Category: God’s Love

Don’t Fear the Brokenness

 

I’m rushing like a mad woman to get it all done before slipping out the door to meet with a friend. It’s a haze of furious productivity, all so that I can be fully prepared to stand before the throne of God and tell him that my dishes are washed, the floors are swept, and the toilets are scrubbed.  It seems I can’t stop the frenzy of hurry that’s overtaken my body.

I hurriedly shove a white porcelain cup on top of a clumsy stack of plastic children’s dishes, and then it happens. It slides straight out of the cabinet, onto the countertop with a sort of bounce, and onto the kitchen floor.  It breaks into a handful of tiny pieces – white shards that threaten soft  little feet.  I hear the feet patter toward the commotion, and I bark a sharp command about staying in the living room.

Picking up the pieces with the ferocity of a woman on a life-saving mission, I double-bag them in the garbage and race to the basement for the vacuum cleaner. When I ascend the stares, Caleb’s standing in the center of the kitchen, staring at the shards.  His little bare feet are literally inches from the razor-like pieces of porcelain.

I yell. It’s all in the name of protection, but there’s no denying I’m yelling.  Instead of obeying my shouted command, he folds onto the floor in a million pieces, just like the cup that’s shattered on the floor.  And suddenly, the cup and the prayer meeting, and the million pressing things that need done don’t seem so important after all.  I crumble with him, scoop him up, and carry him to the safety of the living room.  We sit on the carpet in all our human brokenness, hold onto one another, and watch robins search for worms on the lawn.

I tell him I’m sorry and don’t try to justify the fact that I was only trying to protect him. We sit long and watch the robins.  The shards rest quietly on the kitchen floor.  Broken and undisturbed.

By the time Darrell and Bekah wander in from the garage, the kitchen floor is safe again, and there’s no evidence of the small disaster. I’m fifteen minutes late for my meeting, but everyone understands and smiles with grace.

Driving home from the meeting, the moon rises low and white over the horizon, and I find myself pondering all the brokenness of the day. It seemed to be anything but broken in the moments before that cup shattered, but as I look more closely, it’s as clear as the moon rising white.  It was all broken, long before the shattered cup.

It was the bad kind of brokenness that looks like a frenzied, striving woman – trying to keep all the pieces together, but coming unglued with every frenzied motion. It wasn’t until the cup shattered and Caleb crumbled and I fell with him that good brokenness came.  King David wrote: My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise (Psalm 51:17, NIV).

Godly brokenness comes when we let ourselves fall dependently into his arms and give up our striving efforts to accomplish and perform in our own strength. Good brokenness comes when we let others see our vulnerabilities and don’t hide the things we haven’t figured out.  Good brokenness comes when we go lower and offer our broken hearts to God, trusting that he won’t throw them away, but that he’ll piece them back together with greater beauty.

 M.R. DeHann says it well: “God used two broken stones tablets to cause the Israelites to repent of their disobedience.

God used broken earthen vessels to give the impression of an enormous army accompanying Gideon.

God used a broken heart to return King David to Himself. . .

God used broken loaves to feed five thousand and then some.

God used broken fishing nest to challenge the disciple to depend on him rather than their own efforts for their needs.

God used a broken ship to steer Paul to the island of Malta to reveal the gospel to the natives there.

God used a broken body, pierced for our sins, to provide salvation for all humankind.”

 

I walk into a still house after the meeting and turn on the hallway light. There on the floor, a small shard of white greets me at the entryway, flung fifteen feet from the site of the fallen cup.  I pick it up and hold it on the tip of my finger.  It seems we’re sweetly broken together tonight.

 

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How to Boldly Step into the Next Season

 

It’s an overcast evening with light air hanging over the black-eyed susans that blanket the fields behind the house. The Conservancy planted them when they bought the land, and despite the fact that they tore down the old white barn, we’re blessed by the wildflowers.

Among our favorite parts of summer is dinner on the deck. I like it because the spilled honey and tiny pieces of shredded cheddar don’t end up plastered to the dining room floor for weeks on end.  The kids like it because the last bite of the meal is permissibly tossed off the deck to our three hungry chickens.  We all like it because the open sky and chattering red-winged blackbirds fill us with a deep sense that we are free.

I’ve spent most of the day cleaning the house, dealing with a frustrating computer issue, and searching the basement boxes for size 3T sweatpants, and I’m a bit frazzled by the time the food is on the table. After Caleb’s garbled prayer to give thanks for chicken nuggets, buns, and spoons (he thanks God for spoons twice), we eat with few words.  The company of family and the space to enjoy silence is a gift.

I feel myself unwinding from the frustrating parts of the day when it happens. Our sweet little girl winds up with a banana peel in her right fist.  I know she’s aiming for the weeds behind me, and I know exactly what’s about to happen before I have time to swallow my bread and speak a word.

She throws the peel as hard as her six-year-old arm can throw, and the peel smacks me in the center of my face.

Silent stares watch my face for a reaction, and in a split-second, I make a choice that will set the tone for the rest of the evening. I choose to unleash hysterical laughter.   We all laugh until our eyes water, and I consider throwing something in return, but I know where it could lead and resist.  The moment is priceless, and I’m thankful I chose laughter.

When the dishes are washed and the kids are busy making bubbles in the yard, I reflect on the banana peel. Something about the moment felt like I’d just encountered the heart of the Father, and I can’t put my finger on it.

For years, I’ve claimed Philippians 3:8 as my life verse: More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ.

Thinking of the verse, I unlock the truth wrapped in the shriveled banana peel: I come to know Christ more deeply when I let go of my agenda, my rights, and my expectations of how circumstances should unfold. I come to know him more when I can laugh at the ridiculous and let go of what doesn’t really matter.

I recently read Emily P. Freeman’s post on 10 things she learned this summer.  Her words, combined with the banana peel incident, have prompted me to consider what we’ve learned around these parts this summer.  Her words remind me that sometimes the best way to close the chapter on one season and step into another is to reflect on the lessons learned.  This is my list:

1. Whenever possible, choose laughter over angry words.

“She is clothed with strength and dignity; she can laugh at the days to come” (Proverbs 31:25).  And this is the kind of woman I want to be – not the kind who takes herself too seriously.

2. When the pace of my life feels out of control, I have the choice to deliberately step out of the raging current and recalibrate.

We spent quite a few weekends in the hills of northern Pennsylvania this summer. For most of my life, our family’s hunting camp has been a place of solace for us.  Darrell and I have often discussed our longings to move permanently to a cabin in the woods somewhere.  It was while reading Shauna Niequist’s book Present over Perfect that I was struck with the truth behind our longings.  Shauna writes about similar feelings as her family regularly seeks reprieve at a cottage on a lake:

It’s at the lake that I realize how far I’ve come, or how far I have yet to travel. Both, maybe.  It’s at the lake that my priorities reshuffle, aligning more closely with my true nature.

I’ve wondered from time to time if we should move here, permanently, to this small Michigan town. But it seems to me that we’d bring our bustling and hustling here, and pretty soon we’d need a new place to escape in order to recalibrate.  Part of the magic of the lake is that it isn’t home – it’s away, and away allows us to see the rhythms and dimensions of our lives more clearly.

Shauna’s words remind me that I have the choice daily to decide if my life will be frantic and frenzied or serene and steady.  My pace is about a mindset, not a place.

3. My life is richer when I’m increasingly aware of the small miracles in my midst.

I was struck by this quote in a blog post called “Chasing Smallness” by Shauna Shanks this summer:

These past few years God has been re-ordering my life. Rather than bigger is better attitude, He has asked me to stop all the chaos, hand him over my crumpled-up mess I’d made, and start again. Smaller this time.

These words remind me that bigger, faster, and more glamorous are not always best.

4. Hard doesn’t mean wrong.

I’m inspired by the words of Tsh Oxenreider. Tsh and her husband embarked on a 9-month journey around the world with their three young children.  Before leaving on the trip, she wrote a note to her future self – the self that would be doubting the decision at the beginning of the trip.  The note read:

You’re in China, which is hard. But you can do hard things.  You won’t be here long.  This month is the foundation for the year.  Lean in to the struggles: give thanks for the easy times.  Hard doesn’t mean wrong.  You’re on the right path.

Her words remind me that difficult doesn’t always mean wrong.

5. Confidence and vulnerability can coexist.

My time at the She Speaks conference in July prompted me to question many things about calling, life, and authenticity. Greatest among the lessons from this weekend was the realization that it’s possible to walk into a crowded room of gifted women and be honest about the difficulty of the journey.  This kind of vulnerability might be the bravest and most confident way to live.  My confidence doesn’t come from my own gifting.  It comes from the One who created me.

6. There’s only room for a miracle when I am unable to produce the outcome on my own.

I’m currently reading Unashamed by Christine Caine.  Christine reminds us that we are unable to measure up in our carnal, human selves.  It is the power of Christ in us that is sufficient in our weakness.

7. I’m not defined by the outcomes I am able to produce in my life.

I could list twenty more lessons from the summer. For the sake of illustrating this final point, I’m stopping short.  I’m stopping short as a reminder that none of us are defined by the outcomes we produce in our lives.  Coming up short doesn’t classify a person as lacking, and every failure is an opportunity to grow.

As summer fades to autumn in the subtle shift from light to darkness, warmth to chill, and green to crimson, we will keep growing deeper roots around here.  We will keep laughing at the ridiculous and smiling at the future.  This is how we step boldly into the next season.

References:

Niequist, S. (2016). Present over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

http://www.shaunashanks.com/blog/2015/9/7/chasing-smallness

Tsh Oxenreider (2017). At Home in the World: Reflections of Belonging while Wandering the Globe, Nashville, Tennessee: Harper Collins.

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For When You’re Feeling Less-than

 

Muddy water rolls onto the rocky shore like waves of hope, and I count my blessings with the rhythm of the surf: this perfect day with cerulean skies and just the right placement of high cirrus clouds, sailboats on the horizon, these rolling green hills that speak of life and abundance, a date with a six-year-old, and the fact that she begged me to bring her to this place with a Bible. It’s almost too much to really believe this is my child and my life.

I watch her as she watches the waves beside me. She’s past the age of hurling rocks and sticks for entertainment.  Today she simply wants to watch the boats and the clouds drift by.

I pray for words that might capture this moment and speak truth into the deepest recesses of her being. I want to make the most of the moment, make it teachable, and be intentional.

Her delicate hair dances in the wind, and she looks right through me with penetrating eyes. She wants to know what I’m thinking about.  I tell her I was watching her watch the waves, and I think she’s beautiful.  I tell her I’m so grateful for this time together.

That’s when I remember.  I remember Ann’s words from this morning:

“The world will say they will love you if you’re beautiful —but the truth is you’re beautiful because you are loved.  “God Loves YOU. He who is Love loves you unconditionally. Living as one truly loved and cherished by God is the cross- beam that supports an abundant life in Christ. Belovedness is the center of being, the only real identity, God’s only name for you, the only identity He gives you. And you won’t ever feel like you belong anywhere until you choose to listen to your heart beating out that you do—unconditionally, irrevocably.” ~Ann Voskamp

My daughter is beautiful because she is loved. She’ll face bullies in the days to come.  She’ll face boys who will promise to love her if she’s beautiful, but how can I teach her that it’s not the love of boys or the admiration that comes from other women that makes a woman beautiful.  A woman is beautiful because she’s loved by God.

I want her to know who she is without hesitation. She’s not simply pretty or smart or funny.  She’s not defined by her social status, her hobbies, or her aspirations.  Before all of these things, she is first beloved.  Belovedness is the center of her being, her only real identity, and God’s name for her.  How can I teach her this?

I open the Bible on my lap to Romans, and I tell her: “God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This is how we know for sure that we are beautiful: God showed us that we are beautiful and beloved when he sent his Son to die for us.  This is the ultimate act of love.  You are beautiful because of this.”

I think of the labels with which I’ve defined myself: athlete, teacher, backpacker, wife, mother. I remember when the injury happened, and I could no longer call myself an athlete.  I remember walking away from my career to pursue full-time parenting, and I could no longer call myself a teacher.  I remember the day I realized it had been six years since I’d worn the old Kelty backpack into the mountains, and I could no longer call myself a backpacker.  What then?

What do we do with all the labels that are eventually stripped away? Who am I if it’s all stripped away?

Ann’s words ring true: The only identity that never changes is the identity that says I am beloved.

Blaise Pascal said it this way: “Not only do we know God through Jesus Christ, but we only know ourselves through Jesus Christ.”

I tell my girl that the only part of her that can never be stripped away is the love of Christ that is sealed over her life. No matter where she goes, no matter what she faces, she is still beloved.  There’s no need to prove herself to the world or make much of her life for the sake of a simple label.  She is free to live and love as one who is fully defined by the love of Christ.

She crawls onto my lap and listens intently. “Does this make sense?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says, “God loves me, just because I’m his.”

I kiss her damp hair. “Yes, just because you’re his.”

~~~

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For Anyone Who’s Been the Last One Chosen

 

I open the refrigerator in search of milk, but the sticker on the outside of the door catches my eye. It reads: “Star Student Award.”  It’s the size of a small nametag – white paper creased and worn and dirtied and so very well loved.

She wore it for two days. The first day, she bounced off the school bus in the blazing heat of a mid-May afternoon with a fleece jacket over her shirt.  She said she wanted to surprise me.  She ripped the coat wide open to unveil the prize she’d been longing for all year: the principal’s star student award.  She was spotted helping a friend, and someone noticed.  It feels so good when someone notices.

I convinced her not to slap it onto her pajamas that night, but she wore it to school the next day, gently pulling it from her turquoise T-shirt and placing it on her purple dress. She’d been chosen, and she just couldn’t wait to show the world.

After the second day on display, the sticker found its final resting place on an index card, and we taped it to the fridge for good measure. A treasure.  A reminder to be kind.

Staring at it in the early glow of morning’s rising light, I find myself thinking of what it means to be chosen. I think of a dozen times when I so desperately longed to be chosen . . . but wasn’t.  There was that day on the playground in second grade with all the boys.  I wanted to join their football game.  When the members of teams were drawn – one by one – I wasn’t last, but I was near the end.  I made sure to run faster and play harder than the rest of the boys, and from that day on, I was never near the end again.  The adult friends and family who have walked with me since childhood can attest to this.

I remember that boy in eighth grade. I desperately wanted him to dance with me, but he never walked across the wide span of gymnasium.  He asked the girl with the blonde hair and poufy bangs instead.  Two feet apart, they swayed to Boyz II Men for the full three minutes that could have been mine.

I turn from the sticker on the fridge and make my way to the couch to open the Word that will speak life into my day. I read, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,  just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Ephesians 1:3-4).

Chosen. I chew on the words.  I am chosen by the One who created the stars and the clouds and the mountains and the seas.  Before the foundation of all these things, he chose me.  I wasn’t always chosen for the team, chosen for the dance, or chosen for the promotion, but I am chosen by the Lord over all the earth to be his.  More than this, I am chosen to be blameless.

Me, with all my failures, all my besetting sins, my quick temper with the kids, my stained past, and my addictive personality – chosen to be blameless. Only the cross could have accomplished this.  Only the cross, with the shedding of innocent blood where the Lamb of God was slain for my failures.  Only the cross makes me blameless.

I swallow down the truth, and Bekah comes down the stairs with her hair matted from the pillow.  I hear her brother talking on the monitor – playing with the toys in his bed and singing with the little pink computer that sings the alphabet song.

She walks to the fridge and runs her little fingers – nails painted cobalt blue – across the sticker that reminds her she was chosen. I run my fingers across the pages that remind me of the same thing.

When she folds onto my lap, we talk about the sticker on the fridge, and I read words of life to her, praying they’ll sink straight into her thrumming heart. She smiles wide, truth sinking deeper.

 

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God’s Desire for Communion

“The irony is that while God doesn’t need us but still wants us, we desperately need God but don’t really want Him most of the time.” – Francis Chan

The curtains wave in the breeze, and a dozen songbirds chatter on the lawn. I sit with iced tea and a craving for something I can’t quite name.  It’s quiet time at our house – a designated hour of rest and silence.  Caleb sleeps.  Bekah plays quietly in her room, and I gaze into a long list of goals to achieve by the end of the week.

Francis Chan speaks through the computer screen. There’s a tent on the stage where he stands before a crowd – a red and white camping tent: a modern-day illustration of the place Moses once went to meet face-to-face with the Creator of the world.  Francis speaks of the awe with which God’s people once approached him – how God spoke through thunder, lightning, and fire.  He speaks of reverence and glory.

He says: “And what’s crazy to me is nowadays how we treat this time with God as ordinary or even burdensome – to where we try to squeeze in like five minutes at the end of our day, like I gotta try to get some time with him . . . I feel guilty ‘cause I only got like two or three minutes . . . And now it’s like a burden, and we have pastors that beg us . . . just give him a few minutes –  just try, please, please.”

I think of our morning: me with coffee, racing through the daily Scripture reading, while Caleb murmured on the monitor. Just trying to get it done.  I think of last evening: a chapter before bed, but my eyes glazing over and sleep settling in before I absorbed a single word.  I think of all the times it feels more like one more chore on a long list than the greatest honor a human could ever receive: The Creator of the universe wants to meet with me.

And here I am giving him six minutes and checking it off the list. Six distracted minutes.  Six minutes that were more about finding direction for my day and getting my needs met than actually connecting with his heart.

What if every time I opened my Bible, I actually expected God to speak to me? Doesn’t he?  Isn’t there a promise that every verse is God-breathed?  Isn’t there a promise that no word from this book will ever return empty?

I put down the list of tasks and silence the sermon from Francis. I open the Bible and expect God to speak.  I read:

And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to him. . .  these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. (Psalm 56:6-7)

If I bind myself to the Lord, he will bring me joy. If I keep seeking, pursuing, and attending to him, he will bring me to his holy mountain.  If I draw near to him, he will draw near to me.

I sit with the Book and the curtain and the songbirds. I don’t cross even one task off the to-do list.  And somehow, when the quiet hour ends, it feels like I’ve accomplished the very best thing.

~~~

 

For practical suggestions on growing in relationship with the Lord, enter your email to receive the free print out in your inbox: 10 Ways to Go Deeper with God.

 

Francis Chan, “Entering the Presence of God,” April 10, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdtNkjR-wFs

 

 

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When He Speaks Your Name

 

I remember it with the poignancy of yesterday. I’m fiddling with the latch on my green Care Bears lunchbox, when Mrs. Nagel gently encourages me to take a step to the left.  It seems I’m the juxtapose member of an otherwise pencil-straight line of kindergartners.

I’m missing my mom like it’s nobody’s business, and this whole mess of leaving her for approximately 3.5 hours a day is just about more than my five-year-old heart can take. I have no idea how I’ll ever get married and leave the house.  But I leave that thought alone and just try to swallow the tears that rise every time I think of her throughout the long half-days in the kindergarten classroom.

The colossal correction from Mrs. Nagel triggers the tears again, and I gulp hard, staring at the Care Bears and the rainbow on my lunch box. That’s when I hear the word.  “Stacey,” she says it gently, and somewhere behind the words, I hear all the love in the world, and something about her voice reminds me of my mom.  But it doesn’t bring tears this time.  I look right into her eyes, and I see a kind of compassion that wraps me comfort.

When she says my name, I know she sees me. I know she sees my heart, and she’s telling me it’s alright.  It’s all going to be ok.  We’re going to get through this, and she’s going to walk with me.

“No tears now,” she softly says, touching my arm tenderly.

I nod. I want to tell her I’m trying not to cry, that we’re on the same page, that I’m on board, and that we’ll get there.  Instead I just nod my little head and clench my lunchbox handle with two hands, eyes straight ahead.  I’ve got this.  I’ve got this standing in line thing, and this getting on the bus thing, and this leaving Mom thing.  We’re gonna make it.

We did make it. Mrs. Nagel and I soared through kindergarten together, and by the end of the year, the tears were a rarity.  Her kindness and gentleness walked me through the hard transition.

This is the memory that comes to mind when I read the account of Mary, searching for the body of Jesus at the tomb. Her grief is deeper than that of a kindergartner missing her mom, but it is grief, nonetheless.  She has come to anoint the body of Jesus with oil, and something about the act feels like a comfort to her.  She has lost him, but she focuses on what she can now do for him in his death.

She arrives at the tomb to discover the body is gone. Double grief.  Not only is she grieved over his death, she’s now distraught over the fact that someone has taken his body.  It’s disturbing.  It’s disheartening.  It’s terrible.  Someone is going to rob her of the final consolation of at least giving him a proper burial.

That’s when it happens. A gardener comes to the tomb beside her.  She glances at him, then begs him to tell her where they might have put the body.  Her mind is racing, and her eyes are blinded to the reality that this is no gardener; this is the very Lord she vehemently seeks.

She doesn’t know it’s him until he says it. He says her name, “Mary.”

I imagine the tone. It’s direct, yet filled with compassion.  It’s an assertion that he sees her.  He sees her heart and her desperation.  It’s an assertion that good things are coming.  Surely, he knows the awe that will fall upon her when she recognizes him.  Surely, this brings him joy, and there’s anticipation in the proclamation of her name.

She recognizes him the moment he says her name. She responds, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).*  And from that moment, everything changes.  The redemption of humankind is at hand.  His body was not stolen; he is alive!

The scene reminds me of Mrs. Nagel’s gentle proclamation of my name – of the day she saw into my heart and reminded me we’d get through it. It also stirs in me a deep longing for the day when I stand before the throne of God and hear Jesus speak my name.  It reminds me of the way he drew me to himself as a young girl.  It reminds me that just as he knew Mary by name, he knows my name.  He is watching, waiting, and walking with me through this season.

Jesus knows your name too. Imagine the day he looks into your eyes and speaks your name.  The day will come for each one of us.  Let’s live with prepared hearts, waiting, longing, and anticipating the day he calls our names.

 

 

*John 20:16

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The Morning Invitation

 

A fine white mantle of fog rests on the fields at dawn. I went to the deck to retrieve the coffee cup I left outside overnight, and it seems I’ve encountered God on the journey.  I sink onto the damp patio chair in the corner of the deck, and the chill of the dew on my bare legs feels like an awakening.  An awakening to what is uncomfortable and raw – real and tangible.

Dew on flesh. Fog on young goldenrod chutes.  This earth breathing life and promise and hope.

It’s so exhilarating that I fill my coffee cup inside and return to the chair with a jacket and my Bible. I forget the bookmarked app on my computer – the one that tells me what to read each morning, and I open tattered pages to Psalms:

Let the field exult, and all that is in it. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy Before the Lord, for He is coming, For He is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness And the peoples in His faithfulness. (Psalm 96:12-13)

I close my eyes and drink black coffee. I consider what it will look like to live this day as a woman who honors God and lives with the expectancy of a bride, waiting for her groom.

I think of the words of Jesus: ““You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

His words ring true. Loving God must come first.  Have I kept it first?

Before anything else, my life is about my relationship with God. It’s about drawing close to him and growing in relationship with him.  I am deeply convicted as I reflect on what my prayer time often looks like.  I’m convicted that I’ve spent too much time asking for things, praying for direction, praying for ministry needs, and praying over priorities.

While all of these things are important, what is most important is that I learn to rest in God’s love. What’s most important is that we grow in relationship through these quiet, set-apart moments.  My life is primarily about this relationship with God.  The way I carry his love to the world is secondary.

A mourning dove coos, and I realize I haven’t kept the first thing first. I’ve put praying for direction above basking in his affection.  Looking at the fields, it’s all so clear: He wants to wrap me in his tender affection like the fog that shrouds the fields at dawn.  He wants to cover me in the warmth of his love and stay together in this place.

Tim Keller says it like this: “Prayer is both conversation and encounter with God. . . . We must know the awe of praising his glory, the intimacy of finding his grace, and the struggle of asking his help, all of which can lead us to know the spiritual reality of his presence.”

This time is first about basking in his presence. The priorities, decisions, and requests will flow from this place.  I sit long on the damp chair and don’t do much at all.  I rest in him.

I think of the words of Mother Teresa in an interview with Dan Rather.

“When you pray, what do you say to God? Rather asked.

“I don’t say anything,” she replied. “I listen.”

“Okay. When God speaks to you, then, what does he say?” Rather tried again.

“He doesn’t say anything. He listens.”

Baffled, Rather didn’t know how to continue.

“And if you don’t understand that, I can’t explain it to you.” Mother Teresa concluded.

And so we sit. In the stillness.  In the newness of an emerging day, we sit in silent communion, and I don’t plan a single part of my day or seek direction over a single priority.  When the coffee is gone and the fog begins to lift with the silent chorus of a rising sun, I rise with it, and I’ve never felt more certain of what matters most.

 

 

Mother Teresa Quote with Dan Rather on listening to God and prayer

 

Keller, Timothy. Prayer: Experiencing Awe and Intimacy with God (New York: Penguin Books, 2014).

Mother Teresa, quoted in Chuck Swindoll, So You Want to Be Like Christ? Eight Essentials to Get You There (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005).

 

 

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Pray Big Things for Your Little Ones

Friday isn’t my usual day to post, but I’ve been guest posting quite a bit lately.  It’s an honor to write alongside John Piper and other gifted writers at Desiring God.  The links below will lead you to these articles and a few more:

Desiring God:

Pray Big Things for Your Little Ones

God Carried Us with Promises: Five Truths Strong Enough for Any Trial

The Praying Woman:

Five Prayers Every Mother Should Pray for Her Children

Her View from Home:

To the Mother Who Feels Like She Doesn’t Belong

Christian Devotions Ministries:

The Promise for Your Affliction

You Are Cherished

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How God’s Love Can Change Any Life

 

 

Bekah was born on a Tuesday, and nothing about the day really went as expected. I didn’t expect my water to break at 4 a.m., five days before my due date. I didn’t expect my body not to go into labor on its own, warranting an induction. I didn’t expect them to wheel me to the operating room after fourteen hours of labor. And when they pulled her from me, wrapped her in her striped hospital blanket, and brought her to me, I didn’t expect the violent flow of love to pour from me like it did. I didn’t know I was capable of that kind of love or that such love even existed.

I cried often throughout our first few weeks together, and while I hear it’s common to cry at every commercial and break down at every sentimental thought, I mostly cried because I couldn’t believe the love we shared. My desires to protect, nurture, and care for her were stronger than anything I’d experienced.

It was during those early weeks of Bekah’s life that the power of the cross captivated me in a new way. There was absolutely no way I’d send my daughter to die in anyone’s place. Ever.

The willingness of God to send his child to die for me completely transformed my perception of his love.

Throughout my life, I’ve battled with the feeling of not being good enough, lies that tell me rejection from other people means I’m less-than, and the ongoing feeling that I simply don’t measure up. Most of us face these thoughts at some time in our lives. Whether it’s the child who made fun of me on the playground in second grade, or the coworker who criticized my fashion sense in my fourth decade of life, the words of other people hold the power to inflict deep wounds.

For nearly a decade, I listened to messages from well meaning Christian leaders who spoke of finding our identities in Christ. They said things like, “You are a beloved child of the Most High God. You are precious and dearly loved.” All these words were nice, but while women around me cried and rejoiced at their newfound identities, it just wasn’t getting to my heart. And I knew it.

Things changed when I held my own child. I experienced love like I’d never known, and I came to the striking realization that God loves Jesus far more perfectly and deeply than I can love my precious child. He feels for Jesus the way I feel for my children — and more – and yet he sent him to suffer and die so I wouldn’t have to receive his punishment for my long list of mistakes.

The heart of my identity is this: God loves me so much that he sent Jesus to die for me (Romans 5:8). We all long for a deep encounter with the love of God, but let’s not get so caught up in seeking an experience that we fail to contemplate the truest thing about God. When I long for an encounter with his love, I simply need to step back and consider the cross. He loves me so deeply that he sent his Son to a place of agony for me. Encountering this truth is the quintessential encounter.

I don’t love anyone enough to send my child to suffer and die on a cross for them. How deep this love truly is. Understanding the depth of his love transformed my identity. When I begin to feel less than, left out, or not enough, I think of how much I love my children. Then I ponder God’s love for me, to send his child to die in my place. I know this is real love.

I know I don’t need to please others, measure up, or be someone others admire, because I am loved crazily by my Father.

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Three Things to Remember in the Valley

 

I slip to the woods on a Saturday evening after groceries and prescriptions and new socks for littlest one. The ground is soft and muddied with footprints of dog walkers and bird watchers. I immediately see why they came. The sinking sun blinds me to the west, but to the east, the ponds reflect perfect paintings of cobalt skies and grey hills – hills on the brink of bursting into glory, hills that are waiting for redemption.

I walk long through the mud and embrace the patches of soft grass that clean my shoes and offer traction. Geese linger in a pond to the south, and I follow the winding valley to its deepest place –where the sun hides behind the hills, and the darkness of night has already descended.

I’ve always been captivated by the shadows cast by mountains. Summers spent in Wyoming’s granite canyons bore witness to sun scorched peaks that stared down at the dark valley for hours. I lived in the valley, and I longed for the warmth of the morning sun each day. I missed the sunsets over Plain Grove’s hayfields and grew accustomed to watching the sun fade behind mountains early in the evenings to the west.

The geese are speaking words of warning about my presence as I tread farther along the path – less worn this far from the parking area. I pull my hood over my ears and hide my hands in my sleeves. It’s cool in the shade of the valley. Sitting on a rock at my turn-around point, I stare at the still water, look up at the illuminated hilltops, and consider the valleys of my life. I consider the hardest stretches, the darkest times, and the most painful trials. A few truths come to mind – truths for the valleys:

You are not alone

Some valleys exist solely on the precept of feeling alone. We believe we are alone, and the isolation of the season creates the valley. Feeling misunderstood, betrayed, abandoned, or without support leads us to feel alone, and there seems to be little hope for escaping the valley. Not that anyone cares.

The truth for this valley is this: “God will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6). I generally wish God’s presence felt more tangible. I need to remind myself that just because I don’t see him or tangibly feel him, this doesn’t mean he’s not present. He walks with me through every valley, and he will never leave me.

This will be used for good

God holds the power to use all situations for good in the lives of those who love him. Some of my hardest valleys have taught me to be grateful for seasons of health and “normal” living. Some of the darkest valleys have helped me make better decisions in the future. Some of my most painful valleys have made the sunshine on mountaintops far more glorious than they would have been without a climb from the deepest place.

Our valleys are used to comfort others

Most of our valleys hold the power to comfort others who go through the same struggles. The hard breakups of my teen years later enabled me to mentor teens walking through the same trials. The difficult days of my pregnancies enabled me to comfort friends going through the same struggles. The challenges at my job gave me empathy to encourage others who are in difficult situations in the workplace. God uses our valleys to comfort others in their valleys.

If life has led you to a valley today, be encouraged. You are not alone. Keep clinging to the One who won’t let you go.

*On an entirely unrelated note, I’m writing at one of my favorite parenting sites this week: Your Budding Biologist Should Hatch Frog Eggs This Spring.  And right on time, our deck is now home to one large tank of hopeful bullfrog eggs.

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