Wednesday, June 27, 2012

from above

"Every good and perfect gift is from above,
coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights,
who does not change like shifting shadows."
James 1:17

i know that heaven is going to be beyond anything our human minds can comprehend; beyond any image my shutter can capture - but there are moments, like this one yesterday, when i truly believe i've caught a glimpse.  of its light.  and of its freedom.  watching my daughter swing in the warmth of the summer afternoon rays of light, i thought to myself, "this is what i imagine heaven will be like." 

later that evening, she saw the photo above and said, "mommy!  i look like an angel in that picture!  it looks like i'm an angel coming down from heaven." 

oh, sweet chloe, it's because you are.

my own sweet angel.  our very own "good and perfect gift from above".  and isn't that just one of the most difficult, challegning and heart-wrenching lessons of parenthood - and of life?  these children are our gifts from our Heavenly Father - and yet, ultimately belonging to our Heavenly Father and only the time which He allows.  we are not guaranteed another moment - and yet, so often, we I find my moments filled with worry instead of trust, frustration instead of thanksgiving... and He gives me a moment like this, that takes my breath away - and suddenly, i'm thankful.  for life.  for breath.  for every good and perfect gift from above.  the eyes of my heart open and i realize, i'm surrounded by them. 

we are enveloped in His grace, if only we open our eyes to see it. 

its dripping off the laundry that's hanging to dry, the dirty dishes in our sinks, the little handprints on the windows, the doors the walls... what if everything - all of this - is a gift from Him?  oh, but isn't it, though? 
these moments.
these gifts.

so good and so perfect. 

from above.    



"How great is the love the Father has lavished on us,
that we should be called children of God!
And that is what we are!"
1 John 3:1

Thursday, June 21, 2012

unashamed


"Those who look to him for help will be radiant with joy;
no shadow of shame will darken their faces."
Psalm 34:5

i love the photograph above of my precious daughter.  clothed in white - and in the innocence of her childhood.  the gentle ocean breeze wafting through her hair and the radiant reflection of the setting sun on her little smiling face.  oh, this photograph.  oh, this verse.  oh, this is how our Father sees us.

every now and then again, i cross paths with someone seeking answers for their lives in the aftermath of divorce.  desperate.  hopeless.  shameful.  i know that feeling - those feelings.  i remember longing for someone, anyone to give me hope.  encouragement.  at the same time, i dreaded running into anyone and everyone because my heart was filled with such overwhelming guilt and shame.  i remember because i have lived it not once, but twice.  and the shame that has haunted my past knocks on the door of my heart frequently at the mere thought of it.  and so, i always listen, but i rarely have the right words to say.  who am i to give words of wisdom?  and then i'm reminded - not of who i have been, but who i am in Christ - and the hope he has given me to share.  all i have to give, is all he offers me: and it is hope that has been freely offered to me in the form of three words: 

God redeems divorce.
redeem: transitive verb/ 1 a: to buy back : repurchase; b: to get or win back; 2: to free from what distresses or harms: a: to free from captivity by payment of ransom; b: to extricate from or help to overcome something detrimental; c: to release from blame or debt : clear; d: to free from the consequences of sin; 3: to change for the better : reform; 4: repair, restore; 5 a: to free from a lien by payment of an amount secured thereby; b (1): to remove the obligation of by payment; 2): to exchange for something of value; c: to make good : fulfill; 6 a: to atone for : expiate; b (1): to offset the bad effect of ; (2): to make worthwhile : retrieve.
sometimes many times, i need that reminder myself. and it comes, not through my words, but these below (via the church where the Lord first spoke them to me). it is truth that penetrated my heart. truth that transformed my life. truth that i am utterly dependent on. truth that has carried me through the darkest moments of my life. truth that remains truth no matter what you have walked through in your life or where you are standing today - or laying, as the case may be. He picks us up, muddied and face down in the pit of our sin and He clothes us in white. He takes us - even especially if we are broken. dirty. and yes, divorced even. He wraps us in His arms. His grace. His mercy. this is the beauty of the gospel. beauty that arises from ashes. by His love, we are transformed from hopeless to hopeful, loveless to adored, pitiful to immaculate, shameful to unashamed...

i reread this the other day and allover again, with each word, each beautifully penned phrase, the joy of His presence washed over me, casting the light of His love over any of my own private shadows of shame.  i pray that it does the same for you today: 
And this is the good news. 
Even if the marriage covenant in your life was broken in the past, be assured of this:  the ultimate marriage covenant is still intact.
Gaze upon a God who picks you up where you are,
not where you wish you were,
Where you thought you’d be;
or where you think you should have been
He picks you up daily where you are
and He carries on his covenant with you.
We cannot undo our pasts, but God can clear them.  And no matter what sin caused divorce in your life or what facets of your divorce were sinful, know this:  Your eternal Husband is always forgiving.  (2 Corinthians 11:2; Revelation 19:6-9)
Divorce is not the great sin, the unforgivable sin, the unpardonable sin.  Divorce is not beyond the reach of God’s grace; in fact, it is well within the reach of God’s grace.  [This doesn’t grant us a license to sin]; but know that you have an Eternal Husband who is great and gracious and merciful.
He always sustains, always strengthens, always provides for you and for your children with extra measures of grace that abound from heaven. 
Your Eternal Husband is always forgiving and your Eternal Husband is always faithful.
Praise be to God.
He will never commit adultery against you.
He will never abandon you.

No matter what happens in this world, Jesus never forsakes His bride. 

Never.

He never abuses you.
He always loves you,
And He always takes you back when you wander. 

He is always patient,

He always cares for you,

He always protects you,

And He always delights in you. 

Regardless of your past, whether you have been married once or fifty times, as a follower of Christ, the reality is:  you are His Bride.  Forever.

This is the gospel.

(source: The Church at Brook Hills: The Gospel & Divorce)

And this is the gospel that I will share. Unashamed. "For, I am not ashamed of this Good News about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes." Romans 1:16 NLT Love of My life


Look deep in My eyes
There you will find what you need
I'm the Giver of life
I'll clothe you in white
My immaculate bride you will be
Oh, come running home to Me.
~ Tenth Avenue North Lyrics

Thursday, June 14, 2012

beloved



"I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters." 
2 Corinthians 6:18

i have learned more about my heavenly father's heart from these three than anyone or anything else.  i grew up silently longing for the love of a father.  it was a deep, unspoken void in my life - and a gaping, unfilled hole in my heart.  i learned to mask it with feigned strength and at the same time, learned to fill the void with anything - and eventually anyone - i could.  invariably, our view of our heavenly father forms through the lens of our earthly fathers.  i didn't know God - and i imagined that He was probably okay with that.  distant.  evasive.  uninterested.  the feeling was mutual.     

when He began pursuing my heart as a teenager, my view of God began to change, but my view of myself had also changed.  i didn't know much about this God, but i couldn't fathom that He would choose a girl like me.  i didn't understand it.  i struggled to accept it.  wrought with sin and unworthiness, i rejected His calling.  His authority.  His word.  His love.  again and again.  for nearly two decades... 

i imagined a God who was gravely disappointed in me and in my shame, i tried to hide, hoping He would lose sight of me in the midst of my own darkness.  hoping - perhaps at times even believing - that He would eventually relent and come to the same conclusion the wounds of my childhood had written on my heart, the lies that the enemy had whispered in my ear:  that i was unworthy.  unloved.  and unlovable.  unable to accept love. unable to give love.  unable to change.  

for the first thirty years of my life, i would believe these lies, and live them out as my truth.
"I know the plans I have for you," says your enemy. "Plans to bankrupt your life and harm you; plans to take away your hope and your future."  ~ Beth Moore  


in the midst of the darkest time of my life, in the midst of a crumbling marriage, i can remember my husband holding a picture of our precious daughter.  she was just three years old.  with tears in his eyes, he showed it to me.  "God loves you, Nadia.  Can't you see it?".  He was pleading with me, not only for the sake of our marriage, but for the sake of my very soul.  and i couldn't.  i couldn't see anything at all.  only darkness.  
"The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God." 2 Cor 4:4
even in the precious lines of my children's faces, their little smiles, i couldn't see His love for me.  i believed with all of my heart that my children, my family, were precious gifts, but with that same sin-wrecked heart i also believed that God had to know He had made a mistake in giving them to me.  clearly, i could not be this wife He was calling me to be, this mother He was calling me to be, this Christian He was calling me to be.  i had tried and failed and ultimately, i packed my belongings and retreated further into darkness, into nothingness.  i leaped off into a pit from which there was no escape, to a place where none would dare to chase after me... but God.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit, 
    out of the mud and mire; 
He set my feet on a rock 
    and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a hymn of praise to our God.
Psalm 40

looking back on even the darkest of days, i am in humbled awe of my God.  my very own Abba, Father.  His grace.  His mercy.  His provision.  His scandalous love for me, yes, even a woman like me.    sweeping me into His arms and whispering to my heart all the things i'd longed to hear all my life.  i was a thirty-two year old woman, and yet,  in that moment - i became his little girl.  His beloved.  i had always been.  i just hadn't known it.  in the midst of my failures, my struggles, i no longer hide from Him, but run to Him.  He is my comforter.  My rock.  My redeemer.  I am His child, even when i come running home dirty, with scraped knees and tear-filled eyes. 

i am in humbled awe that, in light of his marvelous grace, i have the privilege of watching my own children bask in the glow of their father's love up close; God's precious gift to my children of an earthly father who consistently demonstrated the character and love of Christ - even when the circumstances demanded bitterness and rage.  i am so thankful that my precious son has an earthly example to follow and for my little girl - oh, especially for this little girl that i see so much of myself in sometimes - my heart overflows with gratitude that she has an earthy father who answers those unspoken questions instilled in the hearts of every little girl ... am i lovely?  am i lovable?  am i worthy?   yes.  you are lovely.  you are loved.  you are worthy.  you are beloved.  


and for every heart that aches with the silent longing of those same questions, for every life aching with a gaping void, our heavenly father whispers those words of His heart to you, too.  You are my Beloved.  "I will be a Father to you..."


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

wordlessness

"He will give a crown of beauty for ashes..."
Isaiah 61:3


i cannot ever plan to write.  i wish i could.  i imagine that some writers sit and plan and draft and revise, spending hours if not days or weeks on a single entry.  i sit and stare at a blank screen, begging God to give me words.  for me, writing always begins with a prompting from within.  when i began this blog four years ago, i wrote: "i can actually feel a blog coming on. its not completely unlike the the preemptive sensations of a sneeze. in fact, sometimes it is exactly the same order of sensations: a sudden urgency and then the pause, perhaps a moment lost in thought, and then repeated urgency until at last, you sneeze. hard. and just like that, relief washes over you. you certainly don't go on about your day wondering if you'll ever sneeze again, but there are some days i find myself lost in mind numbing wordlessness and i wonder, "will i ever blog again?"...

four years ago, i couldn't have fathomed how the Lord would change the course of this blog, this life, this heart.  four years ago, i couldn't have known how He would use His Word to transform my own words - not to speak through me - but to speak to me.  over the years, this pages of this blog became my public prayer journal and four years later, looking back on its entries, i can see the proof of His relentless pursuit of my heart; and the proof, as Ann Voskamp beautifully writes, "that God really does use broken, messed up, and fallible lives anyways."

and days like today, where i am struck with my own wordlessness, wondering when - or even if - i'll write again, He sends the words of another writer to remind me of who i am.  to remind me of why i write.  to remind me that He truly does have flaming bushes everywhere, even in the midst of blogs.  and He is trading the ashes of my life for beauty - His glory. and in an instant, her words reverberate His chords of confirmation deep within my heart... 

"… and honestly? the only words that really matter?

Are the ones I live.

This convicts me.

I keep writing it out here everyday, the words I am seeking to live
— about this wondrously messy, everyday-holy life….

about finding the beauty and quiet,

about slowing to see the sacred in the chaos,

the Cross in the clothespin,

the flame in the bush…

Just listening – laundry, liturgy, life, — all of life, holy ground.

A holy experience — because God has flaming bushes everywhere.

It’d be pure grace to walk a bit, you and I – to live the words together…" 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

all i have to give


"I have nothing more than all you offer me. 
There is nothing more that's of worth to me." 
- Hillsong lyrics

i had not been writing regularly [on my blog, anyway] until a few weeks ago.  in reluctant hesitation, i shared a post and in the days that followed, i received so much encouragement, so much affirmation, so much confirmation that my heart was literally overwhelmed.  it came from the most random and unexpected places and people.  people whose hearts were touched in some way by the words that i was given and had shared.  i was so blessed - and so humbled.  as frightening as it sometimes is to sit down and allow God to pour what is inside of me out onto the pages of a public blog, i realized that if just one heart is touched by Him through me - it is worth the risk.  it is worth the fear.  it is worth being vulnerable - and i won't hold back.  not anymore...

hi, my name is nadia.  and i'm new at this.  no, not this blog thing... or this small group thing, but this obedience thing.  because, truth be known, i'm still a toddler in my faith alternating between crawling and learning to walk - and pitching the occasional fit in between.  for years, so many years, i struggled with obedience to Christ out of my own stubborn, sinful rebellion.  in more recent years, months, days even -  i have struggled out of my own feelings of unworthiness.  and isn't that an ironic paradox, that the very one, the only one who is worthy my wholehearted worship and obedience is the same one i feel unworthy to follow.  unworthy to worship.  and yet, i know that "the one who calls me is faithful" (1 Thess 5:23).   

it is a lifelong, constant lesson learning that He is worthy regardless of my unwothiness.  faithful, regardless of my faithlessness.  and daily, i am being reminded that all that i have to give is what He offers me.  and so, much like a toddler learning to walk... i am taking baby steps towards that which He is calling me to, literally to "step out of my comfort zone and into the realm of the unknown" (Casting Crown lyrics).  through my writing.  through my sharing.  through my hosting a small group.  and with each tiny step i take, His blessing follows and i am reminded, with each step, that the more i surrender my self, my feelings, even my own unworthiness to Him, the more He is able to use it for His glory in ways i could never arrange on my own. 
"Jacob was a cheater; Peter had a temper; David had an affair; Noah got drunk; Jonah ran from God; Paul was a murderer; Gideon was insecure; Miriam was a gossiper; Martha was a worrier; Thomas was a doubter; Sara was impatient; Elijah was moody; Moses stuttered; Zaccheus was short; Abraham was old and Lazarus was dead."
and in the span of just thirty-five years, i have been - or done - all of those things, too.  and so, it is in utter defiance of all human wisdom, reasoning and logic that He can use even me, in spite of me.

it is the mystery of redemption.  it is the mystery of surrender.  it is the truth that Paul was speaking of when He wrote Romans 8:28.  truly, He takes all that we are, all that we have been, all that we have done - and He uses it for our good and for His glory.  my human mind cannot comprehend it and my human heart, apart from Him, cannot accept it.  but grace through faith, oh - how i have come to believe it.  and all i have to give, is what He offers me. 
i remember the anguish of my teenage years (and my twenties for that matter), not understanding who i was, who i was supposed to be, what i was supposed to do.  not knowing that i had a purpose.  not comprehending that God had a plan for my life.  it took me the better part of thirty-five years to realize that He IS the plan.

"I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place.
For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord,
“plans to prosper you and not to harm you,
plans to give you hope and a future.

Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
I will be found by you,” declares the Lord,
 “and will bring you back from captivity...
I will bring you back to the place from which I carried you.”

Jeremiah 29:10-14 (NIV) 

Monday, June 4, 2012

lead me.

"So Father, give me the strength
To be everything I'm called to be
Oh Father, show me the way ...
To lead them."
~ Sanctus Real lyrics

i'm so reluctant to write about life being difficult and, at the same time, reluctant to avoid writing about the difficulties of life.  it isn't all rainbows and butterflies and i'd be remiss, as a believer, to pretend that it is.  i am a single mom and though my situation is oh so much better than its stereotypical definition, there are moments when the reality of it is just as painful.  my children are blessed to have a wonderful father in their lives.  i am blessed that, in spite of our divorce, we coparent well together, love them to the absolute best of our ability and in many ways have kept their sense of family intact. 

but still.  we all have those moments of utter despair.  we all have those moments of sinful failure.  and we all have those moments of hurt.  not only as parents, but as people.  we all have those moments when others, in the midst of their own hurt, hurt us.  i know because i have been on both sides of the hurt.  i have hurt others with both my actions and my words.  as our pastor says, "we are all just one step away from stupid".  i confess that i have taken that step more times than i'd like to count.  scriputre tell us that it is "from the overflow of our heart, the mouth speaks" - and yet, it also tells us that our human hearts are utterly "deceitful and wicked above all things".

there is an old cliche' that says [as a Christian] "i am not perfect, i am just forgiven", and though it is certainly true, i think it is much more apt to say, "i am not perfect, i am just completely, utterly, totally dependent on God's continual mercy, grace and forgiveness".  in my (albeit short) walk with Christ, the place where i am most vulnerable to hurt is no longer when others bring up my past, but it is when they cast judgment on my present.  i am convinced that the enemy uses those moments, and those words, not only to damage, but to discourage.  to keep me silent.  to keep me from writing.  to keep me from following - and sharing - Christ because i am not worthy of doing so or capable of doing so.  and the truth is, i am unworthy.  and the truth is, in my own strength and wisdom, i am incapable.  of writing.  of sharing.  of loving.  of parenting.  of everything.  Christ Himself said, "apart from me, you can do nothing."  and He meant it.   

and so, as i grow, i am learning to become less dependent on my own strength and more dependent on His, less dependent on my own wisdom and more dependent on His word.  some days, it is a struggle to remind myself that i am defined only by who He says that i am.  and everyday, every single day, i am reminded that i can't do this alone.  that i am desperate for Him.  and i am desperate for Him to lead me.  the words of this song become the cry of my heart.  and allover again, i give Him my whole heart and beg Him to lead it.  this is the beauty of surrender and of abiding.  this is the beauty of failure and of forgiveness. 

Oh Father, lead me.  
    
I see their faces, look in their innocent eyes
They're just children from the outside
I'm working hard, I tell myself they'll be fine
They're independent, but on the inside

Oh, I can hear them saying

Lead me with strong hands
Stand up when I can't
Don't leave me hungry for love
Chasing dreams, what about us?

So Father, give me the strength
To be everything I'm called to be
Oh Father, show me the way
To lead them
Won't You lead me?

To lead them with strong hands
To stand up when they can't
Don't want to leave them hungry for love
Chasing things that I could give up

I'll show them I'm willing to fight
And give them the best of my life
So we can call this our home
Lead me 'cause I can't do this alone

Father, lead me 'cause I can't do this alone.