Category: Transformation

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.

Friendship Friday

This post was shared on a Friendship Friday Blog Link-up

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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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The Mystery of Life from Death

 

The lingering daylight leads us to the woods again, and I sink into a moss-covered log while the kids throw sticks in the water. The peepers have crawled from their winter homes and cry out for love, and something about the whole scene just feels completely alive and right in the most organic way.

I’m thinking about life and fresh starts, as the moisture of the sphagnum moss permeates my thin wind pants. It seems the rotting log is literally absorbing my weight, as I enhance the decomposition and press into the dirt. The moss is all around me now, sucking its life from the rotting log’s decomposing nutrients.

My mind shifts to Christ and his illustration about the wheat. There will be no harvest without a complete decomposition – a complete breaking – of the kernel of wheat. Life comes from brokenness. It’s the same with the moss. Because the tree gives of itself, the moss grows lush and abundant.

Christ took the bread, broke it, and gave it to his disciples.

Christ took the loaves, broke them, and distributed them for the multitudes.

He who loses his life finds it.

Take up your cross, deny yourself, and follow.

~~~

I think to the birth of our two children – the breaking that comes with emerging into the cold world. A mother’s body is broken on behalf of her child. I think of the cross. His body broken so that we might have eternal life. I think of every hard season in my life – dying to myself so that fruit might come. I count the reasons to embrace the breaking:

If we want him to make old things new, we must let him break the old to refashion the new.

I’m not who I was ten years ago, and I hope to be different ten years from now. It took breaking the old ways of life for God to reshape me into a new creation. When I longed for freedom from destructive behaviors, he broke me, so that I might be set free. When living in my own strength became the greatest obstacle in my life, he broke me so that I had to live in his.

If our hearts are never broken, he can’t reshape them to the image of his heart. If our lives are never surrendered, he won’t reach his hand in and reform that to which we still cling. It must be set at the feet of the cross and offered for his recreation.

His light shines through the cracks of our broken parts.

My life felt most broken when a long string of unwise decisions left me reeling with pain. Though I’ve been healed and transformed, there are parts of my story that aren’t fun to relive. I often find that he uses these parts to shine his light through my own story and offer hope to those who are dealing with the same struggles I once I faced. His light shines through the cracks of my failures, and he receives the glory for his redemption. Life springs from death.

Redemption awaits the broken, not the ones who assume they are whole.

We are all broken. Doing life on our own leads to striving, and striving leads to emptiness. Only the broken realize they need put back together. Only the broken realize they can’t save themselves. I spent many years living in my own strength, thinking my good works would earn my ticket into heaven. Only when I was broken – when I came to the end of myself – did I realize that I had no power to redeem my life. Only the sacrifice of Christ can redeem my life.

Because he was broken, we are called to lay our lives down as well.

Dying to my desires feels like the hardest kind of death some days. Sacrificing sleep to stay up and talk with a hurting friend, sacrificing meals because a fevered child is resting in my arms, and sacrificing my comfort so that I can invest in the lives of others feels like death. It’s only when we die to our own desires that we are set free to live for the benefit of others.

 

Regardless of where you’re encountering something that feels like death today, my prayer is that you’ll look to Christ. He knows about the sting of death, and he overcame it at the cross. Victory is coming. Until then, may we continue to lay our lives down so that he might live through us.

 

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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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When There Are Cliffs on Both Sides

 

The cold mountain wind rips at me like the dead of winter, while the sun scorches my chapped hands with desert-like heat. I spit gritty sand – miniscule molecules of the beige granite surrounding me – and continue my ascent. Glancing upward, I’m only sixty yards from the summit. Sixty grueling yards of rough rock outcroppings and sheer drop-offs of over 1,000 feet.

I’ve barely begun the decade of my twenties, and I’m certain I’m invincible. Certain I’ve figured out most of what I’ll need to know for life. I have no idea.

I claw my way to the summit of the 12,000-foot mountain and lie flat in the flogging wind, the bandana in my hair whipping like sheets on a clothesline. It’s my day off work at AWLS, the wilderness leadership school where I’m spending my summer. Climbing mountains is my greatest passion in life, and I can think of nothing that would ever be more important. I have so much to learn.

I stare at MacLeod Lake, over a thousand feet below, and I plan my descent. There’s no easy way. There’s only a narrow ridge with sheer drop-offs on each side. I’ll have to risk it.

~~~

Much to my parents’ relief, I survived my summer in Wyoming’s mountains. I’m a little embarrassed as I look back at my unwise risks and poorly discerned decisions, but I thank God I’m not the person I was. This all came to mind this morning, as I opened my Bible to my daily reading plan.

Chapter 14 of first Samuel finds King Saul’s son, Jonathan, preparing to advance on the Philistines. Verse 4 reads: “Between the passes by which Jonathan sought to cross over to the Philistines’ garrison, there was a sharp crag on the one side and a sharp crag on the other side, and the name of the one was Bozez, and the name of the other Seneh.”

Jonathan needed to make forward progress to achieve his goal, but he found himself in a precarious situation. He needed to cross a mountain pass with a sharp crag on each side of the pass. I can relate.

The Hebrew word “Bozez” refers to something that is gleaming or slippery. The word “Seneh” means thorny. On one side he faced a steep slope of thorns. On the other, a dangerously slippery descent.

Despite the risks, Jonathan pressed forward, advanced against the Philistines, and overtook them. He braved the thorns and the drop-off, and he pressed forward toward his goal. Because I’ve climbed many mountains, the analogy strikes me poignantly: When the journey grows perilous, keep your eyes on the goal and keep walking.

Jonathan’s goal was to overtake the Philistines. My goal at age twenty was reaching a literal summit. Our goal as followers of Christ is to love him and make his love known to others.

The lesson from Jonathan’s journey is relevant, regardless of the goal. Whether I’m aiming to start a business, hoping to overcome the pain of a past heartbreak, wading through the deep waters of troubled relationships, trying to parent with love and compassion, or seeking healing in a difficult matter, I do well to keep my eyes on the goal and keep walking.

The slippery slope of fear will threaten to take me down. The thorny path of painful self-sacrifice, slow progress, and failure will threaten to stop my progress. But I do well to keep my eyes on the goal and press forward.

I’m thankful for the author of Hebrews, who reminds me exactly where to fix my eyes when things get tough: “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). If Jesus could endure the cross on my behalf, I can endure this trial on his behalf.

Wherever life has you walking a delicate chasm between a thorny downfall and a long slippery slope, be encouraged by Jonathan. Keep stepping forward. It will be worth the journey.

 

 

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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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