Friday, August 30, 2013

In the Middle of Pressing On

Every day offers us lessons to be learned.  Some days, I am much more willing to learn than others.  And some days, the holy spirit will press something so firmly into my heart that it doesn’t matter how willing or unwilling I am in that moment.  It’s almost always a verse, or a portion of a verse, spoken in a whisper to my heart, yet striking so deeply that it reverberates for days, or sometimes, weeks.
Often it is a simple as “Be still” (Psalm 46:10) or “Trust me..” (Proverbs 3:5), and sometimes, it’s something more.  A few weeks ago, it was that something more and this morning, a few weeks later, it’s still pressing in on my heart, even in the middle of my pressing on:
Remember Lot’s wife.” ~ Jesus (Luke 17:32)
One verse.  Three little words, poking and prodding.
Oh, I remembered her, alright.  Sometimes, I am her…
“When Lot still hesitated, the angels seized his hand and the hands of his wife and two daughters and rushed them to safety outside the city, for the Lord was merciful.  As soon as they had brought them out, one of them said, “Flee for your lives! Don’t look back, and don’t stop anywhere in the plain! Flee to the mountains or you will be swept away!” (Genesis 19:16-17)
But she couldn’t help herself…
“Lot’s wife looked back as she was following behind him, and she turned into a pillar of salt.” (Genesis 19:20)
The implication is that this woman, whose name is never mentioned, had left her heart in Sodom even as her feet were carrying her away.  But the greater implication is disobedience, despite her reasoning – whether it was cherishing or curiosity… she had been instructed not to look back.
Perhaps the directive would’ve been more effective if she’d been told the consequences of looking back.  Perhaps she’d reasoned that a quick glance wouldn’t be categorized as an actual “look back”.
And isn’t that just the very essence of our human hearts at times?
Sometimes, the Lord reminds us not to look back – for the sake of our very own lives.
And that which He has saved us for is greater than that which He has saved us from.
Whatever you’re in the middle of, remember Lot’s wife… and set your feet and heart on Him, pressing on.
“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on…” (Philippians 3:13)  

Friday, August 23, 2013

Be still my heart... and time.

First Day of School - 8/19/2013

Can I just confess that when I glanced down at this image of this little face on my camera as the bus was pulling way, I wanted to break out of my fake, composed character and break loose running down the street after the bus screaming and wailing, “My baaaaaaby!”…
They’re in 2nd and 4th grade now, I know.  They’re not babies anymore.  But still.
Be still my heart… and time.
“I don’t remember our mamas being like this,” she said.  My lifelong friend was right:  I don’t think there is a single photograph of any of my first days at school, much less of me holding a hand-crafted sign depicting what grade I was going to begin that day.  Let’s face it, my mom was doing good to keep up with actual picture day – much less turning first days of school into some unspoken milestone worth of photo opps.
“We’re living in different times,” I said.  This era of social media has brought with it the incessant urge to document every moment of our lives.  Camera in one hand, iPhone in the other, I snap as many photographs as I can this morning as we shuffle them to the bus stop for the grand return to school.
I take pictures of everything: lunchboxes and shoes and backpacks; close-ups of the headband in Chloe’s hair; the freckles on Parker’s smiling face.  These are the details I am afraid of forgetting.  The ones that I fear will somehow escape my memory if I don’t capture them all in photographs.
But the truth is, I was like this before the evolution of social media.  Chloe has exactly a half dozen scrapbooks of her first year of life.  I carefully documented almost every moment that first year.  In hindsight, I hardly remember it – but when I look at those photographs, I cherish that time.  Each of those moments.  I live and relive them.
There’s a lot of chatter these days about this idea of “living in the moment”.  But I think it’s too painful a prospect.  Our human hearts can only handle so much painful awareness on a daily basis.
And so it is, on the first day back to school, the feed of my social media reads like the book of [Mama] Lamentations.  This day is one that, amidst the hurry and scurry of our lives, we pause and we take it all in.  We stand face-to-face with the reality of how fast our children are growing, how fast the time is passing and how absolutely, utterly helpless we are to stop it, or at least slow it.
It doesn’t seemingly get easier as the years pass, but harder – and faster.  The camera flashes and their whole lives flash before my eyes.  They step onto the bus and each year, one step further into their independence…
The bus pulls away and I snap this photo, albeit blurry, of Parker’s little face in the window, hand pressed against the glass.  I smile and wave – but only on the outside.  Inside, I’ve broken loose into full stride running alongside the bus like a madwoman.  My lips are mouthing, “Bye!  Have a great day.”  But my heart – oh, my heart is screaming after the bus, “My baaaaby!  Come back!”
My birthday conveniently coincides with the beginning of school each year – a proverbial double-whammy of forced reflection and painful realization.  It’s all happening too fast, this quandry of time.
My heart is racing along with the second hand on my watch and He whispers, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).
And I realize, in those moments of anxiety, I’m counting all wrong.  Again.  Oh, Lord,  “teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (Psalm 90:12).  Teach us to count not the time gone by, the moments missed, but your blessings that fill each and every one.



Beautiful advice from a divorced man ...

Reblogged from love story from the male perspective:

Click to visit the original post
 My advice after a divorce following 16 years of marriage, by Gerald Rogers.

Obviously, I’m not a relationship expert. But there’s something about my divorce being finalized this week that gives me perspective of things I wish I would have done different… After losing a woman that I loved, and a marriage of almost 16 years, here’s the advice I wish I would have had…

Friday, August 16, 2013

In the Middle of a Knot

Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves.
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Ecclesiastes 4:12
It’s the middle of the night in late December, 2010 and suddenly, I’m awake. Wide awake. The wide awake that generally follows a heart-pounding, cold-sweating nightmare or crashing sound in the night. Inexplicably, I stare into the darkness, confused. Did something wake me up? Did someone wake me up? My bedroom door is cracked and shadows begin shifting as my eyes adjust. Before there is time for confusion to begin yielding to fear, I’ve learned from years of living alone to just whisper aloud the only name that brings light into the darkness: “Jesus”…
A handful of times in my life, I have felt as though the Lord Himself has woken me up early, pre-dawn, calling me to meet with Him, but never in the dead of night like this and never with such audible clarity in the midst of such silence and darkness:
“A cord of three strands is not easily broken.”
That was it.
Now, I’m not suggesting I heard an audible voice with my ears, but I am saying that one line of scripture  resounded so clearly, so loudly in my heart and mind that in that moment, I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference. I sat straight up in my bed. I know the verse well. The verse is common; this feeling is not. All throughout scripture we see the Lord speaking to various people (Habakkuk, Isaiah, Jeremiah, etc.) saying, “write this down“. I know this isn’t one of those times that I can just make some sort of casual mental note and try to follow up in the morning. This is one of those times that it’s as though the Lord is saying to me, “You’d better write this down. Now.”
Thankfully, it was one of those times that I obeyed:
In the fall of 2002, we were in Ridgecrest, NC for a marriage conference.  It was only two years into our marriage and we had already weathered a tremendous storm.  It was that storm that had recently led my husband to surrender his life to the Lord. Of course, I was still clinging to the belief that I had done the same long ago. (You know, because I had walked the aisle, prayed the prayer, etc. etc.) I gave God credit for that, certainly; but just as I had when I was fifteen, I walked away from that moment, from that retreat – and from God Himself – believing that everything would be okay; that I would be okay. We would join a church together, maybe teach Sunday school together, have children together, do all the things we were supposed to do and live happily ever after. At twenty-five, I had wanted to believe it was that simple, that I had no active participation what God was doing or desired to do in our lives. He was my God in name alone, but not Lord of my life, and not the love of my life. Eight years later, it’s 3 a.m., and here I am: wide awake. Divorced. Alone.
During that retreat we had purchased a “love knot”: a three stranded cord shaped into a cross and knotted tightly in the center: two tan, course, fiber-like strands and one solid, velvety-smooth red strand intertwined. A little tag hung on it with the verse: “A cord of three strands is not easily broken.” It had hung in the foyer of our home for the years that followed. I don’t know what happened to it in the years since. I’ve moved more than once and we have both moved from the home we shared together. But tonight, when I was awakened from my sleep, I saw it. It sprang forth as clearly to my mind as the words of scripture had to my heart. The lighter, tan fiber-like strands were worn and tattered; frayed and unraveled. But the third strand; the one that had always looked and felt different; it was vibrant crimson, still as strong and as smooth as the first time I touched it; velvety to the touch and though the three had unraveled, the crimson strand was firmly knotted in the center.
And then, in a whisper, three words that have repeated in my heart (and in my journals) off and on for a long, long time: Renew. Redeem. Restore. A thousand different directions I could go with them, scripturally, logically, illogically, metaphorically, figuratively – but I couldn’t make sense of why now… it’s the middle of the night. Lord, I can’t possibly write all of this down, too… and then, by something I cannot define or describe, they weave together: the three words. The three cords. The three words become the three cords: The broken and unraveled strands, He renews and restores, and the third crimson strand, the Redeemer Himself, He redeems – for His glory.
When everything else in my life was broken, God was faithful. Through my years of running and failed attempts at hiding, God was faithful. So much has changed throughout the years, throughout my life, but God has not ever changed. God is faithful. Unchanging. Unyielding. Faithful when we are faithless. He holds all things together. He makes all things new. His ways our not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts. When we unravel, when our lives fall apart, when we break promises to one another, God keeps His promises to us: His love will never leave us or forsake us. He is our only hope.
Fast forward almost three years to yesterday afternoon… I stood in the kitchen holding the “love knot” in the photograph above.  Hand shaking, teary eyes, I could barely hold still to take a photo of it.  I still haven’t found our original one from 2002, although I still hope to come across it in attic or storage someday.  Until then, I ordered a new one.  It slid out of the box and into my hand and took my breathe away.
It was exactly how I had envisioned it that night so long ago.  The two tan cords were rough and wiry, somewhat frayed around the edges.  You know, like us.  But the red cord, still strong and velvety smooth, intertwined between the two other throughout.
Until you get to the middle.
The very middle.
The knot.  It’s all red.  Its all Him.  Wrapped up.  Secure.  I look at the three loops forming the shape of a cross and I’m reminding about the three years between that night and today.  Someday, I know, He will have me write about that journey.  I believe, with all of my hearts, that out of our stories – our deepest and most painful failures –  rises our greatest ministry.  As Rick Warren says, “Others are going to find healing in your wounds.”
I brush my fingers across the center of the knot and whisper, “Oh, thank you, Lord.”  For today, it’s all the words that I can manage.
He always brought me back to the center.  He was always at the center.  He is ever faithful to His covenant with us.
That is my story because ultimately, that is His story.
For me.  For you.

Friday, August 9, 2013

In the Middle of Fixing

Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith…
Hebrews 12:2
It’s late and I’m jet-lagged.  I’m having trouble fixing my eyes on the screen… and keeping them open.  The words won’t come – not like I want them to or need them to – but the words that our pastor spoke last night are still ringing in my heart:
“Let the past be the past, in Jesus name.”
He spoke those words while introducing another pastor, one who had walked through deep personal and spiritual failures and one who was about to share his humbled heart with us.  The title of his message was “How to Come Back to the Father”.
In the years since my own tattered and torn prodigal journey home, I’ve read and reread the parable many times, but last night – in the context of the message – I realize how little consideration I’d ever given to the older brother.  You know, the one pitching a proverbial fit that his reckless and selfless little brother has squandered his inheritance and is being given a celebration rather than the punishment he deserves.
The parable ends with the father pleading with this older son to come and join the party…
to let the past be the past.
The truth is, there are always going to be those like the older brother in our lives. There will be those who are angry with the Father for the fact that He has chosen to give us grace rather than the punishment we deserved.
It’s why we must fix our eyes on the Father – and Him alone.
It’s why we must be more concerned about the Father’s heart than others’ opinions.
It’s why we must extend the same grace and mercy that the Father has extended to us to others.  As C.S. Lewis wrote, “We forgive the unforgivable because He has forgiven the unforgivable in us.”
One of my favorite films [of all time] is “Legends of the Fall” in which Brad Pitt portrays the character of Tristan: a deeply troubled soul who, despite an intense love for his family -especially his father – is a perpetual runaway. He constantly flees the love and stability of his father’s house and his father’s love; often abruptly.  No one is ever sure of where he has gone or for how long; no one knows when or even if he will ever return. Yet, the scene of his repeated homecomings remain unchanged: his father stands and offers his outstretched arms, extending them to embrace his son with such fervor it causes tears to swell in our eyes; warmth to swell in our hearts. This father’s fierce love and loyalty for his son is unwavering; rock solid through the repeated abandonment;  the continual inconsistency.  There is a steadfast gleam in his eyes: the unspoken hope and longing that each homecoming might be the last; that “this time”, his child has come home to stay.
Tristan’s story is my story.  The filmography depicting his heart is the autobiography of mine: everyone who knew him had long forsaken the hope of any consistency in his life, deeming him to be irretrievably lost; irreparably broken. he was the runaway to everyone… everyone except his father.
Towards the end of the film, Tristan returns… again. For good. Inexplicably. His previous homecomings had been marked by a prevailing sense of despair, as if returning to his father’s house and his father’s arms were an act of temporal refuge. But that last time something - everything – within him had changed. The peace within him is palpable.
He learned what I have learned: his father’s house was where he had belonged all along; his father’s love was the very thing he had sought and yet, at the same time, rejected. The last homecoming was different because he was different: the wounds of his past were healed. A cleansing flood had occurred washing away his pain and with it, his desire to run; the need to flee.
I, too, rounded the corner home to my Heavenly Father with a spirit unlike so many times before: my steps were not filled with despair, but with hope; not with begrudging obedience, but with longing for Him.  Something was different because I – by His grace – had been made different. Though I was – and am – and will always be – the prodigal daughter unworthy of this love and this grace, He clothed me in His righteousness and deemed me worthy (phil 3:9). He did not call me a prodigal, nor did He call me a runaway.  He didn’t call me broken, or crazy or confused.
No, He called me His own and He called me by name: Beloved.
And so, wherever you are on this journey, let Him fix your gaze on His heart – for when you see His heart for you, you will always want to run to Him and never away.