Friday, June 28, 2013

Coffee, Jesus and the Crack of Dawn

"God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day."
Psalm 46:5
Every morning, I have coffee date. With Jesus. Sometimes, I’m bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and full of cheerful, chatty conversation. Other mornings, particularly those mornings when I’ve found that I’ve inadvertently let myself run out of coffee, I can hardly keep my eyeballs open and I struggle to read and to listen. But every morning, without fail, He reminds me of His unfailing love:
“Let me hear in the morning of your steadfast love, for in you I trust. Make me know the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul.” Psalm 143:8
I no longer have a view of the sunrise from where I live. Even if I walk outside, there are too many trees to catch a glimpse of any horizon... It’s only on the mornings that I drive to the gym that I have the chance to see it. This was one of those mornings.
And the crack of dawn cracks something in me wide open.
It’s the whole light breaking the darkness thing. This whole new beginning thing. It just takes my breath away. Every single time. It reminds me of the moment when His light broke into the darkest places in my heart. It reminds me of His gift of new beginnings. The ones He graciously gives us over and over and over again.
With the rising of the sun comes the rising of His mercies, afresh and anew every single morning. (Lamentations 3:23)
And I’m reminded of my mornings, my coffee with my Jesus and what it’s really about. These few stolen moments in the still, quiet. These are the moments where He shines the light of His word into my darkness – and it is according to that word that He restores and refreshes my soul. He renews my strength. As the dawn is breaking, true to the word of my testimony, He lifts me up from the pit of despair and puts a new song in my mouth. A song that, very often, sounds a lot like Matt Redmans’ 10,000 Reasons:
The sun comes up, it’s a new day dawning
It’s time to sing Your song again
Whatever may pass, and whatever lies before me
Let me be singing when the evening comes
Ann Voskamp writes that ”the secret to joy is to keep seeking God where we doubt He is.” In her book, One Thousand Gifts, she encourages us to seek God in the midst of our daily lives. Because here’s the thing: He’s already there. And isn’t that the beauty of the gospel, this Savior, who meets us right here in the middle each morning. 
The psalmist had a secret for finding joy, too: ”Let all that I am praise the Lord, may I never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies.” (Psalm 103:1-3)
This morning, every morning, He reminds me of these One Thousand Gifts and these Ten Thousand Reasons. And every morning we trade, my burdens for His benefits, according to His word: “Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.”
I know many people aren’t “morning people”, but can I encourage you to try it – just once. Drive if you have to and witness the sunrise. Allow the crack of dawn to crack you open – because it’s only when we’re cracked that His light can shine in us and through us.

Friday, June 21, 2013

scattered, smothered and covered

Yea.  Life's like that sometimes..... 
I’m not much for crowds anymore, not that I really ever was. I could at least tolerate crowded sporting events, concerts, and theme parks when I was younger, but that tolerance – along with my patience - is wearing somewhat thinner as I grow up older.
It’s not that they make me anxious, I just find them genuinely unenjoyable. In much the same way a claustrophobic typically finds elevator rides genuinely unenjoyable. It’s a foggy mixture of both mild discomfort and panic. So yea, I’m finding that I’ve become a much more more of a wide-open spaces kind of girl.
It could be that the more I feel as though the details of this life confines me, the greater the longing is to run free, both literally and figuratively.
You know that saying, the one about being in a crowd but feeling all alone? In our spiritual lives, the very opposite can be true. And here’s the thing: I think we all experience this. I think it’s all a part of our divine design. God knew that we would have moments, seasons even, where even in our solitary, quiet moments, we wrestle with crowded minds – and clouded hearts. In our human nature, we often seek the remedy for this restlessness outside of His perfect provision. In counseling, this is called “self-soothing” and the enemy of our souls presents a plethora of suedo comforts from which to choose - most of which appear utterly harmless. We fill our hands, our hearts, our mouths, our time… until we’re overwhelmed. The ultimate goal of the enemy is always to destroy us, but can I tell you that he’ll settle for hindering and rendering by any means he can.
In an already-crowded heart, the noise level can become unbearable.
And oh, the random acts of mindlessness that often accompany it. You know, thing like not being able to find my keys in the morning, only to discover them hanging in my front door. From the night before. Yea. This happened not once, but twice over the last week. I’ve resorted to asking my nine-year-old for accountability as I try to include making sure the keys are actually inside into my nightly routine.
She giggles and I point out the obvious, the very fact that I am responsible for the overall well being of two little human beings is sometimes a ridiculous notion. We giggle some more. “No, really,” I tell her, “this is why Mommy needs Jesus. Daily.”
I had a conversation yesterday with my sister-aunt (i.e. aunt who is like a sister to me). She affectionately referred to this figurative crowdedness as “Waffle House Brain”: Scattered, smothered and covered.
Scattered. Covered.  Smothered. 
I read those descriptive words and the first thing that came to my mind wasn’t a plate of hash browns… It was my heart. 
{{Insert pangs of conviction here}}
Had I really allowed my heart to become so disheveled that a plate of hash browns could convict? 
Yes. Apparently so.
A crowded mind always leads to a crowded and hurting heart; And a hurting heart always leads us to seek a remedy.
And so, we try and fail to busy ourselves with distraction. We fill our daily lives with activities and chatter. Until we’re full. Until we’re unbearably crowded.
And then, someone mentions a plate of hash browns – and the Lord reminds you of the only remedy we need to seek: His presence.
It’s true: I’ve been a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants, over-talkative, hyperactive, extroverted busybody since my preschool days. The very first time the Lord spoke to my heart with unmistakable clarity, it was through His word and it was as clear as if He were physically next to me.
Two words from Psalm 46:10:
“Be still…”
It became my life verse and it’s one that I [obviously] need reminding of often. That day, that first time He pressed that verse into my heart, I was sitting amidst the rubble of a sin-wrecked life. I was overwhelmed with trying to pick up the pieces and put them all back together again.

And here’s the thing about sin-wreckage: It’s often filled with so many slivers and shards that He knows we’d only wound ourselves by trying to pick up the pieces.
“Be still and know that I am God”.
And so, He moves us to empty our hands – and our hearts – and be still. Jesus said, “Come to me all who are weary and I will give you rest.”
Do you need to be still today? Whatever you’re in the middle of, however busy, know that there is a remedy for your weary soul and crowded hearts. In His presence, there is peace. Quietness. Rest.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Surviving Summer

And nothing can overwhelm me
— like grace can overtake me.”
~ Ann Voskamp
We’ve all had those moments where in the midst of the perfectly ordinary, something extraordinary suddenly captivates us, causing us to pause and catch our breath. It’s those moments that our eyes – and often, our hearts – are diverted from that which surrounds to that which abounds. I love this photograph for that reason. Chloe, carefree and barefoot last summer, swinging from the very same tree that I loved as a child in my granny’s front yard. The image is almost completely overtaken by rays of sunlight gleaming through the branches…
Yea, grace is like that.

I read yet another hilarious blog post (by Jen Hatmaker) last night that reminded me … I’d started out writing my own little blog by the same title, “surviving summer”, earlier this week. Althouth, as a single mother with a full-time job, surviving summer has an entirely different set of implications from most of what I’ve read on the topic. (And yes, I have in fact googled said subject in the hopes of finding some inspiration for said implications.) There are pages and pinboards filled with creative projects and ideas, bucket lists and book reading plans, and enough crafts and craziness to fill a lifetime of summers. There are similar resources for the working mother, too – only with the added organizational and time management tips.

But there wasn’t a project or pinboard that could calm my anxious heart. Because, for me, surviving summer isn’t about finding a creative solution to fill the time I spend with my children. It’s about finding that which is able to fill my heart with peace during the time I spend away from my children.
Summer isn’t much of a deviation from our normal schedule, only we pack backpacks with swimsuits and goggles instead of binders and books.
We slowly pull up to the curb in the car rider line every morning. There are goodbye kisses on their sun-kissed little faces, and in the afternoons, there are sweet smiles and hello hugs. The kids seemingly transition effortlessly from school to summer camp, but I become overwhelmed, grasping and groping at time. The days – and all these moments in between – that I’m missing. It haunts me daily, creeping in to the corners of my mind and of my heart. This thought, this thinking about all this time. It is time that I cannot ever get back.

The thought is enough to overwhelm the heart of even the strongest mama.

And the truth is, when we are overwhelmed, we are prone to be overtaken.

When we become weary and weak, we become tempted to lay down – and to wallow. The enemy of our souls desires to use our hurts and heavy hearts to his advantage – he desires for us to become so overwhelmed by our circumstances that we are easily overtaken by depression, defeat, dejection…
But God, by His mercy, He desires for us to be overtaken by His grace.
And so, when our hearts are overwhelmed – when we are in the middle of surviving summer – or life in general – we cry.

But we cry to the Healer of our hurts. Our Heavenly Father whose hands hold the only bandage worthy of binding our wounds, and our broken hearts:
“From the end of the earth I will cry to You, When my heart is overwhelmed; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been a shelter for me, A strong tower from the enemy. I will abide in Your tabernacle forever; I will trust in the shelter of Your wings. Selah” ~ Psalm 61:2-4
It is the very essence of our human nature and all of our tech-savvy googledness to seek the answers for this life and all its circumstances on our own, apart from Him.

But the remedy for our anxious souls and hurting hearts can’t be found apart from His word and His Spirit.

He is the remedy. For both the full-time mama at home and the mama who works full-time outside of the home. The only cure for an overwhelmed heart is to be overtaken by His grace; and my only tip for surviving summer – and all the moments in the middle – is Jesus.

Just Jesus.

(oh, and maybe some coffee, too).
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” ~ Jesus (John 14:28)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

10 Recital Day Promises for My Daughter

First Recital - Age 4 - June 2008

It's the morning of dance recital and while I'm not having a fit of panic trying to get everything ready at the last minute, I am having somewhat of a fit of nostalgia looking back at that cute little face above, and reminiscing about all the recitals past.  This is our sixth recital.  We're old hat.  At this point, I've pretty much experienced and/or witnessed all of the madness and mayhem that can accompany such an event.  

I used to be the kind of mom - or rather, the kind of person, that came unglued on a whim.  Birthday parties, recitals, any major milestone wore me out with anxiety ridden chaos. Then again, anything - and anyone - with a faulty foundation is certain to come apart when shaken.  Proverbs tells us that a person who lacks self control is "like a city with broken down and without walls" - lacking control over that which flows in and inevitably, that which flows out.

Grace changes all that.  We begin to learn what it means to guard our hearts while at the same time, surrendering them.  And it's layers and layers of surrender.  As mamas, we surrender our desire for  some unattainable sense perfection, both in ourselves and in our children.  It's a lifelong lesson that grows deeper through each season, and each milestone.  We learn to seek peace instead of perfection.  His peace.  In all things.  In all days.  

Peace without perfection. The peace that passes understanding - and something really strange began to happen when I first began experiencing this peace: I stopped trying to make things look perfect.  I accepted things as they were.  It turns out, peace and imperfection are not mutually exclusive. Who knew.

And so, I have a few promises for my daughter today... 

Dear Doodlebug, today, on the day of your recital, I promise: 

1) I promise that I will do my part as your Mommy to help have everything ready to go the night before.  There will be no last minute come aparts looking for your sequined headband, or missing white glove...

2)  I promise that I will have the whole family, yes, even Daddy and the Nana, ready to go on time - so that no one has to experience the insanity that comes with running late.    

3) I promise that I will not make you pose for a hundred more photographs.  I know, this one is a hard one for me. But, I've reminded myself of all the photographs that have already been taken - you know, by professionals and myself on picture day and again by me on dress rehearsal day... and all the days in between. 

4)  I promise that I will not be that mom, the one with a rolling caboodle of make-up, filing the dressing room with my palpable anxiety, forcing you to stand still while I touch up your make-up again, or agonize over every hair being in its perfect place.           

5)  I promise that I will not fall apart over a run in your stockings or any other detail that, at the end of the day, is not going to matter at all. 

6)  I promise to choose peace over a faulty sense of perfection, today and everyday of your childhood.  

7)  I promise to watch you laugh, smile, and of course, dance.  

8)  I promise to cherish every moment of this special day instead of try to manage every moment of this day. 

9)  I promise to remind myself - and you - that you are nine.  Oh, just enjoy being nine.  

10)  I promise to tell you how proud I am of you, how very much I love you and teach you today, and hopefully each day, to be you - God's girl - just the way you are. 

I love you.  


Friday, June 7, 2013

waited long.

photo by Angela Howey via Proverbs 31 Ministries
“The vision will not happen for awhile. It has an appointed time.
Even though it seems a long time coming, wait for it.
It is not a lie. It will happen.”
Habakkuk 2:3
We all know what it is like to wait – and to wait long. We spend our lives in various stages of waiting, both literally and figuratively. In the middle of every wait, there is the longing. The longing to reach the front of the line, the longing for the call to come, the longing for something to begin… It is the longing to move forward, and the waiting long to end.The beginning of my favorite movies, Love Actually, begins with a beautiful opening scene and brilliant monologue….
“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaking suspicion love actually is all around.”
The airport provides us with the some of the most diverse and unique opportunities for the observation of the human condition. It is a perpetual montage of the dramedy of our lives. It is one of the rare places in life that I have been moved to tears by both hysterical laughter and silent observation.
I’ve witnessed those sweet instances of a family welcoming their Daddy home from war and those where a couple greets their anxious family with their newly-adopted baby. Then there are those, whose situations and relationships and circumstances cannot be defined by observation – and those are ones that really get me, the instances that seemingly etch a permanent place in my memory.
It is a mysteriously beautiful thing to observe someone experiencing that moment for which you know they have waited - and waited long.
All throughout scripture, for every promise from God, there was a season of waiting – seasons not filled with peaceful contentment, but with trials and tribulations: Abraham waited twenty-five years for Isaac, David waited thirteen years on kingship, Joseph endured years of imprisonment and slavery before obtaining the fulfillment of his dream – and the promise of God.
When you factor in eternity, on this side of it the truth is that we will always be waiting on something. And so, we rely on faith – that blessed “confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). We rely on faith because His promise comes by faith.
We trust the Lord in the middle of our waits, in the middle of our longings, and in the middle of our promises: ”For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory” (2 Cor. 2:20).
Original Post:

Monday, June 3, 2013

Rest in the Nest

We've flown free from their fangs, free of their traps, free as a bird.
Their grip is broken; we're free as a bird in flight.
Psalm 124:7 (MSG)
I took the photograph above at the beach earlier this year.  My sweet friend Spira was enchanted with the birds along the shore; the assortment of common seagulls that I've grown accustomed to over the years. 

The Lord has a way of transforming the ordinary into extraordinary when we allow Him to open the eyes of our hearts and see through the lense of His perspective and His word. 

Now I'm not implying there is some great spiritual lesson to be gleaned from even the random seagulls along the sea shore or the sparrow in the shrubs... 

No, Jesus is...
"Behold the birds of the air," said Jesus... "They do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?" (Matthew 6:26)
The greek translation for behold (ἐμβλέψατε) is so much more than to glance.  It  is a verb that means to become engaged in; to look not only upon, but into - sustained and concentrated.  Don't just look at the beauty of His creation that is daily laid before your eyes, behold it. 

And when you do, you just might catch a glimpse of His glory - and of freedom
His word tell us that He is not far from anyone of us - If only we we are willing to look; and to behold

As I walk fly farther along this path of His freedom, I find it in the most unexpected places, both around and within myself.  For so long, I was so much like a fledgling that had flown the coop, or rather, one who had foolishly flung herself from the nest.  Furiously flapping and flailing - as if to signal the fowler that I was fresh prey...
Until that day when the Father scooped me up and brought me backed to His nest.  Home, where I belonged.  Fragile and broken.  Wounded and frail. He did not chastise me with words of condemnation or pour salt in my self-inflicted wounds, but He comforted me with His love.  He mended my torn and healed my broken.  He taught me how to rest in the nest of His grace and He hid me in the shelter of His wings.  It is there:
I am free. 
I am safe. 
A few weeks ago, my kids discovered this tiny nest in the shrubs. Standing on their tiptoes, they would barely sneak a peek before the mama bird swooped down out of the nearby tree, aggressively flapping and chirping.  No one was going to get too close to those eggs on her watch.   
Oh, how much closely our Heavenly Father guards us, defends us, protects us and keeps us.  "It is in Him [and only in Him] that we live and move and have our being" (Acts 17:28).  
Invariably, in this life, there will always be a fowler lurking about with his trap set before us.  There will always be those who try to lure us into defensive reaction or rebellion, which is one in the same.  And it is there, in both the small and not-so-small battles of this life, we learn - as Moses did - that the Lord will fight for us, we need only be still. 
The KJV version says, "The Lord shall fight for you, so you shall hold your peace" (Ex 14:14). 
I love that.  Hold your peace.  We have the freedom when under attack or when shaken and vulnerable to hold onto our peace, His peace.  

We hold our peace because we dwell in His shelter.

And, we rest in His nest. 
 "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. 
I will say to the Lord,
My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” 
For He will deliver you from the snare of the fowler
and from the deadly pestilence."
Psalm 91:1-3