Hope and the Word

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But he knows the way that I take;
    when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold…

Job 23:10

In an instant there was Hope.

Hope has been a fleeting friend this season. It seems I only catch frantic glimpses of her through the emotional bracken. I almost see her but then she’s gone in the mist and bog. It’s been ugly (real ugly). We’re happy to say God is faithful, but I sometimes find  faithfulness means bringing to head circumstances that force us to deal: deal with our pet lies; deal with our cowardice; deal with the sicknesses we’d rather ignore.

Why does He go after this with such violence?!

Because they keep us from seeing Him; and when we don’t see Him- we die. Like a patch of grass that never sees the sun. There’s just mud when it rains. No growth. So, right now that’s where I am. In the muck and mire of a mind and heart that has large patches of permanent shade. And (I reiterate) it has been ugly.

I don’t think the ugliness alone has made it so hard to hope. Rather it’s the fatal equation of (ugly hard) + (significant time).  A surgery can be done in hours, but it takes weeks to heal. If it’s a major surgery it takes months. And sometimes after “healing” there is still rehabilitation- like physical therapy. For full health to return you’ve got to go through all the little steps of retraining muscles and stretching and all that… stuff. The soul is as much (if not more) the same. God can come in and do a major work, but that’s often the start not the end.

He is in both the wounding and the healing… but it takes time.

Time can make it hard to hope. Past failures can make it hard to hope. Fear can make it hard to hope. It is simply hard to believe (at times) things are going to be different on the other side of all this pain. The good news is the faithfulness of God doesn’t just manifest in confrontation but in comfort as well.

That little verse sitting at the top of my browser window was a sweeping windstorm of comfort. And with it Hope came into view. Her beaming face glorious with the promise of a better day on the other side. Her strong arms braced for the war to get there and her hands, without callouses, wiping the grime from my face. Onward. Keep moving forward.

This is really hard (most worthwhile things are). This is tedious. This is ugly. At times it even seems ambiguous but just one word from His mouth can soothe the pain. Words as simple as “He knows…” He sees this hard way and “hard” isn’t where this story ends. He is doing something and when it’s all done I will shine. It is for my good. It’s going to be okay.

Father,

Thank you for your Word. Thank you that it isn’t just information in a book. Thank you Holy Spirit that you take this Word and you speak it afresh to our hearts when we need it the most. That you comfort us in the confrontation. That you are a living God. Not dead. Not dormant. Not stagnant. You speak. You work. You listen. You rescue. You know. Thank you. Help us to hold on through the weary seasons. Help us lift our eyes and see Hope standing there in the midst of pain. We’re never alone in this way we go. You see us. You are watching. We will come through when You are finished having your way. Help us to trust You and surrender. Amen. 

*Photo Credit: Rewat Wannasuk

 

Devotions

woman-happiness-sunrise-silhouette-40192.jpegGod is light. He is warmth for the soul. He is the Comforter.

Are you weary today? Are you confused? Are torrents of drudgery and fear swirling around your mind? Is anxiety sitting on your chest; telling your heart when it can and cannot beat?

Draw near. The frozen cold of icy winter thaws with the nearness of the sun. Let Him love you today. All good must come from love. Otherwise we only strive. But Love sets us free. Free from self, free from fear, free from the hold of this life.

Let Him love you today. Don’t try to fix it all. Don’t just look for advice, or tools, or principals to live by. Look for Love. He loves You with a deeper love than you will ever grasp. It’s a penetrating love. It  is a transforming love. He will turn Confusion into Clarity. Fear into Faith. Anxiety into Authority. He will take the weak ones and make them strong. The uncertain and make them brave.

He will take orphans and make them heirs to the throne.

This is the love of God awaiting us each morning. Wrapped each day in new mercies for us to unpack. To behold. It is the wonder of a good God. A humble king. A loving Father.

There is no force on earth or in heaven like the Love of God. It His essence. Nearly a supernatural energy piercing through the dullest gray of our heart- our broken state.

He has made himself available to all, to any. He bids you come. Lay your head on that impossible chest that beats with mercy for the little ones. Let truth and grace be arms that wrap themselves around you. Listen to his heart and feel shake from you all the chains that so easily ensnare.

This is love. This is peace. This is joy. This is strength. This is God, who was, and is and always will be.

Miracles

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It is perhaps one of the greatest impossibilities of this life that God permits himself to be doubted.

So often I read the scriptures and a scoff at the duplicity and blindness of the characters sketched there. They were so nearsighted somehow- so unreliable in their character. Nations of them, beholding God and then, fallen. Even the great fathers of the faith could be characterized this way.

But, I’m coming to see that it is easy to miss miracles when you’re the one in the story. Like Ebeneezer Scrooge explaining away his Christmas ghost as a bit of undigested meat. I always thought that miracles had to be unmistakable. Like, impossible, to doubt. Every now and then you get one of those but truly I have found that in almost every situation there is room to doubt.

And it exposes my heart every time.

Faith is a liberating reality. It sets the heart free from burdens it can never actually bear but the down payment is steep. Its humbling and uncomfortable. It can even appear irresponsible at times. Might I look the fool? Even out of my mind? Certainly, to put all eggs in the God bucket… well giving Chance the credit sure goes over easier. But it’s not chance. And I know it.

The last three months of my life (perhaps longer) have been a series of miracles. The last twenty-four hours the most recent of them. No doubt I could publish them all here and it would read with such certainty- such finality. Wow! That is amazing how God speaks and… ” But I can promise you, each amazing God story I write here, or on some other platform, had room in our hearts to be doubted. To be diminished.

We get to choose. We get to choose whether or not we believe that God is so omnipotent, and so creative, and so ridiculously invested in our lives that He comes down and inserts Himself into our broken existence and makes miracles. We can listen for Him to speak and act or we can trudge through like this is all on us and you know what… He’ll let us. He won’t force himself down our throats.

I believe God is amazing. I believe He still speaks in dreams, He still talks to hearts and He still is going to finish what He started. There are miracles if we want to see them. And there is a lot of room on either side to doubt if we’d rather do that.

I don’t want to.

Romans 4:3 

What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”[a]

 

Food and Drink

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Man! I really want some coffee right now. Ooo… maybe I’ll get a Diet Coke at the theater. Oh that sounds so good. But wait that is really terrible for my body. Why do I suddenly want Diet Coke. Oh, that’s right. I’m super thirsty. Uhg… I wish I wouldn’t have forgotten my water bottle at home. The water at the theater is going to be crazy expensive. But I’m so thirsty… 

Then I glance down to see my water bottle. I had spent to whole drive thirsty and there was water right in front of my face.

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This morning I woke up knowing how much work had to get done before our house showing tomorrow. It’s been the part of the process I’ve dreaded the most because I’ve learned how impossible it is to keep a house clean with little people in it. I rushed all the kids through a “no mess” breakfast and attempted to get my bearings for where to start but it was like there was a bolder on my chest and a bag of marbles in my head. That’s not exactly the most ideal scenario for getting stuff done.

My husband got home and seeing my precarious condition, rounded up the kids to give me some space to clean without the littles undoing my hard work. But they were scarcely out of the drive way when I started crying. Now I was alone to start on this mountain of needs. Sure, sure, God is with me but… He doesn’t fold laundry. 

So… I called my sister. And she prayed. Prayer is so powerful. So few of us need so little advice and so many of us need so much prayer. Just pray each other through! I felt the brain fog clear and then I felt the most counter-intuitive leading from the LORD.

Eat.

This week has been a week of abstaining for me. Reminding myself of the power of no. Specifically in regards to what I put in my mouth and why. It’s an important lesson and one that is quite difficult for me. I like food. But then I remembered that a big part of saying no to one thing is to make room to say yes to a better thing. So… I got out the squash and the spinach and the roast, and yes… even the last slice of homemade chocolate torte (I had miraculously constructed it for my sisters birthday) and sat down and ate lunch.

A good lunch. With real food. Made of real ingredients. And I offered that meal as worship to the LORD. Wouldn’t you know it! The strength I had been begging God for this morning flooded into my body. What a shock! We need to eat to have strength. And eat what is good!

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Lately, I’ve received some pretty incredible words of encouragement. But you know what? I left them sitting on the table. Like the water bottle that had been in front of me the whole time but I forgot. Encouragement, advice and even kindness is like food and water. We can’t just see it sitting there for it to have to effect it should. We need to receive it into ourselves. We need to eat of it. Too often we eat the junk food. The drama, the criticism, the fear- they go down easy but man do they rot in your stomach and cripple our wellness.

So, I’m going to finish my good cup of (decaffeinated) coffee. The one I took the time to make in the French Press instead of the quick Kuerig. And then I’m going to crank up my favorite music and do the best I can to be ready for the next part of this journey.

“Come, all you who are thirsty,
    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,

    come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
    without money and without cost.
2Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
    and you will delight in the richest of fare.

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May You eat of the LORD’s goodness today. May you choose the better thing and may it give you the strength you need to follow in His goodness and bring peace to your life. All my love to you as well. 

p.s. If you want to make delicious cake

 

 

 

Porches, Cocoa and Perspective

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Scrub in long even strokes.

Watch the gray-green sludge form.

Rinse.

Yellow, brown wood bursts through.

Move over.

Repeat.

When we moved into this house five years ago the deck was new. But five years is enough time to work up some funkiness and since I was busy having lots and lots of babies… well, the deck may not have gotten the “This Old House” treatment it deserved. So, with the need to sell in the immediate future, and two of those “lots of babies” now able to help, I set about cleaning the weather-worn wood.

It was sickeningly gratifying.  The progress was tangible. The reward was immediate. And the work exact. The more fervently I scrubbed the better the result; a perfect ratio as I watched the wood renew before my very eyes. And as is often the case with manual labor, I was given to pondering.

Firstly:

People are not porches. This morning I sat on the couch with my son and a cup of cocoa. Thank God for do-overs because an hour previous I had totally missed it. He had broken down unloading the dishwasher and while I looked like I was going to handle it well by inviting him over to the couch, I tanked shortly after. Mostly when I started talking. His tears and his heart dried up. I was frustrated. My right answers weren’t working.

But then my husband called and said the first thing on the docket today was hearts. He was taking some of the kids on errands and leaving me and the sad-son to have some time. I knew it was a gift to reset and “take it a little slower” (which is what he had tearfully asked me in the first place). Not like the deck. The deck you jump in and scrub hard. The harder you go at it the better it looks.

People aren’t quite like that. Often when our black stains are most apparent we need to not scrub so hard. Sometimes in fact, you have to pretend their are no spots there at all. You just have to love them like they’re blameless. For two weeks I’d been cracking down on behavior. It looked like tough love. I said all the right things. But it just wasn’t. I wanted to give consequences. He needed cocoa. And that stupid cup of cocoa did more good than all those consequences combined.

Secondly:

Perspective. One section of our deck was particularly dirty because it is rarely hit by the sun. That part was extra “fun” for me because the transformation was so dramatic. However, I pictured potential buyers standing on the deck looking out at the land and then surveying the wood. Perhaps, all they would see are the spots that still remained. I mean it is real wood after all. Not like the fancy vinyl stuff in all the ads. It stains.

To us, the deck looked great but that’s because we knew it’s previous condition. It reminded me not to judge a person before you really know their story. What looks like failure to us might be a great improvement upon what used to be there. We don’t all start life on the same playing field. Some of us are boards that haven’t been exposed to nearly as much sunlight.  It helps to know where someone is coming from if we want to see their current state with a proper attitude.

And this is how God unfolds Himself to me in the drudgery of everyday. Using each single act, submitted to Him, as an opportunity to remind me of who He is and how His nature extends to me. He breathes divinity into drudgery and hears worship in our work.

He reminds me how he deals with my black stains.

Colossians 1:22

Yet now he has reconciled you to himself,

through the death of Christ in his physical body.

As a result, he has brought you into his own presence,

and you are holy and blameless

as you stand before him

without a single fault.

And when I feel like I should look a little better than I currently do He reminds me where I came from.

Psalms 103:13&14

The Lord is like a father to his children,
    tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are;
    he remembers we are only dust.

He’s so patient. He’s so good. He’s so willing to work in our lives and show us himself. He is the cocoa we’re all needing and from his lap we have a much better perspective on each person’s story. Especially our own. It is nearly unfathomable that a God who is so glorious, can also be so good to us.

I’m grateful today for that.

My Country ‘Tis of Thee

pexels-photo-29345I took pictures of the screen with my phone. Not because I was celebrating the outcome. Nor because I was mourning it. I took a picture because I understood that I was watching history. I was watching the end of an age and if I’m lucky, one day, I will be explaining this moment to my grandchildren.

I saw a country elated. I saw a country devastated. I saw announcers squirm, gawk and try to act like the redundancies they uttered served any purpose whatsoever. I am slightly proud to report that the home screen on my Facebook was utterly divided. People terrified. People relieved of terror. But I feel like I’m on a battlefield.

Does anyone actually want to understand?

Truth is not relative. But the highest truths teach us to honor each person’s right to determine truth for themselves. Yet, as a country we must decide some criteria on which we can operate and that means accounting for differing definitions or applications of what is right- what is good. That requires patience, meekness, confidence and a respect that I am terrified is gone.

Everyone is so sure that they are right.

Rightness… I’ve gotten sick with it before. When I am sure I’m right but I can’t prove it I will literally get queasy. My DNA sees things in black and white so for years I struggled to appreciate those who were able to view the narrow spectrum where the color changes. But age has a way of making you see that no matter how certain you are that there is a “RIGHT” you are more certain that you aren’t perceiving it in its entirety.

But it’s not about me tonight. Well… maybe it is. But it’s also about my friends and family. It’s also about the tears falling down my face because I see people who don’t know how to talk anymore. I’m less worried about one man or one woman in an office and more worried about a country that nearly killed each other on Facebook for the past year. And honestly, I’ve wondered if (no matter who won) there won’t be actual assassination attempts.

So much anger.

I find it interesting tonight that they cut short the one announcer who was actually going to say something relevant. I believe he was trying to make the point that everyone in this country feels like the unseen minority. We’ve pitted ourselves against each other and for one to gain ground it seems another must lose it. Furthermore, we have come to demonize those contrary to us. You can’t win as a society that way. We have to find better solutions.

We could gain more ground if we would acknowledge each other’s pain.

I’m not talking about being P.C. and not having hard conversations. I wish we’d say harder things but with much more kindness. And I wish we would get over the sting of hard words and look to see if there’s any tenderness in the eyes of the one saying it. It is love that makes our truth credible.

Without love, truth will make us tyrants and rebels.

 

I don’t know how to help my country tonight. I honestly don’t know if I can even help my limited number of friends on Facebook.  I want to. I want to hope that there could be understanding. I want to do or say something so inspiring that it would cause a movement of understanding and healing. I want to believe that something other than further pain and division is coming down the road for this nation.

I’m not scared.

I’m not scared of my country falling apart. Ever empire that has ever been has fallen. Kings and nations are nothing in God’s hands. If not today, one day America will fall. It is the appointment of every kingdom save His own. But I am sad. I’m sad for people who are hurting tonight and scared. And I’m sad for those who are celebrating an election without the acceptance of their countrymen. I’m sad for people who voted with their backs against the wall instead of in the goodwill and confidence of those alleging to serve this country.

And so I’m lead to prayer…

Father,

You see. You ordered all days. And you know the pains and the fears of each person on this earth. You have held their hearts in your hands as you formed their inner man. This nation is nothing to you. Grass and chaff but each person here, each father, each mother, each child is of great value to you. Father, can I be so foolish and so bold as to ask that You would sweep over this country with understanding. Is it too simple to ask that you not leave us to our fate of accusation, division and fear. I cannot put my hope in the leaders of this country. I pray for them and I bless them but they are not healers. They are just people and they cannot speak to hearts the way you can. In the days and weeks to come would you grace the ears of my countrymen to hear with a renewed expectation. Would you grace our eyes to see in different shades than we have. Would you equip our hearts to recognize where we’ve fortified ourselves with our own rightness to the exclusion of all else. Somehow can you help the people of this nation recognize and change the patterns that are causing pain. I know that the days of this earth are numbered. I know that there will be trouble and that hate is the language of Prince of the Air. Yet, God! Bring your hand of reconciliation, that those who would have peace may find a place for it to rest. Help my friends. Help me know how to love people better. How to listen better. How to disagree better. Help us all to be honest with ourselves. More honest than we’ve been. And help us to hold onto greater truths before lesser ones. I don’t know what else to say LORD. You are sovereign and Your will is irrefutable. Still, I say. Mercy God. Show us mercy. Amen.

 

Certainties and Doubts

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“There is no security in what God is doing. There is only security in who God is.”

– Graham Cooke

I dreamed I was getting a tattoo (not going to happen). However, once in the parlor I was struck by how permanent the decision was. There were two ladies present to help (my husband was getting one too- I believe he wanted a ridiculously huge tiger to go down his arm) but despite their suggestions I just couldn’t decide what to get, where to get it or how big. I ended up paying them for their time and coming back the next day. Upon my return the words from Psalm 18 came to me.

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress,

and my savior;

my God is my rock,

in whom I find protection.”

 I decided the have the ladies tattoo this in script on my right thigh. When I woke the words were still revolving through my mind. The Lord is my rock, my fortress. 

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The last two weeks have been really hard. I knew when God called us to Haiti there would be cost. I knew that we would have to deal with fear, push-back, and grief. I also knew that there would be much unfamiliarity once we were there. It’s not like we have an extended history with this country or long-term relationships that we’re working with. But I wasn’t prepared for him to start the trial of trust on this side of the plane ride.

When my husband dreamed twice that he was going to be offered a severance package and then it happened, I felt like the way to Haiti was paved. It was, to us, a sign from the LORD that He was going to make this happen. He was setting this in motion. I didn’t anticipate Him to follow that with silence. And it has been silent. No call backs from the NGO’s. No job offers. No reasonable plan for when and how to pick up a family of seven and move them from a well-established community to a country that has just been ravished by a hurricane.

For now those seven people are spending every day under the same roof. The needs haven’t changed. There’s still dishes and laundry and homeschooling, but there’s also more. There’s packing, sorting, planning and talking… a lot of talking… emotional talking. Even I have hit a word quota but there’s so much communicating that has to happen to stay in sync while this transition takes hold. The stakes feel higher. On the outside we’re trying to stick to the normal routine, but on the inside it’s anything but normal. Each moment is in slow motion and yet the weeks tear by like their on steroids.

We’re a little fried and the promise suddenly seems very far off.

I never, ever thought the story of Peter on the water would be so tangible in my life. Jesus calls. Peter hears. He climbs out of the boat and starts walking… but then He considered the waves. I remember when my dad asked me how big a stop sign was and I thought it was about five feet. He got out and stood under it and I realized it was closer to eight. I wonder if that happened to Peter. Walking on water looked pretty incredible, but once he was out there those waves were a little bigger than he thought.

The uncertainty comes in waves now; and they are a little bigger than I thought. Where will we live? What will we do? How do we get there? Will we have a community? How will I wash the diapers? And the void of information sets the stage for a more sinister character. He walks out wearing a wisdom suit and makes His case.

Sure God speaks, but that doesn’t mean you hear him correctly. What if you’re wrong? 

It sits there; echoing until it’s faded to black. What if..?

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I love that when I am struggling, God comforts me instead of condemns me. I mean really, what right do I have to expect God to do things a certain way? What right do I have to doubt Him? But He is so patient. In fact Jesus is sympathetic to the struggle of this life and it actually compels Him in heaven to pray for us at the right hand of God. What!? God is praying for me?! He has every right to judge me and my duplicity, but instead He sends his Holy Spirit as the Comforter and speaks to my core.

Aroea. I am your rock. I am your refuge. I will not abandon you. I will not only call you, but I will also finish the work – only believe. 

You know, if we would have gotten a job offer a couple weeks ago things would probably be a little more comfortable right now. And definitely more clear! But, I wouldn’t have had this moment. I wouldn’t be experiencing the God who knows me completely and in my weakness reaches toward me in love. Yes, I’m facing a permanent decision. We’re making a choice right now that’s going to leave a mark on things. At least on our family.

But Jesus didn’t send Peter out onto those waves. He called to him from them. He was calling Peter to Himself. He was saying, no matter how crazy it looks, how impossible even, don’t let there be space between us. Come. Do what I am doing. Be with Me here in this moment. That is incredible! The immortal, incorruptible Creator of all life seeks fellowship with us. There are no words for that! And there is no way to measure the sanctity of that moment. This is His perfect will for us. Knowing Him more fully. Finding Him certain when all else is shifting waters.

So, the trial has ceased to be a stage from which the enemy repeats his same sad monologue and has instead become a cavern, a cathedral. A place to raise my voice and say God is good! He is the God who sees me! He is the God who not only calls but completes! His fullness of glory is now my fullness of joy! Thank you Father for your great compassion and goodness. And thank you that I will get to see miracles unfold in front of me simply because You will to show me the wonder of Who you are!

I have so few answers. There’s peace in finding I need none. He is certain. That is enough.

Father, 

Thank you for the unrelenting way you pursue us. Thank you for not judging our struggle, but comforting us in it and meeting us where we are. Jesus, thank you for being a priest who understands how hard it is to walk when you only see through a glass dimly. Thank you that you pray for us so that we can overcome through the power of your Holy Spirit. Thank you that you don’t call us based on our limited abilities and inconsistent character but by Your Own Goodness. Thank you that you drive out fear with love. Thank you for an opportunity to trust you and experience the fullness of Your glory. Thank you for the holy scriptures that help remind us when our emotions make us forget. You are so good and so patient and so majestic. Help each of us to stop straining at a helm too big for us and instead let go to take your hand. May we find joy and beauty in that place. And may it produce in us sincere worship as we see you repeatedly do the impossible right before our very eyes. Thank you Father. Thank you for being a rock and a savior and refuge. We love you. Amen. 

**I wrote this mostly because tomorrow I will need to read it and remember again. However the quote at the beginning was from a powerful clip that may serve me better to those ends. I strongly encourage you to put it on in a quiet place and let the truth wash over you. I could have pulled more than a dozen quotes from this one segment. Don’t be daunted by the length it feels shorter than it is. You’ll find loading the dishwasher or taking a bath has never been so profitable

The Nature of God- Graham Cooke