Posted in Living this Life

Unbroken Melodies

I watched them this last Saturday morning.

Father and son. With their guitars out, the son was performing for a Christmas event.

The young boy’s music wasn’t refined. He was just learning his notes and his fingers didn’t know their way around the strings of the guitar like his father’s did.

But none of that mattered, because there in that moment, the music was beautiful.

The father, an accomplished musician, sat with his son and played along. He laid the melody and carried the tune. And in that safe place, his son’s plucking rose to a new level.

His dad could have left his son alone on that stage to rise or fall on his own. He could have considered the venue not “worthy”of his expertise. He could have waited for his son’s playing to reach a higher level of skill. But he didn’t.

He simply sat down, and played with him.

And my heart shook a little within me. Because I saw myself there.

More than that, I saw my Jesus.

I remembered all those times I had wanted to hide from God’s voice. All those times I told God that I was not enough. That I don’t have the strengths, the talents, the abilities to do what He was asking of me.

And in these days of self help and innumerable books written on the building of our self esteem, of confidence based on ourselves alone, the hard truth came crashing in like a house of cards. Because I know that though I may try to disguise it, on my best days, the music I pluck on the strings of my life are clumsy and out of tune.

Isn’t that the source of some of our greatest fears? That when the moment of truth comes, we will find that we are not enough?

But as I watched that father play a beautiful song with his son, I realized that this truth should bring peace and confidence rather than fear.

Because we don’t have to depend on our own ability. We don’t rely on our own strength. And when the great Maker of the Universe descends to play the music of our lives alongside us, the beauty that rises is inexplicable!

With every hesitant note I play, I hear Him play strong and true beside me, carrying me and creating beauty I never dreamed of.

I see how my stumbling feet have learned to walk true because of the strong feet of Jesus walking beside me. I see how my warbling voice has gained new strength because of the strong voice of my Savior resounding in my heart. I see how all my insecurities and fears have been held in that safe place. And in that safe place, I find a strength I never knew existed.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed”  2 Corinthians 4:7-9

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“He Himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else… God did this so that they would seek Him and perhaps reach out for Him and find Him, though He is not far from any of us. ‘For in Him we live and move and have our being’.”  Acts 17:25-28

I find a deep soul sigh escape my lips. And the old gospel hymn springs from my heart

“Precious Lord, take my hand
Lead me on, let me stand
I’m tired, I’m weak, I’m worn
Through the storm, through the night
Lead me on to the light
Take my hand precious Lord, lead me home”

Are you unsure of yourself today? Are you tired? Do you wonder where your strength will come from for what lies ahead of you? Do you find the notes of your life-song warbling a bit? Listen – do you hear it? The sound of His beautiful, steady tune rising up around you to complete your song?

Come, rest with me. In the great overflow of Jesus!

Posted in Living this Life

When the monster returns

It has been 10 months.

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10 months since I have felt that cold chill creep over my skin. 10 months since my muscles have felt like Jell-0 and my nerves trembled inside. I thought it was a thing of the past. I had hoped I would never feel these things again.

 

And then 3 days ago I woke up, and there it was. My skin hurt, and I was scared to get out of bed. “Maybe if I just get busy with my life it will disappear,” I thought. So I did – and it just kept getting worse.

4 years ago I was diagnosed with Lymes Disease. God went far ahead of me into this place and prepared amazing doctors and mentors to walk with me through this season. For 3 years, it was a bit of a roller coaster – as anyone who’s had a chronic condition knows. Every time you think you’re improving, it seems there is an “attack” of other symptoms. I’m naturally a pretty hopeful person, but these 3 years definitely had dark moments of discouragement and defeat.

I pursued a pretty aggressive form of treatment, which at times seemed to be working and at other times seemed to just make it worse. I was improving until the week of August 27, 2017. But that week hit me with a vengeance. I remember it so clearly because I was caring for a sick family member, trying to pack up my family of 5 for a trip across the country, and all I wanted to do was curl up in a ball and cry. I remember going to sleep the night of August 30th, wondering how I was going to “survive” this trip.

I woke up on August 31st, and all my symptoms were gone! For a while I lived holding my breath, wondering when it would come back … but eventually I came to believe that I truly had been set free. It felt like I had been released from a prison cell. And beyond the fleeting ache here and there, I haven’t had a recurrence since. I did things over this past year that I had forgotten I could do. I reveled in my new-found physical strength and felt a certain level of euphoria every time I was able to push myself and not collapse for a week afterwards.

I don’t know how many times I said to my husband, “It just feels so good to feel good!”

So you can imagine the state of my heart 3 days ago when I woke up to a rush of old symptoms I thought I had left behind.

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Doubt.

Anxiety.

Frustration.

Denial. (I actually told my husband that I didn’t want to do anything to treat it because I didn’t want to acknowledge that it was real)

The good news is, the symptoms aren’t strong, and they come and go, but simply knowing they are there has made me pause and think. I could look at this as a looming monster returning to imprison me – or I could choose to see how much stronger I really am than I was 3 years ago. Sometimes we forget how far we’ve come, and moments like this help us remember.

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While I have had many moments of rejoicing in my new-found strength over this last year, today I bask in it. Today, hope springs up in my soul like an explosion of worship! While I realize this has been a physical journey for me, I look deep in my heart and note the even greater miracles that God has done there.

If you only knew the wretchedness my heart is capable of. The thoughts that have tried to seduce me and overwhelm me. The paths I have flirted with – where I might have ended up had I taken that step.

If you only knew the fear that has consumed me and attempted to paralyze me. The darkness that tried to wrap itself around my soul like a cancer and imprison me in this lonely place and anxiety, worry, and doubt. If you only knew. But I do – and my God does.

I sit here with tears streaming down my face and hands lifted to the sky because this is who I was or could have been. But for Jesus!

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My Jesus –  He’s the only one who can set this soul free. He’s the only One who can scream at the darkness to leave this helpless daughter of His alone. My body is overcoming Lymes Disease and is stronger than it has been in years – but this heart of mine is overcoming so much more! And this brush with an old sickness has helped me look back and remember all that my Jesus has carried me through.

There is a reason God told the Israelites to set up altars of remembrance as they walked through the desert – piles of stone to remind them of all God had done in their lives. Because we are a forgetful people. The struggle of today can so consume us that we forget the victory of yesterday!

My friend, don’t forget! Remember – and Rejoice! And when that same old struggle returns, don’t let discouragement or doubt overtake you. Remember how He has helped you in this place. And take one more step forward, because He will help you again. Old struggles return sometimes – this is not failure, but rather a reminder of past victories and an opportunity to grow even stronger.

So remember with me! All the battles He has fought for us! All the ways He sets our souls free.

He is not a God “up there”, but a God who came down here. He lived in the muck and mire of this earth, the beautiful days and the crushing darkness.  And He let Himself be violently killed – for me, for you. This is how much you matter to Him. All the intimate little details of your life and soul – the things you don’t let anyone see. It matters so much to Him that He sacrificed everything for you.

I don’t know what your day holds. I don’t know if you’re living in victory or defeat right now. Maybe an old temptation is whispering in your ear or if you just feel like you’re wandering in circles some days. Or maybe you don’t feel like you have anything to celebrate right now … this might be exactly where you need to be to start. Let this be your battle cry and plant your altar firmly in this place!

Do not gloat over me, my enemy!  Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light!” Micah 7:8

I know that often my mind wants all the answers before I start. I have spent many hours searching for the how of things, trying to wrap my mind around the evidences and proofs. And while they are all helpful, none of them have the power to save.

The words of a certain blind man (John 9:25) remind me  “There is one thing I do know – I once was blind, but now I see!”

Sing these truths with Paul – “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)

And with Isaiah, look around you and behold – “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)

Remember – and Rejoice!

Posted in Living this Life

With Arms Wide Open

I had a moment of worship the other day. I was hanging upside down, hurtling towards the earth at unknown miles per hour … it snuck up on me and caught me unawares.

I like adrenaline. I love adventure. This picture hangs in my dining room, announcing it to the world.

I also love the idea of control. It makes me feel safe, like life can be boxed up into neat little compartments and decorated in the farmhouse style of Joanna Gaines. I like to know what to expect, so I can be prepared. I also have 3 kids. Clearly, this is not rational.

These two sides of my personality often act like the clashing weather fronts that lead to the many tornadoes warnings we experience every spring. I find myself trying to embrace adventure while hanging on to the illusion of control.

And so I ride roller coasters.

This was the perfect day for riding roller coasters. The sun was shining, the air was cool, and everyone was everywhere else! So we rode them all, my fearless kids and me. Wildfire, Powder Keg, Outlaw Run, and then the amazing new Time Traveler (the fastest, steepest, tallest spinning coaster in the world) … we laughed and might have gotten a bit dizzy. I realized a little too late that strawberry/chocolate crepes and spinning rides don’t go well together. But I carried on – a little nausea wasn’t about to slow me dowbarn swingn that day.

I followed my kids onto the Giant Barn Swing. This is a typical pendulum ride that reaches a height of 7 stories at it’s zenith, where you find yourself hanging almost upside down, before the rush to the bottom. I love the sensation. As we reached the height of the ride, about to fly towards the earth, I found myself tightly gripping the lap-bar that was holding me in my seat. My one connection to safety. But the obvious truth is that this exercise in futility has no power to keep me safe. As hard as I grip, there is nothing I really can do at that point but ride the ride. Stifling a sheepish grin, I let go and threw my hands in the air.

And that’s when the moment of worship hit. Overwhelmed by the euphoric freedom that comes from releasing control, I flew through the air and poured out my heart to Jesus.  Because I realized, in the midst of this messy life that can sometimes feel so out of control, Jesus is offering such refuge and peace. And here I cling to my own illusion of control – while He is asking me to let go and trust.

“Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders.” Dt. 33:12

“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” Ps 46:1

“The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.” Dt. 33:27

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

“Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.  Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.  Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds!  Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?” Luke 12:22-26

“The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid.  What can man do to me?  The Lord is with me; He is my helper.” Psalm 118:6-7

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to Him, and He will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6

So, that’s a lot of verses – and there are so many more. Woven throughout all of Scripture is the beautiful song that we can let go – because He has us!

Here are the disconcerting and mind blowing facts. As terrifying as a roller coaster can seem, as much as we hope those restraints will hold, standing our ground on planet earth is a whole other ride!

Did you know that at this moment, we are hurtling around the sun at 67,000 mph?earth

That means in the second it takes you to read this sentence, you will have traveled 18.5 miles without even knowing it! And in the year it takes us to travel around the sun, we will have traversed 585.6 million miles of space. My mind cannot wrap itself around these numbers – because it’s all happening while I’m washing dishes and folding laundry! I’m not working for it, nor am I strapped down hoping our momentum doesn’t throw me into my neighbor’s living room! (Although I am tempted to get seatbelts installed in my couch at this point)

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THIS IS THE GREAT GOD WE SERVE! If He is able to create all this, manage all this, and hold us gently nestled in that safe place between His shoulders, why do we grasp at control so desperately!? The comfort doesn’t come in knowing how little control I actually have, it comes in these simple words, Be Still and know that I am God”            Ps 46:10.

Because He is God, Because He is in control, Because of His promises, Because He loves me, Because this great Creator of the Cosmos has engraved my name on the palm of His hand, I CAN BE STILL.

Let go! Throw your hands in the air with me as we hurtle around the sun. Let the rush of the wind set your heart free to worship! He’s got us – let us rest in this wonder!

Posted in Living this Life

True Treasure

I can still see him when I glance over at my living room table.

Beard full and white. Eyes full of the humility, joy, and the wisdom of a life fully lived for Jesus. One of the few in my life who was there when I was a baby. He and his amazing wife helped introduce my parents to life in Africa. A part of my spiritual heritage. He wasn’t my blood uncle, but there’s a lifelong bond when Africa is in your blood. So we called him “Uncle Gene”.

 

And there he sat, at my dining room table – laughing, telling stories, giving gifts, eating half frozen cheesecake with my family and sipping his tea. He gave me a fresh glimpse of Jesus that day. And then he was gone.

I didn’t know that day would be the last time I’d see him and get to hear his stories – this side of heaven. But I’m so glad we had that beautiful day.

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And I can’t get these words out of my head. These beautiful words from his wife as cancer was taking over his body. “All his assignments were completed and now he waits for deliverance to his eternal home… we are grateful. We have lived a full almost 58 years in God’s service and are thankful that He chose us as His messengers, weak and sinful as we are. But we are also redeemed by the blood of Jesus and lack nothing”

All his assignments were completed. Or as Jesus puts it, “Well done, good and faithful servant… come and share your Master’s happiness” (Mt 25:23)

This isn’t about death. This is about life! Your life, my life, right here, right now.

Come with me here – into another story. Because this too – this beautiful and strange juxtaposition of the things of life. This is what I saw, driving by our local taekwondo studio.

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I was surprised. We expect to see trophies and medals in display cases, declaring to the world our accomplishments, not thrown out to rust and be put in the dumpster. So I asked my friend why – why have all your trophies just been thrown away like that?

He  simply said they were his personal trophies and he was throwing them out because he didn’t have space for them and didn’t need them anymore.

I couldn’t help but think of the moment he won each of those trophies. Of the years of hard work, dedication, and practice that went into each win. I know him – he once told us that it took him 10 years of competition before he won anything. 10 years of trying and failing – before he landed the trophy. I think of the rush he must have felt – the accomplishment, the confirmation that he was the best. And yet, here they lie, rusting under the rain and sun, a discarded heap.

We all know the value of a trophy isn’t in the metal or plastic they’re made of. We value our trophies for what they represent. What they say about us. When the rest of the world rushes by and we feel small and insignificant, this symbol tells us that we matter. That we are good at something.

You may not be into martial arts. You may not care about sports at all. I have never won a trophy in my life … but I have built up a closet full of other trophies.

Those things we hold on to because they tell us what we want to believe about ourselves.

Those accolades that say we are important.

The applause of our peers, the affirmation of our parents, the “good works” that we hope others will see, that big house or fancy car that lets everyone know we matter.

I spent most of my life chasing the approval of others. I remember moving to Los Angeles from Africa at 14 years old… shy, insecure, awkward, and desperate for approval. I met a girl at a “get to know you event” and when she found out I was from Africa, she rolled her eyes, said, “oh, well that’s weird”, and walked away. We don’t forget those moments that make us shrink back and wish we could disappear, do we? I did well in high school, I graduated with honors and got a load of awards, but I don’t really remember those – I remember the awkward moments of not belonging, not fitting in. Because that was the trophy I craved. That is what I felt I needed.

What is the trophy that you chase? What is it that will finally tell you that you’ve “arrived”? That you are important to someone or matter to the world? We all have them, we store them up in our hearts until the dust makes our souls decay. We find we are selling ourselves for a drink that will never quench our thirst and we can no longer stand under the weight of our own expectations.

You probably have heard these words in many contexts … read them again and let them read your heart.

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” Matthew 6:19-21

What is your treasure? It will define every part of how you live you life, and how you assess your life. The great irony here is that we can’t produce what we need our treasure to be – it all comes as a gift. A proper aligning of who we are in the big picture of mankind. We can only determine true treasure in our lives when we see ourselves as the treasure we are.

“For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” Ephesians 2:10

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9

“You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.” Isaiah 62:3

“For you created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Ps 139:13-14

When we bow our hearts to His majesty, when we repent of our attempts to build idols in the mud of our ambition, when we let His death on the cross cover over a lifetime of sins, we enter into the stream of true treasure. Come! Sit here with me awhile. Let the renewing flood of mercy fill your soul and show you who you truly are.

My heart is full and tinged with that bittersweet mixture of sadness and joy today, when I think about my dear Uncle Gene. I am overjoyed at the glory he is experiencing now, the hope lived his whole life in light of has been fulfilled. I am sad because I will miss his presence in my life. But when I think of that day sitting around my dining room table, and I remember the stories he told and the fire in his eyes, I am drawn to true treasure.

Thank you, Uncle Gene.

Posted in Living this Life

Walk on

I just can’t get over this story.

I close my eyes, and I can see him.

Face dripping with mud, eyes blind, feet walking… groping, feeling, falling, stumbling.

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I wonder if he hears laughter from those around.

Or if it’s just silence. That awkward, long silence when no one knows what to say or do.

And I don’t know why I’ve never seen it before in all the times I’ve read this story, but there is a detail hidden here that has changed the face of it for me. And brought it to life in a whole new way. John 9 tells about a man born blind. Jesus is leaving the temple after a toxic confrontation by the spiritual leaders, and here sits this man. Many who study this think Jesus’ encounter with the blind man happens as He is leaving the temple grounds. I’ve read many commentaries and discussions about Jesus strangely making mud with spit and rubbing it on the man’s eyes. But what follows is what has captured my mind lately.

After making the strange mud paste and applying it to the man’s eyes, Jesus tells him to wash in the pool of Siloam. Having never been there, I had never realized how far away that was. Jesus asks this man to walk 1,000 yards, or more easily understood, one half mile! Picture in your mind something that is ½ mile from where you are sitting right now.  Try to imagine what it would be like to walk that entire distance – with everyone watching while the mud drips down your face, not sure of what is actually happening.

I wonder what he’s feeling. Is he hopeful? Embarassed? Or just plain confused? I’m sure he’s heard the mocking before. He knows what everyone’s thinking – but right here, right now, he walks on. This walk must have seemed unending. One half mile of walking in the darkness towards an unknown future with hope alone carrying him.Hope in the form of mud. He must have walked this road many times before – but today, 1,000 yards must have taken forever!

I think about my own long walks toward healing. Times when the road seemed too long and there was no guarantee of what lay on the other side. When my own swirling thoughts threatened to keep me trapped in a darkness of my own making. The voice of Jesus was so quiet – but it was there. Speaking through the mud, through the confusion, through the pain – saying “walk on”.

I think about a long walk of obedience – down the longest jetway of my life onto a plane to take me to Amsterdam. I had never felt so alone in my life, but I could hear that still small voice whispering in my ear, “walk on”.

I think of sitting in a NICU ward by my baby boy – scared, confused, unsure of where this calebroad was taking me. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Isaiah 43:2

Or times when I couldn’t even see a road, and the darkness screaming at me threatened to engulf me – but still His voice was there. “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Isaiah 30:21

So the blind man walks on – and so do we. Towards our Pool of Siloam – our pool of healing.

I can’t get over this story. Because it’s my story.

I don’t understand the mud. Many people smarter than me have pontificated long and hard about the meaning, literal and abstract, of Jesus using mud to heal a man’s blindness. I don’t understand His messy ways in my life either. I have tried, and I’m sure I will continue to try. But when the dust settles, I think the greatest truth comes from the mouth of one simple man who was born blind… “I don’t know. One thing I do know – I was blind, but now I see!”

What long hard road are you on?

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Do you feel the heat of the stares of those around you? Does the mud sting your eyes and confuse your senses?  Please don’t stop on the way to your healing! Listen – it’s His voice, saying “walk on, my friend. Walk on.”

“I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.” Isaiah 42:16

Posted in Living this Life

I don’t understand…

He just couldn’t understand why. This boy with curly blonde hair and big blue eyes, looking at me so quizzically. And I’m glad he couldn’t.

This 7 year old boy who loves Jesus with all his heart and has no limitations to his expectations of who Jesus is and what He can do.

It was just a normal morning. We were doing our regular reading routine this morning, the 3 kids and me. All of us a little sleepy and groggy, trying to wake up enough to start our day.

The reading we came to in our “Mini and Maxi devotions” was Luke 5. Peter and his friends had been fishing all night, without catching a thing. They come in to shore, and Jesus ends up using their boat as a makeshift pulpit. Then comes the miracle of a boatload of fish when Peter least expects it, followed by Peter’s well known response: “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8)

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Maybe I’ve read this story too many times. Maybe I just know too well that feeling of being soiled and not wanting to be too close to Jesus in my shame. But as I read these words, I didn’t expect to see my Joshua’s face contort in utter confusion.  “I don’t understand”, he said. So I tried to explain.

I asked him if he’s ever felt like he’s not good enough to be near Jesus. If he’d ever messed up so much that he felt too ashamed to come close to Jesus. As I talked, my overly expressive boy’s face changed from confusion to shock and horror. All he could say was, “but WHY?! Why wouldn’t you want to be with Jesus?!”

I’ve heard numerous sermons and explanations of that moment when Jesus said the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to “such as these”. And here in front of my bleary morning eyes was this verse being lived out in front of me. Because on one hand, I know that when we compare ourselves to the great glory of God, we find ourselves, like Job, saying “My ears had heard of youbut now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myselfand repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42)  And I believe this is what is happening in Peter’s heart in this moment.

But in comes crashing the beautiful paradox. Because, my friend! This also is true. And I believe this may be what was happening in Jesus’ heart in this moment.  That beyond the reality of who we are compared to Him, He longs for us to come close and just be with Him.

In our filth.

In our emptiness.

In our shame.

I hear the words of Romans 8 ring loud in my heart – “ For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And I see Him stooped low, casting off His crown for a manger, so that I can draw close to Him.

I see Him in agony on a cross, so that I can be made clean.

I see Him in all His glory beside God the Father interceding still on our behalf! (Romans 8:34)

And yet how many times have I hidden from Him because of my sin? How many times has my heart reeled with words like Peter’s “Go away from me – I am a sinner?”

As I hear His  words still ringing in the air, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Mt 11:29) Did you hear that?!

AND YOU WILL FIND REST FOR YOUR SOUL!

Oh how I long to be nestled in.

To come to Jesus with a heart as simple and clear as my Joshua’s – with no worry or doubt, just trust.

So come! Let’s not spend another day pushing back the One who gave it all to be close to you. His Promises are sure, His Arms are secure, His Words are true.

It’s time to start really believing them.

Jesus