Wednesday, February 27, 2013

in the middle of respite


sunrise at the lake house

"Repent and return... so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord."
Acts 3:19
 
A few years ago, my sweet friend Malissa invited me on a girls weekend trip to a secluded lake house.  Wounded and weary from the trials of life, I was reluctant to go.  I didn't know anyone else on the trip and was doubtful that I had the energy to expend getting to know anyone else.  It ended up being one of the best weekends of my life.  Any pretense was left at the doorstep.  There were no scheduled activities, no agendas, nothing.  Just peace.  And rest.  And respite.

Over the course of that weekend, my weary soul find the rest it so desperately needed in the presence of the Lord.  It was there, in the midst of seclusion and solitude, that we sat and sipped cocoa in front of the fireplace, swapped stories on the porch and shared life down by the water.  We prayed with each other and for each other and formed an indelible bond of faith.      

True to the verse in Acts, each year, we repent from the busyness of our every day lives and we return... expectant for times of refreshing to come from His presence.  

This weekend, I am returning to my place of rest and respite.  What began as a reluctant one-time trip has become an eagerly anticipated retreat that each of us look forward to all year long.  Those of us who go on this trip rarely, if ever, see one another throughout the year, but when we gather together in this place that has become so special to us, it is as though no time has passed at all. 

I am privileged to have such a special place and these special friends in my life, but here's the thing: the refreshing, the respite and the rest... we are all privileged to have access to it, through Christ.  

Jesus says to us, "Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest" (Matthew 11:28).

Rest: (ἀναπαύσω) - Originally to make to cease; ease; refresh. The radical conception is that of relief. (Vincent's Word Studies)

I love that.  Cease.  Ease.  Refresh.  

These three truly define this weekend for me - and any period of true respite:

1) Cease:  I turn off my phone and shut down my social media access.  No Facebook.  No texting.  No nothing.  I completely disconnect from the outside world.  Yes, there is an alternate land line in case of emergencies, but whatever is happening on Facebook or Twitter or Pinterest or Instagram can wait.   
 
2)  Ease: This one isn't quite so immediate.  It takes a while to transition into ease; into allowing yourself to rest fully without worry; to allow your mind to slow to the pace of your reality and for those few moments, to truly, wholly rest in the moment.  Then, you begin to glimpse the beauty of how we are supposed to live:  "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" (Matthew 6:27).

3)  Refreshing: This is the benefit of finding rest in Him, and in Him alone.  He is both our refuge and our respite, and the One who refreshes our souls.  This is a glimpse of what He intended our Sabbath to  be.  A time of rest and a time of refreshing.  
 
Whatever you're in the middle of, can I encourage you today to seek your own respite this weekend, too?  Even if for a few moments, to repent from the busyness and activity of life and return to the Lord's presence, so that a time of refreshing may fall afresh on you.  



Thursday, February 21, 2013

love waiting... and writing.


"We buy into the belief that true love with another human being is what will make us whole,
that we need someone to write the ending to our story so we can live "happily ever after." S
isters, can I encourage you today by telling you: He already has. "
- Nadia Wilder

It has always been my belief - and my prayer - that if the Lord desired to use my writing, He would do so without much maneuvering on my behalf.  In recent months, He has opened doors for me to write weekly for a collaborative blog and online community, Middle Places and also as a freelance writer for iBelieve.com.

A couple of weeks ago, I received an email from my editor at iBelieve that one of my articles was going to be featured on the home page - on Valentine's Day.
It was such a beautiful gift to have Him use the gift in which He's given me in such a way - and on such a day. 

After all, His love is the reason that I write.  It is my overflow.

Every now and then, I read about blogging and branding, presentation and content, the social media marketing of self published blogs, and frankly - it makes my head spin.  It still feels a little too much like self-glorification and not God-glorification and maybe all that means is that I'm just not ready for more than what He's given me for this moment.  As with so many other areas of my life, I find myself in a season of preparation.  And I am okay with that.  

This year, my Valentine's date was my 7 year old son.  We went to the discount theater to see Rise of the Guardians.  A central character in the movie is the mythical "Jack Frost", who is struggling to find what was referred to as his "center", his niche, if you will.  The central theme of what he added to the lives of others... and I could relate, because the truth is I'm still finding my way along this path, and perhaps - finding my niche.  At writing.  At life.  At everything.

And so, I continue to write, not based on a niche and without much thought to personal branding, but just to the rhythm of His heart as I continue to learn the wonder of what it means to seek His heart daily and rest in His love and trust in His sovereignty.  He doesn't need my words, but I surrender them to Him to use as He sees fit...

It was a much-needed reminder that His love is the only love I need.  During this season of my life, His love is the only love I want.  And the words I wrote ring true:  rest in His love.

Valentine's Day and every day. 
You can read my published article here: http://www.ibelieve.com/motherhood/true-love-waiting.html

Thursday, February 14, 2013

settling for singleness


"Ladies, a real man does more than open a door for you, he opens his Bible.
A real man does more than pay for you, he prays for you.
A real man does more than hold your hand, he lifts his hands in worship.
A real man does more than love you, he loves God.
Don’t settle for anything less than a man after Gods own heart.
You are a princess, and deserve a prince." 
Jarrid Wilson


Let that quote settle in your heart before you go lamenting a season of singelness this Valentine's Day.  Amid the cards and candy and chaos, regardless of your relationship status, or lack thereof, you can rest in the assurance and the affection of a prince beyond any earthly companion: the Prince of Peace.  

I had the unfortunate experience of having to go the grocery store late yesterday afternoon.  In the middle of rush hour, howling wind, freezing temperatures and pouring down rain.  I sloshed across the parking lot in my rainboots, clutching my umbrella.  The automatic doors slid open and I faced another atmospheric assault: a visual smorgasborg of Valentine's merchandise, an assortment of red balloons and flowers and candies and cards all morphing together to form one superfluous red flag, waving singleness in my face. 

Admittedly, this isn't my first Valentine's Day spent single.  In fact, at this point, I think the overwhelming majority of my Valentine's Days have been single.  Even though I'm well into my thirties, as I grow in Christ, I become less and less enthralled with the kind of romance and love that our culture is selling.  In fact, I'm feeling more than a little shortchanged on the lie the prince of this world has marketed and sold to us from our earliest years, from that moment we become enchanted with all things fairytale.  I'm disheartened that even grown women, myself included, are sometimes more interested in a man's chivalry over his Christ-likeness.  Jarrid Wilson's words ring truth to our modern day society: we desire a man who opens our doors while often overlooking whether or not he really opens his bible; we are swept off our feet by a man who pays for us and showers us with gifts, without even knowing the landscape of his prayer life.  We want love, often overlooking whether or not the true love of his life is the Lord.  We can have that which looks good, feels good, and yet, is a settling for less than what God has intended for us.   

And looking back on Genesis, wasn't that the cunning brilliance behind the scenes of his first scheme?  To bring Eve to a moment of questioning...  Thousands of years later, we are still seeking answers to our questioning through through anyone other than the one who made us who we are.

Whether we are six or thirty-six, we find ourselves asking the same question...
“Little girls want to know, Am I lovely? The twirling skirts, the dress up, the longing to be pretty and to be seen–that is what that’s all about. We are seeking an answer to our Question… Nearly all a woman does in her adult life is fueled by her longing to be delighted in, her longing to be beautiful, to be irreplaceable, to have her Question answered, “Yes!”  ~ Staci Eldridge, Captivating
So often, through our own wisdom, we go out and try to seek the answer to this question on our own, refusing to see ourselves the way that our Father does.  Refusing to see our lives through the lens of His word.  Eldridge continues, "Having forfeited our confidence in God, we believe that in order to have the life we want, we must take matters into our own hands. And we ache with an emptiness nothing seems able to fill.”

Sometimes, He allows us to walk through seasons of singleness so that we can experience the ache from the emptiness that only He can fill.

And sometimes, these seasons come after a season after which we have foolishly taken matters into our own hands.  He redeems our past, yes even [if not especially] our disobedience by teaching us the beauty of His faithfulness all over again.  Sometimes, it is again and again...  Until we experience the truth of Augustine's words: "Our hearts are restless until they rest in you." 

The truth is, we all desire to be loved - and to be lovely.  We desire to be a part of a love story, and a passionate pursuit.  The bigger truth that we so desperately need to grasp is that we. already. are. 
"The story of your life is also the story of the long and passionate pursuit of your heart by the One who knows you best and loves you most." ~ Staci Elridge 
This Valentine's Day, I've settled in my heart that I am content, in this season, settling for singleness.  Because the truth - my truth - is:  I've settled for far less in my past.

According to His word, I have a Heavenly Father who "redeemed my life from the pit" of disobedience.  He rescued me from a past that was less than His best for me.  And here, yes even here in the midst of my singleness, He "satifies my desires with good things..."  

God may be calling you, for this season, to settle for singleness.  But He will never call you to settle for less than His best. 

Praise the Lord, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
Psalm 103

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

the nines

Dressed to the nines on her 9th Birthday
02.09.2013

The nines.  This expression, meaning "very fashionably and elaborately dressed", is recorded from the 18th  century. "The nine" or "the nines" were used to signify "superlative" in numerous other contexts. Theories include: 9, being the highest single-digit number, symbolized the best; a metanalysis of Old English to then eyne "to the eyes"; and a reference to the 9 muses. 
And so, my not-so-baby baby girl is turning 9.  

sigh.

This hurts my heart.  A deepening of the ache I feel every time I sense her inching towards independence.  Over the holidays, her Aunt Lucy pointed out that Chloe's "time at home was halfway over", a not-so gentle reminder that 9 was halfway to eighteen.  She may as well have taken out the carving knife and stabbed me in the heart... 

And so it is, I could lament, over the growth.  The time lost.  The time that is moving at a pace that is far too fast and fleeting.  Isn't that the commonality with all of us, this wanting to keep our littles little and time stand still. 

Instead, as I browsed through the thousands of photographs taken over the course of the last nine years, while there were some moments that were bitter sweet, my heart was filled with such overwhelming gratitude.  I came across this photo, one of my favorites, and was reminded that this was how we spent much of every single day of her life for the first three years. 
What a privelege and a precious gift that I had in being there to see her first gummy grin, to hear her first belly laugh, her first word, watch her taking her first steps. 

I am so thankful for the beautiful gift of a precious daughter.  And I am thankful for every single moment I have had with her.  I am thankful that I had the opportunity to be at home full time with her for the first three years of her life.

Being a working mom is hard, undoubtedly.  There are many days that I feel the weight of the time lost that can't be regained.  Some days, I experience a wave of sadness that I'm not at  the bus stop waiting for them in the afternoons.  It would be easy to lose myself in the gravity of that loss, but as it is with all loss - I have learned - and am still learning each day - to be thankful for the time that I have.

I am learning that regret and gratefulness cannot reside within the same heart. 

I've followed several stories of tragedy involving the loss of a child in recent months.  They weigh heavily on my heart, reminding me that each day - and each moment - is a gift.  They remind all of us to be thankful for that which we have instead of grieving for that which we have not.

"Rejoice always;  pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks;
for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus..."
1 Thessalonians 5:17-18


Chloe's Favorites: 

1. What is your favorite color? Pink and Blue
2. What is your favorite toy? Barbies
3. What is your favorite fruit? Cuties
4. What is your favorite tv show? Adventure Time & Regular Show
5. What is your favorite thing to eat for lunch? Grilled cheese
6. What is your favorite outfit? Princess Dresses
7. What is your favorite game? Wipe Out 3 on DS
8. What is your favorite snack? Gushers and Wheat Thins with Cream Cheese
9. What is your favorite animal? Puppies and Kittens
10. What is your favorite song? Too Close
11. What is your favorite book? Top Ten of Everything
12. Who is your best friend? Bailey, Ella & Payton
13. What is your favorite cereal? Cinnamon Toast Crunch
14. What is your favorite thing to do outside? Play Survivor
15. What is your favorite drink? Crystal Light Fruit Punch & Diet Coke
16. What is your favorite holiday? Christmas
17. What do you like to take to bed with you at night? Giraffo
18. What is your favorite thing to eat for breakfast? Daddy's pancakes shaped like letters
19. What do you want for dinner on your birthday? Golden Corral (because they have a chocolate fountain)
20. What do you want to be when you grow up? A veterinarian

Monday, February 11, 2013

in the middle of provision

But Jesus replied,
"I have a kind of food you know nothing about."
John 4:32
Middle Places. I remember the night I first heard that phrase spoken in the the context of a collaborative blog, an online community. My heart leapt a little right there in the middle of Sasha's kitchen. "Oh, I know all about middle places," I said, "My whole life is a middle place."
 
Isn't that true for all of us in one way or another? Isn't that what resonates among us here? We are all sojourners traveling along, sharing life together as we walk this path between life and life eternal. But at the same time, we each have our own in betweens that are more definitive.
 
 One of my many middles is the middle of the wait, the holding on to a promise in faith - and we know that faith "is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see" (Hebrews 11:1).
 
Yes, this - the wait - is one of my most and least favorite middle places. The most because it is constantly teaching me invaluable spiritual lessons in patience, perseverance and faith; and least, well, because it is also teaching me some of the hardest hard.
 
The middles of life are often crossroads where we experience both a crisis of faith and a critical choice.
 
There is a portion of scripture that illustrates this poignantly for us, and as I was studying this last week, one particular verse leapt right into my heart...
 
In Exodus 16, we find the Israelites settling the [aptly named] Desert of Sin. At this point, it's been about six weeks since they have been led out of Egypt. Literally, rescued by the hand of God by miracle after miracle after miracle that we couldn't begin to wrap our modern-minded brains around. The plagues, the passover, the passing through a path of dampened ground surrounded by walls of sea water. They were delivered from the bondage of unbearable slavery and headed towards the promised land, flowing with milk and honey.
 
But they weren't prepared for the in between.
 
Undoubtedly, they were growing weary in the wilderness. They were tired. Hungry. Thirsty. I think about my own life and how irrational and easily frustrated I can become when I am any combination of those three things. They began to grumble and complain and some even expressed longing for Egypt. They reasoned that they would've been better off in the very place that God had rescued them from. At least there, in the bondage of slavery, they'd had provision - their physical needs were met.
 
Oh, how I have been in this same place of reasoning in my own life. When the Lord leads us to a pathway through life that is winding through the wilderness, it is in our very human nature to want to turn back to that which seemed easy, or fulfilling - yes, even if it's something God has rescued us from.
 
And so, God hears the cries of His people. Yes, these whining, ungrateful, frustrated and angry people of His. And you know what He does?
 
He rains down manna on them.
 
Selah.
 
Oh, how I love this. I love this because this is just a glimpse into the heart of our God who shows us the same unmerited favor and who rains His blessing down on us. Yes, even when the worst of us is on display for all to see.
 
And here's the thing. You know, the thing that leapt off the pages of my bible and directly into my heart: God could've rained down storehouses full of manna, but He didn't. He rained down just enough for that day. His word tells us in verse 18 that each person had "exactly what they needed" to sustain them for that day - and only that day.
 
In our humanness, it's easy to wonder - as the Israelites did - why God went to so much trouble to deliver them only to allow them to suffer through the grueling journey to the promised land, through the hard middle places of the wilderness. But when we see His heart for them - and ultimately, for us - our perspective shifts and we begin to realize all the things He desires to teach us along this journey through the middles, and yes - through the wait.
 
I believe, wholeheartedly, that He desires a relationship with us so much that He often allows us to walk through the hard places - the wilderness - so that we will learn, like the Israelites, what it means to seek Him daily, to be completely dependent on Him, to fully trust in His promises - and rest in His perfect provision.
 
Can I encourage you today that whatever you are walking through, whatever your middle place is in this life at this moment, God desires to give you His perfect provision.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

in the middle of honoring

 
 
“The LORD is close to the brokenhearted, and He delivers those whose spirit has been crushed.” Psalm 34:18
 
I’ll be honest, I have around forty beginnings of blogs saved in my draft folder. Most of which contain a single thought or theme left unfinished. My writing ebbs and flows like the tide, only not as frequently. It is there, in the ebb, I revisit my drafts seeking to write the words left unsaid. That said, throughout this week, none of them have moved me from the ebb into the flow. In these moments, I almost always reflect back on other words. His word, yes, but all also the inestimable amount of words He has granted me to write in years past. I’ve found that in these moments, He is almost always wanting me to reflect, and to remember something He has taught me.
 
Or someone.

Each January, on my personal blog, I have shared a post in the memory of Bronner Burgess. I had not yet posted it for this year, and perhaps, this is why – so that I could share it here. I never knew Bronner, but the Lord used his precious life and death, and the faith of his parents to impact my heart monumentally. The Lord used it in such a way that it became a catalyst of spiritual markers on my path through life, ultimately leading me to surrender my life to the Lord. As years have passed, the memory of that marker has become woven into the fabric of my life. A thread, like so many of the others, that God is carefully knitting together to create something that is beyond what my earthly eyes can see. I see the backside of my tapestry and frankly, most days, looks like … well, the back of a tapestry. A hot mess.

In January 2008, I was living in a pit of spiritual darkness. My life had literally fallen apart around me, and part of me was still clutching the wrecking ball tightly. My marriage was ending and I was living alone for the first time in my adult life. As a result, I was having severe panic attacks in the middle of the night along with the horrific, recurring nightmare that one or both of my children were drowning. The circumstances were different, but the dream was always the same: one or both of them would fall into dark, murky water and I would see them disappear into the darkness. Desperate, helpless and unable to save them. I would wake up in the middle of the night sobbing, heart racing, sweating, and unable to breathe.

It was a Saturday afternoon in late January when I sat down at my kitchen table with my laptop. A local news alert was posted that it was being reported that one of our local radio DJ’s children had tragically drowned. The words engulfed my heart as I read them. Sweet Bronner. Just a few months older than my Parker. In my own fragile condition, it was a horrifying blow that shook me to my core.

It would be another eighteen months before I would truly surrender my life and my will to the Lord and allow Him to pry the wrecking ball from my tightly clutched hand. Yet in that moment, God was faithful to His word and to His promise to use all things – yes, all things – to bring glory and honor to Himself. My heart, along with so many others, was crushed by the news and He used the brokenness to allow His love to flow in. The faith and testimony of Bronner’s parents, Rick and Sherri Burgess, paved a bridge that would allow so many to reach what Beth Moore calls our “promised land”, the place where our theology meets our reality.

This morning, I honor the memory of little Bronner – and of our great God who truly works all things together according to His word (Romans 8:28).

I wasn’t actively writing when Bronner passed away. I had given up on my old blog and not yet started a new one, but I did write an email to all of my friends and family. The tragic death of a baby boy that I never even knew became a defining moment that God used to shatter my heart of stone and bring me to His arms. It was a turning point that set my feet on a path towards surrender, my baptism and a public profession of faith.

Five years later, I remain in bewildered awe of how the Lord continues to use Bronner’s precious little life and tragic death to bring glory [and hardened hearts] unto Himself.

Last January, my office was located in close proximity to the Rick & Bubba studio. From time to time, I’d see them walking through the little plaza of restaurants during lunch. On a random Thursday, I ran over to one of said restaurants in the middle of the afternoon to refill my giant mug of Diet Barg’s root beer and when I left through the side door, I literally ran right into them. Before my brain had time to tell my mouth to speak, my heart had already given the instruction. I heard myself say, “Rick, I’ve never had the opportunity to speak to you in person, but I just want you to know that my relationship with the Lord would not be what it is today if it weren’t for the words that He spoke through you at Bronner’s memorial service. I have a little boy who was close in age to Bronner and that is one of the things God used to break my heart and draw me to Him.” Tears were brimming my eyes and theirs. He thanked me and assured me what encouragement it was for his heart to hear those words.

I walked away, head finally catching up with heart, I thank God for the opportunity to share that. I was instantly reminded of how he directs our path and ordains our steps, every single one. It wasn’t until the next morning that I was reminded about my post about sweet Bronner. The one that I repost every year. Every January. Wait. Had I missed it? What day was it? Today was the 20th, yesterday was the 19th… I’m talking out loud, searching my blog on my phone when I read the date: January 19th, 2008. The day before, the day that I had completely randomly ran into Rick Burgess and blurted out those words to him, had been the anniversary of Bronner’s death and I’d had no idea.

Excerpt from my email to my family in 2008:
The news of Bronner’s death shook me to the core and made me examine my own life and my own faith or rather, lack thereof. I found myself asking all of the questions that, in our humanness, naturally follow tragedy. Questions like: why God would allow it; how his parents, especially his mother Sherri, would survive it; how would they go on with their lives, etc. It is the questions we all ask when sharing in the silent grief of an unspeakable loss. Little did I know at the time that all of these questions would be answered through Bronner’s very own father at a public memorial service that was broadcast on their show later that week.

Rick Burgess stood, less than three days after his baby boy had tragically drowned, and the words that flowed from his mouth were [and still are] undeniably supernatural. I have been in (and sometimes, out) of church services most of my life. I have attended a plethora of “conferences” and “retreats”, read countless books, participated in various bible studies and nothing, absolutely nothing, even comes close.

I accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior as a teenager. I was 15. I had walked the aisle, prayed the prayer, joined the local church – but for the 16 years, I have tried and failed more times than I can count to “get it right” or to “get my life right” with God. There was an ambiguous disconnect between knowledge of Christ in my head and love for Christ in my heart. My wake up call came through the tragic death of this precious toddler that I never even knew.

The words that God spoke through the faith of William Bronner Burgess’ father, Rick, spoke to my heart like nothing else I have ever heard and in those moments, I could literally feel the gap between my head and my heart being bridged, forever altering my relationship with Christ. The tears were coming so hard and so fast, I was standing in my bathroom, holding my hair back, letting my tears pour out into the sink.
Sixteen years of trying [and failing] to change myself… and then, I understood. It was never something I could have done on my own.

The apostle Paul wrote about the hypocritical Pharisees being “whitewashed tombs” which were beautiful on the outside, but filled decay on the inside. For so long, I have been a whitewashed tomb, clothed in some self-righteous form of religion and an array of materialism; clinging to worldly possessions, worldly behavior and a heart full of judgmental criticism. It was a heart that my own rebellion had left hardened. And it was a heart that the death of this child would leave broken, allowing God to move in.
If you have never heard the message from bronner’s memorial, you can find it here: Bronner Burgess Memorial.

originally published at: http://middleplaces.com/2013/02/01/in-the-middle-of-honoring/