yet full of depth when pondered through. He describes faith as having two parts, both as important as the other. The first is believing that God exists. The second is letting that belief radically change how you live your life.

"Trust in the dark, trust in the light, trust at night and trust in the morning, and you will find that the faith that many begin, perhaps by a mighty effort will end, sooner or later, by becoming the easy and natural habit of the soul." ~The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life

So how do we explain the reasoning behind beauty and despair living side by side? We don't. Somethings are unexplainable and then again somethings just do not need to be explained. Instead, we just walk in it. Walk in the Faith that believes God exists and then continue that Faith by letting our actions shower Christ over others so that whether they believe themselves to be in a moment of despair or beauty all they will really see is Him.

As Pat Dye is known for saying, "There's going to be a lot of days where you lay your guts on the line and come back empty. Ain't a damn thing you can do about it but go out there and lay them on the line again. And again, and again."

The Truth of it is, you'll never come back empty handed if who you are laying it all down for is Christ.

Praying that in that mix of beauty and despair you can see the Faith in your life growing and the actions of your life being radically changed. Pray for me.


Sunday, April 9, 2017

because it's palm sunday

I loved singing this song today on this beautiful Palm Sunday.  Holy Week feels so different this year.  Last year, with all the doubt of how long our church was going to be able to stay afloat, there was a new understanding and deeper feeling on Good Friday and the thought of how the disciples and His followers must have felt on that day when they didn't understand what was happening and why it was happening.  That loss without the Hope that was about to come.

A year later there is still sadness, there is still a deeper understanding of loss, but come Sunday there will be a different understanding of the Resurrection, of the newness that comes because of Jesus.  Hope that is alive and well, always, showing itself to us again and again with each new step.

I looked at the the precious boys given to us as we sang the verse about a generation and prayed they would forever walk in selfless faith towards their Heavenly Father, deep into the Kingdom of God, side by side.


I see the king of glory
Coming on the clouds with fire
The whole earth shakes
The whole earth shakes

I see his love and mercy
Washing over all our sin
The people sing
The people sing

Hosanna in the highest [x2]

I see a generation
Rising up to take their place
With selfless faith
With selfless faith

I see a near revival
Stirring as we pray and seek
We're on our knees
We're on our knees

Hosanna in the highest [x2

Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like you have loved me

Break my heart for what breaks yours
Everything I am for Your kingdom's cause
As I walk from earth into eternity

Hosanna in the highest [x2]

Hosanna in the highest

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

for when you are learning to love part 6: loving them all

You were hardwired for love, so everything you decide, desire, think, say, and do is an expression of love for someone or something. ~ Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies

One more thing on this love learning menu.  Then after, instead of just adding more to the list, it will be time to practice those same things over and over until they become specialties walked out only by Grace given and the growth that inevitably comes from the many failures and eventual successes on the wisdom road.

We spent a week in Romania sharing this verse, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it:  You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Matt 22:37-39), and a somewhat comical portrayal of the Good Samaritan to children and adults in which our good friend was jumped by my husband and another guy, 'beaten' up, and left writhing on the ground complaining and whining in English with a couple Romanian phrases thrown in for good measure.  Stressing that everyone is your neighbor was the point of the story.  Everyone is your neighbor.  Not just the ones you like.  Not just the ones you who were nice to you first.  Not just the ones who can scratch your back if you scratch theirs.  

To me, it seems as if this final lesson of love is the most difficult because its the one that costs us the most.  Before now everything has been head knowledge.  Learning that we need to love, learning what love is, learning what love is not, learning that we can't love on our own, learning where that love comes from, can all be done internally, alone, without truly feeling the cost of what it takes to set yourself aside and extend that love we have so graciously been given to another, any other, every other.  But that is exactly who we are asked to love, everyone.

This is all well and good on paper until the time comes to put it into action.  

In ninth grade I took Geometry.  This was one of those classes that could turn the best of math students into the worst and vice versa.  it was a completely different concept that you either got or you didn't.  For whatever reason I got it, pretty well, and one thing that has stayed with me from that class more than any other were proofs.  As much as I liked geometry, I HATED proofs.  How was it that I needed to write 15 sentences to tell you the answer that I already knew.  Well if this then this, and if this then this, and so on and so on.  Little did I know at the time that that concept would guide my spiritual heart more than anything else.

We are given this Truth that we are loved, when we are His child we are loved unconditionally with Hope eternal.  And if that, then...  From that one point we can be taken to a future of loving, one step at a time.

Preparing your mind for action (1 Peter 1:13) is an absolute necessity.  Studying, memorizing, readying yourself is an integral part, but only if when the time comes you "walk by the spirit, and not gratify the desires of the flesh."  God is going to call you to love people you want to love, people who fill you with joy and hope, pleasure and purpose, and when this happens your heart will burst with the sweet Spirit inside and surrendering yourself to it will be one of the easiest decisions you can make.  

However, in just as many instances, God will present you with people to love in that same whole-hearted, spirit surrendering way and every part of your being might feel nothing but the opposite of a loving desire.   In fact, instead of walking by the spirit and not gratifying the desires of your flesh,  your flesh will boil and fight and inside yourself you will physically feel these two forces completely opposed to one another, keeping you from doing the things you want to do or, maybe more truthfully, allowing you to do exactly what you might want to do, nothing.

Let's be honest.  There are countless times you don't really want to love the people you love so why on earth would we want to love the people we don't love.  There is no earthly reason why we should love another if we do not want to, but there is a very heavenly one that tells us why we need to.  "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this ALL people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34-35)

It's HARD, when it gets personal.  When you can list reason after reason of the why you should nots, the justified examples that can be spilled out and pointed at, but if the given in our loving proof is that we are loved then eventually, following that beginning, no matter how many sentences follow, we can reach the end with a loving heart for another.  When we remember that we aren't worthy of the love we have been given, why should we expect another to earn our love in return.

In his daily devotional New Morning Mercies, Paul David Tripp says this,  "You are a lover; we all are.  We love.  It's what human beings do every moment of every day, in every location, and in every situation.  You are never not loving.  It's in the very fiber of your being.  It's the way God carefully constructed you.  Why did he hardwire you to love?  Why is this such an essential part of who you are?  God created you with this capacity so that you would have what you need to live in a deeply loving, heart-controlling, motivation-producing, worship-initiating, joy-stimulating relationship with him.  Your capacity to love was created for him.  Your desire to love was meant to draw you to him.  Your heart was designed to long for love, and that longing was meant to find its final and complete fulfillment in him." 

We are all hardwired for love, the question will come down to how it manifests itself.  Does it come out in a love of self, in being right, in wanting personal comfort, satisfaction, retribution?  Or will it come out in an inner disposition that builds others up and inevitably points them to Jesus because it's His love in us they see.

I pray that others will see God through our love, and I pray much more needfully, that He help us love others because we know how much He loves us.  Pray for me, I'll be praying for you.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

for when you are learning to love: questions to ask

It's Spring.  Where life's changes are seen as much in our schedule as they are in nature.  There are two baseball practices on the schedule tonight which means dinner needs to be ready early which means I cannot do my usual afternoon class at the gym which means I 'needed' to go to the gym in the morning which means writing is happening during rest time which means that any other productive things that needed to be done had to happen first thing this morning which means after all the kids are in bed tonight a bathtub full of bubbles and epsom salt will be calling my name.

Basically from before first light until long after the light fades this evening the day's to dos have wound themselves into a weird and complex reverse version of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie except that there will not actually be any delicious chocolate chip yumminess as a reward.  Or maybe...

This journey from the past weeks of learning to love started as a yes to a command but has continued with many other types of YESes as understanding has continued to grow and places in my heart either with known hardness or unknown places to begin with have opened and felt that warmth of our loving Father preparing it to love in return.

There are many ways that reduce you to a place of humility.  One is to take the time to truly search and study a specific part of your life and begin to see, as you go on, how much was unknown and misunderstood; how much mystery there was in the midst of all the knowledge.

However, there are many ways to build up thankfulness within your heart.  One is to take the time to truly search and study part of your life and see how faithful God is to reach down to exactly where you are, in all your mysterious misunderstandings, and grow and change and lift your knowledge to a place closer to wisdom.

Because of this brief time squeezed in between preschool and elementary school pickups, with Narnia and a 5 year old's commentary as my soundtrack, instead of finishing up these weeks of love learning there will instead be a few questions to ponder before the finale next time around.  Using your words to ask the right questions is a vital step to developing the wisdom we long to have.  Until you know the questions to ask, you might never know if you have found the answer.

Part 1.  We began with just the first step of wanting to love, wanting to learn to love better knowing that "wisdom does not come when life works out perfectly, it comes when you fall but when you get up and try again."  Have you tried during these past weeks and failed?  Lord knows I have.   What situation(s) did you recognize a need to love better or to even let love In to it to begin with?

Part 2.  Defining love was an integral part of this journey.  Love, is an inner disposition that produces compassionate acts that builds up the object of your love.  Constant reflection on this definition has no choice but to begin to change your heart and open it up to not just recognizing compassionate acts but building a desire to produce them within the lives of others.  Have your compassionate acts towards others change and how can they still change and improve?  Write down those ways that you can see that changing in your heart, the ways compassionate acts of have achieved the building up of others.  When you see the way God has achieved that in your so far it will be a blessed encouragement when you also recognize those places where growth still needs to come.

Part 3. Learning the truth that we can't love might be difficult to take but in time makes this whole process so much easier. Have you embraced this truth? Do you know that you, on your own. do not have the capacity to love?

Part 4. We are able to love for one single reason, we were loved first (john 4:19)  It's not us, ever. It's all Him in us.  Knowing this, when a failure at loving occur there is no doubt it had it's roots in not trusting Jesus and trying to love on our own but how specifically is the right question.  In what ways and with whom are you trying to love on your own instead of letting Jesus love through you?

Part 5. ...the beauty revealed through everything covered in Christ is beauty unsurpassed. It is possible to not just live through difficult situations but to LOVE through them as well. Using the encouraging words from Isaiah 7:4 we learned to 1. be calm 2. be careful 3. do not fear and 4. do not let your heart grow weary. Unfortunately in this sinful world in which we live, difficult situations, of all scheme and scope, are inevitable and much more frequent than we would like. What situations are taking their toll on you right now? Recognize them, label them, and lay them down to the one who will not just love you through them but will enable you to love through them as well.

I'm praying for you as you reflect on these past few weeks lessons and, like in the Spring, you see the beautiful changes already made and the ways He will be faithful to bring about more. Pray for me.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

for when you are learning about love part 5: difficult situations

One of my greatest skills is creating beauty in my mind, deciding what would look the best in any given place or within any opportunity. Whether that is the deck and landscaping around our newly surfaced--and filled with water!--pool, decorating projects for friends, or carefree afternoons at homes, there is always an ideal in my head of how life, both the living of it and the visual around it, would look best.

On the flip side, one of my greatest triggers of frustration is when these lovely, perfectly imagined ideals do not play out properly. For anyone actually living in this world, it can easily be assumed how often the ideal does not occur. If things worked out perfectly was a question on a survey the answer circle would most definitely be the "not very likely" choice listed on the far left!

Even in this, my writing life, a weekly ideal attempts to create itself within the corners of my mind painting pictures of the quiet space, perfectly sweetened, creamed, and heated tea, the best music plugged into my ears, and the words swirling around captured and placed in the right order for maximum effect. And when, like last week, my writing Wednesdays are filled instead with the care taking of feverish boys and the never ending tasks of housekeeping that goes along with it, that temptation to succumb to frustration of a destroyed ideal begins to overtake the joy and thankfulness of my first job in loving the sweet ones God gave me.

Perfecting ideals can have their place. Planning, organizing, and imagining how to create beauty and give beauty to others is not just a responsibility as a steward of this world, it is loving as well, as long as perfection isn't the circumstance on which your loving acts are resting.

The perfect ideal you have conjured up inside can not mask over the reality that plays out.

We want an experience that is easy and euphoric but instead we are, through abundant Grace, given distractions, failures and frustrations that instead of breeding immediate love produce an increase in our unloving parts. Why? Because within the difficulties the hardness in our hearts is revealed, the deepest places of unloving are brought to the surface, and only then does light shine upon them and enable real love to grow.

A quote from C.S. Lewis that holds both number one spots on my favorite and least favorite lists is this, "We are not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be." My favorite because its true. My least favorite, well for the exact same reason. We like the best for us, but we do not like pain.

Some of the first words written in the journal that began after my husband's heart shattering confession a few years ago were based on James 1:2-4 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its word so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

Written somewhat angrily in black and white was this, "After reading that, I wanted to punch James in the face. Seriously. I literally wanted to take James, brother of Jesus my savior and punch him in the face as hard as I could..." Violent? Maybe. True feelings? Absolutely. But then out of the most difficult of situations God taught me to cling to Him through anything, how to cling to His promises, and see the Love I have been given, the same Love He is continually teaching me to give to others. All others. He desires us to lack nothing. We can not lack nothing until we have been stripped of everything that is not of Him. (to read more of our story and God's amazing grace through it go here)

Learning to love with that gospel centered love is what is best for us, the sometimes painful mining of your heart and soul through difficult things is an inevitable part of that best being formed in you.

But do not lose heart, have courage, we are not left alone ever, and especially not during the hardest and darkest parts of our growth. Difficult situations come in all forms and on all levels. They will not all be earth shattering. They will not all require years of healing and continuous asking for and extending of forgiveness. Some will last only moments, but within each is the gift of grace and lessons of love that truly change our inner dispositions to those more like our Savior's and expands our ability to change towards others as well.

Weeks ago, while reading, I came across a verse in the midst of the needed but terrifying warnings of Isaiah that gave me such encouragement that it was jotted down immediately as something to share in the future. However hesitancy to do so increased as I began to fear that my lack of theological prowess and understanding of context would cause harm instead of the good intended. However with "His majesty as my protection, His glory as my motivation, His grace as my help, and His wisdom as my direction"--thank you Tripp again for your words--today is the day.

Whether in the throes of a difficult time of life, years out from one where healing might still need to be achieved, or in preparation for an inevitable one to come, take these words with you. Be careful, keep calm and don't be afraid. Do not lose heart because of these [whatever specifics are causing the hardness] Isaiah 7:4

Be Careful. However loved and protected we are, there is evil out there that definitely wants to destroy any chance we have of knowing, abiding in, and loving like Christ. Look carefully how you walk, not as unwise but as wise (Eph. 5:15), Do not believe every spirit, test to see if it is God (1 John 4:1), walk by His spirit (Gal 5:16)

Keep Calm. Ya'll I'm the queen of flip out first, think later. The times I've had to apologize to my children, husband, God, friends, strangers, and myself for losing my composure before thinking things through is a number higher than I even want to attempt to count to. But He gives us peace, not peace like the world, but perfect peace so that our hearts do not have to be troubled (John 14:27) and promises that He will walk through the raging water and consuming fire with us (Isaiah 43:2)

Do not fear. Flipping out has its roots in fear and we know that Perfect Love casts that fear out. (1 John 4:18) He did not give us a spirit of fear. He gave us power, self control, and LOVE (2 Tim. 1:7)

Do not let your heart grow faint.  Friends, repeat this one often.  Situations will come that you will face head on, Truths all risen up in your heart, prepared for the painfully hard that exposes the incomparable Good.  But then, there will be those times that you feel as if you have no strength, you know the hard that is on the path to healing and you just do not want to do it.  Take heart, have courage.  This can not be done alone.  Remember we love only because He loves first.  His love fuels, fills, and overrides.  Your heart WILL grow faint otherwise the command to not let it wouldn't be necessary.  Let Him love first so that you can love next.  

However beautiful the schemes in my head, the beauty revealed through everything covered in Christ is beauty unsurpassed.

Praying for you to learn to love not just through all your difficult places but because of them.  Pray for me.

More in the learning to love series...

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

for when you are learning about love part 4: Him first

The house we have called home for almost two years now sits on a corner and is surrounded by yard, yards in fact, full of trees to climb and hide under, grass for running and rolling, stone walls for jumping and upping the coolness of sword fighting and the occasional pretty flower that I haven't yet accidentally killed, but have no worry there is still time for that.

Three boys spend many hours using the space for exactly why it was created, to live and move and have their being.  Somewhere amidst the middle of disagreements, one on one on one basketball games, and too many ninja/knight/star wars battles to count an appreciation is being built for the beauty of the outside world while inside their hearts, the groundwork that can continually connect that love they have for creation for the love the Creator has for them is being laid and cultivated.

Surrounded by a fence, the only area blocked for every day play, lies a most favored part of the outdoor adventure space, our pool.  As soon as weather and water are warm enough gates are unlocked-with adult supervision of course- to this space where everything from relaxation to intense competition takes place.  However, if you were to walk out today and take a glance at this treasured spot, you would fail to see the inviting blue sparkly water begging you to put your toes in.  You would also fail to see the somewhat green-tinged not as inviting water that tends to spring up in the off season.  Instead, before you lies an empty cement hole, banged up a good bit, missing integral pieces, most importantly water, that makes a pool serve it's designed purpose.  Sure standing at the bottom of an empty deep-end is a semi cool experience and having a sword fight there did make a 5 and 7 year old boy giggle with glee but that fun is most assuredly short lived when you know what the full potential of the space feels like.

Without the essential element that fills it up, a pool is simply a hole in the ground; likewise without the love given through the Perfect Love, a heart is simply a lump of muscle pumping blood to keep your body alive but doing nothing for the Spirit within.  Both items are needed, but until they are filled to overflowing with that one key ingredient they will continually cease to perform their designed purpose.

While walking down this bumpy road of learning about love, we recognized the need to actually love better or at all, we have discussed what love truly is, and that we are not at all capable of doing it but hopefully you remembered, "do not despair because you cannot love, none of us can.  Do not give up because you have been hurt, we all have.  Do not fear because you are terrible at loving another, we all are.  Hold on to the Hope of the promises our Savior fulfilled.  Rest in the Peace he brings in the midst of your turmoil.  Rejoice with the Joy that he is above all circumstances."

So then, how is possible? How do we go about loving another?  How in the midst of our massive inability are we able to do anything?  Like all things we fail at doing, when we dig and dig to the root where we will find waiting the same Truth, the same wondrous reason for how "we can do all things" (phil 4:13)

We are able to love for one single reason, we were loved first (john 4:19)  

A simple statement that holds the heaviest of weight.  However quickly spoken, it is a thought and truth that can be unpacked and put away into every nook and cranny of your life each and every day.

Jesus is the beginning of it all; the beginning of our ability to see that we need to love, how we understand what love truly is, and the reason we can't, no matter how hard we try, love another on our own.

Because we are loved, we see the need to love.
Because we are loved, we understand what True love is.
Because we are loved, we can love, not on our own, but with the love given to us.

In Life Together, Bonhoeffer continues his look at human and spiritual love by saying "spiritual love comes from Jesus, it serves Him is bound solely to his Word...because spiritual love does not desire but rather serves, it loves an enemy as a brother" and if you remember, on any day, your enemy can even
be who you believe you love the most.

If ever I am given the honor of writing a book or multiples at that, one will be about this tricky topic of loving others.  It's title, already jotted down in one of my notebooks is "It's not me, It's You: loving because Jesus loves first" 

It's all Him guys, but He openly and lovingly gives it to us to then give away, amen and hallelujah.

Jesus is that Perfect Love, the water to your swimming pool, that essential ingredient to the heart, and we are told that Perfect Love casts out any fear. (1 john 4:18)  Yes, you may make a list of all your fears-if you want to see mine here it is-and see how that Perfect Love takes those fears away, lets you see the truth behind them, and ultimately just reminds you of who is holding you throughout everything.  Because of that, Do not fear.

Another thing fear does is keeps us from loving others because we fear the rejection of not being loved in return.  As that Perfect Love fills all your spaces it pushes those fears out and allows us to love others because we aren't looking for something in return.  If we are filled to overflowing with His love it's not the love of others that matters, but His and His alone.

In one of the most common passages about love we learn that love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trust, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails. (1 cor. 13:4-8)

And if God is Love, then this is a description of His character towards us, His children, as well as an example of the Love we are capable of only because of Christ's Perfect Love in us.  Will we fail, yes.  Will His Love fail us, never.

However, the first four verses before those oh so familiar ones are not to be ignored.  Within them are wise words reminding us of what happens when we try to go forth on our own, love on our own, without Love within us.

Two years ago on our second trip to RO we studied these words in depth and were given the task to reword them, making them specific to our struggles, to our personality, to what our imperfect love could result it if not overwhelmed with the only Perfect Love.  I'd love for you to try it and share your results.  For me it looked something like this...

If I speak with kind words and encouragements but do not have love I am at best morally superior and at worst an annoying goody goody or hypocrite.
If I show empathy and understanding to a situation and give great advice believing all will get better but do not have love I am of no help or significance to another.
If I sacrifice my money and time for my children, friends, and strangers but do not have love I might as well have given them nothing.
Love is patient and kind, it doesn't show off and point at itself on instagram or facebook.  It does not assume its way is better or get mad when things do not work out perfectly.  Love does not enjoy when others fail but gives praise for the glory of God in everyone's life.
Love takes it all in, the good, bad and ugly, it believes in Truth and clings to Hope knowing whatever comes that love will never fail.

Our pool guy told me not to look outside until all the work was done because it would be a mess, it would not be pretty behold but all I could think was if I miss the mess in the middle, the ugly parts, the not so pretty in the midst of restoration, how can I fully appreciate the beauty of the end result?

Though that Perfect Love is indeed living in you, this loving thing still might look like a big ol' mess to you before it ever looks anywhere close to good, but without seeing your beginning and middle you can not fully appreciate the end God has already begun to reveal and will fully complete as promised.

I'm praying you will see His love first so that His is what you give away, pray for me.