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.

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!

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

The God who sees

So there’s this bracelet …

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But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let me back up.

It was a hard week, last week. A few days ago, we got some news that shook me.

More than how this specific situation affected our lives, the news started a wave of emotions that seemed beyond my control. I was having a nuclear moment in my soul and I couldn’t make it stop.

The enemy of our souls will latch on to any opportunity to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10) And this was the moment he grasped.

I was consumed with emotions. I felt anger. I felt confused. I felt frustrated. I felt hopeless. I felt darkness. Every morning, for these few days, I would wake up consumed by these feelings. And let’s be honest – that’s all I’ve described so far is feelings. We all know feelings can lie. So I did the only thing I know to do when feelings rage out of control – cling to the One who is always in control. The Word of my God and His promises.”From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I.” (Ps 61:2)

And when I turned to His Word, these are the promises I read, that stood as a strong tower over my heart: “For this is our God, forever and ever. He will be our guide even to death… LORD, YOU are the portion of my inheritance and my cup… He restores my soul… my flesh and my heart may fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever… Our heart shall rejoice in Him, because we have trusted in His holy name… The LORD will perfect that which concerns me; Your mercy, O Lord, endures forever; Do not forsake the works of your hands… Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace … He who calls you is faithful and He will do it… Be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.” (Ps 48:14; Ps 16:5; Ps 23:3; Ps 73:26; Ps 33:21; Ps 138:8; 2 Pet 3:14; 1 Thess 5:24; James 5:8

Though these words didn’t stop the onslaught of feelings that were combating the truth of these beautiful promises from God, I clung to them nonetheless – and I prayed. I asked God to intervene. To help me find my way back to peace and joy.  And in my moments of despair, I asked Him for some tangible expression of His presence in this mess. It was a simple plea from a hurting heart.

Now, my friend, hear the rest of this story…

Because I have this friend. I hadn’t seen her in a couple weeks nor talked with her over that time, so she knew nothing of my situation. This friend walked up to me just a couple days after this desperate prayer and said she had something for me. She said she thought I would understand. And she gave me a bracelet.

And here is where this story takes my breath away. Two weeks earlier – long before I had hit this wall, while my days were humming along as normal – she had sensed God whisper in her ear that she was to give this to me. She hadn’t seen me since then, and so at her first opportunity, she was obedient to the nudge of the Holy Spirit. Two weeks before I would ask God for a tangible expression of His presence with me, He had already answered my prayer! He had prepared the heart of my friend, He had whispered to her heart, and His gift to me came through her beautiful hands.

This gift came to me on the exact day my heart was hurting the most. And God doesn’t miss the details – most bracelets don’t fit me well – they are just too loose, too big. This one hugs my arm like it was made for me. And to top it off, this bracelet was hand crafted in Africa – where I was born!

Friend, do you hear it in the wind? That still small voice echoing clearly through the storm? Saying “I see you. I know what you’re walking through. And I care.”

This isn’t just my story. It’s all of ours. Maybe like me, you’ve walked down long, dark roads. Maybe you have felt despair when the heavens have been silent. Maybe, along with me, you have found the faithfulness of God in those silent places.  But then sometimes when the storms are spinning in our souls, His voice breaks through in a gentle whisper.

Sometimes God chooses to capture the smaller moments when we least expect Him to show up. And in those moments He displays a beautiful truth – that He is with us. That He sees. That He truly does catch each tear in a bottle and hold it close. (Ps 58:8) He promises that when we walk through the fire, He will be with us. That the waters will not overpower us. (Is 43:2) And to be honest, that’s all I really need. Not answers to my many questions. Not a “fixing” of all my problems. Just His presence, here with me know, telling me that He sees.

So as I see that bracelet on my wrist tonight, I catch my breath. And in Him, I rest.

Posted in Living this Life

Normal

It’s been about 6 months since my life has seen much “normal”. In the midst of unexpected life situations at home, we have found ourselves travelling with our family more than we usually do. We have crossed through 28 states and through 12,000 miles since the end of June, and suddenly I find myself at home again, trying to return to some sort of routine.

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I have to admit – for all the joy and discovery I find as we travel, it leaves me feeling a bit untethered.

It’s been just long enough for me to kind of forget what “normal” is. Long enough for the edges of my days to feel a bit frayed.

I begin my days unsure of what to expect. And I end my days not knowing if I’ve accomplished what I was “supposed” to do.

I’m sure you can relate? It happens to all of us – these days of unpredictability and inconsistency.

It’s an unsettling kind of feeling, isn’t it? Because most of us like our parameters. We like to believe we have some sort of control over our days. It gives us direction, helps with discipline, and isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Life is so much simpler when lived by rules – it is manageable. But what do we do when it is suddenly taken away?

I didn’t know I was doing it, but lately I found that I have been sub-consciously waiting for this season to end. I told myself I would start to work out again when life was “normal”. I would find time for more “planned” romance in my marriage when our schedule got organized again. I could excuse being impatient with my family because the uncertainty of my days caused an undercurrent of stress in my spirit. I would start memorizing Scripture when I could do it in a more consistent way.

I was putting life on hold, waiting for the right time to start living it.

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We often fall into this storybook mindset of what “normal” should be, and though we all seem to define it somewhat differently, it makes us feel safe. So when the unexpected happens, we are often left undone.

So I wonder? What happens when we flip this notion that life needs to follow our pre-ordained pattern? What does the Bible say about how we pattern our lives? “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Ps 90:2)

“Do not boast about tomorrow, For you do not know what a day may bring forth.”  Prov 27:1

“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes.” (James 4:13-16)

I find myself wincing a little at James here. Please don’t tell me my beloved schedule is an arrogant scheme! I have never thought of my plans as boasting, but when we make our schedule into our god, this is our downfall. And I think this is James’ point – our calendar and our plans, are not organically bad or arrogant, but they must always be held with open fingers, fully submitted to the will and direction of God.

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So here I go, stating the obvious. We live our lives in a frenzied rush, waiting for a return to “normal”, when the reality is, we have no guarantee of anything beyond today. This moment is what we have been given by God, so how am I going to live it well in the situation I currently find myself in?

What if, in the midst of our routines, we insert those key few words that James suggests – “If it is the Lord’s will”. For all our plans, all our lofty dreams, are simply a part of a greater plan being worked out by our God. I wonder how many moments God has planned for us that we miss because we are following our own simple idea of how this day should go? I am not against schedules and routines – but I don’t want to be bound by them. Let’s shake off the shackles of our own expectations and awaken to the wonder of God’s greater plan.

So as we go about our “normal” days – sitting in traffic, working at the office, conducting a meeting, flying across the country, or washing that 10th load of laundry, let’s remember that “When our [plans] are interrupted, His are not. His plans are proceeding exactly as scheduled, moving us always (including those minutes or hours or years which seem most useless or wasted or unendurable) “toward the goal of true maturity” (Rom 12:2 JBP).” – Elisabeth Eliott.