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

A Breath Away

We make things so much more difficult than they need to be.  Like the Pharisees who simply could not trust that God’s grace is sufficient, we pile on rules and standards that we were never meant to shoulder.

We turn relationship into rules, which causes us to be afraid.

Afraid we aren’t good enough.

Afraid He can’t love us in this moment because…(Insert issue here.  I have all kinds of issues.)

Yet His grace is so much more than we can imagine.  He just wants us to stop and realize who we are!  Some of us may be poets, able to compose a beautifully worded prayer that blesses the hearts of those within earshot.  But, sometimes, we are just desperate.  We need God and we need Him now.  We don’t have time to figure out how to word our prayers, we just need to fall on our face before God and, for lack of a better phrase, let it all hang out.

There is a type of prayer that I was taught years ago that I absolutely love.  It is “breath prayer.”  Doesn’t that sound beautiful!  It is the natural outflow of a heart desperate to feel the presence of God.  It can be one word or a few, but it is blessedly simple and wonderfully accessible to even the most newborn of Christians.

It can be the word, “Help.”  Maybe we cry out, “Be near me.”  Or perhaps we sigh, “Please, Lord.  Please.”

The beauty of the breath prayer is the rest it gives our spirit, the knowing that God not only hears, but fills in the gaps when we simply do not have more words.  We breathe out and then stop, waiting, resting, trusting.  We know that the Lord sees the longing of our hearts and does not need eloquent words to draw His attention.  We always have His attention.

Try it.  Breathe in, then breathe out.  Let your words be few and open your heart to the Holy Spirit’s work.  Keep prayer simple when life is complicated and let the Lord give you rest.

The Hidden Revealed

The sun was climbing high into the sky as I drove my kids to their homeschool tutorial.  The earth had been blanketed by a heavy fog that was still clinging to the land, giving the hills a soft-focus.  We rounded the curve that marked the near-end of our trek when, all around us, we noticed them: Thousands upon thousands of gossamer bowls clinging to the tall blades of grass and the lower branches of the newly-green trees.

What has hatched overnight and spun all these webs?  Is this good or is it a plague?

My imagination might have gone a little crazy for about thirty seconds.

I wanted to take a photo SO badly, but I figured manhandling my cell phone at 70+ miles per hour would set a very poor example for my future drivers, and we were running late so stopping on the side of the road to explore would make for an awkward arrival after classes had already begun. Therefore, I made a mental note to take the time necessary to document this phenomenon on the way home.

We arrived at the tutorial in the nick of time and mentioned what we saw to the tutors, still in awe over the sheer multitude of the webs.  They had seen them before, of course, and said the webs are always there, just not visible until the dew settles on them.  That got me to thinking, as nature often does.

I kissed my babes goodbye and hit the road for the thirty minute drive home, prepared for a quick detour and mini photo session.

Except they were gone.  I squinted to try and see them, maybe picking out a couple here and there if I looked really hard but surprised that in the span of fifteen minutes the lifting of the fog had rendered the thousands of webs almost completely invisible!

“Lord, what do you want to teach me?”  I spoke out loud, knowing God always has a parable waiting for us in His creation.  It declares His glory.  All of it, always.

I drove the rest of the way home in silence, waiting as my mind pieced together truth and compared what I had seen to what I know from Scripture.

James 1:25 (MSG) says,

But whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—even out of the corner of his eye, and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.

As a writer, I have found it necessary to keep a way of jotting down notes on hand at all times because I never know where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing when inspiration hits.  And I can make mental notes all the live-long day but by the time I get home to my computer I will draw a complete blank when I try to recall what it was that made my heart burn earlier in the day.  Every. Single. Time. This applies to my walk with God as well!

He is constantly working on us, dealing with weakness, strengthening our strengths, molding and shaping and purifying our lives by revealing the “webs” that have infested our lives.  Like the early morning dew, settling heavy on the land and revealing what has been there all along, God gently settles His attention on the things we thought we had hidden.  This is “the revealed counsel of God” mentioned in the above passage.

And if we are willing, the revelation is beautiful.

It is a loving Father who disciplines his child.  It is a good and faithful God who refuses to leave us as we are because He sees in us who we will become.  It is a tender and attentive Husband who leads and protects His Bride, guiding her away from harm, revealing and washing away the stains imposed upon her by the struggle of living in this fallen world.  He knows we are dust, but never leaves us in the dust.

Oh, how He loves us.

Be encouraged today, dear one.  When you are confronted by your sins and the realization of what has been allowed to lurk in your life threatens to throw you into shame, look up.  Your Heavenly Father is busy, working ever-so-gently to clear out the webs and reveal the bright spring green that is your life in Him!  The window of opportunity is often short, like the sunrise as it crests over the far hills, so take notice when the revelation occurs and let God do what He does best.

He makes all things new.