Posted in Living this Life

Lessons from my 13 year old

13 birthday photoThis has been a challenging one for me to write… not because it’s hard, but because there are just so many “feels”. On Thursday, my firstborn turned 13. I’ve got all the “can I really be that old?!” feels, along with surreal feelings of “where did all the time go?” – nothing that would surprise anyone really. But more than anything, is this. This sense of wonder over what God has done and who He is – how He shows up in the most unexpected places and fills us with awe.

So all I have in way of saying happy birthday to my 13 year old is a picture and a story. This – that I have been savoring in my heart, searching for words.

When I was just 14 years old, I came back to the states from Liberia, a silly, inexperienced, insecure girl moving from the jungles of Africa to the jungles of Los Angeles. Rich in experience and adventure, but all sorts of awkward.

Of the many things that marked my “different-ness”, sports was one of the biggest. I hated PE, never wanted to jump into a game, and generally avoided anything having to do with a ball. I didn’t know the general rules of games and I didn’t understand the social norms that surrounded them, so my insecurity told me to avoid these situations, as they would just prove what an outsider I was.

So a few months ago, when my tiny, shy daughter informed that she wanted to try basketball, a game she had seen only some from the outside, but never tried in her 12 years, my heart quaked inside me. Not because I didn’t think she could, but because all those old feelings from my own childhood rose up in me. This girl is a quiet one, but firm when she knows in her heart what she should do. So we jumped in – I became the sports mom who understands nothing of referee calls or what plays are happening – but cheering with all my heart for this fearless girl who jumped in with all her heart to a place that I had spent my life avoiding.

Playing on a team of older girls, she dove in with all her heart. I quietly wondered if she would know how to play and what to do – she didn’t care. She just did her best and learned as she went. I sat on the sidelines and watched as her spirit rose up within her – she would scoot around the court, holding back a little, but still putting herself out there. Then one magical night, we all held our breath as she had the ball. In a heartbeat, she turned… instead of choosing the safety of passing to a more experienced team member, she took this shot qA beautiful 3 pointer – her first basket in a real game, and God gave her this. Friends and family erupted in cheers, and I wept a little.

Because it’s not about basketball at all, really. It’s about having the courage to put yourself in a place where you can fail. Most of my life, I chose safety. I chose to blend in when my life was anything but “normal”. When the cheerleader in high school rolled her eyes and said, “that’s weird” on hearing about my life in Africa, I retreated and instead tried to be like everyone else.  I stopped taking risks for many years.

But God doesn’t stop when we do. And He has relentlessly put me in places of risk to keep me from hiding. It has been a glorious journey to discovering that the best we can be is unabashedly who He made us to be! Regardless of who and what surrounds us, regardless of the fainting heart within us, let us fearlessly pursue this truth. In the moment I saw Charissa take that shot, I saw so many moments of my life flash before my eyes. Moments where I had stepped back in the face of God asking me to walk forward. Moments of opportunity I had missed because I had let fear erect a wall in my path. In that moment my daughter captured for me a picture of what it means to courageously walk into the “new”. I found myself overwhelmed by thankfulness. Thankful for all the times in my life God didn’t give up on me. Thankful that He didn’t let me hold back when all of me wanted to. And here I was, watching Him be faithful in her life like He has been all these years in mine! It took me longer to grasp it, but here in this moment, watching my daughter experience this moment, it all played before my eyes. The unending, daily, unfolding faithfulness of God.

So, my dear Charissa, welcome to your teenage years! I know there are a lot of things people say about teenagers, but this is what I have to say. Over the course of these 13 years, you have shown me the beauty of irrepressible curiosity. You have shown me the wonder of untarnished love for Jesus.  You have shown me that you don’t have to be loudly vocal to be strong.  You have made me laugh until my sides hurt, shake my head in awe at your insatiable questions, and sit in silence at the strength and boldness in your spirit. Thank you for teaching me once again the value of being fearless in the face of the new. I pray that as you step into this new adventure, you will boldly embrace all of who Jesus made you to be. I know that as you follow Him, you will find your way. 

This is just the beginning.

“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity.” 1 Timothy 4:12

Posted in Living this Life

Rest for the soul

I haven’t written in a while.

Thing is – I’ve been chewing on something for a long time. This is, in fact, my New Year’s post – delivered to you about 3 months late. Because on January 1, 2019, I sat in the quiet of my room, taking stock of my 2018 and peering into a new year.

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I was worn and bruised. And I needed more Jesus. But His answer wasn’t really what I was expecting.

And here I sit, 3 months later, still trying to digest it and work it into my system. To believe something is one thing – to make it a part of you, something different altogether. So I have been a bit silent.

There’s no way to sugar coat it – I ended last year a bit out of tune. A summer adventuring across this country, seeing God’s glory in a thousand places and watching Him work miracles. Meanwhile, I felt like this mama’s heart couldn’t really absorb it. My boy was in a world of pain – with migraines that we couldn’t seem to stop and all number of challenges stemming from that.

I came home longing for peace. Longing to be restored. And life picked me up and swirled away with me into a sort of busy-ness that withers my soul and leaves me shallow of spirit.

I sought Jesus in brief quiet moments. I found Him in breathtaking beauty – and wonder would beckon. I would ask Him to fill all my moments with His peace. With His glory. But too often I would rush around trying to “fix” it all by myself.

That’s where I found myself as I sat in the quiet of my room that New Year’s Day, I asked Jesus once again to fill my life with peace. To flood my home with wonder. To fix this crazy I had inhabited.

And in the quiet of that place, I felt Him speak to my soul – “what if I don’t?”

What kind of question is that? You are the King of Peace, for crying out loud!

That’s when it hit me. I had been asking for more of Jesus all these months, but looking right past Him at what He offered. I wanted His peace. I wanted Him to “fix” my crazy. But would I be content in all this crazy with just Him?

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Is Jesus, just Jesus, truly enough for me?

I know Jesus promises great things to those who trust Him. And I know it is a good thing to rejoice in the healing He brings and the blessings He pours out on us. But what about when life is a mess? And you don’t feel that peace. The loneliness invades your soul until you feel like you can’t breathe. And there don’t seem to be any answers to the hurt you see all around you?

I opened up my Bible last week to these words: “He Himself is our peace” (Ephesians 2:14). Oh how my soul needed that reminder! Because how quickly I forget and fall back into old habits.  Looking for the effects of His peace rather than for Jesus alone to be my peace.

I can identify with Moses, sometimes – Moses, the man who had a tendency to argue with God. Especially on the day that Moses found that instead of an argument on his tongue, all he was left with was a desperate plea. He reminded God of His promises, he asked to understand the ways of His God – and then he simply said “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here.” And God’s gentle answer?  “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and I know you by name.” (Exodus 33:15-17)

And I have no more words. Isn’t this what it all boils down to? Knowing God and being known by Him?

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Is this the secret that kept Joseph true when he was trapped in a hole in the ground – and later in prison for a crime he didn’t commit?

The promise that kept Abraham faithful when God asked the impossible?

The reality that kept Esther grounded when facing the annihilation of her people?

The key to Noah’s obedience when it seemed ridiculous?

The truth that made the disciples bold and unflinching in the face of death?

Maybe God sees peace differently than we do. When it is embodied in the face of Jesus and not in our circumstances, it takes a very different hold of us. And empowers us in ways we cannot quite comprehend.

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I don’t think Jesus means the kind of rest that comes from our circumstances, but the kind of rest that invades your spirit with His presence.

“He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only.”            ― C.S. Lewis

I was going to end here – but then this truth! The blazing honesty of Spurgeon plunged into my soul. So here – some meat to chew on, for those who want to dive deeper. Let this truth change you and help bring rest to your soul!

“Remember, therefore, it is not thy hold of Christ that saves thee—it is Christ; it is not thy joy in Christ that saves thee—it is Christ; it is not even faith in Christ, though that be the instrument—it is Christ’s blood and merits; therefore, look not so much to thy hand with which thou art grasping Christ, as to Christ; look not to thy hope, but to Jesus, the source of thy hope; look not to thy faith, but to Jesus, the author and finisher of thy faith. We shall never find happiness by looking at our prayers, our doings, or our feelings; it is what Jesus is, not what we are, that gives rest to the soul. If we would at once overcome Satan and have peace with God, it must be by “looking unto Jesus.” Keep thine eye simply on Him; let His death, His sufferings, His merits, His glories, His intercession, be fresh upon thy mind; when thou wakest in the morning look to Him; when thou liest down at night look to Him. Oh! let not thy hopes or fears come between thee and Jesus; follow hard after Him, and He will never fail thee” – Charles Spurgeon

Posted in Living this Life

What if?

There was a time in my life when I could barely see past the darkness.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart…”

Every beautiful thing was covered in a shroud of fear of loss, living in the shadow of “what if?”

“…Test me and know my anxious thoughts…”

It’s sucked the joy, the peace, the life from my bones and left me hollow and trapped in a tomb of fear.

“…See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” Ps 139:23-24

I will never forget the moment my Jesus shone a bright light on it. So many times He comes in with ideas we may already know, but need to hear in a new way. It all started when my amazing husband bought me a devotional one Christmas.

That January, I picked up this little life changing book by Elisabeth Eliot and God started the work of unraveling the web the enemy of our souls had trapped me in. It was a many layered process and is a much longer story than this simple post can contain, but all good stories must start somewhere. This is my “somewhere”.

I recently stumbled across this book, dusty on a bookshelf. As I cracked open the pages and saw the exclamation I had written in the margins, the Lord brought me back to this moment – to so many of the moments He gently walked with me and showed me the way out – step by step.

I don’t know what Goliath you might be facing, my friend. What news has shaken your soul or what unknown lies beyond what you may see, but I find such peace in reminding my own spirit of a great God who is already there and has prepared a way.

So here are the words I read that day. I will leave them here without much commentary. The concept is simple, even obvious… but the truth was transformative for me. I pray it helps release your soul to peace as well.

“We are meddling with God’s business when we let all manner of imaginings loose, predicting disaster, contemplating possibilities instead of following, one day at a time, God’s plain and simple pathway. When we try to meet difficulties prematurely we have neither the light nor the strength for them yet. “As thy days so shall thy strength be” was Moses’ blessing for Asher – in other words, your strength will equal your days. God knows how to apportion each one’s strength according to that day’s need, however great or small. The psalmist understood this when he wrote, “Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup; you have made my lot secure” (Ps. 16:5).

“What tomorrow’s cross I never seek to find. My Father says, ‘Leave that to Me, and keep a quiet mind’. (Anonymous)

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.

Discouragement.elijah-cave

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!