RUNNING ENEMIES

(Repost from August 2012. God is kind to remind me of who He is…and whose I am.)

As a runner,  I have four formidable enemies.

A headwind kicks my butt. There are days I get dressed for a run only to walk outside, feel a breeze and turn around to head straight for the treadmill.

Hills, although I’m more determined to conquer them,  also leave me wiped out.

Heat is my nemesis and that’s no small thing when you live in Texas.

And early morning is my least favorite time of day to lace up my Brooks.

Half way into my run this morning,  I realized I was facing all four minions at one time and I just about called someone to pick me up – until the song changed and I realized God was speaking.  He does that often when I’m working out.  I’ve never figured out if it’s because I’m exhausted and my defenses are down or if it’s because I’m focused and undistracted.  Regardless, I was done and he had something for me to learn.

We’ve had this conversation many times through the years so I guess I shouldn’t have to be reminded but…ya know.   This morning I was frustrated and wanted to push really hard and prove something to myself.  I wasn’t in the mood for a healthy and low stress walk or jog. This run was about conquering something that may have been more emotional than physical.   Little did I know, I would be faced with conquering that as well as all four of my running enemies at one time. Honestly, I couldn’t do it.  I couldn’t conquer them quickly and I wasn’t sure I’d conquer them at all.  The truth is I just wanted to quit.

Jesus knows me so well.  He knows how stubborn and impatient I am.  He knows how hard I am on myself.  He even knows how scared I can be even when I don’t realize it, but He has such a sweet way of giving me “pictures” that can explain more than words.  As I found myself gasping for air and about to quit,  it’s as if He said, ” Sometimes this is life.  I know it seems like too much but just keep moving.   We can take it slow.  We can take breaks. Just don’t quit.  Remember, I rule the wind and the sun.  I can make the hills into plains.  I can turn your mourning into dancing.   Keep your eyes on me.  Look right at me….Sing right to me.  I’m your hope.”

Funny thing is,  I made it home.  It wasn’t my best time ever but it wasn’t my worst and I didn’t quit.  How little I think I can handle sometimes.  If I could only remember that God is on my side and that Jesus is walking with me I think I wouldn’t be so afraid of the pain, hills, wind, sun and exhaustion.  His love is amazing.  His strength is never ending.  His grace overwhelms me.

I think I’ll follow him anywhere… it just may be at a slower pace on some days. 

The Valley of Tears

Valley of Baca

For as long as I can remember, it’s been important for me to recognize and value the struggles of life.  To recognize that faith doesn’t mean ignoring pain or speaking empty platitudes that make it seem like the “faithful” aren’t affected by struggle, sin or sorrow. To give voice to things that make people feel alone or different in a way that includes and validates, but in a way that also reminds our hearts that God is always present, working and loving. Even in our pain.

I’m aware that I can be more emotional than some. I can even border on the melodramatic at times.  The tears of another can send me crashing into deep sadness as easily as the beauty and fragility of a bird flitting and flying around my front flower bed can fill my heart with awe. But, more often than not, I live in a place of low-grade worry and pain.  To be fair, our world is a mess, people are hurting, and life is hard. The least I can do is be honest about it and “see” those who feel unseen.

But, today I am keenly aware that God has been massaging a few words deep into my soul over the last few weeks. Words that, to be honest, I struggle with. But, words that I know hold the keys to overcoming the struggles of life and that offer us access to a deep well of hope and joy.

Gratitude.

Trust.

Surrender. 

You wouldn’t think they would be so hard to say (or type) but it’s almost as if recognizing their importance sets me up to fail in my obedience.  To ignore or turn a blind eye to them often seems easier, and much more palatable, to my sinful and selfish heart – but God has kindly shown me that it also causes my suffering to last longer, go deeper and lose the meaning it could hold. It’s my choice. It’s always my choice.

He is kind to give me choices. 

He is good to forgive my choices.

He is patient to reveal different choices.

Choosing differently can feel as if I’m being unfaithful to something valuable.  Something that deserves my tortured and sorrowful response. Something that needs to be held up in reverence and with anguish of soul to prove that it held a deep importance in this world.

But God seems to whisper to my heart that finding something to be grateful for in the middle of suffering doesn’t negate that I am suffering.  To trust that He is still in ultimate control when everything seems out of control doesn’t mean I can’t pound on His chest in prayer and weeping with a deep cry of “why?”. To surrender to the path He is leading me down doesn’t mean it’s easy, that I would have chosen it, or that I must paint on a smile when it’s difficult. It simply means that, ultimately, He is my source of life. Not myself. Not my freedom. Not my comfort. Not my family or my health or my prestige or my love or even my very breath. He is life itself and that life, that love, does not end with the ending of anything else.

What it does mean is that I remind my heart, “You are deeply loved”.  That suffering well unites me deeper to the heart of my suffering Savior. That God’s redemptive plan is not just for me as an individual but that it is for all of mankind and creation. I have no idea how my story finds a place in the bigger, grander and more beautiful tapestry that He is weaving in the world, but, I believe that it does, and it will. 

I can choose resentment, bitterness, anger, unforgiveness, hopelessness or unbelief and find that the darkness becomes deeper as each day dawns.  Or I can choose trust, surrender, gratitude, love, forgiveness hope, and faith and find that the heaviness of suffering lightens as I refocus my heart onto the one that carries it better than I.

It’s a tenuous endeavor for sure.  I choose well one day.  I choose not so well the next.  I find glimpses of peace and relief one day. I sink under the weight of grief the next. I see light one day. I grope in darkness the next. 

And all the while…my God is here.  He is steady and true.  He knows I am but dust, yet He calls me up and out to choose the heavenly as the eternal soul that I am.  And when I don’t…He keeps me from falling too far. 

The truth that He is so kindly massaging into my soul is this.  Circumstances don’t dictate whether my soul is well.  Living out the dream that I had for my life doesn’t bring security and peace. Avoiding pain and heartache isn’t what creates a life of rest and joy and purpose. All is well, security and peace are found, pain and heartache are born up ONLY when Jesus is near. Not when I give intellectual service to his presence but when I am united with His heart.  When my heart sits in silence long enough to hear his words deep within my soul and my heart believes it. When my perspective changes from the things I want in this world to the things I want of Him.  And when I can choose, to the best of my ability, to say to Him, “Where you lead, I will follow, with all the trust and love I can muster. Knowing that when I fail…. You never will.”

Psalms 84: 5-7

How enriched are they who find their strength in the Lord; 

within their hearts are the highways of holiness! 

Even when their paths wind through the dark valley of tears,

they dig deep to find a pleasant pool where others find only pain.

He gives to them a brook of blessing

filled from the rain of an outpouring.

They grow stronger and stronger with every step forward,

and the God of all gods will appear before them in Zion.

Making Life, and Death More Manageable


It’s been a crazy week! Steve’s dad died on the 22nd. I couldn’t have prayed for better in-laws than Lowell and Carol Lawson. They loved me like I was their own from the first time I met them and Lowell (Papa) taught me how to eat corn on the cob the “right way”. They raised a son that loved me in a way that changed me forever and they showed my kids what love, faithfulness, service, humility, generosity and long-suffering look like. They also raised another son who is incredibly strong. Andy Lawson has handled more loss over the last few years than I can imagine with a faith and patience that honors God and would make his parents proud.

I love all the Lawsons and count myself blessed to be a part of this family. I also know that Lowell’s homecoming is an act of grace from God. The idea that he is no longer suffering and can see Mia, Uncle Johnny and Steve again thrills me. ( Not to mention Jesus.) So, I was surprised at the overwhelming emotions that flooded over me this week. A few circumstances played out that stirred deep emotions from the nights 4 years ago, in a Russian hotel room, where I waited to hear if Steve was alive or dead. There’ve been moments where seemingly unimportant things have turned on the waterworks for unknown reasons. And then there have been events that put me right back in the room, 10 months ago, when I had to tell the love of my life goodbye. It has been more than I expected, BUT… I share it all to share this.

Grief has left me with the realization that I am blessed with family and friends that have been better than I could ever know to be. It’s also revealed how incredibly prideful and self reliant I, and I dare to say we, can be. I’ve seen that I tend to buy or pay for what I need instead of asking friends if I can borrow their things or their time. I’ve noticed that I hardly ever take people up on their offers to help me in some way. Something deep in me doesn’t want to “put them out” because they might resent me later (for my Enneagram friends, guess what number I am). Sometimes I just want to prove to myself that I’m capable (now my wing 3 is showing). And, other times I know that we all say we want people to call on us but then we don’t do it ourselves, so the understanding is that it’s said but not done.

But, I had two experiences this week that solidified my growing conviction that not only are we happier, more fulfilled and stronger when we lean on each other, we are walking out Christ’s call to love and serve one another while living out the reality of what the Church is meant to be.

When I first heard that Lowell was going on hospice the tears started before I even realized that I was remembering how it felt with my own dad and husband. I wanted to be alone but remembered how often she offers to do something for me, so I called my mom instead. She’s the strongest woman I know. The woman that I knew understood all that I was feeling and who loved me more than anyone. She’s my mom and it still became an act of my will to call her for something as simple as a hug. Then the night came when things from the past 5 years fell into place in such a way that I cried like I have never cried before. I’m talking “can’t stop crying and not sure I ever will” crying. I played through who I could call that late at night. There were more than I expected there to be. (Like I said, I am blessed.) Yet, I didn’t. Then I played through who wouldn’t thing I was crazy. That number felt much smaller because I FELT CRAZY. But I knew no one else would. I went back and forth over and over wondering who or if I should reach out or if I should just pray more. Still I cried. Finally, I texted the ones that literally walked with me through the feelings I was reliving …my girls. Afraid I was adding weight to their already grieving hearts, but they were incredibly strong and they carried me. And then they turned around and taught me about life and death and community and grief and being strong enough to ask for help. They said to text a friend who lives half a mile away because she wouldn’t care that it was late. So I did. And they were right. And she didn’t. My tears slowed as the person who gives the best hugs in the world held me up long enough to get my footing again. She listened as I rambled and she covered me in prayer…actually, she was doing that right before I called. Point taken, God. You have already positioned people in our lives to be there for us just as you’ve called us to be there for others. We simply have to pay attention and reach out.

As I climbed in bed that night with a massive headache and puffy eyes, I was overwhelmed with the goodness of God to be present through others. Why don’t I tap into that more? Why don’t I recognize it more? I need to. I want to. I’m called to.

So, I literally fell asleep that night counting the ways that my people have loved me well and grateful for every text, message, hug, card, meal, walk, distraction, downed tree, cleaned pool…every ride, laugh, book, memory, prayer, caring glance, song sent, glass of wine…every house repair, mower fixed, dog fed, fire pit night and space given…thank you. This side of heaven is more heavenly because of community. Maybe that’s how we change the world.

On a horse with no name

Sitting among giant cacti. Watching the sun set. The silence almost otherwordly.

I hear some sort of bird flying by. It seems so out of place, as if it had lost its way in the world and ended up in the wrong landscape. I can’t see him but his song sounds familiar.

I’d swear it was a seagull. 

Jonathan.

But, Jonathan doesn’t live in this desert place surrounded by rocks and hills and dirt. He thrives among the waves and sand. So, I know it can’t be him.  It can’t be the friend that I would feed and coax and twirl with as my husband laughed at my childishness.  

But could it be? His song is slightly weaker…or smaller. I don’t know. 

Similar.

But different.

My only explanation is that God created a new creature in the desert that is a shadow of his ocean brother.  They sing similar songs but soar in different worlds. They have the same purpose but stretch their wings in very different atmospheres. 

I feel as if he is me.

A shadow of myself. 

In a different world.  

A different atmosphere. 

With a familiar purpose 

But an unfamiliar life.

I feel weaker…smaller…invisible…but I’m here.  I didn’t expect to be.  Here – I mean. In this dry, rocky and  uncomfortable place. I didn’t see the change coming but I doubt it would have made a difference.  The truth is that it just is.  The question is, do I trust the one who holds both places together? Do I trust that He will teach me to fly again…even here? Do I trust that He will teach me how to survive and, maybe, thrive with a louder song and a deeper call? 

I want to.  I need to. But some days I just don’t.  Some days I want to lay in the desert and let the sand engulf me until I blow away in the wind. But today, this brother of Jonathan has reminded me that love and beauty and hope live. I may not be where I feel I belong, but I am here…in this new place…and my options are sing or die. I have too much to live for to die.  Yes…this world is not what I’ve known. It’s not even what I want.  It’s hard and lonely. It’s dull and beige and lacking the joy I remember and crave.  But, there is always the promise of new life when the creator is involved. And I have to believe he is involved.  I have to remember.  I have to stand on the truths that I’ve always believed and seen and experienced. The creator is here.  In this place. With me.  When I don’t want to be here.  So…

There is hope. 

There is life.

There is love. 

There is a song.

Shark Attack and Other Fears

I don’t like to be wrong, but sometimes it’s worse to be right.

I’m a worrier by nature. I routinely fear that the worst will happen so I’ve learned a tool that has helped me combat those worries over the years. I remind myself that our fears hardly ever happen. Being attacked by a shark, being in a plane crash, a tornado destroying our home, nuclear attack. It’s true that the likelihood of our fears happening is small…until it’s not.

I had a card deck of questions Steve and I were asking at dinner one night while we were at the beach. Many of those answers have been invaluable to me over the last 4 months but one of them still chills my heart. “What is your partners’ greatest fear?” We both got it right on the first try.

Steve’s was being weak or out of control. (Enneagram 8 y’all?) Mine was something happening to him or one of our kids. (Enneagram 2, maybe?) After 33 years together, many highs and lows, struggling to learn to communicate, and lots of history to look back on, we both knew the others’ heart.

Literally, a week later, we faced them both. 

How I wish my fears would have been unwarranted, but the truth is, devastating things happen. Maybe not as often as we fear, but when they do, it changes everything.  

Unfortunately, I’ve met countless others over the last few months who wish they weren’t walking through their own fears as well. Some who seem to have an unshakeable confidence that all will be well.  Some who’ve given up on the thought that God could love them or that he even exists.  Some who are rightfully broken but humbly hopeful for the future. Some who take their hurt and wrap it around their hearts like a steal vest until nothing, pain or beauty, can get in or out. I’ve wondered where my heart will be found once I process and walk through this season. Honestly, it scares me. Doubt, fear, anger, and hopelessness threaten to rule my mind and heart quite often but, in standing against them, the greater fear is the temptation to counter those emotions with simplistic religious answers or trite platitudes. 

In the face of all this, the deep truth of Matthew 11 has reminded me that Jesus stands firm and true in the face of my greatest fears. Through John’s question and Jesus’ subsequent answer, my questioning heart is encouraged to remember that even the most faithful and humble servant of God can find themselves facing doubts because of fear, suffering or death. Jesus doesn’t disregard or rebuke John for his question but, actually, honors his faithfulness. Isn’t that beautiful? In verse 6, Jesus seems to allude to the fact that following him won’t always be easy but we are blessed if we don’t fall away during those times. He goes on to acknowledge that there will be resistance and pain in the advancement of his Kingdom; that things may get blurry at times but, in the end, truth will be known by the fruit that it produces; that humans have the propensity to seek blessings more than truth; and that life can become hard and heavy at times – but he wants to give us rest. That’s a lot of boxes he teaks off in one short chapter.

It seems that he wants us to know he gets it. Life I mean. Not only does he get it, he cares and wants to help us through seasons of pain we didn’t see coming. If someone gives me a 3-step plan as to how to trade my fears, burdens, worries and pain for God’s rest…I think I’d be suspicious. Relationships aren’t that easy.  They’re complex, ever-changing, dependent on communication and strengthened over time. 

This relationship I have with my Jesus is no different. So, this morning, over breakfast, He and I had some questions. After 46 years of highs and lows, struggling to learn how to communicate and lots of history to look back on, He gets me and I’m learning to listen.  You’re welcome to listen in if you’d like but, better yet…spend some time talking to him yourself. He doesn’t mind the questions and he can handle our doubts. Listen for a while and ask to see the depths of his love even in the pain of life.  My prayer for you and I today is to find a place of rest that cannot be shaken and a hope that rests in him alone.

Me – “Are you really who you say you are, Jesus?  Is it all true? This isn’t what I expected and it’s scary. It hurts. I’m confused. Did I hear you wrong? I thought you said you were doing a new thing. That this year would bring complete healing. That our family would find a place of purpose and joy. How could I be so wrong? Why would you heal only to take? What do I do now? The hopelessness seems like it will never go away. God…where are you?”

Jesus – “What have you seen and experienced in the past? What have I done in you and around you? Remember, sweet daughter.  Remember –  so that the enemy doesn’t cloud your heart in this pain. The temptation is always to question when life gets hard and when it seems like you’re being defeated. I understand. I’ve faced it all myself. Don’t so easily forget that I was, and am, victorious. This world is all you know (as of yet) but it isn’t all there is. In fact, it isn’t even your home.  You are an eternal being created for an eternal home.  This is simply the prologue to the real story and I want you to learn to focus on that. If you do, you won’t cling to this world with such desperation because hope is never lost.  Life is always waiting. Striving will cease because you can trust me to have your ultimate joy prepared and waiting. Death holds no power over my children and, because of that, life holds infinite possibilities. 

Remind yourself of all the times I showed up and all the times you have seen beauty, redemption, restoration, salvation, healing and love. This present darkness doesn’t change the truth of those moments and I continue to move in ways you can’t see and haven’t seen yet.  I love you.  I weep with you.  I pray for you.  And I want to carry you and your pain. Release it all to me…your doubt, your fear, your anger, your confusion, your disappointment…everything that is weighing heavy on your heart and pressing the breath out of your lungs. Open your hands and let it go. I am with you.  In the moments when you question me and my promises, remember that this is always true.  In every season, every wilderness, every pit…I am with you.  That’s what I do. I come to you. I stand with you. I hold you.  You don’t have to figure out how to make your way to me because I’m already here, now. Always have been and always will be. Life is a continuous series of joy and suffering but in all things, I am by your side and you are loved.  Hold fast to that truth. Fight for faith with all that is in you so that you can trust me when nothing else makes sense. Guard your heart and don’t let this world shut it off to love.I will carry you, your burdens and your pain. Speak to your fear and preach to your doubt, I was faithful then, I am faithful now, and I will be faithful for all of eternity.

You, my love, are seen, known and held.”

Even Now

Sun – Moon

Spring – Winter

Day – Night

Joy – Pain

It’s all life. It’s all yours. It’s all good.

There’s not one without the other. No power in love without the possibility of losing it…

Someday…Someway..

Even when it’s too early and even when it doesn’t make sense and everything seems like insanity.

But, Father, how I long to never lose the gratitude of having loved. The gratitude of being loved.

Loved in a way that changed me. Completely.

The gratitude for regret that illuminates forgiveness. Of living and learning with another failable soul because it knits you together so tightly that you can’t tell where one starts and the other ends. Of dreaming and hoping and healing and moving forward, hand in hand, with hearts lifted to you. For years. For decades.

For what should have been longer

I don’t understand, Lord. I don’t know how I missed what you were saying. I thought we had a calling – together. I thought we were walking towards wholeness. But, maybe, it was a calling and wholeness of a kind I couldn’t fathom. What I know is that the moon makes the sun brighter. The winter makes the spring more beautiful. The night makes the day warmer. The pain makes the joy sweeter.

And I see it all too clearly now. How beautiful. How holy. How precious was this gift. This life. This love.

Too often we don’t see our blessings until we have lost them.

Teach us, Holy Spirit, to see more clearly. To live more fully. To love more selflessly.

Teach us to count our blessings – even in the valleys.

Teach us to have grateful hearts – even when things are hard.

Teach us to hope in possibilities – even when we face dead ends.

Teach us to love – even when we don’t feel loved or loveable.

Because when things change, we will hope for another season, another day, another chance to say “I love you”, “I’m sorry”, “This is worth fighting for”, “You are amazing”, “We are blessed” or “I forgive you”. Help us, no matter where we are, to live with this banner in our hearts and over our lives…

“Praise you, God – you are always good – even now!”

Keeper of the Sparrows

My desk sits in front of our homes’ largest window. My front porch swing, two towering live oaks, my front flower bed and the livestock roaming in my neighbor’s pasture seem to be extra comforting as sunshine melts the evidence of this week’s snowstorm. Five days ago I sat here under layers of blankets watching hundreds of birds dart around my feeders devouring bird seed as quickly as I could put it out. Shockingly, they would bravely remain on one feeder as I filled up another without so much as a glance in my direction. One even landed on my hand! Hunger overrides fear,I guess, and they were certainly hungry, puffed up and frantic to survive. (Much like the rest of our ill-equipped state.) 

Today, as I look out over my feeders, I only see a handful of sparrows and a red bird or two. Quite a few Robins are eyeing the mushy ground for bugs, and crows are cawing from the neighbors’ oak tree but my smorgasbord is fairly empty once again. The weather sure makes a difference in the desperation of my feathered friends and in their willingness to allow me to get close.

It’s not difficult to draw similarities between the nature of birds and my own nature. The “weather” in my life has clearly determined the levels of desperation in my heart and the willingness to which I draw near to God. When life falls apart and we’re at the end of our abilities, it seems that we, as humans, instinctively run to God. We pursue His presence, we devour His word, and we cling to any sense of hope that prayer can provide. But, when the sun comes out and the fear dies down, it seems just as instinctual to depend on our own abilities and to forget who provided all we needed during the storm.  

Oh, but God is patient and gracious! He knows our pride and self-reliance but he continues to convict, to pursue, and to love us. When I’m face to face with the results of living life in my own strength, I’m reminded of how faithful he is. Each time I’ve found myself in a storm and in desperate need of his presence and provision, He’s been there. Each time, I find more “belonging.” I’m not sure how else to describe it except that my soul knows this place of dependency is where I’m meant to be. Where I’m meant to live. Each time I watch God faithfully care for me through a trial, my heart finds it easier to stay in that place a little while longer. To live from that place of dependency and trust instead of from a place of forgetfulness and self-reliance. The more I taste of God’s goodness…the hungrier I become. 

And hunger seems to not only override fear but pride and self reliance as well. 

I haven’t found a way to expedite the learning to live from this place of dependency. This place of abiding. It seems to come in its’ own time through experience…and failure. The ability to rest in who God is and what he does is inexplicably tied to the knowledge of who I am and what I can do. Or cannot do. The sin, deceptiveness and naiveté of my own heart and the weakness, frailty and decaying nature of my own body lead to the understanding that my hope truly does rest in God, the Keeper of the sparrows. 

This revelation is worth praying for, but it isn’t easy and it isn’t always pretty. It is, however, a gift. A gift of humility that leads to a pursuit of righteousness that leads to peace. To belonging.  To satisfaction.  Resting in God’s hand as he provides exactly what I need frees my soul to hope, breath, and love in the face of whatever comes. At least that’s the glimpse I’ve had of where I’m meant to belong. I hope I can learn to hang out there a little longer today than I did yesterday. And even longer tomorrow.  

Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are? Can all your worries add a single moment to your life?“And why worry about your clothing? Look at the lilies of the field and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are. And if God cares so wonderfully for wildflowers that are here today and thrown into the fire tomorrow, he will certainly care for you. Why do you have so little faith?“So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.       Matthew 6:26-33

Talking to Myself in the Darkness

This is one of those posts where I’m telling myself what I know to be true and what I need to hear.  Just flat out preaching to my own heart with the hopes that I can stir up my faith. Because, truthfully,  I am so weary. I’m shocked and disappointed by people on all sides and in all kinds of ways.  Even disappointed in myself. This world seems out of control crazy and the consistency of lose has ripped stone after stone from the walls that protected my soul until I find myself in a place off sadness that I haven’t felt in a very long time. If ever. 

The question that I ask myself is, “Why? Which difficulties of life, or prideful, suspicious and hateful acts of man shock you?”

I know life is hard.  I know humans are sinful. I know nothing is promised to me and our comfort is always something that is out of the ordinary.  I also know that my grandparents faced many more struggles than I have including the death of a child, chronic illness, a flu epidemic that was worse than COVID, two world wars and an economic collapse to name a few. Yet, I remember them as being so strong.  Physically, mentally and spiritually strong.  Not only that,  I remember their smiles and their laughter.  The joy they found in simple pleasures. The hope that God is, ultimately, the victor. Truthfully, maybe I should be more shocked by the lack of faith, love and joy in the lives of Christ’s followers than I am at the struggles we face. 

I’ve been asking for deliverance a lot lately and asking God how I can let go of this worry so I can live in greater faith and joy. True to his goodness, he has allowed the tears, the fear, the doubt and ALL THE WORDS – without condemning my weakness. He’s covered me with comfort at times  and left me to struggle at others.  And then, like he always does, after patiently listening and allowing me to vent all my feelings, he pointed me to truth.  Truth that I didn’t necessarily want to see or hear.  But my heart knows it’s true. 

James 1:2-4  Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way.  

 The amplified version says,  “Consider it nothing but joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you fall into various trials.”  I sure feel like I’ve “fallen into various trials.” Don’t you?  The last 12 months have been full of all kinds of various trials that seemed to just happen to us.  Not due to anything we’ve done, but just because we live in this world. Yet, James says to consider it a gift.  Count it as joy.  Really? How?  

And I remembered my grandparents again. And my parents. 

 I was looking at old pictures with my mom the other night as she told me stories of her grandparents her parents, her uncles and even her and my dad.  Things they experienced and walked through that I never knew about.  Horrible things.  Things that changed them.  And I suddenly saw a beautiful picture of this passage.  

A few of them were changed by the difficulties in negative ways.  They became depressed, angry, hateful, bitter or afraid as they aged.  But most of them allowed those difficulties to change them in positive ways and to grow their faith.  To differentiate what was tradition and what was true.  They struggled and cried and prayed to the other side of the trials until their faith was mature and well-developed.  Like the Amplified Bible says, it led them to inner peace. I remember seeing that peace in how they lived, how they related to people, how they handled disappointments and in how they died. 

I would prefer that God change the things in my life that we’ve fallen into but, in the long run, I want what he is showing me.  I want steadfast faith.  Perfect peace. A certainty that my life and purpose is wrapped up in him and not in the ever-changing power struggles of this world.  

 So, self…count it all joy.  Face these various trials knowing that God is greater and that this world is not the ultimate home for your soul.  

The next few verses in James say to ask God for wisdom when we need help navigating circumstances and to have faith that he will lead. 

So, self…ask and trust that God gives generously and without blame. He won’t leave you hanging without direction.

A few verses later, James mentions those people who are tossed around by every wave and wind. James 1:8  “Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.” 

So, self…search long and hard to see who you are loyal to. God and his everlasting kingdom or the kingdoms of this world that give you a false sense of security. Your security is in the light and life of Jesus.  There will always be sin, injustice, poverty, hatred, division, pride, fear, war and uncertainty.  The question is,  will you simply curse the darkness or will you become a light? 

So, self…don’t just endure this time. Defy it by being the light of the world as Jesus was. Walk like Jesus walked. Love, especially those who hate you. Forgive those who hurt you. Speak truth but don’t hate. Stand against lies with power and strength that is under control. Trust that God sees and cares.  Focus on him and discard the things that distract you. 

 Self… Never forget that your heart goes where your eyes look so stay focused. Don’t despair.  Don’t give in. Don’t give up. And don’t settle for what the world says is righteousness and peace. God will use it all for His glory and you will know pure joy.

“You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thought are fixed on you!” Isaiah 26:3

The Encore

Isaiah 9:2, 6-7   The people who walk in darkness will see a great light.
For those who live in a land of deep darkness, a light will shine.For a child is born to us, a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

 His government and its peace will never end.
He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David
    for all eternity.
The passionate commitment of the Lord of Heaven’s Armies
    will make this happen!

Revelation 21: 1-5  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone.  And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.”And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!”

Revelation 22:12a  “Look, I am coming soon, bringing my rewards with me.”

There is perhaps no story as amazing and unbelievable as the story of God choosing to become a man. His coming to live among us has literally changed everything, but even with the hundreds of thousands of books and messages written and shared about the Incarnation, there’s still more power, more insight, and more hope available to the children of God all because of the newborn King. The baby represented in your nativity scene is so much more than a nice story that happened 2000 years ago.  

His story didn’t end in the manger.  It didn’t end at the cross.  It didn’t even end at the resurrection.  Christ’s story…God’s story…will ultimately come to a dramatic and victorious end when Jesus comes again. Not as a humble baby but as a victorious King who will complete what he started the night Mary held him in her arms. 

Light will completely destroy darkness and all the evil that goes along with it – forever. The Word who became flesh will be seen by all of us…in the flesh. We’ll hear his laughter, see his smile and touch his nail-scarred hands.  All of our waiting will come to an end as every promise will be received, every injustice will be made right, every hurt will be healed, and every fear will be destroyed. Our surrender and obedience will be rewarded, our love will be made complete, our humility will become a crown and our hopes will be fulfilled. 

Scripture says that Jesus will come back in the same way he left.  Through the clouds. But this time he’ll have an army with him, and it won’t be a humble, quiet entrance.  Everyone will know of his presence and nothing will be the same. 

Here’s the part of the story that I love and that is, sadly, often misunderstood. Jesus won’t be taking us to a city somewhere in the clouds where we sit around and sing all day.  The desire of God has always been to be with his people…here. On this earth that he created.  His plan has always been for us to rule under his authority and in his kingdom. The plan hasn’t changed.  

Christ’s second return will make all things new. ALL THINGS! Us. The animal kingdom. The earth itself. Our purposes. Our giftings. Our bodies. Our minds. Paradise will be renewed! All things will be made right! Joy will fill every heart!!

Our sins will be forgiven, God will dwell with man, and the fullness of who we were created to be will become reality. 

That’s the hope that Jesus provided when he came to seek us out and to win our hearts with his humanity, holiness, and love. That’s the hope of Simeon’s prayer.  That’s the hope or Mary’s surrender. That’s the hope of the Shepherds as they remembered the night they saw the Messiah. That’s the hope of Joseph’s obedience.

 That’s the hope of Christmas!

Make it personal

Spend some time dreaming of what life will be like in a new heaven and a new earth. What would you want to see and do? Who will you want to talk to or hug? Can you imagine life without fear and doubt? A life where all good and holy things are possible? Paint a picture of that perfect world in your mind and remember it often.  Hope is always a good thing to hold onto. 

As we anticipate Christmas on this Christmas Eve, thank Jesus for all he has done and ask him to give you a fresh expectation of his return. Spend some time in worship and stillness. Ask the Holy Spirit to provide, renew, and restore joy to your heart. Joy that can’t be tarnished by the things of this world. He loves to answer those prayers.  

Good tidings, my friends, and may you experience all of God’s comfort this season and be filled with His endless supply of joy. Merry Christmas! 

Love and Humility

Matthew 1:18-21  This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Joseph, to whom she was engaged, was a righteous man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement quietly.

 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

 Matthew 2:13-15  After the wise men were gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

That night Joseph left for Egypt with the child and Mary, his mother,and they stayed there until Herod’s death. This fulfilled what the Lord had spoken through the prophet: “I called my Son out of Egypt.”

Matthew 2:19-23  When Herod died, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt.“Get up!” the angel said. “Take the child and his mother back to the land of Israel, because those who were trying to kill the child are dead.”

So Joseph got up and returned to the land of Israel with Jesus and his mother. But when he learned that the new ruler of Judea was Herod’s son Archelaus, he was afraid to go there. Then, after being warned in a dream, he left for the region of Galilee.So the family went and lived in a town called Nazareth. This fulfilled what the prophets had said: “He will be called a Nazarene.”

Matthew 13:55  Then they scoffed, “He’s just the carpenter’s son, and we know Mary, his mother, and his brothers—James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas.

Luke 4:22  Everyone spoke well of him and was amazed by the gracious words that came from his lips. “How can this be?” they asked. “Isn’t this Joseph’s son?”

Jesus’ arrival was made possible by the love, protection and provision of God through a young man named Joseph. He doesn’t get much airtime during Christmas, but have you ever realized what an important role he plays?  Joseph actually has more interaction with heaven than anyone else in the story. God was bound and determined that Joseph would be prepared to protect His son. 

Joseph and Mary must have been an incredible pair. Righteous, humble and kind. However, they wouldn’t have been considered with high regard in their culture.  Joseph, in particular, seems to have been seen as a blue-collar worker of very little significance or importance. In fact,  we don’t hear much about Joseph at all after these few references. Once more in Luke and twice in John. All of which simply mention that Jesus was his son. That seems to be ill-suited for the man who carried the earthly responsibility of fathering the Messiah.  

In a patriarchal world, the newborn King would need an earthly father to protect him, provide for him and love him. Joseph seems to  have taken on that responsibility without question and with complete humility. The situation with Mary may have brought scandal on his family and it seems to have made the next few years a bit more difficult, but at every turn, he simply obeyed. Jesus knew him as his Daddy for at least 12 years because we see Joseph and Mary  desperately looking for Him in Luke 2.  At the age of 12, Joseph finds his son in the temple asking questions and amazing the teachers.  The carpenter must have been amazed by his son’s wisdom. 

That’s the last we see of Joseph.  It seems that he didn’t live to see the ministry of Jesus. Not only does he not see the fullness of his son’s ministry, he doesn’t seem to receive much notoriety down through history.  

Perhaps more than any other, Joseph is an example for those of us that want to follow Christ. The truth is, obedience and humility are foundational to a Godly life and we see them reflected beautifully in his. It’s so easy to feel overlooked and useless if we aren’t receiving applause or encouragement.  In an Instagram world, it’s even more difficult to feel useful when others seem to be successful while we feel stuck. But, the life of Joseph shows us that God’s approval, his purposes, and his love have everything to do with our hearts and nothing to do with our social standing or worldly success.  God chose Joseph and Mary because they loved him and lived righteous lives of surrender to his will.  Not because they had a big house, wrote a best seller, pastored a mega church or ran a successful business. God looks at the heart, not the resume.  

What’s valuable to God? A heart that’s willing to obey His call no matter how crazy it sounds and a heart that’s willing to walk out that call over the long haul, even if no one else seems to notice.  That’s a heart that knows God’s love and trusts His heart. 

It seems that Joseph, (and most biblical characters), knew something we might need to remember. Something that seemed to motivate and inspire him.  He understood that God’s story wasn’t about him personally.  Yes, he played an important role, he was invited into the story and he would benefit from the fullness of that story; but, the story began long before him and would extend far beyond him. The faithfulness of God is larger than the lifetime of one person and sometimes, the culmination of a promise isn’t seen in that one lifetime.  Our obedience, our humility to accept our path in life, and our ability to find joy in that journey  rests in the faithfulness and love of God. Faithfully living for his glory is the gift we can offer the King. This world is not our home.  This life is not the end.  And this story is not over.  

Jesus, the Light of the world, the Word who became flesh, the Joy of man, the Peace for those who seek him and the Hope of all the world…He has come. 

But he will also come again. 

As we celebrate the baby in a manger whose parents were much like you and I – very ordinary people – let’s remember that he isn’t done yet. The celebration has only just begun. Emmanuel is waiting expectantly for his Encore.  

Are you ready?

Make it personal

Is there a relationship or situation in which you could show more humility or love? An argument that you don’t need to win. A difficult person that you can chose to love. Recognition that you don’t have to have. Forgiveness that you can give. An unpleasant task that you could accomplish for someone else. Ask God for strength to obey regardless of whether you receive any fanfare or approval.  

Now spend the next 24 hours thinking about the second coming of Emmanuel when God will, once again, physically be with us.