Friday, January 15, 2016

Persevering


"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses,
let us throw off everything that hinders
and the sin that so easily entangles,
and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith..."
Hebrews 12:1-2


It was Sunday in March of 2013.  One of those mornings where I had wakened in the painful awareness that my life was turning out nothing - and. I. mean. no-thing - like I'd imagined or planned... or dreamed.   I was thirty-six.  Divorced.  Twice, now - but who was counting.  Alone.  Ashamed.  Dreams that God had long-before planted in my heart often felt like just that: distant. Faraway. Dreams that needed to be let go of, allowed to die or given up on - yet, even when I'd come to those conclusions in my own mind, my heart refused.

It is usually there, lost in midst of my own self-inflicted confusion and doubt that He speaks, and reconfirms all over again what I know is true:  That He is who He says He is, He can do what He says He can do and He never changes. ever.

Yea, so it was one of those Sundays when I was desperately needing a word. Most days, as soon as I get the message guide in my hand I sneak a peek, but this particular Sunday I had not. I waited until it was time to open it. After worship. After prayer. I took a deep breathe in as I sat and unfolded the page, hoping. For hope itself.  And I read the scripture above and this point below:  

"When life isn't turning out the way you'd planned, ______________________."

The blank was looming on the page and in my heart, flooding my soul with expectation. It was my predicament spelled out word for word before me and I knew that the Lord Himself was about to fill in the words to the blank space not only with encouragement for other weary souls, but with instruction. For me and for the path in which he had placed my feet...


"Don't give up on your dreams."


The service could've ended right then and there. I almost wished it had so I could've left and returned home and sobbed the tears of relief I was fighting back in the privacy of my small apartment. Oh, how I'd wanted to give up. And quite frankly, had already given up, so many times before. I'd ran myself ragged from running in circles rather than running the the race in which He had clearly marked out for me.

There is a path set before us. Each and every one of us. It is our life story that He desires to weave through His story of redemption. The landscapes of each of our paths are as varied as each of us, but all of it He desires to use for His glory and I found myself no longer asking why or how long, but simply how - how he desires to use me, to use my story, for His purpose.

I'm humbly reminded - and thankful - that our God is far more interested in our character than our comfort; our holiness more than our happiness. I realized that morning in March that maybe, just maybe, the jagged and rocky path that I felt beneath my feet was more than the consequences of my past mistakes, but His divine design to teach me the things my heart longed to learn: patience. Perseverance. Obedience. Faith. The kind of faith that "is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see" (Hebrews 11:1).

It is the faith that gave so many in scripture the ability to persevere in the wait, the years and years (and sometimes decades) in the "in between" God speaking a promise and the fulfillment of that promise.

The precepts of the message were this: don't give up.

Even if.
  • Even if it didn't start well (Can i get an amen?)
  • Even if those closest don't support you (can i get an even louder amen?): 
  • Even if your journey is full of surprises (much louder);
  • Even if it takes a LONG TIME (loudest amen of all).

That day became a new marker on the path marked out for me. Having long since made my decision to follow Christ, that day I made a decision to persevere in the path that He had marked out just for me, knowing that faith leads to obedience that leads to our reward in Him.

What the prophet Habakkuk wrote in reference to the promise of revelation applies to the promise that God has for my life and for yours, too: "And then God answered: "Write this. Write what you see. Write it out in big block letters so that it can be read on the run. This vision-message is a witness pointing to what's coming. It aches for the coming—it can hardly wait! And it doesn't lie. If it seems slow in coming, wait. It's on its way. It will come right on time." (Habakkuk 2:3)

What's coming is your story. You know, the one God desires to use for His glory. It's coming moment by moment. Day by day. If only you persevere in faith.

persevere. per·se·vere: /ˌpɜrsəˈvɪər/ [pur-suh-veer] Show verb, -vered, -ver·ing. verb (used without object) 1. to persist in anything undertaken; maintain a purpose in spite of difficulty, obstacles, or discouragement; continue steadfastly. #persevere

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Walking, and staggering.



"My coming to faith did not start with a leap, but rather a series of staggers." 
~ Anne Lamott  

Since taking a break from social media, I've been doing crazy things.  You know, like taking afternoon walks without telling anyone about it.  I don't use an app to log my distance or pace.  Some days, I don't even listen to music.  Instead, I listen to the sound of my own steps, the sound of the dog's collar jingling, the rustling of the wind through the leaves, a bird whistling in the distance, the far off hum of a leaf blower.  

In the quiet of my life, all of these sounds have become magnified.

I used to write a lot about hearing from God in these ordinary, quiet, empty moments in life (even though - back then - the opportunity for such was much farther and fewer between).  Not audibly, of course, but in my spirit, a verse hidden in the depths of my heart rising up.  But things shifted - technology shifted - and I held in my hand the ability to look at anything, everything, and everyone else.

I wrote less and less.  Eventually, not at all.  There were times, many times, I wondered why I had ever written at all.  Distraction will do that to us, you know.  We lose our focus.  We lose our way.  We find ourselves sleepwalking through our lives, becoming numb to our callings. Occasionally, I'd think about this faith journey and this quote above from Anne Lamott and think, "Oh yes, me too - only I haven't exactly stopped staggering.  Not yet, anyway."

Staggering, limping along, and then I'd stumble across a quote like this:
"I've blogged for over a decade, piling up stories like the rock piles Joshua built on the other side of the Jordan - so we do not forget his faithfulness" ~  Lora Lynn Fanning
And I'd remember.

Oh yes.  That. 

These words, these stories, they are my stones.  So that I never forget His faithfulness.

So I learn how to look for it, all over again, there in the quiet, there in the seemingly mundane.  To listen for the whisper, to look for that which that calls His word to mind.  And I'm thinking over all of these things as I'm passing by these trees again, standing big and tall in one of the roundabouts in our neighborhood.  The ones I've passed every day since we moved here in early September.  The ones with the big, beautiful leaves that turned the perfectly picturesque golden hue in the fall.  Except for a few other evergreens scattered here and there, they stand in contrast to the barren branches all around them.

It's January and they're still stubbornly clutching their dead leaves, brittle and shriveled.

We're just like that sometimes, aren't we? 

Stubborn.  Unyielding.  Unwilling to let go of the dead or insignificant or useless things in our lives  - and in our hands - to make way for the new things, the new seasons that are to come, the things that matter most.

It isn't every day that I find myself asking God what He'd have me let go of or to show me what it is I'm clinging tightly to.  It certainly isn't every day that I can be prompted to such a question simply by looking at a couple of trees.  But there it is.  These questions, these prayers, these otherwise mundane moments that I've somehow missed in my daily life.  And isn't it the essence of these 21 days of corporate prayer and fasting - that we give up the things in which we'd filled ourselves - our very lives - up with, to empty ourselves out and invite Him in all over again; to let go of things we've clung to and so that we may cling to Him and His word.

"Let us hold tightly to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep His promise." Hebrews 10:23

The psalmist said, "My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me" (Psalm 63:8).  I want to cling to Him, I'm desperate for His right hand to hold me - because, well, I have a tendency to stagger.  Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.  Take my heart, Lord, take and seal it.  Seal it for thy courts above.  


Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers, 
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, 
and who meditates on it day and night. 

That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, 
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither- 
whatever they do prospers. 

Psalm 1:1-3



Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Rejection, rebellion and redemption.


"There is nothing to writing.  
All you do is sit down at a typewriter 
and bleed."
~ Ernest Hemingway

When we moved into our new home late last summer, in the midst of cleaning out boxes in our off-site storage, I came across this paisley gem: la journal that documented some of my life between the ages of fourteen and twenty. 

Yea, so I've always had this thing for documenting all of the things. 

This unrelenting urge to write all of the things throughout all of the years has proved to be both a blessing and a curse.  While there is so much I want to remember, there is seemingly so much more that I wish I could forget, that I wish I could rewrite altogether, that I wish wasn't a part of my story; or that wasn't my story at all.  

This particular journal recounts a painful narrative of both heartache and heartbreak, rejection and rebellion.  It is a foreshadowing of sorts, stepping stones to what would become the tumultuous path through the next decade of my life.  

Those were the most critical formative of years, pivotal years precariously positioned between the rejection I'd felt in childhood and the rebellion that would manifest itself later in my adulthood. 

I read through to the very last page that late summer morning. I closed the cover.  

And I wept. 

Before I even knew what was happening, tears were pouring hot and steady. 

I don't even know why.  I'm not even a crier.  Not really.  Unless I'm crying because I'm laughing.  Part of it could have been the season of change we were in.  Change, even good change, has never been easy for me and all of the feels about moving into a new home and leaving the old one behind was compounded by another shifting season as our daughter was beginning middle school... 

I felt so much empathy for the young girl that wrote all of those words all of those years ago.  The chaos and confusion that clouded my soul was so evident then.  I was so lost, so broken, so empty - and so very desperate.

It's hard to imagine now, that life in contrast to this one.  How long I dragged on in rebellion and yet, how long it's been since experiencing such redemption.  It never gets old.  Not in my heart, not in any of our hearts, I suppose, for those of us that were lost and then found, pulled from darkness into marvelous light.  Oh, we might grow to take it for granted, to become used to it all, but when we're reminded, we feel it all over again. And it takes our breathe away.

Earlier this week, I sat at my desk and sent out the invitations for my daughter's twelfth birthday, scheduled a consultation with her orthodontist and texted her a reminder about lacrosse practice...

If I weren't fasting from social media, I'd have probably posted something lamenting "#tweenlife", but then again, she's asked me to stop using that hash tag.

I feel the time.  It's tick-tocking loudly here inside, with each step I take alongside her on this coming of age journey she's on.  I don't feel that I'm losing time.  Not always.  Some days, it feels like it's gaining, building momentum, snowballing down hill.

Gaining speed and gaining distance, bridging this gap between what was, what is, what will be. Ushering the anxious anticipation of the silent shifting that is to come, that has already begun - changing everything. 

Like all mothers, I want her to learn from my mistakes; but more - to somehow guide her into truth and wisdom and understanding.  

With this ground shaky and shifting beneath our feet, I cling to the words - not my own - but the Word.  And I encourage her to journal, not just her own words - but the Word.  

And she does.  


I journal alongside her, you know, with words instead of doodles because her artistic genes clearly did not come from me.   

And I tell her what I know to be true:  that sometimes, you will have all these words inside of you that you might need to just get out of you somehow.  All these thoughts and feelings and utterances that flow from within and pour out.  Write them down.  Anywhere, somewhere.  

But more important than the words we create us and those we pour out, is the Word we put in us.  

Fill yourself up on it.  Hide it in your heart.  Not just so that you won't sin, but so that you will see.    

"I have hidden your word in my heart so that I might not sin against you" (Psalm 119:11). 

I cannot protect her from the world, I know that.  I cannot protect her from middle school.  But piece by piece, I'm giving her armor to face it, this battle that will be waged for her heart.  The helmet of salvation, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the belt of truth, the shoes of peace - "and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God" (Ephesians 6:17).

Someday she may read my words, those that I wrote in that ugly, worn paisley journal.  I pray that when and if she does, she'll she it through the same lens I see it through now.  The lens of His word.  The lens of grace.  The lens of truth.  

Armed with the truth of His word, rejection is a lie; rebellion is not an option.

Skip straight to redemption, my child.

"Guide me in your truth and teach me, 
for you are my God my Savior, 
and my hope is in you all day long." 
~ Psalm 25:6

Monday, January 11, 2016

Abandoned Jars


Jesus answered, "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again.
But anyone who drinks the water I give them will never be thirsty. 
In fact, the water I give them will become a spring of water in them. 
It will flow up into eternal life.”
John 4:13


I was asked recently about my favorite woman in the bible.  Not something I think about often.  Not something I can answer easily.  I could choose among many and for many different reasons, but the question was not related to virtue, but rather - to relation; how I identified with her.  What aspect of my testimony caused me to identify with her.

Still, there were so many and for so many different reasons.  I think of those who were in the lineage of Christ, some of whose lives were scandalous and yet, became a part of scandalous grace.  I'm rummaging through the list of names in my mind, but there's this one, nameless woman that keeps coming to my heart: the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4.  


When I think about my testimony, I think about encountering Jesus.  I think about what I was like, there in that moment - and how my life was altered by that encounter.   How I'd been surprised, caught off-guard even, that He would even speak to me after all I'd done, all that I'd become.      

"Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters" (Isaiah 55:1).


I had found myself in a season of life I never thought I'd be in.  I was alone, divorced, desperate and looking to everything and everyone around me to quench the parched condition of my soul.  I'd wanted to be invisible, hidden from others, hidden from God.  But He saw me, just as He saw the woman at the well.  He didn't just see her physically, but he saw her.  Her past.  Her present.  Her future.  Her thirst.  

He tells her, "Everyone who drinks this [well] water will be thirsty again. But anyone who drinks the water I give them will never be thirsty."

And she wants it, this living water, this Spirit of grace - which is the Spirit of God.  

She runs back to her village, leaving her water jar beside the well (v. 28).  

Leaving her water jar beside the well.  

Because, she'd learned, in that brief, but life-altering encounter with Jesus that nothing else would ever satisfy her soul.  

And I think about that night, the one in which I laid down my own water jar, whispering, "Yes, I want that kind of water, Jesus, the kind that flows from within."  

As Matthew Henry said, "Of whatever waters of comfort we drink, we shall thirst again. But whoever partakes of the Spirit of grace, and the comforts of the gospel, shall never want that which will abundantly satisfy his soul."    

The other part of the question was what I felt that modern women could learn from this particular woman.  And oh, the answer is as obvious as it seems.  That we may become women who thirst for righteousness; women who abandon our jars, right there at edge of the well - the well of 'whatever waters of comfort' we are currently standing; that we may encounter Jesus and return, as she did, to our villages, our inner circles, those within our reach proclaiming, "Come and see!"; that we may offer a sip, a taste of His living water, this spirit of grace that is within us.  

"Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them." - John 7:37-38 


Friday, January 8, 2016

Unquiet Disposition

The Inn at Half Mile Farm ~ Highlands, NC

"We have in our hearts what disposes us to be unquiet; 
therefore let us study to be quiet." 
- Matthew Henry


You know (or perhaps, vaguely remember) how the morning after a loud concert you'd wake up with your ears ringing loudly?  Filled wit so much residual noise that you could almost feel it, still?  The bass thumping, guitars buzzing...

Yea.  Leaving social media has been somewhat like that

Only the ringing is not in my ears, it's in my mind.  

Growing up, my parents kept the television on in our home every day from about six in the evening to ten o'clock sharp.  It was, for them, habitual I suppose.  We didn't watch it during dinner, but it was left on, a steady stream of noise coming from across the living room.  At ten o'clock, they clicked it off, locked the doors and went to bed.  This was there routine.  Every night for as long as I can remember.   I imagine even long after I'd moved out.  

One of my best friends in high school didn't have a television in their home at all.  By choice, or rather, by virtue - and I loved going to their house.  In fact, it was my favorite.  A peaceful stillness enveloped you when you walked through the door.  It was so very quiet and cozy in a way that made you want to grab a book, a blanket and a cup of tea and curl up in the window seat and read or just stare out the window into their backyard.  

I can't remember the last time I wanted to sit and stare at anything.  The ocean maybe, but how many times have I even done that lately without posting a photograph of it on Instagram?  I've been living an interrupted life; interrupted by all of the wrong things.  And I've become so accustomed to the interruptions, disruptions and distractions that I'm finding it difficult to adapt to these long periods of silence, without hearing from and engaging with others; without the incessant need to share and document my every moment, regardless of how trite or insignificant.   

There is just so much noise.  This is what I told my husband when I'd told him about my decision to take an extended break from social media.  Like the television constantly streaming in my childhood, I think I had somehow adapted and grown accustomed to the noise of social media in my life, not realizing how loud, or how constant, it had become.

Until I stopped.

I've found myself a little dizzy and disoriented, not completely unlike when you'd spin around and around and around as child and suddenly stop.  You were still, but everything around you was still moving.  Spinning.  Blurry.  

And I keep thinking about the scripture I read yesterday:  
"Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody." 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12
Matthew Henry, in his commentary on this verse, said we must study to be quiet.  And he said this at the beginning of the eighteenth century.  How much more has our unquiet disposition grown over the last three hundred or so years.  How much more then, must we study and learn and make it our ambition to quiet our lives?   He went on to say:  
"Those who are busy-bodies, meddling in others' matters, have little quiet in their own minds...They seldom mind the other exhortation, to be diligent in their own calling, to work with their own hands. Christianity does not take us from the work and duty of our particular callings, but teaches us to be diligent therein." 
These words were published in 1706, but how much more timely are they today?  And of course, how timeless and timely are Paul's words to the Thessalonians - and to us - this beckoning to quiet ourselves for the sake of pursuing our calling.  

Admittedly, I've had little quiet in my own mind - and I long for the quiet there, I long to be diligent in my own calling and to work with these hands.

Our diligence becomes lost in distraction.

The pursuit of our calling becomes lost in the noise - and we don't even realize it.  It becomes soft hum, a white noise of sorts, one that so often lulls us to sleep, and to complacency...

We don't stop to stare, to take it all in;
we don't look out of our windows, or up, or within.


"Be still and know that I am God."
Psalm 46:10

Thursday, January 7, 2016

On the Precipice

Mt. Cheaha, Fall 2014

"Let's say I felt suspended, waiting.  
Between all these parts of the world and none of them.  
We feel this way sometimes in adolescence, too, surely most of us can call it up.  
But then there's the burning impatience for the next thing to take shape, 
for whatever it is we are about to become and be to announce itself.  
This was different: there was, I suppose, no next thing."  
~ Sue Miller, While I Was Gone


I'm turning forty this year.  I feel the weight of it looming, and have for some time, as if it's ushering forth some ambiguous significance.  Or sometimes, perhaps even scarier, as if its not ushering anything at all.  I wouldn't have been able to identify this sensation, not with words, anyway - until I read the excerpt above in a book recently (you know, because I've been reading actual books since I'm not on social media around the clock anymore).

Those words, they could've been my own.  If only I'd had the ability to label what I felt was undefinable.

As I creep closer and closer to midlife [formally defined as the period of life between 45-55], I'm becoming more and more aware of how little forethought is given to this particular season in life.  How, in the culture in which I was raised anyway, we give much thought to everything up until this point.  We play house as children, concocting dreams about: growing up, going to college, having a career, falling in love, getting married, buying a house, having a family.  Not necessarily in that order, but we - many of us - we do those things.

And then we're still.  Settled.

And yet, longing for any unsettledness.  Praying to God to simply, "unsettle me".

Asking God, "what now".  What next.

It's not enough.  It's never enough.  This insatiable craving for more, even when we have it all, we want more, bigger, better, nicer - homes, furniture, clothes, cars ... Everything.  More.  Always.  

We see it all of the time in our culture. We even have a name for it, we call it a "midlife crisis".  Men leave their wives, women leave their lives, all for this pseudo pursuit of something more, some undefinable, unattainable more.   

Could it be that we are not content with material comfort because God never intended for us to live in contented spiritual complacency?

That its this longing for unsettling that keeps us moving forward; the diving in to the serious questions of our lives and of our faith that keeps us growing.  We're contented to splash around in the kiddie pool when we're invited to swim in ocean's deep of His grace. "We are far too easily pleased", as C.S. Lewis once said, "like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.
"They say, ‘Peace.’ But there isn’t any peace. They are like people who build a weak wall. They try to cover up the weakness by painting the wall white.  Tell those who do this that their wall is going to fall. Heavy rains will come. I will send hailstones crashing down. Powerful winds will blow.  The wall will fall down. Then people will ask them, ‘Now where is the paint you covered it with?’" - Ezekiel 13:10
In the context of this scripture "they" are the false prophets of Ezekiel's day, but in the context of our current contemporary Christian culture, aren't they also the world?  Isn't it the world, in general, that beckons to us as false prophets do, with empty promises of prosperity, of chasing after these things, these worldly ambitions.  On our screens and devices, we're marketed and sold lie after lie after lie to woo us onto the path of pursuing.  Pursuing what?  Security.  Happiness.  Contentment.  Peace.

They say to us, "Peace".  But there isn't any peace.

And why?

Because there is only one source of peace.


Jesus told His disciples, and us and the world in the gospel of John, “Peace I leave with you.  My peace I give you to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.”

And how, then, does the world give?  With whitewashed walls we construct all around our whitewashed lives.

That verse in Ezekiel was my life.  I lived it.  It's how I spent most of my twenties, chasing the world, throwing up weak walls here and there.  It was a lovely facade until the heavy rains fell, and those hailstones came crashing down and onlookers could've only wondered what had become of that whitewash.
  
And here I sit, on the precipice of forty, in the midst of a reconstructed life, a reconstructed marriage. Part of me is still trying to adapt to the stillness following so many years of chaos; and part of me is yearning for an un-stillness of a different kind.   We are still settling in to a new home and I'm quietly praying for more of an unsettling in my heart.  

And He's always calling.  If only we will quiet our lives enough to hear Him.  And I don't mean our "quiet time" - no, not some paltry twenty or thirty minute increments of devotion that I'd grown accustomed to having in the mornings or sometimes, in the evenings as I was falling asleep - but a quiet life.  

A quiet life.  Not really something I ever considered my calling.  There isn't much of anything that's quiet about me.  But maybe this is the quiet that Paul was talking about in his letter to the Thessalonians:  
"Brothers and sisters, we are asking you to love one another more and more. And do everything you can to live a quiet life. You should mind your own business. And work with your hands, just as we told you to" (1 Thess 4:10-11). 
I've read this verse before, certainly.  Skimmed it, perhaps.  Ignored it altogether.  But today, it's pressing in, pressing onto me.  Heavy.  This is it, maybe.  The verse for this year.  The prescription for the precipice and that there, just there over the edge of it, is His peace.

And why?  Because it's there here in the quiet places of life, we can sense His calling - out of the shallow end of the pool and into the deep; to go deeper; to have our faith made stronger...  

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my savior
~ Hillsong, Oceans Deep lyrics 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

those who hope

"O Lord, you alone are my hope. 
I've trusted you, O Lord, from childhood."
Psalm 71:5

These are the corridors in which our faith must put its proverbial rubber to the road.   

I visited a friend this morning, just prior to her surgery to remove a large mass from her lung.  It would seem trite to write about anything else; and yet, I sometimes cannot shake the sense that it feels trite to write at all.  

I keep thinking about something Anne Lamott once said, "Even if we all sing the same song, there would still be six billion renditions".  These repeated renditions.  But we keep singing our songs, writing our words.  Per King Solomon, there is nothing new under the sun - but we still each have our own experiences, our own stories, our faith intertwined in their midst.  We keep on singing.  We keep on writing.          

I sit at my friend's bedside and we chat about our kids, our husbands, about her "last supper" before the pre-op fasting had began. Exactly as I would've chosen: chips and salsa and queso, steak fajitas from one of our favorite Mexican restaurants.

We talked about our faith some, just this trusting that God's "got this".  We talked about the fear, the unknowing, the lack of control one feels when going under anesthesia.  "I don't like the feeling of not being in control," she confesses. 

None of us do.  

But we all feel it to some degree, don't we?  This ambiguous sense of authoritative, autonomous self-control.  We feel that we are somehow in charge of ourselves, our lives, our families.  We're calling all the shots, rolling along.  Until we're not.  Until we're swiftly humbled and brought to our knees by both the reality and fragility of life.  

I take her hand and we pray.  We pray for the peace that transcends understanding.  We pray for the comfort of the holy spirit to be all-encompassing, palpable there in that room; there in her heart.  And we pray for His perfect love to cast out all fear, according to His word.  

I walk the long, winding corridors back out.  Thinking of my friend and her trusting.  Her surrendering.  Because isn't that what trust is, after all?  This constant surrendering of our lives, of our own control, to Him and to His will?  Where we can say, "Lord, have your way" even when it seems the hardest, scariest thing of all.

I walk along an empty corridor along the way, the doors are opened, revealing the empty rooms and shifting shadows from the windows.  They're there.  If only we'd look for them.  These lessons.  This learning - to trust, to surrender, again and again and again.  


These lessons, hidden behind the half-opened doorways along our path.  Even in the empty places, if we'll only stop and pause and look long enough, He gives us eyes to see them. 

I think about my own faith journey.  The well-lit pathways and the darkened corners, His faithfulness through it all.  Those years I spent as a Pharisee, a whitewashed tomb.  Empty on the inside.  

I'm feel the pangs of empathy stinging my heart for my friend, along with the pangs of conviction stinging my heart for my sin, the lack of surrender in my own life lately.  For putting my hope in other things - even good things - but the things of this world.  

I was reminded today that my hope is in the Lord.  

I have a canvas hanging over my desk at home.  Given to me by the same friend I visited today.  It has a verse on it; the same one I wrote inside of her card today; the same one I've been praying over her today; the same one the Lord reminded me of all over again today... 

"but those who hope in the Lord
    will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary,
    they will walk and not be faint."
Isaiah 40:31


 I've read this verse many times, but I didn't realize until today that some translations have "trust" in the place of hope...

- and oh, aren't they one in the same.  

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Paralyzed



I've spent the better part of the last couple of hours alternating between staring at a blank screen, perusing the eighty-eight unfinished blogs in my drafts folders and reading back through old posts, trying to figure out how I managed to churn out seventy-six posts back in 2008 when I was a working single mama of two small children and a full-time college student; yet, here I am today, seven years later, alone in an empty house in the middle of the day staring at a blank screen.

Utterly paralyzed by all of this nothingness.  

All of that silence I talked about yesterday is still here.  Still taunting me.  Naively, having given up all social media, I expected my thoughts would naturally shift towards deeper spiritual matters, that I would instantaneously be more sensitive to the Spirit, more aware of His presence - and instead,
so far anyway, the only thing I am more aware of than ever is how utterly ridiculous I am.  That, and how much I talk to myself.  Full on conversations: 

Me:  Well, you're a photographer by nature, so it makes sense that your Instagram feed has a lot of photos.
Also Me:  It's almost five thousand.
Me:  But you love to document those moments so you don't forget them, you're freezing time and memories and this is important stuff.
Also Me:  It's hard for me to even drink this cup of coffee without Instagramming it.  I must remember to tell everyone about this cup of coffee.
Me:  (silence)

And there it is.  The silence.  And all these "confessions of a social media addict" that it's ushering in with it. 

I start to think this whole thing through, slowly, with trepidation, because I don't yet know what the implications of thinking such things through will be.  

I keep thinking about one of David Platt's messages in which he asks the congregation point blank: "What is God asking you to give up?".  He didn't mean "you" as a congregation, but you as an individual.  It's a question I think we may not ask ourselves enough, for fear of His answer.  For it may be the very things we love, the things we justify so easily, the things we find fun and harmless.

Three days ago, I gave up social media simply as a way to make more time and more room for Him. 

And now I find myself surround by all of these scales... that have fallen from my eyes.

We all lament the passing of time, no one more than me, and in a somewhat desperate attempt to capture it all, it turns out - ironically - that I've wasted so much of it.  Doing what?  Taking and sharing photos of  things like Starbucks coffee cups with my name scribbled on them.  Every time I sit down at a delicious meal, I feel the nagging to photograph it.  Every time I'm on a date with my husband, it necessitates a photograph or at least a check-in. 

What if capturing all of the mundane we've made the sacred somehow less?  And worse, what of the moments missed altogether?   And of those wasted altogether?  

What if we've traded moments of eternal significance for moments of fleeting insignificance?  

These are the questions plaguing and paralyzing my heart.  

One of those eighty-eight drafts in my folder was simply titled, "Paralyzed".  I clicked it open, hoping for a good start - a paragraph or two as a prompt.  Nothing.  I had only typed "Luke 5:16-27".  It's the story of Jesus healing a paralyzed man, who had been brought Him by his friends.  Carrying the man on  stretcher of sorts, when they couldn't find a way into the house through the crowd, they climbed onto the roof, removed some tiles and lowered their friend down through the opening, right at the feet of Jesus.  He forgave the man's sins and simply said, "Get up, roll up your mat and go home."

And I'm reminded of our Savior, who forgives our sin and who heals our paralysis, sometimes in our bodies, sometimes in our hearts.  

"Turn my eyes from worthless things and give me life through your word." - Psalm 119:37

Monday, January 4, 2016

An Uncluttered Heart



Mama always said that "cleanliness is next to Godliness". Of course I was an adult before I realized that quote had no actual scriptural basis and try as she might, it didn't really help motivate me to clean my room back then, either.

It was about this time last year that I began reading a brilliant blog by Joshua Becker that struck a chord within me. He talked about the pursuit of peace in the middle of a cluttered and busy middle-class life. He talked about how getting rid of the excess in our lives allows for the important things to become magnified and the less important, minimized ... through this idea that bears the name of his blog: "Becoming Minimalist".

And it all made sense. How often we forgo the pursuit of peace for the pursuit of things, sometimes even good things.

All the while missing out on the best things.

Our pastor said yesterday, "The opportunities before you may be all good; but they may not be all God."

Sometimes, given the path I've traveled, I feel as though I've missed too much already, wasted too many years, lost too many precious moments.

They say divorce is like a thousand little good-byes... and I felt each and every one of them over the course of those five years. Every time the kids left to go to their dad's. Every morning I dropped them off at preschool because I had to go to work. It's all those unnecessary good-byes - the thousands of them collectively - that leave the scars.

Having been given a second chance at this life, this marriage, this family - to quote the quintessential 80s power ballad, "I don't wanna miss a thing."

And so, I began last year resolute to live a life more aware, deciding that [as our pastor once said] "I will not let anything that will ultimately mean nothing keep me from that which will eventually mean everything" (Pastor Chris Hodges).

I spent months prior to our move cleaning and organizing, decluttering and donating. I left no stone unturned clearing out the cluttered recesses of the closets, garage, attic, off site storage,
and inadvertently - my heart.

It's an unexpected gift amidst the clearing of the chaos, the peace that settles in its place.

And then we moved.  Right at the end of summer.  School started and life happened and the holidays began, bringing with them all the trimmings of overindulgence in nearly every facet of life.  Too much of everything.

Christmas comes and goes and we're left with lawn and leaf size bags of its remnants:  empty shipping boxes, scraps of wrapping paper, and trunk loads of new items to put away, to find a place for.

Naively, I somehow believed moving into a larger home would allow us to become even more organized.  As it turns out, I only doubled the amount of space I have to hoard and misplace items.

And so, the New Year comes and we begin again.

But this year, I've realized that before I declutter my home all over again, I must begin by decluttering  my heart.

I've been off the social media sauce for about thirty-six hours and I don't even know who I am anymore.  Seriously.  What is life.  I've reached for my phone dozens of time, unlocked the screen and stared at the icons, while silently asking myself what. are. you. even. doing?  

There's nothing there.  No window to that virtual world; no notifications that someone has tagged me in another taco meme; no twitter feed of ramblings in 140 characters or less...

Just silence.

And it's strange.

And it's deafening.

And then a whisper:

"In quietness and trust is your strength" (Isaiah 30:15).  


Quietness.  I realize that I don't even know what this is anymore.

The first verse I ever felt the Lord speaking to me all those years ago was this:  "Be still and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10).

I've forgotten how to be still and I've certainly forgotten not only how to be quiet - if I ever really knew - but also, how to allow the quiet.

My heart, my mind, my life has been all cluttered up with noise and yet, I've still found myself empty.  How could that be?  Like those lawn and leaf size garbage bags lining our garage, filled with fragments.  They're full - but empty of anything of value.  Full of everything that doesn't matter.    

And so, I decide and resolve all over again not to "let anything that will ultimately mean nothing keep me from that which will eventually mean everything".  

Instead of New Year's resolutions, I'm bent towards New Year's repentance - of all the excess, and of all the excess noise.

I surrender my heart all over again, the one filled with fragmented thoughts and outside noise, and ask the Lord to unclutter it all; to empty me out and clean me up and fill me afresh.

"In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength."  Isaiah 30:15



Sunday, January 3, 2016

21 Days of Prayer and Fasting... and writing.



"The fear that you'll never write again is going to hit you 
when you feel not only lost and unable to find a few little breadcrumbs 
that would identify the path you were on 
but also when you're at your lowest ebb of energy and faith."  
~ Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird 


The paragraph above would adequately describe the last year or so of my life - when it comes to writing, anyway.  She goes on to describe this all-too-familiar sensing that everything you have to say feels commonplace, cliched, mundane... 

Those words were published in 1994, long before the advent of bloggers, online content, social media.  That pervasive sense of meaningless has increased infinitely amongst the never-ending stream of content, where every thought and opinion is publicly documented and shared online.  Everything feels noisy and chaotic and you find yourself not wanting to take part in the chaos, not wanting to struggle to have your voice heard.  

And then I'm reminded that writing - my writing - was never/has never been about having my voice heard.  

It has always been about hearing His voice.

It has always been about the pause.   The silence.  The moments of solitude, like those this morning, when I dusted off the computer screen and my desk and the pages of my blog.  When I sit in silence with His word and a blank screen.  I have friends that commune with the Lord in their art, some in singing, some in painting, some in beautiful artistic journaling, some with instruments and this morning, as I sat silently asking for the reminder of why I did this thing that had began to feel mundane, I was reminded: this is my instrument of praise - and of communion.    

I have a few friends who have continually encouraged me to write and I've summed up all my reasons for not writing as having "writer's block", which sounds both ambiguous and vague and as though I have actually been trying to string words together and for whatever reason, cannot.  And then I reread this line last night: 

"The word block suggests you are constipated or stuck, when the truth is that you're empty."

Empty.

emp·ty

The syllables felt heavy as I read them.  In my mind.  In my heart.  Pressing down. 

I am empty.

"Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks" (Matthew 12:34) - and I write, but my overflow - it would seem - has all dried up; a barren wasteland.  

The words of David, in the wilderness of Judah, resonate in my spirit:  "O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water" (Psalm 63:1).  

Ann Voskamp once said that "a jar of fresh water can't spill filthy water".  Selah.  

And an empty jar can't spill anything at all.  

Our church begins every year with 21 days of prayer and fasting.  I knew, going into this season, that in addition to the prayer and fasting, I would be taking an extended break from social media.  Like, all of it.  It has become such second nature and while I love so many aspects of it, I'm becoming more and more aware of the noise it creates.  I find myself scrolling through the various streams of feed whenever I'm bored, or sleepless, or riding in a car, or in line at the store.  As a photographer, I've pretty much always been obsessed with documenting moments, but even I have to call into question whether or not I really need to take a photograph of everything.  

Example:  I woke up this morning and the light was shifting through the blinds, peeking through a curtain onto the ceiling.  It was a beautiful hue of gold and pink.  Because our house is on a hill, every now and then we get to experience a breathtaking sunrise view.  Maybe this was one.  And my first inclination was not to peek and soak it in.  It was to grab my phone so I could take a picture of it.  As if my Instagram feed could really use another photograph of the rising sun.  

There's a lot of talk in our culture about creating this curated life via our social media and while I think that has some truth to it for some people, I think there are a lot of people who, like me, simply enjoy a documented life.  For those of us who were kids in the 70s and 80s, we often lament the fact that there are approximately twenty-five photographs of our childhood, most of which are Polaroids that are cracked and faded and impossible to reproduce.  And so, we overcompensate, by taking twenty-five-thousand of our own children, who will have a different burden altogether of sifting through our digital archives someday.  

It seems a force too strong to try to "balance" and so we just give in to the incessant scrolling and posting and sharing and then we find it scary, if not impossible, to just. stop.  

We find that our lives are full of statuses and tweets and instagrams and memes; and it all seems so harmless, so fun, so justified...

Until we realize that we're empty.

And astray.

Like sheep.  Just like Isaiah said.  And you know why he used sheep as an analogy?  Because sheep  are dumb.  Sheep, like us, are prone to wander and utterly dependent on the shepherd.  

"I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me" (John 10:14) - Jesus.


The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures, 
He leads me beside still waters, 
He refreshes my soul, 
He guides me along the right paths.
Psalm 23:1-3

During these 21 days of prayer and fasting [and writing], this is my prayer.  That the Lord will remind me that there is nothing I lack, that I will learn all over again how to be still - and lie down in green pastures without feeling the incessant nudge to Instagram it - that I will walk along still waters and soak it in without "checking in - and that my soul would be refreshed, my jar would be refilled, and that my feet would be guided back along this Narrow Path Home.