Into the Deep

What is the best way to learn to swim in the ocean?

I would venture to say that the toddler pool would not be very helpful.  Even going as far as the adult pool, maybe the 8-12 foot deep end, would not be enough.

Why?  Well, for one thing the ocean is vastly deep and often rough.  Undertow can end the life of the most strong swimmers, not to mention the wildlife swimming below.  A clean, chlorinated community pool is not the same.  Not even close.

To be a strong swimmer in the ocean requires understanding of the behavior of the waters and wildlife, and incredible strength to withstand the pummeling of large waves.

One has to study and and train in order to survive the wild.

Lately I have been pondering this reality.  As I prepare to launch my firstborn into adulthood and strive to educate my younger children I have seen a common thread woven throughout this season of life.

We avoid boredom like the plague.  We don’t know what to do with it.  Stillness makes us unsettled and we rescue ourselves from it with the click of a smartphone.

Just look to your left or right at any intersection.  Most people cannot handle even one minute of boredom, pulling out their phone to fill the empty space until the light turns green.  Dead air on the radio for more that two seconds will prompt us to change the channel.

Even our children, with fresh and creative minds so able to learn and explore, are taught to turn to video games and television because the adults find it easier…less messy…more quiet in the house when the headphones are on and the controller is clicking away.

We have shelves full of books that sit unread.  Art supplies still in their original packaging, purchased with great intentions but rarely used.  Yet we scroll.  We click.

And we die.

We were created for more.  We live in a tumultuous and rocky world.  An ocean of culture and change lies before us but we don’t know how to swim in it.  Our minds numb, becoming accustomed to shallow waters, bright floaties and chaise lounges while our surroundings succumb to the flood.

We can’t even tread water.

But we can change this.  What if we choose excellence?  What if we listen, read and learn and bless our minds with strong tools for survival?  What if we study the dark spiritual waters and learn how to swim in them, to stay afloat and rescue others who are sinking?  The specifics are up to you and me.  Only we know ourselves and where we have neglected good and necessary growth.  But I suggest we begin by seeking God, diving into the Scriptures and letting the outflow of that affect our choices in entertainment, media and education.  We learn to allow ourselves to sit in boredom, to become contemplative in those awkward moments and let it result in growth and creativity.

My goodness, imagine what we might hear from the Lord if we give Him a quiet space in which to speak!

“Be still and know…”

Turn away from foolish things and look to the good, true and beautiful.  Retrain our minds to look inward and evaluate ourselves before looking outward for a quick fix at the stop light.

Let silence ring loud in our ears and listen…

We can hear ourselves breathing.  We might even hear our own hearts beating.

Build strong spiritual muscles in those moments and swim out into the deep, unafraid when the shore disappears because we have trained and are ready.  Truth is our guide and Jesus is our light piercing the darkness.

We were born for more than a quick fix.   Don’t settle any longer.

The Silver Mist

August came gently, with cooler evenings and mornings to balance the hot afternoons.  My longing for Autumn began to grow into an ache as a few leaves turned bright red in the tops of young trees in our yard.  Vibrant and teasing of what is to come.  (And unusually early!)

The busy of the school year looms ahead and I have just had the hardest time getting motivated to order the books and fill out the planners.  Maybe it is because we moved in the middle of last year and I’m feeling a bit rebellious?  This slow summer was such good medicine.

Everybody is starting school next week.  But not us.  We are traveling to visit grandparents and we “may” start when we get home.  I’m just loving these long days with my kids and hours outdoors by the pool so much.  I don’t want them to end!

All the crazy starts Labor Day week.  Maybe I’ll just put it all off until then because I can.

Anyway, this morning I awakened at dawn and noticed a marked difference in the light steaming through our bedroom window.  I parted the curtains and smiled at what I saw:

The silver mist giving the trees a soft focus, hiding the distant hills.  Birds chatting happily in the morning cool as they nibbled and fussed at the feeders.  The sun shining gently, filtered by earth-clouds and not hot.  Not yet.

I opened the windows of my office as soon as I stepped in, relishing the breeze as I lit the peach-scented candle.  A line from a song sang through my spirit, one of my favorites by Andrew Peterson

I saw the sower in the silver mist and he was calling me home.

The song, “The Dark Before the Dawn,” spoke softly to my heart.  The lyrics filled my mind with imagery.  Just read them…then click on this link to listen.

I’ve been waiting for the sun
To come blazing up out of the night like a bullet from a gun
Till every shadow is scattered, every dragon’s on the run
Oh, I believe, I believe that the light is gonna come
And this is the dark, this is the dark before the dawn
I’ve been waiting for some peace
To come raining down out of the heavens on these war-torn fields
All creation is aching for the sons of God to be revealed
Oh, I believe, I believe that the victory is sealed
The serpent struck but it was crushed beneath His heel
Oh, I know the wind can bring the lightning
Oh, I know the lightning brings the rain
Oh, I know the storm can be so frightening
But that same wind is gonna blow that storm away
Blow that storm away
Lord, I’m waiting for a change
I’m waiting for the changeSo I’m waiting for the King
To come galloping out of the clouds while the angel armies sing
He’s gonna gather His people in the shadow of His wings
And I’m gonna raise my voice with the song of the redeemed
‘Cause all this darkness is a small and passing thingThis is the storm, this is the storm
The storm before the calm
This is the pain, the pain before the balm
This is the cold, the cold
It’s the cold before the warm
These are the tears, the tears before the song
This is the dark
Sometimes all I see is this darkness
Well, can’t you feel the darkness
This is the dark before the dawnI’m just waiting for a change
Change
Lord, I’m waiting for the changeI had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
And I could see the fields of glory
I could hear the sower’s songI had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
And all that rain had washed me clean
All the sorrow was goneI had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
And I could finally believe
The king had loved me all alongI had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
I saw the sower in the silver mist
And He was calling me home

And in a day where busy is god, bad news screams from the 24 hour cycle and civilization seems to have lost it’s filter, I am reminded that the light IS going to come.  We WILL see the fields of glory.  And, one day, we will be truly home.  Rest will be the norm.  Work will always be joy.  The ones I love will be always near, always whole, and always safe.
Glory.

Into a New Season

Change, it is a-happening around here.  My oldest, my firstborn, my suddenly taller-than-me man-child who made me a mama is a Senior in high school.

A SENIOR.

He was on my hip with a blankie in hand just five minutes ago.

Add to that the preparations for the homeschool year of my younger four, (I also have a JUNIOR for crying out loud!) cutting several inches of curls off my middle’s long hair (resulting in her suddenly looking like a teenager…which she is…but still…) and finding armpit hairs on my eleven year old son and, well, I may or may not be on the verge of tears at the mere sound of a baby laughing or a toddler holding up it’s arms and saying, “Hold you!”

I could lament, or I could celebrate the season I am in.  To be honest, I’m doing a little of both.

I have no one in elementary school any more.  No one who fits into “kids-size” clothing.  No one who has a bow in their hair or baby teeth.  It’s weird.  It’s wonderful.  It’s hard.  It’s freeing.

Independence is right at their ages, for the most part.  They shouldn’t need me to butter their toast or heat up their leftovers.  They can fold their own laundry and put away the dishes.  (Now if only I could get them to clean their ROOMS!)  They can read and ride their bikes and entertain themselves, allowing me the time to do things I enjoy such as writing.

I homeschool the youngest four, which means we are together much more than we are not.  But, still, sometimes I miss them.

Oh, they are here.  I love engaging in their conversations and receive plenty of smiles and hugs, but life has dramatically changed in the past few years.  They don’t “need” me like they once did, which is both awful and beautiful at once.

I took the three youngest to the zoo today.  At ages 13, 11 and 11 (yes, that is two elevens) I wasn’t sure if they would think they were too “old” for the zoo.  I feared they might think it “lame.”

I was so gloriously wrong.

We explored and oohed and ahhed over animals we had not visited in a long time.  The new Andean Bear exhibit was breathtaking, two big bears wrestling and rolling in the grass like siblings.  My thirteen year old whispered, not knowing I could hear her, “This is awesome.”

And it was.

Memories of their childhood flooded my heart as I saw mamas with babies in carriers, strollers parked outside exhibit doors, and heard a little boy exclaim, “My pip-pops!” when his flip-flop fell off.  We all relished the sweetness of the little ones surrounding us as much as we relished the beauty and diversity of God’s handiwork.

It was a good day.  It was filled with smiles and sunshine and, for just a few hours, I felt like I was standing astraddle of the gap between life as it was and life as it is.  I saw the wonder of a little child in the faces of my not-so-little kids and I am just so thankful for the respite of remembering before the busyness of our school year begins.

Times are changing, old seasons are gone, but if I take a moment and open my eyes to what is before me I can see the hope and future of these children in whom I have invested my life.  Despite the hormones and, dare I say, attitude of the pre-teen and teen years, the remnants of the little ones who once placed their chubby hands in mine are still there.

Now the hands I hold are bigger, stronger, and maybe even calloused.

But they fit mine perfectly just like they always have.

A Simple Discipline

It took years for me to find what worked, to develop spiritual disciplines that I could “stick with” and that felt grace-filled instead of burdensome or rote.  I tried the “read-through-Bible-in-a-year” programs, only to get stuck somewhere in Leviticus.  I bought a Bible that had daily readings from the Old and New Testaments along with a Psalm and Proverb for each day but it was too confusing…like reading four different Novels at the same time and trying to keep the stories straight.  Most everything I did caused me to read passages out of context or rush through or simply fall asleep in the middle and have no idea what I had read the next day.

I was practicing religion, not relationship.

I struggled.

After twenty years of being a Christian I simply did not know the Bible like I knew I should.  I wasn’t “in love” with the Word, only treating it like a habit to be kept or a box to be checked.

I sure would hate for my husband to treat me like that.

By the grace of God, I went to a retreat a couple of years ago that changed the way I interact with the Bible forever.  I signed up for a breakout session on “Bible Journaling,” which was all the rage and I thought looked kind of stupid, to be honest. Drawing in your Bible?  Mmmmkay.  But the girl was teaching hand-lettering techniques and ideas for easy sketches and drawings, which appealed to me, so I went.

I’ll never forget her holding up her colorful, stickered Bible and saying with great emotion, “I love this book.”

She had my attention.

In that session I learned to take it slow.  Read heading-to-heading.  Stop.  Ask God to show me what He wants to teach me.  Let the words sink in.  Look them up in different translations to get a broader picture (like The Message or The Passion Translation) and then write, doodle, draw, paint…whatever I want to do but allow the act of slowly and creatively writing what God is showing me to be a tool of meditation, to let the Holy Words take root in my hurried heart.

That means I probably won’t (and haven’t) make it through the Bible in a year.  And that is OK.  I had a friend say recently, “Read until He stops you.”  Yes.  God may have one beautiful sentence he wants me to mull over all day.  It may be an entire chapter.  But the key is to be in communication with the Holy Spirit as I read, not just to “get through it,” but to truly commune with the Lover of My Soul.  Sometimes I write in the margins.  Sometimes I get really creative.  But always, always I walk away knowing I have not been alone.  That is relationship.  That fosters my passion for Jesus and fills my cup so that I can live and love and parent more effectively, out of His strength and not my own.

Now, I do have a few personal boundaries I set for Bible journaling in order to keep it about Him and not about me.  First of all, I never ever write over the text of the Bible.  I believe every last word is Holy Spirit inspired and I also know that countless people have given their lives to own and protect one sacred page of scripture.  I determine that every word should still be easily readable after I am done.  So, out of reverence, I just don’t.  My Bible has plenty of room to write in the margins.

It’s not an art project.

I also don’t post my creations online.  I have allowed a couple of friends to see them but, really, I’m not that good of an artist and it is also not about getting likes or any other kinds of accolades for my “skills.”  What I create is between me and Jesus.  That keeps it real and it prevents me from “performing” as I journal.

I wake up early every morning, before any of my kids are stirring, and head upstairs to my desk.  I light a candle, I pray the day’s reading from “Common Prayer, A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals” (or any of various books of prayer I have around my house), always taking time to lift up the ones I love who need prayer, then open my Bible and read slowly and purposefully…until He stops me.  This discipline has changed my life, my perspective, and taught me things I would have otherwise missed in my previous rush to “get through it.”  I look forward to this time with God, knowing He will faithfully meet with me and fill me with the knowledge of His presence and peace.  It is a beautiful, blessedly quiet way to begin each day.

 

Defying Judgement.

“Well, if she was really a Christian…”

Have you ever said those words?  Or nodded in agreement when someone else spoke them?  Maybe you knew there was a sting of untruth to the statement but didn’t find your voice to contradict the error in that train of thought.

I’ve heard phrases like this a lot lately.  It seems that all of the Christian world is standing in their corner, gloves in hand and ready to be put on at a moment’s notice in order to “defend the faith,” or maybe just defend their current version of it.

After twenty five years of walking with Jesus, some years much better than others, I am blindsided by the marrow-slicing Word of God now more than ever.  I once believed I had a decent handle on theology.  I “got” grace, “understood” the love of the Father, and knew pretty well who I was in Christ.  At least compared to the previous version of me…

As I matured in faith, God slowly tore away things in my life that were not conducive to a healthy relationship with Him.  But He didn’t do it all at once.  It was gradual.  Sometimes painful, sometimes almost unnoticed.  But always, behind the scenes, He was (and is) at work.

I came into relationship with Jesus at the age of 21.  I arrived in the family of God with baggage.  Lots of it.  Though I knew God loved me, I struggled to believe He was pleased with me.  My performance was so often sketchy, tripping and falling on the path as I worked to figure out who I was and where I belonged.

I worked.

I.  Me.  In my strength and limited understanding.

Sounds a bit like slavery, doesn’t it?  Trying to earn my keep?  Hoping to get a smile and a nod from my Master?  Cringing and hiding when I fell because I was still so weak in many important areas and shouldn’t “this” have not been a struggle by now?

I would pull myself back up and follow hard after Jesus until the next roadblock, then I would fall and doubt and worry and fear and sin.

The flesh just loves a good roadblock, as does the judgy-churchy world we live in.

“She did what?  Surely not.  She’s supposedly a Christian.  Christians don’t do that.

I heard a story recently about a celebrity, well-known for x-rated lyrics and a less-than-stellar lifestyle (to put it mildly) who made a Gospel album.  The outcry in the “christian” world was less than supportive.  One critic even doubted that this man’s name and “gospel” should even be used in the same sentence.

Tell me why?  Tell me where God says I have to be cleaned up and sinless before I can fall at the feet of Jesus!  Show me where He promises to instantly and completely fix all of my issues at the moment of salvation?  I’ll wait…

You see, God is at work.  In you, in me, in the most dark and hardened hearts.  He knows we are going to backslide.  He is not surprised by our struggles!  But He doesn’t stop molding and shaping us into who we already are in Christ.

Do you see that?  In the Kingdom of God we are who we will be!  It’s all being woven together, this beautiful tapestry of grace.  Slowly the colors are replacing the dark stains and light is displacing the shadows.  One by one, He fills in the holes in my life and calls me His daughter.  His perfected child.

In Jesus I am made new.  (Romans 4:24, Romans 5:1-2, Romans 6:6)  The power of sin has been dismantled.  Will I have seasons of weakness where I forget that I am dead to sin and alive in Christ?  As long as I am on this earth, the answer is yes.  But my struggle changes nothing regarding the fact of who I am and who you are.  I can stand before Jesus with my face lifted up, eyes meeting His, not because of what I have done but because of what HE DID!  When I and other believers do things that aren’t “Christian” it changes NOTHING about who we are.  Do you sense the freedom in that?  Failure is part of the struggle, but it never defines who we are.  We are defined by the finished work of the cross.

Period.

That is why I can rejoice when a man who once defied everything God says is right and good makes a gospel album.  That is why I can believe that my children’s salvation is secure even when they resist and rebel.  And that is why I can sleep at night after going to the Lord in repentance because I know His love for me is based on one thing.  Not my performance, not my obedience, not which church I go to or what Bible study I am currently involved in.  God’s love for me, and for you, is based on the fact that I am forever and irrevocably united with His Son.  In that knowledge I can rest and I can thrive and I can fail without fear.  In that knowledge I can encourage my brothers and sisters who are newer in their walk with Christ by celebrating each step forward instead of focusing on their past.

Because I sure wouldn’t want anyone focusing on mine.

Revelation 21:5

Evening Wonder-A Poem

Stars above shine bright,
distant clouds flicker from within,
illuminated by light

The power of God on display
in skies alive with electric joy,
celebrating the end of day

Crickets sing in harmony,
waves of praise to the Ancient of Days
and the lightning beckons me

Look up, oh daughter, and see
your King’s flashing sword at play!
He comes to you on bended knee,

woos you with beauty and song.
Do you feel the waves of grace?
Do you see where you belong?

The storm is hovering afar,
the threat overtaken by beauty,
bolts of lighting spar.

Sculptured clouds dance,
with joy and abandon they glow,
and all of creation declares His glory

The Turning of Peter (and maybe of us)

Last week’s post resonated with so many of you.  You wrote to me, commented on my Facebook page, and generally said you felt like it was written just for you.

This world is so dangerous.  It seems to be spiraling out of control, with sentiment against the people of God growing more sour, more violent, by the minute.  News reports are filled with so much negativity that I, for one, can hardly bear to watch it any more.

Just imagine if there had been a 24 hour news cycle during Jesus’ earthly life.  

Bodies hanging from crosses, children ripped from their mothers’ arms and forced into slavery or the military, crowds screaming for the murderer to be released while the Innocent One was nailed clean through his wrists and ankles…

Yes, I can see why Peter faltered and, in his weakness, denied he had ever known Jesus.

Because knowing Jesus is dangerous.

Today I read on in the book of Luke. Chapter 24.  

The disciples’ world was shattered as their best friend, and their hopes for the Kingdom of God to come, died on a tree.  In sorrow and grief they retreated, not knowing what to do now.  It was over.  Hope was gone.

Suddenly the door burst wide open and a group of women stood, breathless and eyes filled with tears of wonder, words stumbling over each other as they relayed what they had seen.

“He’s alive!  Jesus lives!  We saw Him!  He spoke to us!  The tomb is empty and He lives!”

Bull.

I can just hear the men, grumbling and shaking their heads.  They had seen Jesus die.  No one had ever survived a crucifixion and the soldiers had even pierced his side to be sure he was dead.  These women are grief-crazed and full of…

but Peter rose.

Three simple words pregnant with GRACE.  The one who denied Jesus, whose last interaction with the Messiah was that long and sorrowful moment of eye contact upon denying Jesus for the third time, who had done what he vowed he would never do and was surely beating himself up inside, rose.

Could it be?  It is possible?  It’s not over?  I have to know.  I have to GO.

And Peter rose and ran to the tomb.

The biggest failure became the first follower.  The fearful one became fearless.  The weak one…

Well, just read the second chapter of Acts to find out what God does with the weak ones!  Savor the words of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost (Acts 2:14-41) and read them with the memory of Peter’s denial of Jesus fresh in your mind.  LOOK WHAT GOD CAN DO!

I need this!  I need to remember, as I’m raising kids and fighting off the threats that surround my family, that God is above and beyond the worst the world can throw at us!  He is above Crucifixion and death, and He is certainly above social media and the 24 hour news cycle!

Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.  Acts 2:36

Peter spoke with authority, now fully convinced of the Lordship and power of the Son of God.

Am I?  Are you?

Oh, that I would learn to pray in power and the confidence of the Holy Spirit who is God within me!  What would happen if I lifted my face to my Father and declared my standing before Him, as an intercessor, a member of the Holy Priesthood, His precious child and warrior?  What if I prayed from a place of authority instead of timidity?

Because too often I squeak out a “please, God” instead of “this I know.”

I lament when I should be taking up my sword and standing in the gap as a warrior for my family.

I approach God with downcast eyes instead of boldness and outstretched arms.

Can you relate?

So today, sisters, let us rise and run to the tomb!  Declare who Jesus IS, because he LIVES and in His might we fight for our babes and the men we love!  I want to stop hoping and start knowing, praying out of a place of faith and expectation for what God IS going to do because I remember well what He has already done!

Are you in?  Lace up your shoes…it’s time to run.