Posted in Living this Life

The bell still rings for me…

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I rode the Polar Express the other night.

Not by myself, of course – that would have been weird.

My family all jumped aboard with me – we dug out the Christmas PJs and Santa hats and braved the cold to ride the train. We sang the Christmas songs, drank the hot chocolate and ate the cookies – we met Santa, saw the elves, and let ourselves feel the magic of the story.

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But as I sat in the middle of all the merriment – I looked around at all the other families sharing this moment with us and thought – this is all so bizarre. There is the man up there, with his arms covered in tattoos participating in the same experience as me. And in another car, there is the big family wearing matching giraffe costumes – I still don’t know what that has to do with the Polar Express or Christmas, but they looked cozy and happy. Surrounding me are people of all ages – wearing all manner of PJs and random Christmas attire – every walk of life, sharing this moment, this story, this child-hearted experience.

And I can’t stop thinking about it.

Whey do we do these things? We drink lukewarm hot chocolate, eat cheap sugar cookies, and listen to a story we’ve heard over and over … and we LOVE it! The incongruity of it all makes me think that something much more important is happening in our spirits and maybe we just don’t have the words.

If you’re anything like me, this grown-up world can spin you upside down. And if we’re not careful, the harsh winds can form a crust around our souls until we stop feeling. Maybe what we all need this Christmas season is a taste of childlike wonder to wake our souls up and help us see beyond ourselves.

Chesterton says it like this: “Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

Is it possible? Do you think that this is what we’re all really craving but don’t know how to say it? A taste of the kind of wonder that we’ve all somehow forgotten? So we slip on our jammies and ride Christmas trains and whisper “do it again” because we all need to wake up our slumbering souls and savor the wonder again?

What about when it ends, and we wake up the next morning, put on more appropriate attire, throw in the next load of laundry, take the kids to school, and go about our workday, shuffling along in the apparent monotony of life. What about those days that unfold into weeks until we start to feel like robots in a factory?

I saw a man yesterday who had been through mind-numbing physical pain. He was a strong, active man – but sickness recently claimed his foot and part of his leg. As I saw him being helped on stage, with what remained of his leg wrapped and hanging out the bottom of his pants, my heart broke a little. Then he spoke, and my heart swelled. This is what he said about his pain – “it’s been a great adventure. All this pain – it’s worth it to simply feel.”

Maybe we spend too much time trying not to feel. We avoid the pain, numb our spirits with technology and diversions. We escape the monotony by running somewhere else in our minds, wishing we could be anywhere but washing these dishes again. We see other lives on social media that seem so much more interesting than ours and we forget that they start and end the day the same way we do – maybe we all need to ride the Polar Express and remember how to feel the wonder again.

To do it again with hearts awake! To let the magic pour out of the air around us and soften the crust around our souls. “All around us, magic is overflowing and running down the streets. Do you really live on a ball spinning in circles through the stars? Does the heat from the closest star really make trees and grass and moss out of the carbon dioxide in the air? Have [they] really pulled black ooze up from beneath the earth’s skin, mixed it in their lairs into something that explodes, and made us magical metal boxes than can race around on roads, riding on those explosions? Are you bored with that, yawning in your seat belt? Is lightning real? Tornados? Does the big spinning ball beneath us always suck us down, and are we really talented enough to constantly balance on our feet? What kind of creatures are we?

Sit Moses and Beowulf down, and listen to their stories. Sit Bilbo down and listen to his. Do you disbelieve their tales? Are they made up? Are they fantasy? Now tell them your stories. Have you flown through the sky in a giant metal tube? Do we have boats that can sail to the very bottom of the sea? Have we thrown men all the way to the moon?

A hobbit would laugh at you. To him, your world could not be real. Your stories would be fun to read, beneath a blanket on a rainy day. He might look out of his window and sigh, wishing for a more magical world of his own.” (N. D. Wilson)

Whatever you have ahead of you today, this is the only day we’ve got! Let’s be brave enough to stop the hurry in our souls and let the hardness fall off. I know it’s not all starry eyed happy – I know pain often hovers or threatens to consume. But when Jesus said “let the little children come to me”, He was talking about you and me. In the middle of all we have before us today. He said the kingdom of heaven belonged to them – to us! This is not just future tense, this is our foretaste of the kingdom of heaven now.

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” Psalm 34:8

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Posted in Living this Life

Mr. Wonderful

I called him Uncle David – but in retrospect, I should have called him Mr. Wonderful.

It was his answer every time you asked him how he was doing – I can still hear his gentle voice tinged with joy, “well, I’m wonderful, darling!”

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And it’s how he made us feel. Just plain wonderful.  So this morning, as I process the news that Mr. Wonderful is now with His Savior, I find myself rejoicing in that beautifully gentle spirit he carried – but I have so many questions…

I didn’t know my Uncle David in his younger years. I didn’t know him when he fought in Vietnam, and I don’t know the horrors he lived through there. Those were memories he didn’t want to re-live, and that’s where it stayed. And I didn’t know him well as I was growing up – he was my Uncle, but I was on the other side of the world and saw him only every few years.

But as life weaves a beautiful tapestry around us so often, it brought my life and his closer, and I was blessed over the past few years to get to spend more time with this amazing man.

Uncle DavidHe called my kids silly names like “McGillicuty”. He made them laugh and brought so much joy to all of us. He poured life and love and goodness out on us in unending measure. And that’s what my heart can’t get over this morning as I sit here grasping for words in the midst of my tears. That impossible joy in the face of a life filled with much sorrow. How does that happen? I know it’s not an accident.

Because we all know the natural course of a human heart. Pain causes us to close up and grow hard. Life hurts, so we grow a shell around our spirits to protect us. Anger begets anger and we so often find ourselves in a vicious cycle of pain. So when you see a man who exudes joy and gentleness in the midst of such hardness, you have to stop and ask “why?” Or maybe the better question is “how ?”

He endured much pain. Marked by a hard a brutal war when he was young. He tragically lost his grandson a few years ago. His own beloved son died suddenly just last year. He suffered physically, carrying effects of Agent Orange in his body as well as many other struggles. When life hit hard and seemed to overwhelm, he would simply hug me and say he loved me. I would ask him how he’s hanging on, and he would say, “how can it help to be angry?”  He knew the best protection of a soul comes in staying open – but how?

He must have known a secret. A life giving, beautiful secret that the rest of us need to remember. How do we best remember Uncle David? By making sure his spirit is carried on. He was a special man – and the greatest tragedy would be to let that special spirit die with him. Because what keeps flooding  my heart and mind is this: the secret he had is available to all of us. And we honor Uncle David best by finding it and preserving it and letting it mark our own hearts.

In light of a hard life, he responded with gentleness and peace. It makes me think of these words, “the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” These words mark how I remember my Uncle David, and I think this is the secret that he would want to pass on to all of us. How did he do it? I see the answer in the next few words… “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with it’s passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:22-25) I believe Uncle David made a choice to let the Spirit of God shape his heart, and though he wasn’t perfect, he kept in step with the Spirit of God. He reflected a different Spirit than the world has to offer, and we were all marked by that.

I can’t quite stop the tears from flowing this morning. I’m thankful my precious Uncle David is no longer living in such pain, however I will desperately miss him and the light he carried. But I also know it’s not completely snuffed out. Because the Spirit of God that lived in him is alive. And there is no darkness it cannot enter and no hardness it cannot touch. And I know the best way we honor the legacy of this amazing man is to let that Spirit change us in the same way.

So here I sit at the foot of the cross. Here I reflect on the words that offer freedom – “if you declare with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9) and this – “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8) Oh! and these beautiful words that many know but it takes a lifetime to fully grasp – “For God so loved ___________________ (put your name in here) that He gave His only Son (Jesus), that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life!” (John 3:16)

The everlasting life is what Uncle David is experiencing right now. The changed life is what we got to experience through him all these years. I find myself sitting here on this rainy fall morning asking my Jesus anew to form and shape this spirit that gets twisted by circumstances into a spirit molded by Him. Knowing that in the midst of the unbearable pain life brings us at times, there is freedom on the other side. Uncle David is seeing it unveiled with his own eyes for the first time, but he tasted and reflected the beauty of it all these years. And I want to reflect more of it today and tomorrow and the next. In honor of Uncle David. In honor of the Savior he loved so very much.

Oh – and Uncle David? Say hi to grandma and grandpa for me!!

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

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

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

Posted in Living this Life

I believe

The words pounded through my head as my feet pounded the pavement.

“I believe in God the Father Almighty…”

It feels like yesterday in my heart and soul.

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“Creator of heaven and earth…”

These thoughts crowding my mind – racing so fast, they can make you fear for your sanity sometimes.

I believe in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son our Lord … MY Lord!”

How did I end up here? Trying to escape the cycle of bombarding thoughts, walking the streets of Brugge, Belgium, simply because I didn’t know where to go or what to do? How to quiet the noise inside my head – screaming at me from the moment I woke up until I finally found escape in sleep?

“He was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried”

It had been a long journey to this moment. Months in Amsterdam, telling people about my Jesus – the one who promises freedom. All the while, crumbling inside from my own lack of freedom. Trapped in my insecurities, in my doubts, in the dysfunction I had come to see as “normal”. To set me free, God had to undo me; so here I was, walking these streets, undone.

And I remembered those days when I was a kid. Long Sundays in church, reciting a liturgy I thought was old and “dead”.  They called this the “Apostle’s Creed” – it didn’t mean much to me back then – just words we said every week.

“He descended into hell. On the third day, He rose again. He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father…”

I remembered sitting in that college cafeteria, telling a wise professor that I was beyond all that now. I was exploring new ways to worship. He didn’t say much, only gently reminded me to not forget those who had gone before me – “You are standing on over 500 years of history…”

“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic  (Christian) church…”

Suddenly the scrambled thoughts started slowing down. I found myself mouthing the words, savoring each precious morsel… “the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the life everlasting”

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There are many ways to worship, but in this moment, walking those old cobblestone streets, God set me free from the tyranny of the new. He brought those words to life in my heart on that day in Brugge, Belgium, and I no longer had to figure anything out – I knew. And that simple knowing quieted the screaming voices in my head.

My God showed me that as long as I clung to what I knew was true, He would lead me through what I didn’t know. Though emotions may soar to great heights and plummet to sordid depths, nothing can shake the reality of this foundation. I BELIEVE IN GOD THE FATHER – I wanted to shout it from the rooftops… Here is where I could plant my feet and not be shaken.

In these days of confusion and fear around the world, it doesn’t take much to feel like a “wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6) Headlines scream terrifying news at us, the pundits on TV tell us what (and who) to believe, people are displaced, having to flee their homes – it’s hard to know who to follow and what to trust in anymore.

“When you hear of wars and revolutions, do not be frightened” (Lk 21:9)  I still believe in God, the Father Almighty”

We are surrounded by the constant shifting shadows of life – today I choose to plant my feet on the one thing that will never change. I still believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord”

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Mt 24:35)  I still believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, and the life everlasting

And in the threatening waves, Jesus whispers, “Peace, be still”.