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.

 

 

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

Holy Week Reflections: The Grace of Dawn

The last of the dark clouds drifted across the rising sun, just over the trees topping the hills.  Beams of light flooded the room as the sun, at last, broke through and shone freely.

Such is the season of Lent.

In this Holy Week, as I reflect on the last days of Jesus’ earthly life, I am struck by the symbolism God has placed in all of nature.

In this season of life, as naiveté  is stripped away and the world groans in longing for His return, I am struck by my need to remember that my Jesus is acquainted with sorrows…accompanied by grief.  He sits with me in compassion and understanding because He knows.

He has suffered and sits with us in our suffering.

I have lit the Lenten candles each morning, watching as each day the new candle adds light.  I look to the Light as I pray before the candlelight, settled in my dependency, determined to keep walking forward.  I dwell, fascinated by the curling smoke as the candles are extinquished one-by-one, for a few long moments.  I sit in holy grief, knowing my sin nailed my savior to that cross, yet sit in hope, knowing that he won.

He rose.

And I am free.

Lent, unlike Advent (which is filled with child-like anticipation of the Newborn King), is heavy.  It is the knowing of my faults, the realization that His suffering should have been mine.  It is taking the time to sit in the weight of my sin while knowing, with each passing day, that my sin has been nailed to the cross and I bear it no more.

Praise the Lord, Oh my soul.

Lent is stepping into the suffering of Jesus, because He stepped into mine.  It is identifying with the cross, allowing Him to bear mine.  It is looking ahead, to the day when He stood, filled with breath and life, and walked out of that grave and took me right along with Him.

Lent is hope.  It is promise.  It is Grace.

It is the golden ribbon of morning puddled along the far black horizon, taking shape as Hope dawns faithfully day after day.

He is risen.  He is risen, indeed.

If You Lack a Mentor: In Gratitude to Sally Clarkson

As a now “older mom” among many of my friends, I found myself in an odd and often lonely season of motherhood.  It is so easy to make friends when our kids are little.  Playdates at the park or story times at the library are the perfect conditions for forming friendships around the common experience of mothering.  But there comes a time when the kids grow up and our day-to-day interactions with them vary to such a degree from what others around us may be experiencing that mothering can no longer be an easy common ground from which a friendship can spring.  The friendships are based on other things.  Good things.  But not necessarily common parenting styles (or outcomes!).

Then there was the realization that, as an “older mom,” I lacked a mentor for myself…someone who has weathered the storms and walked through the hardships that are the reality of raising children to adulthood.  The lack was not out of desire to have one, but out of the practical nature of my life these days…finding time to sit and chat over coffee is difficult to do.  Homeschooling four children, parenting five, shuffling kids to ball practice, dance, music, youth group, doctors’ appointments, etc (and carving out time to practice my cello!) consume my daytime hours very quickly.  Then factor in the reality that we recently moved into a new neighborhood in a new town and, well, building a mentoring relationship just takes time.  Time that I haven’t had.

Do you relate to this?

Enter Sally Clarkson.

sally clarkson

I had heard of her for a couple of years and knew she had homeschooled her children ALL THE WAY THROUGH HIGH SCHOOL.  Nothing less than a heroic feat, in my book.  Because teenagers.

Anyway, I began to listen to her podcast, “At Home with Sally” and in this older woman, who I have never met, I found what I needed.

A mentor.

Sally raised four children who all turned out to be amazing, gifted adults that love Jesus and love their mama.  But that is not why I love her.  I love Sally because what she did was not easy.  Learning disabilities, mental illness, tragedy and hardship were all part of her story of mothering.  She is honest about those things, honest about her failures and successes.  She looks back through the lens of experience and wisdom and gently reminds us that, though there are things we can do to foster life in our homes, above all our kids belong to the Lord and we can trust Him with them. Somehow, in her quiet voice, she speaks loudly into my flaws and struggles, encouraging me to not let failure prevent me from taking the next step, or from loving when it is hard.  She has taught me that much of my tension comes from being highly idealistic, which is not a bad thing but can certainly be frustrating to certain members of my family.  Ahem.  She models selflessness and faith and the gift of hospitality as a form of worship.  She reminds me to light candles and warm up the pancake syrup because those little things speak into the hearts of my children and draw them close.  In the difficult seasons of my life, Sally reminds me to hope and to never, ever give up.  God uses broken vessels.

I’m most definitely a cracked pot in His Kingdom!

I don’t know if you have a mentor.  I certainly hope you do.  But if that is something you wish for I would love to introduce you to Sally.  She doesn’t know me, has no idea this little corner of the internet even exists, but I feel that so many of my friends would benefit from letting her speak truth as we drive our kids to appointments or get ready in the mornings. Nothing can replace real-life relationships and face-to-face conversation, but someone like Sally has filled a much-needed gap in my life.  And while my “real” friendships grow and develop I feel that what I am learning from her will serve me well as I move forward into this next phase of life.   I will share the links below.  I receive nothing for this.  It is purely out of a desire to bless you that I share Sally Clarkson with you.

Life With Sally – a membership site worth every penny.  https://lifewithsally.com/

Whole Heart Ministries – helping Christian parents raise wholehearted children.  wholeheart.org

At Home with Sally and Friends – if you do nothing else, subscribe to this.  I anticipate each new episode every week, listening to many of them over and over.  Rich with stories, hope and encouragement, Sally’s gentle voice is always calming to my often fretting heart.  http://sallyclarkson.com/podcast/

 

 

 

Spring Emerging: Finding reassurance in God’s faithfulness.

Every year, as Summer heat beats down and yet another plant dies from lack of water (because by August I stink at gardening), I vehemently declare that Autumn is my favorite.  Cooler temps, sweaters and jeans, hot chocolate with marshmallows…and the Autumn leaves.  Simply beautiful in every way.

But then Winter comes.  At first it’s good.  I’m excited about Christmas and fill my home with way too many decorations and cook all the cookies, despite my low-carb vow.  I tolerate the cold nights by the fire and find joy in a plush blanket…

until January.

Then I’m over it.  It’s cold and dreary and dark and all the bare trees, dormant grass and NO SNOW despite the frigid temps send me into a funk.  (My area of Tennessee is notorious for cold, snowless winters.)  I just want warmer days and sunshine.  Is that too much to ask?

And just when I begin to think it’s never going to happen, I inspect the trees lining the sidewalk…especially the one the landscapers were sure had died…and there they are.  Buds.

Redbuds, to be exact.fullsizeoutput_a616

This discovery turns my frown upside down and I get happy.

Suddenly, Spring is my favorite.

And it’s finally coming.

The air is getting warmer by the day and all of creation is pregnant with life and color!  Take a walk today.  Look closely at the branches and inspect the mulch, noticing the spears of new leaves peeking through and flowers getting ready to bloom.  Slow down and put down your phone.  Take in the sights and smells of the season and rejoice!

Hosea 6:3-Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord; his going out is sure as the dawn; he will come to us as the showers, as the spring rains that water the earth.”

As sure as the dawn, friends.  Our Lord gives us these seasons in their predictability and consistency as reminders of His faithfulness!  Is that not reassuring as we emerge from the cold of Winter?  No matter how difficult this season has been, Spring is on it’s way!  As we stop and take in the newness of the bright green grass and flowering trees let’s do just what the verse above said…let’s press on to know our Lord, for he is faithful and trustworthy and consistent in all His ways.  He WILL come, just as Spring shows her face every single year in the blooms emerging from their winter sleep and the rains that feed May’s flowers!  If we press on to know Him, we will be rewarded with what we seek.  Intimacy, light, color and beauty will fill our spirits and we will walk in the warmth of His grace.

Happy Spring, dear ones.

 

Simply Jesus

I’m sure you have heard by now that Billy Graham went home on February 21st.  And I’m sure you have heard the name of Jesus thrown about more…and more positively…on all the media outlets than has been heard in years.

Now, I don’t watch as much news as I used to.  It brought me down,  made me angry, and generally cast a cloud over what would otherwise be a good day.  But the past few days I’ve tuned in a little more, clicked on those Facebook videos with highlights of Franklin Graham talking about his father and Kathie Lee passionately explaining the impact Billy Graham had on her and her family.

And throughout all the conversations, so far as I have heard, no one has refuted the Gospel of Jesus Christ as shared by Billy Graham.

billy-graham-prayer

I wonder why.  Why the reverence for a man who shared there is only one way to Jesus?  A man who didn’t bow to political ideology or ride the waves of Progressivism?  Why aren’t they debating Christianity this week, but allowing the Gospel to be presented over and over without interruption?  Why do the secular talk show anchors show only the deepest respect for Billy Graham and his legacy even though many of his beliefs were the polar opposite of theirs?

I know Billy Graham was not a perfect man.  He had flaws and struggles and, dare I say, sin just like you and me.

For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  (Rom. 3:23)

Billy Graham needed Jesus.  And he knew it.  He was wide open about it.  But he also knew he had the answer to all of life’s big questions regarding death and eternity…Jesus Christ.

Billy Graham lived for Jesus.  Period.  Billy Graham taught Christ and Christ crucified.  Period.  His message was simple.  Always simple.  Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

No one can argue with a man who was so singularly focused.

We make it so hard, don’t we?  We put God in a box and tell people what we think they need to do in order to open it.  Stop this.  Do that.  Don’t go there.  Straighten up.

But not Billy Graham.  He said, over and over, that God wants us just as we are.  We can’t clean ourselves up.  We can’t make ourselves worthy.

But Jesus can.  And He did.

He did it simply and humbly.  Nothing about Him drew the crowds, but everything about Jesus did.

“So many people think that somehow I carry a revival around in a suitcase, and they just announce me and something happens—but that’s not true. This is the work of God, and the Bible warns that God will not share His glory with another. All the publicity that we receive sometimes frightens me because I feel that therein lies a great danger. If God should take His hand off me, I would have no more spiritual power. The whole secret of the success of our meetings is spiritual—it’s God answering prayer. I cannot take credit for any of it.”

Simple.  Yes, friends, the Good News of Jesus Christ is simple.  Come as you are and let Him do what He does best.  He will handle the changes that need to be made.  He will show you what is next.  He will carry you and remind you of who you are and WHOSE you are when you doubt.  Because He is who He says He is and He will do…always…what He says He will do.

“I’m counting totally and completely on the Lord Jesus Christ, and not on Billy Graham. I’m not going to Heaven because I’ve read the Bible, nor because I’ve preached to a lot of people. I’m going to Heaven because of what Christ did.”  -Billy Graham

I’ll close with this…the gospel as shared by the man who very likely led more people to Christ than anyone else in history.  Read this, please.  It really is this simple.  And if you want to surrender your life to Jesus, I would love to introduce you to Him.  It is no accident that you are still reading this!  God loves you passionately.  All of Heaven awaits.

“I have one message: that Jesus Christ came, he died on a cross, he rose again, and he asked us to repent of our sins and receive him by faith as Lord and Savior, and if we do, we have forgiveness of all of our sins,” said Graham at his final Crusade in June 2005 at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in New York.

May we, as the body of Christ, find a new boldness in this season where the culture is hearing the Gospel anew.  May the home-going of our era’s greatest evangelist spur us on to take up the Cross and follow Jesus.  And may we purpose to keep it simple.  Because coming to Jesus is.

If you would like to know more about having a relationship with Jesus Christ, please email me at alifeofsimplejoys@gmail.com.  You can also find more information at stepstopeace.org.  I would love to help you find the same hope and peace that He has given to me.

When you have Christ’s full attention.

In Luke 8, Jesus is surrounded by a crowd of people who want to see him, touch him, and be healed by him. Word had gotten out about the miracles being performed by him and curiosity runs rampant throughout the cities and villages through which he travels.

He shares parables, one about the Sower, another about the Lamp.  He challenges those crowding around him to do more than just be curious or seek to be able to say, “I saw Jesus,” or, “I was there when…”  He encourages them to own the faith that is being planted in their hearts.  Let it take root, be bold to live it out and don’t hide it from the world.

The people continue to press in, wanting more, wanting everything He is willing to give them.

Then his mom and brothers show up, wanting to talk to him about something.  They try to get through the crowd to Jesus, but cannot because the people surrounding him are literally smashed hip-to-hip and shoulder-to-shoulder.  And if you know anything about Middle-Eastern culture (Shoot, if you have ever ridden on a subway!) then you know they aren’t about to part and let someone go through just because they politely say, “excuse me!” If you want to get through the crowd, you have to fight to do so.

So the disciples, seeing Mary and the boys’ frustration, try to help.  “Your mother and brothers are standing outside.  They want to see you.”

Now, for a long time Jesus’ response seemed kind of sassy to me.  Out of place, even.  But today as I read this passage and compared it with a couple of modern-language translations (this often helps clarify difficult passages) I saw something different.  Jesus refused to turn away from the desperate, searching crowd pressing in to him, begging and demanding to receive blessing and teaching from him.  He said to the disciples, “My mother and brothers are those who hear the Word of God and do it.”

I don’t believe Jesus was dismissing his mother or his brothers.  I believe his words were spoken for the benefit of the crowd.  In essence, he was telling them…

“You matter.  You are loved.  You are important to me, as important as anyone else I have ever known…including my own family.  You have my full attention as long as you need it.”

He knew the hearts of those surrounding them, their desire to learn the Word of God and please their Heavenly Father.  They wanted to be made better, to know what they were doing wrong and be taught how to live in a way that honored and pleased God.  And that attitude of humility, of strength and determined pressing in to the only One who could provide what their souls needed, captured the full attention of Jesus…so much so that he told his Mom and brothers to, in my words, “Hold tight for a sec, I’m busy and this is something that can’t wait.”

How does that make you feel?  I tell you what, it brings me such a sense of belonging.  To imagine that my seeking after him, asking for wisdom and wanting everything he has for me, captures his attention so much that he will tell his own mama to wait…

Wow.

This seals the deal for me, that no distraction or activity is more important than pressing in to Jesus.  No social event, no social media, no time-consuming “what-have-you” that is done to “fill time” is a better use of my time than finding out how to know my Savior more intimately and use the gifts He has given me to bring glory and honor to him.  It doesn’t mean I don’t relax or enjoy reading a good blog.  (Hello!)  It means that everything I do is funneled through the sieve of my relationship with God.  That I purpose and do my best to live without wasted time.  In the words of Brother Lawrence…

brotherlawrencequote

Or, “Lord of all blogs and Facebook memes, make me a saint by writing only from your inspiration and not to gain attention for myself.”

Or, “Lord of all craft rooms and boxes of paint, make me saint by creating beautiful things that remind us of You and by cleaning up my mess.”

Or even, “Lord of all books and overloaded shelves, make me a saint by reading great words that draw me closer to you and help me understand the Great Story you are writing over us.”

I could go on and on…insert your favorite way to relax or have down-time and just see how, maybe, God can use it…use you doing it…to refine you and draw you closer to Jesus.  To give you an opportunity to have His full attention because He sees your pursuit of wisdom and spiritual maturity and HE HONORS IT.  He honors it by turning His face toward you and talking to you as if you are the only person in the room.

Jesus’ actions in this chapter tell me something very important…

Obedience is thicker than blood.

May we find ways to weave obedience to the teachings of Jesus and the promptings of the Holy Spirit in the tiny, mundane details of our every day routine!  It will be in this that we become a people who truly know how to filter out the noise and live simply…for Him.