Posted in Living this Life

Wilderness Wanderings

I pulled the plug this morning. On my pool.

It’s not a great pool – it’s pretty little, just about 36 inches tall and about 10 feet across. Nothing you can cannonball into, and stuck on the end of my patio, it certainly doesn’t do much for curb appeal. Just a big blue blob that has served as a sort of lifeline to my kids on those oppressively hot summer days that wouldn’t seem to end.

I’ve watched that blue blob deflate all morning – and I’m feeling all sorts of conflicted.

It seems to mark an end to something – but to what? The end of summer? I’m really ok with that, since this summer was just plain hard. The end of the challenges of 2020 – I’d like that to be true, but am not that naive. Maybe it marks the beginning of something? A fresh season – I’d gratefully embrace that! But deep in my gut I know that although the weather is fresher and cooler, not much is really changing in my life yet. Still kind of wandering in this desert we call 2020.

Just another day – only today, we pack away the pool. And I find myself reminiscing.

I won’t drag you into all those convoluted places with me. Some bring smiles, some bring tears – so here I sit, trying to find the words. A couple months ago, I asked the Lord where I should read next in my Bible. I don’t often have strong leanings on this – I kind of stumble around in my Bible until I find something that ignites a fire in me. Well, this time I felt very strongly that He wanted me to go through the book of Deuteronomy.

Deuteronomy? Really? Have you checked your calendar God? I’m thinking I need something a bit more encouraging than Deuteronomy. Funny thing is, as I flipped on over to towards the front of the book, I find myself identifying with what I was reading a whole lot more than I thought I would. We find Moses reminiscing through the first few chapters. And it’s not pretty. There’s been alot of God performing great miraculous acts – and the people of Israel failing Him. Again and again.

I read through this list of failures, and I’m grateful I’m not as bad as they are. You know, with the grumbling and complaining and wanting to go back… Then that familiar nudge hits my spirit – like when the Holy Spirit seems to be squinting His eyes, tilting His head and saying, “really?” Maybe I need to read this again.

How many times have I found myself rolling my eyes at those forgetful Israelites who just wanted to go back to Egypt. Back to slavery? Really?! Don’t you remember how God got you out? Don’t you remember all those tears, the agony of a life lived in oppression?

Then I hear my own voice, bemoaning all the changes 2020 has brought to my life, and I’m saying “how soon can we go back to ‘normal’?” Now, there’s nothing wrong with “normal”, but what if it holds layers of oppression and slavery that God is trying to shake us free from? Maybe “normal” is code for “Egypt” in my life. If I’m really honest with myself, I don’t sound much different than those forgetful Israelites.

Maybe I don’t like the changes to my life in 2020, but the changes He has wrought in me are for good! What lies in the dust of the past that He is trying to move me out of? Sometimes it’s easier to do what we’ve always done rather than take the big steps towards change … but He has parted the Red Sea of our habits and brought us into a new way of living! I think of one of my favorite C.S. Lewis musings: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” Do you find yourself longing for the mud pies? Let’s not lose this opportunity by constantly wanting to go back to our “normal”.

Then this verse hit me like a brick wall: “Now, when the last of these fighting men among the people had died, the Lord said to me, “Today you are to pass…” Finally moving on! But why now? Why did the Lord wait until the last one died before calling His people on up? I always thought it was about the lack of obedience that ran through them – and I know that’s a great part of it. But this time, as I read it, I realized that God is bringing the Israelites into a new world to fight new battles with men who have never fought a battle in their lives. They couldn’t depend on the strength or prowess of their army – they could only trust in the power of God.

I say I trust in God. But somedays it seems like I’m leaning on the things of earth a whole lot more. There are so many patterns in my full time ministry life that rely on the power of man – from fundraising to connecting with people around the country. And none of them have happened this year. At least not in the way we’re used to. It would be easy for anxiety to creep in. It would be easy for me to run ahead and try to figure this out. It would be easy to try to “fix this” in my own strength. And yet my God still stands as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire at night.

Could it be that God is calling us out of our patterns and habits to each day look to see if the pillar is moving? Can you imagine how the Israelites lived for 40 years – peeking out of the tent each morning to see if the pillar has moved yet? Maybe we need a little more of this…

Rather than relying on the month of the year and what we “normally” do to keep life moving, maybe we should start looking to see where He is moving and wait in the shadow of His pillar. I find this altogether terrifying and exceedingly freeing at the same time. Because we’re really good at giving this concept lip service in the church, but how good are we at living it? I construct my to do list, and then I get frustrated with my kids when they interrupt my “progress”. Maybe the Pillar is moving in a different way today. Will I listen to the Holy Spirit’s nudge to simply go there? Without argument. Without complaint. Without my own agenda? Oh, it’s hard to unlearn a lifetime of self-sufficiency – thank you, 2020, for bringing me to this place!

And what about that manna?! My kids think it’s hilarious that the word “manna” simply means “what is it?” . Sometimes when God’s blessings show up in such strange and unexpected ways, you simply look out and say, “now, what would you call that one?” – kind of like a modern day “Whatchamacallit”. It seems this year has brought a daily supply of Whatchamacallits to my doorstep. But every. single. day. God’s provision shows up.

And I must confess – I am a bit of a hoarder when it comes to my favorite things. I’m the one who will tuck my goodies away until they go bad rather than indulge in them all at once. I’m not proud of it. I just never want to run out of goodies. How I can relate to the Israelites on this one!

When you live in the daily insecurity of never knowing what the next day will bring, you want to hoard the familiar. The things you can depend on. What little control you have. And here God issues a resounding, “no”. He’s not giving into my whining. And when I overstep and try to take his provision into tomorrow, I find it has lost it’s flavor. Even turned rotten. I need to savor His goodness today, and expect fresh blessings tomorrow. “His mercies are new EVERY morning – Great is Your faithfulness!” Lamentations 3.

So these wilderness wanderings have me brought me right here. To this place of utter dependency. To a place of acceptance. To a place of peace. There is still plenty wilderness ahead of us – and battles to fight with untrained hands. But His pillar – it’s there! It leads us day by day. So let’s stop looking back. Let’s stop complaining about how life is different, here in this wilderness. Let’s start finding our manna.

You make known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand. Psalm 16:11

Posted in Living this Life

River of Delights

Well, I didn’t expect that this morning.

Sitting out on my back porch, writing another boring journal entry of what I am missing, places I am not going … a bit numb of heart and mind, if I’m being honest.

I don’t know if you’re anything like me, but what word would you use to describe your heart during these trying times? Anxious? Confused? Maybe angry or frustrated. Often bored, sometimes detached. Emotional? Definitely. These are usually the richest days of my year. The days we get the live what we were made for – individually and as a family. And here I sit on my back porch, trying to find something to write to capture another week/month filled with laundry, [more] organizing and random home projects, and more meals cooked than ever in my life. Feeling bored and a bit useless. It’s hard not to grieve.

But my Jesus. He finds a way. Here’s how it went.

My journal entry from a few days ago contains these words, “I continue to feel a bit numb these days. I’m spending time with Jesus, meeting with Him each morning, and He sustains me, meets me, gives me precious promises. But I long for life! For that spark that makes me excited for this day…” With nothing to really look forward to, our days can become a monotonous repetition of the day before and we’re all feeling it.

Then these words came along, swung me sideways, and left me on my knees before Almighty God. “He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness” Psalm 107:9

Longing and hungry soul – I can relate to that.
Satisfied? Filled? Not so much.

So what stands in that gap? No one but me. And thus I sank to my knees.

I must confess, when I first read these words, I thought about what He would give me to satisfy my longing – where will You take me? What will You provide to fill this aching?

And the naked truth is – He already has. Read on – “My soul longs, yes, even faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” (Ps 84:2). And this – “They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house and You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures… My people shall be satisfied with MY goodness, says the Lord” (Ps 36:8; Jer. 31:14)

Maybe my biggest problem isn’t everything the news cycle screams at me. Maybe my biggest problem is me – where I am looking for satisfaction. Some days we may be doing the right thing, making a difference in the world, being busy for God – but is this where my joy lies? Because when it is all stripped away and I feel so naked, the truth about me is revealed. In this quiet, in this “lack of purpose”, my God is the same. And the river of pleasures He provides hasn’t shifted one little bit.

Spend a few minutes here with me … There was a time in the nation of Israel when they lost everything “normal”. They were taken to the foreign land of Babylon and suddenly their world was upside down. Feels a bit like 2020 right now – only instead of us being taken away to Babylon, it feels like Babylon has moved in and claimed our world. It suddenly seems like we’re living in a foreign land and it’s hard to find your place in it at times.

So those Israelites? They spent their days longing for what they had lost. Pining for the day they would return. In the middle of all this restlessness, God sends them this message: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. (Jeremiah 29:4-7)

foreign land 2foreign land

Do you feel like you’re in exile some days? Like you step out of your house and see a foreign land around you? Come into this place with me – camp here a while and let these truths soak deep into your bones. Right here, in the place – find the beauty.

God has not forgotten us. And He invites us into the beauty with Him. These words from Andrew Peterson have shone a light on the path I walk these days – “Uncertainty is no reason to stop adding to the beauty of the world. We don’t know what’s coming. Write songs anyway. Make pies. Plant gardens. Why? First of all, you might be in Babylon for longer than you think. Second of all, gardens are beautiful. And beauty is one of the best ways to fight the darkness… because the love that lives in beauty lasts forever. It is unshakeable. So step out into the … world and plant whatever garden God has called you to plant. Pull the weeds of injustice and evil. Plant so much beauty that it chokes out the poison.”

Plant so much beauty that it chokes out the poison.

Do you feel like the world is burning down around you? Like you don’t recognize your “normal”anymore? Come, plant a garden with me. I don’t know how yours will look – it may not involve dirt and seeds, but I know it starts with Jesus. Letting Him be enough. Just Jesus.

jesus rescue

It’s the only real soil to plant a garden in. That satisfaction that we get from whatever we find as our identity? The fun and laughter we found in places we used to go? The grieving, the restlessness, the desire for more that we are prone to feel in the absence of the familiar? It’s all starting to feel a bit like what Paul described as a “man beating the air” (1 Co. 9:26)

Can we stop chasing the wind and just let Jesus be enough?

To “place yourself in the way of His allurement” as Jonathan Edwards beautifully describes. To let your breath catch in wonder as you watch the flower slowly open. To find some documentary on creatures on the bottom of the ocean (try The Riot and the Dance: water) and try to wrap your mind around the God who put them there, and then splashed them with color and humor that can hardly be described. To simply think that He created all the wonders of the galaxies, calls each star by name, knows every sparrow in the sky, and yet engraves our names on the palm of His hand. (Is 49:16)

“May we chase your mercies over ragged hills, pursue your song through the sparse and layered lyric of sculpted deserts, marvel at your mystery fixed in the wheeling designs of stars overhead. May we hear it in the coos and calls of owls and small creatures that fidget in the night, trace it in the leaping dance of campfire flames, and sense it in the sweet incense of pine and leafmeal” (Doug McKelvey)

All this quiddity has a purpose beyond pure exultation.  For “all of God’s creation becomes a beam to be “looked along” or a sound to be “heard along” or a fragrance to be “smelled along” or a flavor to be “tasted along” or a touch to be “felt along”.  All our senses become partners with the eyes of the heart in perceiving the glory of God through the physical world” (Piper)

To taste and see that the Lord is good! (Ps 34:18). To let that soak deep into who you are until you are changed “now that you have tasted that the Lord is good!” (1 Peter 2:3) To be strengthened in the safety of this – “Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup; you make my lot secure… I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With Him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. (Ps 16:5; 8)

Oh, be refreshed by this, my friend! Let the dew of His goodness soften all those hard places! “I will be like the dew to Israel…” (Ps 133:3)

“Find rest, O my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from Him” (Ps 62:5)

Or if you prefer Mary Poppins’ theology – “We’re on the brink of an adventure children! Don’t spoil it with too many questions!”

I’m already starting to feel more alive. Just writing these words feels like a jumpstart for my heart. I know it doesn’t solve all the injustices that swirl around us, the screaming headlines that can challenge our peace, the questions that rage. But it’s a place to stand. A place to be. A gift of joy in the midst of the chaos. Stability that can’t be shaken.

Just Jesus.

He is enough.

the path

 

Posted in Living this Life

Bright Embers

“We need another baby”, she said, looking up at me with her innocent, trusting 4 year old eyes.

My mind flashed back to all that had surrounded her younger brother’s birth. The diagnosis filled with words like “anomaly”, the uncertainty that pervaded my pregnancy with him, the days spent in NICU after he was born, a surgery at 3 days old, that emergency flight to a children’s hospital one terrifying day …

True, this boy’s life is inhabited by numerous miracles and the hand of God in every detail of his pregnancy and birth is irrefutable, but this mama’s heart shook a bit at those words. Another baby? No, sweetheart – our family is good with one sweet girl and her precious brother. We don’t need another baby.

Well, this 4 year old girl is sweet, but also tenacious. She didn’t argue with me – she simply went to a Higher Source and asked God to give us another baby. And it wasn’t very long before this mama got the surprise of her life.

I’ve been thinking about this alot lately – in the shadow of Mother’s Day. How I need this lesson to help me grapple with the things I’m facing now in my life! Maybe you can relate?

Let me back up a little bit here. My life at this point couldn’t have been more unsettled. Because of work and ministry situations, we were basically living in two different places – 1,100 miles apart from each other! So every 6 weeks we would pack up our kids and travel that long stretch of I-40, only to do it again 6 weeks later. We were realizing we couldn’t sustain this and were in the process of looking for a more permanent home. We were exhausted, struggling with burnout, trying to find a home in a new town while sustaining a full time ministry in another state,  and now this surprise from God filled our lives!

They say timing is everything, right? I don’t know who “they” are, but clearly God doesn’t believe in following their vague rules. The timing in this case couldn’t have been worse, and I had many arguments with God about this. He sees all things, knows the intimate details of my heart – if little girl was right and we needed another baby, couldn’t He have just waited 6 months? Like Habakkuk, I lodged my complaint with Almighty God – and the only response I got as I waited those 9 months was the sense of His divine smile and the words, “Just wait – this is a blessing from me”.

watch

So life went on. The pregnancy was long and difficult. I started waking up with migraines every morning. We continued to travel, but everything quite simply became harder. By the time God miraculously provided the perfect home for our family, we had only a month to move, and I could barely move my body – this baby was BIG and his presence was impacting every ounce of my strength. It was a messy time. People came around and helped, my mom flew across the country to pack our house for me, and we got settled in our new home just a couple months before Joshua entered our lives. And through it all, God’s voice continued to echo in my head – “Just wait…”

My daughter asked for a baby – and she got one for Christmas. Joshua – his name means “Jehovah saves”. And he is a daily reminder of that sustaining truth. His birth – filled with much drama and excitement – brought us the baby we all needed. A 10 lb, 10 oz blessing that continues to fill our days with joy and laughter. They laid him on my chest, and I wrapped my arms around that stocky, solid baby and squeezed as I laughed and cried.

J birthJ baby

A couple days later, while trying to hold him in my arms, I looked down and was caught by surprise. His arms and legs were spilling out of my arms in all directions – this baby was BIG. Laughter erupted out of me unbidden – I think it was my response to the laughter of God in my heart. He had said this baby would be a blessing – but He hadn’t told me how BIG this blessing would be! That it would be more than I could contain and exceed all my wildest expectations. And that’s when it sunk it – we may not be prepared for it, we may even complain to God about it, but when He decides to pour out His blessings on us, it will be in such abundance that we can hardly contain it. It’s the process of getting there that is so hard for us to navigate sometimes.

Sunday afternoon found me in my favorite place – lying in my hammock in the backyard. This peaceful moment lasted approximately 1 1/2 minutes – until I was divebombed by a 9 year old bundle of boy with long arms and legs and all the energy and wiggles that can be contained in a hammock. This boy fills every day with laughter. I wrapped my arms around him and thanked God once again for the blessing He knew I needed when my fearful heart wasn’t ready to accept it.

It was very fitting for Mother’s Day – and as we snapped goofy selfies and giggled in the sunlight, I found myself remembering. Remembering this story, because I don’t know about you, but I find myself back in that waiting place again. That interminable place that has no defined end and can leave you arguing with God once more. Doubting His timing. Wondering what He is actually birthing – and could He just hurry it up a bit?

These last couple months have held much richness and introspection. But I’ll be real honest here – it’s getting old. We have had reason to grieve over the last weeks, and the felt losses are starting to build. There have been alot of tears over the last couple weeks and the hurt is leaving me feeling a bit ragged. I don’t have the physical limitations I did 10 years ago while carrying this miracle gift baby, but the other limitations feel as confining.  And what does God say in the middle of it all? “Just wait…”

Could it be that His blessings on the other side are so abundant that we won’t be able to contain it? Is He really able to do exceedingly abundantly more than we could ask or imagine, as He promises? (Ephesians 3:20) Will I sink into these present circumstances, or truly stand on the promises that hold so much hope?

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” Isaiah 43:19

“Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” Jeremiah 32:17

“I will hope continually and will praise You yet more and more” Psalm 71:14

“The eyes of all look expectantly to You” Psalm 145:15

“You apprehend with wider sweep

with wiser eyes than mine.

My history bears the fingerprints of grace…

You remain at work, lurking in the wings,

Sifting all my splinters for bright embers

that might be breathed

                                  into more eternal dreams” -Doug McKelvey

And so I wait for this new birth in hopeful expectation.

“But as for me, I trust in You” Psalm 55:23