Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Withered blooms & brittle branches

I have these petunias in hanging baskets in the front yard.  I've had them about six weeks and they're not dead yet. 
This is somewhat of a miracle, or at least - a measure of progress.  One of the two.   
Admittedly, I'm not very good at taking care of things.  I've often joked that everything I touch turns to broken and I'm often reminded of the fact that my being responsible for the lives of two little human beings is the most utterly ridiculous and humbling prospect.  

But thankfully, God who chooses and uses the foolish and the weak and for that, I am grateful. 
And so, I am learning.  Always.  How to care for that which He has entrusted me with; how to rely on His wisdom and His strength. 
In everything from parenting, to pruning petunias, I am learning. 
Every few days, I take the petunias down and sit with them in the front yard.  I delicately pick and prune each branch, removing the withered blooms, the broken and brittle branches. 
I've learned that if I let too much time go by, this task can become overwhelming - the stems become tangled and messy, so intertwined with the withered and dying stems...
They require this constant, daily pruning process to keep growing, to keep blooming...
And the same is true of our hearts.
Because if we aren't careful, if we aren't willing to allow ourselves and our hearts to be picked and prodded and pruned,

Those remnants of what was can clutter our hearts and slowly begin to choke out what is - and what is to be.
And this pruning - His holy and perfect pruning - comes through abiding. 
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.
He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.
You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.  Abide in me, as I also abide in you.  
No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must abide in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you abide in me." ~ Jesus (John 15)
After the pruning the petunias, I water their soil and I mist their blooms.  I hang them back up and in the fullness of the sun and they spring back to life with renewed fervor.  The blooms multiply and become more abundant and beautiful than ever...
And the same is true of us. 
"I have come that you might have life and have it to the full."  Jesus (John 10:10)

Friday, June 13, 2014

Learning and Relearning His Heart

"It is in my failures that I truly learn the heart of God." ~ Spira Steyn
My sweet friend posted these words this morning and they resonated deep within my heart.  "This is why God made us friends," I tell her, "To share in this constant learning and relearning."

As I'm waking up from a period of spiritual slumber, I'm also learning or rather, relearning, how to live life at a slower, less distracted pace.  I'm learning to take in the moments again - and the lessons that come with them.  I'm reminded of what it's like to live a life "led by the Spirit" and in tune with the Spirit, so that I am aware of the promptings, the convinctions, the lessons... 
Yesterday, my daughter had a momentary lapse in good judgment.  She made an impulsive decision out of emotion and reacted poorly to a situation online.  My kids are eight and ten now, so lapses in judgment are a daily occurrence - they often act and react on emotional impulse, without thinking through the potential outcome or circumstances... or consequences
Some days, I'm not much different - despite the thirty years of life experience I have on them.  
So, for my daughter, there were consequences and technology restrictions and a heart-to-heart talk.  I shared with her how important it is that we guard our mouths - and our hearts - and how this is an impossible task in our own flesh, apart from Christ in us.  That our every failure in this realm is to reveal to us how very much we need His grace. 
If there's anything I want to teach them, it's to find the lesson in every failure and to learn what I've had to relearn more times that I can count now...  
Our flesh is no match for the wickedness of our hearts. 
Our hearts, our instincts, our gut reactions - will lead us astray every time.  Time and time again.  Jeremiah said it best when he said, "The heart is deceitful and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9).  In a world that will attempt to convince them to follow their hearts, God's word implies that our hearts are bent towards destruction - both our own and those we leave wounded in our paths. 

Our only hope for a cured heart is a surrendered heart.
With those big brown tear-filled eyes, she looked up at me and whispered, "I'm scared." 
Even though the mistake had been revealed.  Even though the consequences had been discussed. 
What was there left to fear but her father's reaction?
Oh, isn't that just like us me?
"I know how it feels," I tell her. If there's anything I know, it's the familiar ache of failure, of having disappointed yourself - and your Father - and of fearing His reaction or worst, His rejection.  "You and me, kid, we're in this life thing together - you're learning and your mama is relearning. 
All of this life is a constant learning and relearning of God's heart for us. 

My heart tightened inside of my chest when I thought of all the times in the midst of my failures I'd ran from the Lord in fear instead of to Him for comfort.  All of the times - all through this life - that I never understood the depth of His love for us - or His heart for me.  His perfect love that casts out all fear (1 JN 4:18).

And I feel it afresh, how this child of mine is being both molded and mended by her relationship with her daddy.  How his love - and his reaction to her failures - will ultimately shape her view of her Heavenly Father. 
How holy compassion in the midst of consequences is crucial.  How the truth is crucial: 
Oh daughter, your Father doesn't expect you to be perfect.  He doesn't even desire your perfection, He just wants your heart.  His word tells us that a broken and contrite spirit, He will not despise.  When we make mistakes and poor choices, there are always, always consequences that we must endure - but it's for our good and never our harm.  So that we may grow and learn, we must constantly discover and rediscover how desperate we really are for grace.  Whether we are seven or thirty-seven or seventy-seven, in our flesh, we are broken and bent towards sin, but your Father's love for you is steadfast and faithful and there is nothing on this earth that could ever change that.  No matter what mistakes you have made or bad choices chosen, no matter what you have done or who you have been, your Father loves you will an unconditional love.  It grieves his heart when you sin, but He longs to be gracious towards you, for you are His beloved and you will always be.  When you are the most discouraged, disappointed and disheartened with yourself - that is the time to run to him, never from Him - and He will hold you in His arms and comfort you.  It is there we learn to abide.  It is there, you will find that His forgiveness is intertwined with His love for you and His heart for you - and it knows no limits.  It knows no end.  

I reassure my daughter that this is her Daddy's heart for her. 

And that this is God's heart for us.
The times that you're healing
And when your heart breaks
The times that you feel like you've fallen from grace

The times you're hurting
The times that you heal
The times you go hungry and are tempted to steal

In times of confusion
In chaos and pain
I'm there in your sorrow under the weight of your shame

I'm there through your heart-ache
I'm there in the storm
My love I will keep you by my power alone

I don't care where you've fallen or where you have been
I'll never forsake you
My love never ends


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Clearing sky and a clearing heart

God has made a home in the heavens for the sun...It rises at one end of the heavens and follows its course to the other end.
Nothing can hide from its heat.
Psalm 19
It's been rainy for days now.  
Literally and somewhat figuratively.  

I sent a friend of mine a text this morning asking her, "Will we ever see the sun again?"

Sometimes you just need someone to tell you will. 
And so, when the last of today's storms passed over, I took a long walk, circling the sidewalks of the neighborhood.  It was still raining lightly and as the sky began to clear, it morphed into this paradox of a clearing storm and setting sun.  
Towards the west, the shifting rays through the mist created a rainbow, bright and vivid agains the pale gray sky - but to the East, was the view above: a fleeting glimpse of glorious light in between the darkness of the storm that had just passed and the darkness of the night that was still to come.     
And that's really a glimpse of redemption, isn't it?  This scandalous grace that rescues us, painted across the sky. 
The skies proclaim the work of His hands both in creation and in us.  He clears the skies - and our hearts - revealing His glory, even if only for a moment. 
It's long enough to remind us that the storms, both literal and figurative, do pass and though veiled by darkness momentarily, the sun is still there - shining into our darkness - even when we can't see it or feel it.
And so, we can embrace the darkness of night without fear,  knowing we will see the sun again - for by His grace, we can walk in the light of His presence (Psalm 89:15).
The heavens proclaim the glory of God.
The skies display his craftsmanship.
 Day after day they continue to speak;
night after night they make him known.
They speak without a sound or word;
their voice is never heard.
Yet their message has gone throughout the earth,
and their words to all the world.
Psalm 19

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Blurred vision and bruised hearts

"My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness."
So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses,
so that the power of Christ can work through me.
2 Corinthians 12:9

So there's this phenomenon in psychology known as "highway hypnosis". Most of us have experienced this: lost in thought along our daily travel, we find ourselves home - completely unaware of how, exactly, we got there. Oh, we know we drove ourselves, but if we try, we can remember very little of the drive itself, as if we'd traveled through a time warp, semiconscious.
Yea, traveling through this life's like that sometimes. . . 
I was talking to an old friend over dinner recently, one who has known me since the hay-days of our very early twenties.   She & I often laugh– and cringe – at old memories that we share, but the conversation always leads to where we are now, deep into our thirties.
Redeemed. Restored. Blessed.

Not perfect by any means, which is exactly what makes this gospel of grace so outright scandalous that it encites raucous laughter.  It's ridiculous, really. 

The the truth is, no one could deserve this life, this grace less than us - less than me.
We talked about my writing and how much I’ve written and yet, how much I haven’t lately, but how I’m trying –and yet, failing – and grasping for how to begin again, wondering where to start.

"Write right where you are," she said.  Which is what I've always done.  Or did, rather. 
Truth is, it was easier to write from deep within despair, I told her. I wrote through the struggle, in the midst of the storms. I wrote through my seasons of doubt, discouragement, chaos and confusion. I wrote through my darkest moments.
I wrote out of desperation when it was all I knew to do, when it was all that I could do.  I wrote because there was so much going on inside of me, I had to have a way to transfer some of it out. 
Then my life shifted. God did the unthinkable, this seemingly impossible thing.  He moved the pieces of my shattered life together again in spite of me and my repeated failings and flailing. In spite of all I had done and who I had been and who I still am - He proved Himself faithful over and over and over again. 
And so, I settled and resettled into this new/old life with my family and my home where we all live under this one roof instead of divided between two.  I took it all in and I took a long rest. 
Rest like how I imagine the prodigal son must have rested after returning home, after the celebration had ended.
But in some ways, the rest and the quiet and the peacefulness of it all lulled me into this spiritual comfort and complacency.  I was going through the motions of religious routine while my relationship with the Lord languished.  Amidst the safety and security and peace, a sense of self-sufficiency emerged.  The lack of struggle subtly diminished my dependence on Him, my desperation for His word and His presence. 
"Without the lens of His word, [my] world warps." ~ Ann Voskamp
And I'm reminded of this all over again - this warping, this slow bending  of the corners in our minds.  Our vision becomes blurred, our perspective altered. 
And after all, no one can walk straight with warped vision. 
The path beneath our feet begins to feel unsteady, but we realize we are the ones unsteady - with these unsteady eyes, this unsteady heart, this utter lack of desperation...
"And it’s the lack of a sense of desperation for God that is so deadly. If we don’t feel desperate for God, we don’t tend to cry out to him. Love for this present world sets in subtly, like a spiritual leprosy, damaging spiritual nerve endings so that we don’t feel the erosion and decay happening until it’s too late." - John Piper
And we fall.  Hard.

This blurred vision that leads to skinned knees and bruised hearts - we find ourselves where we began - face down in the dirt.  Desperate. 
Disheveled, disheartened and discouraged by the realization of how far we have not come - and frightened by how fast we can stumble and fall. 
And just like that, 
I am desperate all over again.  Desperate for daily dependance and learning over and over and over again that I cannot walk through this life, not through a single day, without His word guiding and guarding my steps - and my heart. 
You're Not
When I'm
Weary and exhausted
You're not.
When I'm
Confused and discouraged
You're not.
When I'm
Fickle and unfaithful
You're not.
When I'm
Doubtful and disheartened
You're not.
When I'm
Fearful and anxious
You're not.
When I'm
Short-sighted and fearful
You're not.
When I'm
Tired and about to quit
You're not.
When I'm
Lacking in hope and love
You're not.
When I'm
Shocked and surprised
You're not.
When I'm
Angrily withholding grace
You're not.
When I'm
Unfaithful to what I've promised
You're not.
When I'm
Selfish and disloyal
You're not.
Oh, Lord of
Faithfulness and grace
I am so thankful
In those moments
When I'm
Losing my way
You're not.

~ Paul David Tripp

Monday, June 2, 2014

sweet summertime and moments not missed

late morning time snuggles 6.2.14

"A whole life can be lost 
in minutes wasted, 
small moments missed."

There's a lot being said in the media regarding our generation's obsession with documenting life moments, and to be honest - I don't pay much attention to any of it.  

The truth is: photographers at heart have been doing this for decades.  We live to capture the moment, to find beauty and meaning in the ordinary and for some of us, it happens when we view life through our lenses.  It falls on us afresh when we look back at the image we've captured.  

There is something magical and mysterious about capturing a moment and holding it close, as if to warp and bend time into a pause. 

In this fast and fleeting life, I'm learning to slow down.  It's happening in bits and pieces, layers along the way. 

Leaving my job behind is proving to be somewhat of a paradox when it comes to time.  I know it will all shift and settle as more time goes by, but I can't help but think of the moments missed over the years and at the same time, revel in these new moments created; these moments that would've been missed that are now the moments I'm living in… 

The moments not missed. 

The moments I treasure far more now than I might have ever otherwise.  You know, had the course of my life ran more smoothly, these are the moments I might have taken for granted.  This life is one I might have taken for granted.  

And I'm learning that it's true what they say: that those hard times make the good times sweeter.  Those fiery flames of adversity, they really are a refining fire.  

Truly, there is such a thing as beauty from ashes.  

I've lived it and I'm living it still and I'm reminded of it daily.  I learned so much the hard way and these days, I'm constantly learning that I still have so much to learn… 

It's late-morning as I'm writing this.  That moment of late morning snuggles has passed.  That kid is playing quietly in the living room and truth be told, I haven't even seen the other one yet.  She's still sound asleep in her room. The only sounds are the faint hum of a lawn mower in the distance and the incessant ticking, not of a clock, but of these Dollar Tree hula girls the kids placed on the window sill; shaking in perfect unison.   

I take them all in.  These sights and sounds.  

And I'm thankful for these quiet moments at home.  

I'm learning to be thankful for even the missed moments, the broken places along the path that led to home; this place where my heart has always been - always longed to be. 

I'm thankful for this sweet summertime;   

and these moments not missed.  

"Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus." - 1 Thess 5:16-18