Category: Transformation

If You’re Searching for More from Your Life

 

White light breaks through smoky billows of fog, and I watch a fluorescent orange silhouette meander through wilted fields of beige. We open the first window on our colorful advent calendar, and the kids scarf down thin squares of chocolate to mark this first day of waiting.  We’re waiting for the coming King.  Waiting for the day that marks Immanuel’s entry to the world.  Waiting for God with us.

The hunter climbs a tree on the northwestern skyline, and he’s waiting too. All this waiting draws my mind to a question Bekah’s been asking all fall.  She’s seven, and she thinks about profound things.  At least a dozen times she’s gazed at the clouds above and asked what kind of clouds Jesus will ride when he returns.

Why do I fail to regularly ponder the reality that Immanuel is coming back? Why don’t I watch the horizon for the King’s return?  Why don’t I live more intentionally – like this really might be the last day I have on this muddy earth with dandelions sprouting on brisk December mornings?

Autumn in these parts prompted me to pause often, to watch for Immanuel’s hand in my daily life and live each day to the fullest. The biggest reason for this was a shift in my soul that begged for more.

I wanted more depth, a greater awareness of my purpose, and more in my relationship with God. I asked for direction from above, and I was led into a four-month study of Matthew’s gospel, reading one chapter per week, rereading the same chapter every day of the week, and coming up with an objective and practical way to apply it.

This study has enriched my life on every level and provided the more I was searching for.  It has astonishingly aligned with the trials and life events of our autumn, speaking truth into hard situations at just the right times.  It has nudged me to pause and consider that Immanuel is always working in our midst.

Here are ten lessons I’ve learned through this study:

  1. Watching for Immanuel has the power to change everything.

The Old Testament prophecy that Immanuel would come was fulfilled in the birth of Christ. Matthew 1:23 reads, “And they shall call his name Immanuel, which means God with us.”

I spent one week listing the ways I saw God showing up in my life this fall, and while my goal was one event per day, the list filled pages. When we realize that Immanuel has come and continues to dwell among us, when we open our eyes to his hand, we begin to live in holy expectation that fills us and leads us straight to his ever-thrumming heart of love.

  1. Simple acts of ordinary daily tasks can be done with a grumbling heart or a worshipful heart. We’re prone to grumble more than we worship.

Inspired by the fact that the first thing the Magi did when they encountered Jesus was worship him, I spent a week practicing ordinary tasks as acts of worship. Somehow, learning to make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, scrub toilets, and clean windows as acts of worship changed the overall countenance of my life.

  1. Sometimes the best way to break a habit is to discipline your flesh through fasting.

When we feel stuck in behaviors we want to change, sometimes the best way to produce change is to train our flesh to submit to our will through the discipline of fasting. Fasting is painful, and the flesh recoils, but once the flesh learns it’s no longer in charge, we step into a new kind of freedom.

  1. God wants more than “Please bless this day” prayers.

In Matthew 6, Jesus shows us how to pray. He offers a prayer that includes worship, confession, alignment with God’s kingdom purposes, asking for basic needs, protection from temptation, and a plea to glorify him.  Sometimes structured prayer is the gateway to greater intimacy with God.  Above all else, prayer is about a relationship.  Thoughtless prayers that ask for a quick blessing miss the heart of God who wants to commune with us.

  1. If we want to live transformed, we can’t live blind to our sins.

A discipline that’s often overlooked is the discipline of daily confessing our sins to God. If we want transformation in our lives, we ought to pray with David, “Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, And lead me in the everlasting way” (Psalm 139:13-14).

  1. Losing our lives for others looks like action, but it also looks like the right attitude.

We can offer our time and our acts of service to others without end, but if we do it with proud, bitter, or grumbling hearts, we haven’t followed Christ at all.

  1. Rest is a state of mind.

We’re called to rest in the Lord. This includes keeping the Sabbath and daily quiet time in his presence, but it also means

resting in his goodness when trouble, hardship, and daily stress threaten to undermine our souls.

  1. Every great accomplishment begins with one step.

Every great building begins with laying a single brick. Every great work of art begins with a single brush-stroke.  Every great work of faith begins with one step in the right direction. Do not despite small beginnings . . .

  1. Life and death are in the power of my words.

Every day I choose to speak life or death over my life, my future, my calling, and the people I love. I’m called to choose carefully and guard the door of my mouth.

  1. God wants us to ask for the things we need.

Some of us have fallen into a trap of over-spiritualizing our prayers. We forget to ask for the things we need on the most basic level.  We ought to pray Biblical promises more than anything else.  We ought to make sure every prayer aligns with Scripture.  But we are free to pray for practical needs in our lives.  Our good Father wants to reach down from on high and provide.

~~~

When I asked God to show me how to walk in greater abundance, I was a bit disappointed by the strong impression that studying the Bible was my answer. I was feeling overworked, and digging into the Bible felt like more work.

Looking back, it was work. But it was the best kind of work.  It was utterly fulfilling to find practical ways to apply the Living Word to my daily life.  It was satisfying and purposeful.  It drew me closer to the heart of God.  And now, with just two more weeks until I finish the study and application of Matthew’s gospel, I can say that I’ve found the more I was seeking.

Thank you, Emily P. Freeman, for inspiring this post . . .

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4 Reasons It’s Ok You’re Not Where You Want to be

 

 

We woke to white flakes on kelly green grass, and the kids squealed like they’d never seen snow. I sat for a while and watched it flutter down like a gentle foreshadowing of what’s to come.  Like most things, the novelty won’t last.

The changing seasons are an ongoing reminder to assess my life, balance my priorities, and try to make certain that my walk with God and my walk with the people I love are where they ought to be. But that’s just the question: How do you really go about assessing the subjective parts of your life?

I used to think a time would come when I’d sense that I’d arrived to some sort of long-awaited destination in my relationship with God. There have been noteworthy moments – moments that impacted eternity – but for the most part, I find myself considering that I’m not yet where I want to be.

My late teens and early twenties were mostly just a scramble to keep myself afloat. My mid to late-twenties were sparked with radical enthusiasm and devotion.  And my thirties find me settling into a pace that mostly looks like faithfully fulfilling whatever is set before me, a scarcity of spiritual mountaintop moments, and long stretches of spiritual steadiness.

Watching the first snow of the season, I decide to extend grace to myself. I decide that it’s ok that I’m not yet where I want to be, and I remind myself that none of us will “arrive” until we stand before the throne of God at the end of our earthly lives.  I consider the reality that there’s not really room to judge anyone else’s journey, and this means I don’t need to judge my own journey either.

My journey has been imperfect, and my life remains imperfect. I blow it almost as often as I get it right.  I miss opportunities to extend kindness to others.  I search for patience, and it’s nowhere to be found.  I question whether or not I’m making the impact I hoped to make when I set out on the journey.  I forget to pray.  I complain about things.  I do the exact things I don’t want to do.

In light of all these things, it’s ok that I’m not where I want to be, and here’s why:

The One Who Made Me Will Bring Me to Completion

I can trust that the Maker who knit me together in my mother’s womb won’t quit on me. He’ll finish what he started.  He’ll bring the work of my life to completion (Philippians 1:6).

Grace and Knowledge Don’t Just Show up – They Grow

2 Peter 3:18 reads, “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord . . .” Every person is somewhere on a journey that leads either toward God or away from him.  Until we see him face to face, none of us have arrived to a perfected state or a perfected relationship with him.  What’s most important is that we’re continuing to grow closer and not inching ever so slowly away from him.

Endurance Leads to Maturity

According to James, trials lead to endurance, and endurance leads to a kind of maturity that leaves a person complete, lacking nothing (James 1:2-4). For this reason, we keep pressing through our imperfect lives and our imperfect relationships, and we trust that all of our trials will lead us to greater maturity.

God Loves Me As I Am

God’s love for imperfect people was proven once and for all at the cross (Romans 5:8). He loves me right now, at this step of my journey, just as much as he loved me in my wayward early twenties and just as much as he’ll love me on the day I enter my eightieth faithful year of walking with him.

He loves each of us where we’re at, and he’s bringing us to completion. We’re simply called to keep pressing toward him.

~~~

We run through the morning snowfall together, and the kids catch flakes on their tongues and spread their arms wide in a display of awe-struck freedom. They’re wild with life and joy, and I suppose I could learn a few things from their childlike enthusiasm.

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When Where You Are Is Not Where You Hoped to be

 

It’s a brisk autumn morning with frost on the lawn and the kids and touching it with tiny fingers and a sense of awe that somehow slips away as years slip past. I’m staring down the face of a question that’s been echoing in my mind for twenty-four hours now: Where are you?

This fall has been marked by big bumps along the usually smooth road of our lives – bumps that make us step back and appreciate the simple things of life, bumps that make us grateful to still be here together laughing and crying and kicking soccer balls across wide spans of green grass. This question – where are you? – doesn’t loom like an accusation.  It simply invites me to step outside the momentum of my days and honestly assess what’s driving my life.

This question presented itself last week when I admitted that I was afraid – afraid of what the future might hold, afraid to take the next step toward a goal, and afraid that more than one of my dreams might be on the verge of collapse. It presented itself again yesterday morning, when a friend sent a text with this very question staring at me through the screen on my phone, and it arose two more times as I watched Christine Caine share a message online.

It’s the question God asked Adam in the Garden of Eden after the apple was eaten: “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9)

God knows everything, and God knew where Adam was hiding. Is it possible that he asked this question so that Adam might step back and take a long, hard look at his situation, honestly assess it and give words to it?

Adam answers, “I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid myself” (Genesis 3:10). Adam answers honestly: Afraid, naked, and hiding.

The Lord responds by first cursing the serpent who deceived Adam and Eve. He then speaks difficult words for the two people who once walked in unbroken fellowship with him: He tells the woman that he will multiply her pain in bringing forth children and make her desire for a husband who will rule over her; he tells the man that the ground is now cursed because of his sin, and in sweat and toil he will eat from the ground, and it will be filled with thorns and thistles.

I read these words while Christine Caine preaches about following the Lord, and I give thanks for the price Jesus paid on the cross. The curse of Adam is that all die, but in Christ, all shall be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:22).  Jesus literally paid the price for sin by becoming the curse for us (Galatians 3:13).  He reversed the ugly scene in the garden through the sacrifice of his life.

Because of Jesus, I have confidence that when the Lord asks, “Where are you?” I can answer without a fear of condemnation. There is no condemnation in Christ.

And so on this morning, frosted window panes soaking in the dawn’s first rays of golden sun, I admit to the Lord exactly where I am. I let the sun warm my face.  I receive the truth that he loves me exactly where I am, and he promises to shine light on each step of the path in front of me (Psalm 119:105).

Some of us are afraid today. Some of us are naked and ashamed.  Some of us are filled with regret, sorrow, grief, pain, and dismay.  There is grace for all of these things.  We are simply asked to come.  We are called to draw near – just as we are – and trust that the one who began the work within our hearts will complete what he started (Philippians 1:6).

I close with a question today: Where are you?

It’s not a question about where you’re pretending to be. It’s a question for the silent moments of the day when you’re alone with your thoughts and you let yourself be honest about the circumstances of your life.  Are you too tired to keep going at this pace?  Are you hurting?  Are you indifferent?  Have you grown cold and hard?

Will you trust the Lord to meet you in that place? He already sees.  He is present.  It’s for your sake that he poses the question.  Will you let him step in and work within?

~~~

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Why Life’s Pressure Points Are Some of the Greatest Gifts

 

There’s a giant sycamore tree by the creek. My hands are feet from touching when I try to reach around its pale bark in some sort of earthen embrace.  What captivates me most about this tree isn’t its size; I’m most captivated by the angle at which the giant grows.  It leans at close to a 45-degree slant, deeply rooted in the earth and dropping yellow leaves far into the creek.

The tree is along the path we take when we hike behind the house, and it’s a reminder of several spiritual truths in my life:

Be Careful about Judging What You Don’t Understand

The creek is lined with dozens of straight-standing sycamores. They are gallant and honorable.  Their bark shines silver in the autumn sunshine, and they bear the glory of their Maker.  Interestingly, not one of these trees is as large as the slanting sycamore.

One by one, we’ve watched as the tall, straight trees topple to the ground in violent wind storms and crash, uprooted, in microbursts that rip through the valley. Somehow, the slanting giant remains firmly rooted, bearing fruit in season, year after year.

I’d be quick to label this tree less worthy than its straight counterparts. But time has proven that this tree is deeply rooted.  This reminds me to be careful not to judge what I might not fully understand.  What’s visible on the outside doesn’t often tell the whole story.

In the same way, man looks at outward appearances, but the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). We’re wise to remember these words.

Everyone’s Journey to God is Different

Something about trees reaching toward the sky reminds me of seeking the Lord. This tree reminds me that we’re all on a journey toward knowing God more, and no one fully arrives until we see him face to face.  While there are pivotal moments along the way – black and white moments of decision – no two paths look exactly the same.

The friend who has very little conception of God is at a different place along the journey. We’re called to walk with one another, encouraging one another to draw closer.  And just as no two trees in the forest are exactly the same, no two paths are ever identical.

Adversity Produces Strength

I’m not sure what caused the giant sycamore to lean as it does, but it’s safe to say that this tree faced adversity that caused it to grow sideways. It’s often the most difficult trials of life that strengthen our character most.  Hard times hold the potential to shape us into the image of our Creator.

The financial struggles, the seasons of illness, the lost jobs, and the shattered dreams hurt. They also strengthen us and conform us to the image of the One who endured hardship for us.

The Call to be Set Apart is a Gift

We’ve often walked the trail past the sycamore and noticed other hikers standing in its shade, marveling at its slant, and sitting at its base. This tree stands out among the other trees of the forest.  It is set apart.

Sometimes the call to be set apart in our lives feels too difficult. Saying no to things others deem acceptable and standing firm in a shifting culture isn’t easy.  But the call to be set apart isn’t meant to be a burden.  It’s meant to be a gift.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss writes: “I learned early on that to be ‘set apart’ is not a punishment; it is not an attempt on God’s part to deprive us or to condemn us to a cheerless, joyless lifestyle.  It is a priceless privilege – it is a call to belong, to be cherished, to enter into an intimate love relationship with God Himself, much as a groom declares his intent to set his bride apart from all other women to be his beloved wife; to fit into the grand, eternal plan of our redeeming God for this universe; to experience the exquisite joys and purposes for which we were created; to be freed from all that destroys our true happiness.”

And so, as the tree slants hard, I remind myself that the pressure points of life are often the greatest gifts of all.

Reference:   Holiness, The Heart God Purifies, Moody Publishers, p. 33-34.

 

 

Thanks to Arabah Joy, Kelly Balarie, and Missional Woman for sharing this post!

https://arabahjoy.com/category/grace-truth-linky/

http://missionalwoman.com/

purposefulfaith.com

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Four Ways to be Less Busy

 

It’s autumn in Pennsylvania. Autumn in this part of the world means cornfields that rustle beige in the evening thermals.  It means pumpkins on stoops and hay mazes towering in muddy alfalfa fields.  It means russet leaves applauding the sky and geese heading south with their human-like voices echoing overhead.

For our family it also means settling into a different routine – one that currently includes soccer games, hunting trips, and longer hours within the walls of our living room. Darkness comes earlier, and we find ourselves racing to fit more into days that seem shorter.  It’s the time of the harvest – a time for filling the freezers and picking squash and baking countless loaves of zucchini bread for who knows what.

In the midst of it all, we want nothing more than to slow down and embrace the season, but the current of our lives races by at a furious pace, and we see little choice but to let ourselves be carried away in its grip. I sit in the woods on a Sunday afternoon and watch sycamore leaves flutter to the yellowing earth.  It’s time to recalibrate.  It’s time to consider what it will take to slow into a pace that doesn’t feel frantic, and this is what I’ve come up with:

Refuse to hurry

What would actually happen to our lives if we refused to hurry – ever again? I consider the consequences: We’d probably be late for social gatherings more often than we already are.  We might miss the school bus a few times.  There would be less time spent in the waiting rooms of doctor’s offices.  And everyone would be ok.

Maybe everyone would be more than just ok. Maybe we’d be better for having killed the rhythm of the rushed.  Psalm 46:10 reads, “Cease striving, and know that I am God.”  For years, I thought this was a verse solely designated for quiet time with the Lord: Stop your constant thinking, worrying, and planning, and focus on God.  But what if it’s more than the mantra of the devotional time keepers?  What if it’s a Word for the hurriers, and what if it’s meant to be invoked outside of our prayer closets, in the midst of our important and frantic lives?

Plan margin time

Caleb and I walked to the creek this week. The day was blank on our calendar – a day for cleaning the house, cooking, and enjoying the season.  I pushed him in our worn stroller, and we walked to the creek – black water winding through a crimson and orange understory.  We threw heavy stones into the water and laughed at the droplets that splashed our legs.

We walked home without hurry, and the neighbor was in his yard. We stopped to talk for ten minutes or more – to encourage him and speak words of truth.  As we strolled away from his house, I considered how many times we’ve hurried past with a quick wave, off to the next thing on our schedule.  I also considered the way margin time in our days leaves room to actually see the people in front of us – to look into their eyes and silently ask God what he might want to speak through us.

Take a day off every single week

Sabbath-keeping hasn’t been a command I’ve honored well with my life. As an athlete in high school, there was often a tournament or track meet that filled my Saturdays, and Sunday was the only day left for studying physics or biology.  College was more of the same, and when a teaching career came, Sunday was the day for planning the week’s lessons and activities.

Life as a full-time mom has its own set of challenges. If we’re not careful, every day of the week starts to feel exactly the same as the others: scrubbing sticky floors, laundry, meals, and more.  We don’t live this perfectly, but we’re learning to live differently one day a week.  For us that day is Sunday.  Sunday is slower, more intentional, and more restful.  We take naps and force ourselves to slow down.

Slowing down one day a week recalibrates us and helps us slow down throughout the rest of the week. It breaks the frenzied cycle of rushing from one thing to the next.

Keep first things first

Saying no to busyness means we can’t say yes to everything. It means letting a few tomatoes spoil in the garden, letting the basement door remain unpainted for another year, choosing soccer over cross-country, and taking a break from the women’s group I once loved.  Saying no to busyness means stepping back and honestly assessing what matters most, and then arranging our lives to honor our highest priorities.

 

In the stillness of the woods, I write my list for a less-busy life, and I stand to slip away from the sycamores. A leaf cascades to the ground and lands squarely on my shoulder.  I’m thankful for having noticed.

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Why We Can Stop Trying So Hard to Prove Ourselves

 

I walk down the country road that slices through farm country, and these waving fields of corn and hay seem to envelope me.  Something about their verdant leaves bowing in the wind makes me feel secure here.

The corn fields will be ready for harvest soon. Any day, the tractor will come and sheer the fruitful stalks, and acres of stubble will blanket the ground like a four-day beard of golden whiskers.

I find myself remembering springtime, when I walked with the kids on this same road, and the farmer scattered seeds into muddy earth. I told the kids there would be corn here by the end of summer, and September seemed a lifetime away.

We drove past these fields as spring burst into summer and wild turkeys searched the soil for food. We spotted deer among the green sprouts as they grew, and we marveled at the slow change as stalks grew tall and lush.

On this evening, alone with the sinking sun and geese overhead, I can’t help but consider what it took for this field to bear a harvest. Every tiny seed of corn had to die and break open for the new plants to emerge.  I’m reminded of the way my body seemed to break with the birth of our two children.  I remember the way my body had to break if I was going to perform with excellence as an athlete in high school: burning lungs on cinder tracks as I prepared for big races and lying flat on the infield of the track in the aftermath.  I had to endure the pain of pushing my body in order to get better.

Looking at the corn, I’m also reminded of the bread Jesus broke so that he could feed thousands of people from five meager loaves. I’m reminded of his body, broken so that I might have life.  It seems life springs from brokenness.

John 12:24 reads: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

I memorized this verse sometime in my early twenties, but I haven’t pondered the implications for far too long. What’s this actually look like lived out in my life right now?

I list the applications in my mind: Putting the needs of others in front of my own; being vulnerable when I really don’t want to; connecting with God instead of feeding my ever-hungry flesh; biting my tongue; speaking hard words of truth that don’t come easily; reaching out of my comfort zone and into the lives of others; slowing down; forgiving; letting go of grudges; admitting I don’t have it all together; standing before a holy God and confessing my sins with a broken heart.

A subtle theme threaded through my applications seems to speak of living as a woman who has nothing to prove. A woman with something to prove makes sure others notice her, acts strong and controls her emotions, strives to achieve more, keeps it all together, and carefully portrays competence and confidence in all situations.  Living with nothing to prove is living broken, like the seedlings planted in damp soil.

When I know I have nothing to prove, I can be real. I can let my guard down.  I let the subject drop without having the last word.  I don’t have to be right.  And when I am right, I don’t have to make it clear that I’m more right than others.

When I know I have nothing to prove, I can bear reproach without falling into a pit of self-loathing. I can bear false accusation quietly and without a need to speak my side of the case.  I can be misunderstood, left out, and overlooked without being deeply shaken.

When I have nothing to prove, I am broken before the Lord, and I admit that I need him for life and breath and everything else. In my utter dependence upon him, I am set free.  I know that he is the only One who offers the kind of strength I need to survive, and I trust that his strength is only made perfect when I’m ok with being weak.

I breathe the truth in deeply, aiming to recalibrate my life as I prepare to walk through a door with shouting little voices and toys scattered across every inch of the floor. I trust that in this dying to self, the most beautiful kind of life will rise from the ashes.

 

 

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When the Next Step Feels Scary

 

It’s late August, and the ironweed boasts deep purple blossoms among fields of green and gold. We stand at the end of the driveway with anxious hearts.  I honestly believed I’d be more nervous than our extroverted five-year-old, but it seems she’s the one with the jitters.  We review the directions to her classroom for the third time, and I remind her to focus on eating her sandwich at lunchtime and review the importance of washing her hands in the restroom.

As the engine of the school bus groans its visceral call and carries my precious firstborn to the care of people I hardly know, I’m surprised I don’t cry. Instead, I walk quietly back to the house with thoughts of her little brother asleep in his crib.  It seems this transition to kindergarten is simply a necessary part of the progression of her life, and I’m at peace about letting it unfold.

The evening is a different story. Exhausted from her first long day in the classroom, the child I’ve enjoyed for the past five years is nowhere to be seen.  Instead, an exhausted shell of a little girl crashes onto the couch with demands about juice and absolutely no desire to comply with any of my motherly requests.  She wakes up an hour later with frantic tears about the moment she couldn’t find the classroom and how scary it was and how she doesn’t want to go back.  My heart breaks just a little.

A year later, we’re staring down the face of first grade, and little Bekah is excited and only slightly nervous. She can’t wait to see the familiar faces, deliver a gift to last year’s teacher, and dive into all the fun that awaits.  I find myself remembering how scary the step into kindergarten often felt for her and how sometimes, there’s just no way around the next frightening step.

I wonder if this is how God’s people felt after wandering in the desert for four decades. They finally reach the gateway to the land he has promised for them, and the formidable Jordan River lies between the people and the land they will call home.  Joshua, their fearless leader, proceeds to command the Levites to step into the water.

These are the holy men who have been carrying the ark of God toward the Promised Land. They are set apart for special service.  They literally carry the presence of the Living God.  And they are called to step into the flowing waters of the river.

I wonder if this step was scary. I wonder if they questioned the command and if they hesitated.  They were well aware that God had the power to move the water, as evidenced forty years earlier when Moses raised his staff and the waters of the Red Sea parted.  But the waters of the Jordan showed no signs of parting, and yet they were asked to step into the river.

Sometimes we’re called to step into the next assignment before we see a comforting amount of evidence that God is working in our midst. Sometimes we’re called to step into the water when there’s no sign God’s going to part it.  Sometimes we’re called to step into a new place of ministry or a new season of life before we have confidence that God really will make a way.

While we’re not to make unwise decisions without consulting God, there are times when we must take the first step without knowing the final outcome or even seeing the immediate provision.

Feet in the swirling water, the Levites held the ark. They watched, as after the first step of faith, God performed yet another miracle with the water.  He drew the river back and provided a way across the Jordan on dry ground.  They simply had to step out in obedience for the miracle to take place.

Starting kindergarten is a large life event, but for those of us who have conquered the challenge, it now seems quite small. But we all face challenges on the horizons of our lives.  Often, the best thing we can do is pray it through, ask God for direction, seek wise counsel, line it up with the Word of God, and when all of these steps confirm the decision, step out in faith.

And so we lay out the clothes for the first day of school this year. We pack the backpack and stock the cupboards with small containers of applesauce and granola bars.  We pray for Bekah’s teacher and her classmates and the children who will be her close friends.  And we step into the water.

 

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When You’re Wondering If You Really Have What It Takes

 

The thick Carolina air presses on my lungs like I’m caught in a stranglehold, and I wonder if I just might suffocate under the weight of it. Lavender thistle blossoms bow and rise in unison, and yet there is no breeze.  They must be praising their Maker.

I join them, and the heaviness in my chest seems to lift. Perhaps it wasn’t the Carolina heat after all.

I’ve been wrestling hard this weekend. I’ve wrestled with the realization that I am different than the 800 women at this conference.  It’s a conference for women who are called to write, speak, and lead, and I’m still not convinced I’m one of them.  I’ve wrestled with the invitation to take a step of faith like this: leaving my husband to tend to two little ones who happen to be fighting the stomach bug at this very moment; stepping away from my calling as a mother, wife, mentor, and other things; driving eight hours through the Blue Ridge Mountains like I’m chasing down a dream.  Something about it all makes me feel small and vulnerable.

It also feels like a risk I’m not sure I wanted to take. Am I risking appearing a fool if this dream never takes flight?  Am I risking the well-being of family?  I know, for sure, that I’m risking things I’d rather hold with tightly clenched fists.  Letting go feels like slow death dripping from my fingertips.

My morning jog down the Carolina Thread Trail slows to a walk. Queen Ann’s Lace blankets the trail’s edge like a gentle reminder of home.  Pennsylvania.  Where the air is lighter and these questions don’t press with such poignancy.

I think of the words Liz spoke last night, and I discipline my racing mind to stop. To rest at the feet of my Lord and wait for what he might want to speak to me – through me.  And in this place, their faces come to my mind, one by one.  I see the faces of the women whose paths divinely crossed mine in the beautiful conference center with the Bible verses hanging on banners from the ceilings and the colorful bouquets on the tables.

I see their faces, and I want to encourage them to keep pressing forward, keep following the calling, and keep trusting in his timing. I want to remind them of these things too:

You belong

I know you had a moment of scanning the crowd and wondering where you fit in. I know you felt a wave of anxiety when you saw their beautiful outfits and perfect hair.  I did too.  Each one of us looked for where we might fit in the crowd.  We wondered if we really belonged.

You do belong. You belong among the throngs of women who are passionate about fulfilling a life calling that is something greater than themselves. You belong in the calling of your everyday life, and you belong in this place that looks like stepping out in faith to follow a dream.  God is pleased when his children step out in faith and trust him to lead.  We are chosen people, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to God.  Keep sharing the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light.

Your words matter

It’s easy to fix our eyes on the ones who seem to have arrived. It’s easy to stop telling our stories when we’re told they aren’t marketable, when we’re told they’re not the right fit, or when we’re told someone else is already saying the same thing – and saying it better.  These words cut to the heart, especially when the words we want to share are birthed from our deepest places of pain, heartbreak, vulnerability, and passion.

Don’t let the critics get you down, child.  Keep telling your story.  Keep speaking it to the masses and to the cashiers at the grocery store.  Keep writing your triumphs, your failures, and your grief.  If these words touch one person, you have glorified Christ.  Don’t go silent now, sweet friend. It’s only just begun.

You are crazily loved

I stood with close to a thousand women this weekend – women who want to glorify God with their lives. We worshiped before the throne, just our voices, singing of his greatness.  I was reminded of one simple truth.  It’s a simple truth that’s enough to transform the whole sum of my weekend, my month, my summer, and my life: If you only knew just how much he loved you . . .

If you only caught a glimpse of the joy he experiences when he sees his children stand before him in unified adoration, you would live as a marked woman. Your life is a fragrant offering, and it is beautiful to the King.  He sees your imperfections.  He sees your failures and your sin – past and present.  His blood is enough to cover it all, and clothed in his righteousness, you are spotless.

You are loved more than you can fathom, and every time you take a step of faith, whether it’s stepping into your job with eyes set to find someone to love, whether it’s writing your first blog post, starting your first page, or opening a new chapter, your Father dances over you with sheer delight.

Keep pressing on, friends. There is more to come in this journey, and it all points to the King.

*The sweet woman in this photo is my prayer partner from the weekend.  Thanks for exuding joy and speaking words of encouragement, Barb!

 

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A Simple Strategy for Greater Joy

 

The multiflora rose bushes are exploding with white blossoms when it hits me: I’m living on autopilot again. We all have our own versions of autopilot – the thoughtless brushing of teeth and consumption of coffee, the drive to work that’s the same every day, and the daily routines that make up the foundation of our daily lives.  We push through our days with little thought, no margin time to notice beauty, thousands of stressors streaming through our minds, and a lingering lack of simple enjoyment.

I stop along the road and stare at the white roses. Never in my life have I noticed these invasive, injury-causing plants in blossom.  I’ve grimaced as their needle-like thorns penetrated my clothing and pierced my flesh.  I’ve clipped them away from trails and dug them out of the hedgerow.  But I’ve never noticed them in bloom.  I’m astonished that something so beautiful could emerge from something so menacing.

What if there is beauty awaiting me in countless unseen corridors of my life, and I’m too busy solving problems and worrying about thorn bushes to notice?

I smell the white roses. I literally put my face into the thorn bushes I’ve cursed upon and breathe in something beautiful.  I wonder how much joy autopilot has stolen from my life.  I wonder how many sunrises I missed on the way to work because I all I could think about was how to get the progress reports finished by Friday.  I wonder how many conversations I missed because I was too worried about raking leaves or logging miles or hanging curtain rods.

Is this the gateway to the joy and fulfillment I crave? Take my life off autopilot and refuse to slip back into this thoughtless way of living.

Jesus said it like this: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In him we have peace.  Trouble will come, but he has overcome it.  He wants us to walk in peace.

He also said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  If autopilot is destroying my days, it is certainly not from the Lord.  His plan is that I will have an abundant kind of life.

The opposite of autopilot is intentionality. When I live with intentionality, I slow down to notice the people in front of me.  I slow to observe beauty in the architecture of my community, the wispy breaths of high cirrus clouds, and the jade buds sprouting from the spruce tree in the yard.  Embracing these things feels like actually living.

Tasting the food I eat, drawing on the sidewalk with chalk beside the kids, and lying in the grass while geese pass overhead are each gateways to joy. And somehow, opening my eyes to what’s around me feels like opening my eyes to God.  When I see the good in it all, I am drawn closer to his beating heart.

Joe Rigney speaks of this kind of observation in his book, The Things of Earth.  He calls it indirect godwardness: “a subconscious focus on God while engaging with the world that God made” (121).  He goes onto explain that indirect godwardness increases our direct focus on God “by creating new mental, emotional, and spiritual categories for our enjoyment of God. It keeps us from being vague and indistinct in our minds” (126).

I meander slowly away from the white roses and gather a bouquet of daisies along the roadside. A barred owl calls from the valley behind, and I’m thankful for having noticed.

 

 

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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

Thanks for reading and sharing!  Have a blessed weekend!

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