Finding God

Simply leaving this with you to ponder today:

Nothing is more practical than

finding God, than

falling in Love

in a quite absolute, final way.

What you are in love with,

what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.

It will decide

what will get you out of bed in the morning,

what you do with your evenings,

how you spend your weekends,

what you read, whom you know,

what breaks your heart,

and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.

Fall in Love, stay in love,

and it will decide everything.

Attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ (1907-1991)

From Finding God in All Things: A Marquette Prayer Book © 2009 Marquette University Press.

Grasping my Father’s Hand.

Driving into town this morning I was still foggy from a late night of fretting over an issue that continually rears its ugly head in my life.

I’m sure you have none of those, right?

It’s a thirty minute drive, which is usually the perfect length for a podcast.  I had started listening to Sally Clarkson’s latest as I was getting dressed so I finished it about halfway into town. As is so typical of God, it was exactly what I needed to hear this morning. (Go to sallyclarkson.com/blog.  It’s episode #172.  You are welcome.)  Still, though, the fog persisted in my mind.  Thoughts swirled about and I fought to choose joy.  I just wasn’t feeling it.  .

Have you ever been in that place?  Knowing what you should do yet not finding the gumption to get up (physically, mentally, or spiritually) and do it?

I still had about fifteen minutes of driving to go so I switched from my podcast app to the radio.  On one of the local Christian stations a song was just beginning and my first impulse was to move on to the next channel.  I wasn’t in the mood for worship.

I bet you can guess what came next.

It was like a Holy Hand held mine to the steering wheel.  Nope.  Stay right here.  Listen.  Worship Me.

Suddenly the air in my car was filled with words that refused to be ignored, even in my cynical state…

Here I am, God
Arms wide open
Pouring out my life
Gracefully broken


Gracefully Broken by
Matt Redman, Tasha Cobbs Leonard

I forced my thoughts to slow, to focus on these lyrics that I have heard and sung many times.  Words I believe…or do I?

Am I living what I sing?  Am I gracefully broken?  To be honest, the lyrics to my life could read more like this…

Here I am, God, arms pried open.  Pouring out my life, forcefully broken.

Ouch.

As much as I want to believe I am a mature believer, the truth is I am often like a toddler, throwing a kicking, screaming fit on the kitchen floor.  For a season I am fine, walking and trusting and holding God’s hand along the way until I come across an obstacle that stubbornly refuses to budge.  “This is not what I thought,” I complain.  “This isn’t what you promised.”  I wriggle my hand free of His and try to push the obstacle out of the way.  I fight and complain and plop down in a huff, sweat beading on my brow and fingers bleeding.

All the while my Father has worked quietly around me, clearing a path, whacking away thorns and brush to allow me to pass safely around the obstacle.  As I have whined and cried He has stayed faithfully steadfast, knowing at some point I will exhaust myself and take His hand once again.

But you know what He never does?  He never forces me.  He doesn’t pry my arms apart. That’s not worship and it is certainly not relationship.  He waits.  He clears the path and stands there with his hand extended.

Are you done?  His gentle words hold a fatherly reprimand.  Are you going to stop the fit now and come with me?  Come on, let’s go.

I reach up from my position on the cold floor and grasp the warmth of His hand.  His strength pulls me to my feet, to His side, and He leads me around the obstacle.

To the other side.

And I am reminded, once again, that though the obstacle may not move, God does.

Sometimes God moves mountains.  Sometimes He moves me.

Reflections of a Broken Rainbow

Dark rain clouds lingered on the horizon, cradled by the distant green hills.  As the sky cleared and long evening shadows reappeared a sliver of color glowed bright against the retreating darkness.  I watched, mesmerized as a matching sliver appeared opposite the original and the two began to slowly reach for one another across the clouds.  Carefully they crawled across the sky, finally meeting in the center and standing proudly as one beautiful reminder of God’s never-failing promise.

My husband and I continued our late-afternoon walk, coming upon a wooden bridge spanning a narrow lake.  In the quiet stillness of the water there it was, the rainbow below mirroring the beauty above.

Earth reflecting Heaven.

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And it was my birthday.

God was showing off just for me, I was convinced.  I felt loved and I felt seen.

Isn’t that the best gift of all?

As I pondered His gift to me, this beautiful reflection, I thought back over the years. (46 of them!)  Like Much-Afraid in the book, Hinds Feet on High Places by Hannah Hurnard, I pulled the stones of remembrance out of my pocket and reminded myself of who my God is and how far I have come.

I’m 46 now.  Not old, but certainly not young.  With age comes clarity…the ability to look back on life through the lens of experience.  Mistakes and failures more often find context and, if we are wise, help us walk through current struggles with increased faith in the One who has brought us this far.

The truth is, sometimes all we can see is the storm.  Sometimes we can barely make out the colors of a broken rainbow.  We reach and grasp but hope is elusive as we face another torrent and God seems so far away.  But as we watch, focusing on the glimmer of hope on the horizon, the rainbow grows and stretches across the dark sky and stands tall and proud over our lives, reminding us that God IS who He says He is and God WILL do what He says He will do.

Will He do it my way?  Probably not.  Will He come through when I think He should, maybe but often not likely.  But will He give context to our suffering and strength to endure the storm?  Yes, absolutely.  In this world, you can bet you will have trouble.  Storms will threaten and thunder will rumble fiercely in the distance.  Lightning may even strike too close to home.  But take heart, sweet friend.  Your Jesus has overcome.  Look, there, in your pocket.  Do you feel them?  Take them out, holding them loosely in your palm as you remember that time God came through, that prayer He answered, the way He turned things around and did what had seemed impossible.  Rub your thumb across the surface of a stone and breathe in the never-ending promises of God.  Breathe out unbelief, cynicism, fear.  He is who He says He is and He will do what He says He will do!

Stand in the rain.  Let it wash over you and feel the gentle arms of your Father lifting your chin as you choose to trust again.  Look at how He is using your life.  You, an earth-bound citizen of Heaven, reflecting the glory of God to a lost and dying world.  Watch the colors, the beginning and the end of your story, reach toward one another and meet in a glorious display of His promises fulfilled.

You and I, we aren’t call to be the rainbow.  God doesn’t ask us to hold up the promise ourselves.  We are called to reflect His glory, to be still and let Him use us.

That is a hard one for me, being still.  My mind likes to run a mile-a-minute and try to figure out how to fix all the issues I face in my own power.  It’s exhausting.  I try to grab the ends of the rainbow and force them together, willing them to stick.

They don’t.

I’m working on stillness.  It’s a long and often painful process, learning to trust God.  Especially when things get messy.

And things are very often messy.

But, try as I might, I cannot get the ends of my story to meet and be beautiful.  God can, though.  And He does.  Then?  In my stillness appears the reflection of His glory.  HE gets the credit.  HE gets the praise.  He completes the rainbow and graces the earth with beauty after the storm.

This is our goal…quiet trust.  Stillness.  Simple faith.  A life of victory over the darkness, shining light into the shadows.  Fighting for the Kingdom but never in our own strength.  A life of rest in our spirits despite the whirling and swirling of the world around us.

So, tonight as I end my birthday, this is my prayer for you and for me…it is very simple but, I believe, very powerful:

May we serve as quiet waters, reflecting the beauty of Jesus.  

Amen.

 

Contentment and Community

Driving down the old roads of Franklin, Tennessee, Civil War era homes flanking the streets and battlefields in the distance, we passed an old, red brick church with a beautiful pair of arched wooden doors. One was partially open, drawing my eye and making me long to peek inside when a woman emerged.

Her dark skin glowed in the afternoon sunlight dappled by the large old trees overshadowing the lawn. Her hair was concealed by a colorful scarf, wrapped neatly and tucked perfectly above her brow.

But what struck me the most in the fleeting seconds that I saw her as we drove by was her smile. It was one of utter peace and contentment, revealing straight white teeth and parenthetically framed by lines very likely earned by years of living and, from what I could glean from her countenance, smiling.

I have no idea what she had been doing in that church. I don’t know who she had been with or why, but her smile was one directed down at the stone steps as she took them one-by-one, not necessarily intended to be noticed by anyone.

But notice, I did. I can’t quite put my finger on why her smile struck me so. I nudged my daughter, sitting next to me in the front seat, asking her to grab her phone and snap a photo of the church doors. She fumbled to bring her phone to life while I drove as slowly as possible (hoping not to irritate the driver of the car behind me but trying to buy time) finally managing to take a couple of  shots. I was honestly surprised she captured the doors (because she had all of 2 1/2 seconds to do so!) but those doors are there, a reminder to me of a simple but important truth:

Community feeds contentment. Sharing life feeds a necessary joy-habit which sustains us when we walk through suffering.

Too often we leave gatherings with plastic faces well intact. We managed to keep our façade on to the end and no one, not even our “close” friends, are aware of the things we have determined to hide beneath well-rehearsed smiles. We walk out, away from the watching eyes, and let our weary faces resurface, the smiles falling off at last like a dead Autumn leaf past it’s prime.

But, friends, what if we are real we and allow the weariness to show? What if we smile through tears, allowing those who love us to love on us? That is how we connect at a deep, heart-level which renews our strength and causes us to leave the gathering unconscious of the beautiful, natural smile that turns up the corners of our mouths and draws our cheeks back in soft joy.

There is joy in true community.

There is joy in knowing and being known and allowing our tribe “in.”

There is joy in connection, even when the process  involves vulnerability and tears.

And I believe this…with all my heart: God intends for us to develop smile lines as we grow old, the hallmark of a joy-filled and genuinely connected life. Nothing is more beautiful than a face graced with contentment, filled with the light of delighting in who we are in Christ and allowing that light to multiply and bring others in.

A life well-rooted produces bright and delicious fruit.

Choose your tribe carefully, sisters, but choose them. Let them in and become the hands and feet of Jesus in your life, just as they need you to become theirs.

Why? Because we are all weary, friends. We are all strangers in a land that is not our home and traveling alone is exhausting and disheartening. If you have ever journeyed abroad, you know the relief that comes when, after days of struggling to communicate through a language barrier, you run into someone who speaks your native tongue with ease. Your brain takes a much needed break and conversation flows easily because you have found familiarity!

This is the gift of community.

This is the heart of relationships.

Common ground, a common language, and common ideals.

woman sitting on chair near laptop computer
Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Character-lines formed through years of conversation, confession, laughter and tears.  baby-teddy-bear-cute-39369.jpeg

And lasting joy found in shared memories and celebrations under the approving eye of our good, good Father who brings us through and out of darkness into victory and glorious light…together.

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

Standing Guard

I wish I could have gotten a photo without scaring them off.

The cardinal pair:  Her, pecking quietly at the seeds spilling from the bright yellow feeder.  Him, standing guard from a slender branch just across the narrow strip of grass usually dominated by our German Shepherd.  The wind blew and the branch shivered, but he stood at his post, eyes fixed on his mate.

Something about it captured my attention.

They only stayed for a few moments.  I wanted to grab my camera but knew they would be gone by the time I got back to the window and if I dared to go outside they would surely fly away.  So I stood quietly, framed by morning light and mesmerized by the simple beauty of a male guarding his mate.

She was so calm and content, not even glancing up at him.  She was just doing what every living creature does every day…eating.  Such a simple, normal thing.

Kind of like doing laundry.  All the laundry that piles up in the hamper on a regular basis.  The normal mundane of my day.

Or having coffee alone in the dining room before the kids awaken, sunlight streaming in the tall windows and silence filling the air until the clomp-clomp of bare feet interrupt the quiet and the morning busy begins.

He is there.  Every moment of every day.  Whether I notice him or not, God watches me…and you.  Whether I am mopping floors or sipping tea…or struggling to settle my mind after a stressful day…He stands near, watching.  Comforting in His calm, bringing peace to the very air I breathe if I will just stop and take it in.  My Father, our Father, is a constant presence.

How does this realization affect us?  How does it make you feel?  What does it make you want to do…or not do?  For me, it gives me peace,  boundaries built by love.  When I forget the presence of God I easily lose focus and struggle to make sense of interruptions, pain, and trials.  But when I practice the presence of God, stopping to intentionally breathe in the Spirit-filled air and remember Who is always by my side, I find strength and purpose in the mundane or the struggle. I find safety under the watchful eye of my ever-present Guard.

 

 

The Forgotten Feast

Late one evening, while driving home from a banquet that had been held to celebrate the end of the latest basketball season, I heard a voice pipe up from the nether-regions of my dark and messy Explorer:

“I didn’t get to eat.”

I forced my face to stay forward, eyes on the road, while I said, incredulously, “What?”  (Read that with all the emphasis you can imagine.  Because that’s how I said it.)

“I haven’t had dinner, Mom.  I didn’t get to eat.”

I took a deep breath, willing myself to show grace and use this teachable moment.  “What would Sally Clarkson say?”  I thought to myself…

“You mean you were too busy hanging with your friends to eat, right?  You mean you chose not to eat because you were having fun, right?  Because when we left they were throwing out whole pans of spaghetti and meatballs and chicken alfredo…there was an entire banquet, a FEAST, laid out for you.  There is absolutely no reason for you to be hungry except that you chose not to eat what was provided for you.”

I paused there, knowing that continuing to lecture would be overkill and that this sweet fun-loving (and now hungry) kiddo of mine had gotten the point.  We arrived home, hungry child had a small snack, and everyone went to bed.

Then God started thunking me on the head.

 

You know the above-mentioned teachable moment I wanted to use to make a point to my child?  Well, the Lord decided to turn that one on me.

He’s pretty faithful about doing that.

Proverbs 9:1-6 (MSG)* says…

Lady Wisdom has built and furnished her home;
    it’s supported by seven hewn timbers.
The banquet meal is ready to be served: lamb roasted,
    wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers.
Having dismissed her serving maids,
    Lady Wisdom goes to town, stands in a prominent place,
    and invites everyone within sound of her voice:
“Are you confused about life, don’t know what’s going on?
    Come with me, oh come, have dinner with me!
I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread,
    roast lamb, carefully selected wines.
Leave your impoverished confusion and live!
    Walk up the street to a life with meaning.”

How often do I walk around hungry despite the literal banquet God has spread before me?  He tells us He has everything we need in place.  Every gift of the Holy Spirit is available to us, His beloved children.  Like a mother who takes pleasure in feeding her growing children, who delights in watching them savor delicious food made by her own hands, our God has spread out a Kingdom feast and sits at the head of the table, waiting for us to join Him.

But, too often, we don’t.  Despite the tantalizing smells of “fresh-baked bread, roasted lamb, and carefully selected wines” we run right past the table and try to live our lives on empty.  “I’m not hungry!” we declare as we slam the door behind us and skip to the playground (work, school, relationships, life) not wanting to take the necessary time to fuel our spirits before engaging with this broken and dying world.

Then we hit the wall.  We run out of energy and despair over our weakness.  We stubbornly declare, “I didn’t have time,” but the truth is we didn’t want to make the time.

Because you know as well as I do the time is there.

It may mean setting the alarm earlier to spend quiet time with God before the rest of the family awakens.  I could be choosing to listen to a podcast from a trusted Bible teacher or music that fills our minds with truth in the car (or while feeding babies). Maybe it involves putting down that magazine we had planned to thumb through in the doctor’s office to pick up a devotional or (wait for it) the actual Bible in our purse or even on our phone.  Wherever we choose to carve it out, we have the time to consume the feast our God has prepared for us.  It may not happen all in one sitting.  In fact, it may mean we are taking small bites throughout the day.  It’s not really about making time to feast on the Word, it’s about making the feast a priority.

And I’m telling you, sisters, that we will never walk in victory unless we are well-fed.

We cannot walk around starving and spiritually malnourished and expect to be effective in our marriages, our mothering, or any other area of life.  Because the Word is life.  Jesus is life.  He sits at the head of the table, but the seats are too often empty.  This has to stop!  The culture is running at us, chasing down our families at breakneck speed, and we are so tired and distracted that we have no energy to fight!  But fight, we must, or we will end up on our knees with a weak and broken spirit from years of malnutrition as we watch our homes crumble.  It begins with small changes, tweaks in the schedule that we can make every single day.  I’ve heard a good rule…”Work before play.”   Well, how about, pray before work?  Or sit at the feet of Jesus before logging in?

Verse six, above, says,
“Leave your impoverished confusion and live!
    Walk up the street to a life with meaning.”

Yes, that’s it!  A hungry soul is an impoverished and confused soul!  We cannot think clearly when we are hungry.  Any parent knows this.  We have all dealt with a “hangry” child…well, I would venture to guess that many of us are spiritually hangry.  We struggle to find meaning to our lives, feel bitter and angry and tired, but the answer lies in stopping…eat, drink and be filled.  Be still and know that He is God.  He is our provider, our strength, our portion and our cup.

Then,

from that nourished and fulfilled state,

we can emerge from the safety of home to face the world and be effective, energetic laborers in the fields.  We will no longer be searching for meaning, because meaning is found at the banqueting table.  We will know who we are and Whose we are and be better able to live out of that truth, living forward and purposefully into who God created us to be at the very beginning…fully dependent, empowered disciples of Jesus Christ offering hope and life to a desperate and hurting world.

Our kids are watching.  Our friends and families are watching.  If we don’t lead them to the banqueting table and show them the value of sitting with the Lord, feasting on all He has to give us, who will?

Let’s eat!

 

*MSG refers to The Message.  It is a modern paraphrase of the Bible.  I like to use it when trying to clarify passages or get better understanding of context.  

Finding Joy in Seasons of Grief

Throughout the weeks of Lent I spent the first minutes of each morning before lit candles and a cup of coffee with a simple, yet profound, book in my lap:  The Promise of Lent Devotional-A 40 day Journey Toward the Miracle of Easter by Chris Tiegreen.

I remember well the day I purchased it.  It was displayed on a table in our local Lifeway Christian Bookstore, next to a devotional based on the writing of C.S. Lewis.  Now, being a proud Rabbit Room member and lover of all things British, my first instinct was to grab the writings of Mr. Lewis, call it a no-brainer, and head to the checkout counter.  But something about that little purple book by an author of whom I had never heard with a golden crown of thorns gracing the otherwise plain cover caused me to pause and pick it up.  I flipped to the devotional for Day 1 and knew, immediately, that this was the one I was supposed to have.  With my apologies to C.S. Lewis, I bought the little purple book and dove in, day by day, as Lent marched me forward to the Cross.

God is so good.  With each day and every page, I was reminded of simple truths, known in my mind but often forgotten in the heat of the moment.  (You may have seen some of the quotes I shared on Instagram and Facebook throughout the 40 days of Lent.)  Truths such as these:

  1. You are called to celebrate the revelation of the coming kingdom long before you see it.  Your new citizenship is far more glorious than your old.
  2. Those moments of crisis are a mark of all good fiction, and they are also a mark of God’s best stories.
  3. The world says, “How dare you call me sinful?” and stays enslaved.  We say, “Yes, I am that and more,” and are set free.
  4. The dawn is most beautiful after the darkest of nights.
  5. The ways of the world have to surrender to the decrees of the insistently, stubbornly, relentlessly faithful.

And then this sentence…on Good Friday as the beautiful strains of Andrew Peterson’s new album, Resurrection Letters, Volume 1, washed over me and brought me into a beautiful place of worship…”Friday is not the end of the story.”

Is it Friday in your life, where you are, today?  Are you standing at the foot of a cross, dreams shattered and heart broken, in disbelief?  Are you caught up in a storm, not of your own choosing, and tossed about on a sea of tears?  Finding joy in those seasons can be difficult, if not impossible.  How do you find joy in sickness, death (whether of a loved one or of a dream), a rebellious child, an adulterous husband, or poverty?  How do you see the “good” in the very, very bad?

There was nothing “good” on Good Friday.  To all outward appearances the Son of God ended up just being an innocent man murdered on a cross between two thieves.  Everyone who had believed in him walked away disappointed and afraid.  Their hope was gone.  The words he had spoken to prepare them for this day had pooled into a jumbled mess of confusion in the back of their grief-stricken and panicked minds.  There was nothing for which to be thankful.

Nothing.

But what they could not see was the other side of the veil.  Their earthly eyes, blinded by tears and worry, were not attuned to the hum of voices and the drumbeat of Heaven building up into a cadence of victorious joy that would burst through on the morning of the third day when the dead body of Jesus suddenly drew a deep breath and sat up, unwrapped the grave clothes that bound Him in death, watched the light of the morning sun break through as the angel rolled the stone away and walked clean out of that tomb.

It may be Friday in your life, and right now there is nothing good about that.  But will you choose to hope?  Will you cry out to the Father along with me, “I believe, help my unbelief?”  And can you rest on Saturday, just as our Savior rested, knowing that Sunday is coming?  Resurrection is coming?  

He will make the joy so worth the pain.  It’s a promise.

Friday is not the end of the story.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man.  He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.  He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”  Revelation 21:3-4