To You

“You are loved and you are precious to me. My voice will be kind when I speak to you. Even in correction or rebuke, I am gentle. Why do you still expect me to be judgmental and stern? I’m not like people you’ve known. I’m not human.  You may have been judged, rejected, scorned, punished, ignored or overlooked by others but I’m not any other.  At your best…at their best…any action or word is only a shadow or a fraction of who I am.

I know you.  I know how you hear.  I won’t speak to you in the same way that I will speak to my other children. Don’t worry that you’ll miss my voice or that  I’ll pass you by if you don’t prove to me how sincere you are.  I see your heart.  I know your motives.  I hear your prayers.  You are understood, so rest in my love.

Try to let go of  searching and striving in favor of trusting. Rest is the destination for now. You’re so accustomed to the noise, struggle and stress of life that you’ve forgotten how to simply “be”.  How to listen without expecting correction or  instruction on something to “do”.    It’s okay not to do something for this season.  In fact, it’s necessary.  My words of hope and  healing will come in just the right time and in just the right way.   Just be still. Talk to me. Know how much I enjoy your presence.  When your child curls up next to you early in the morning with no need to be fed, changed or corrected don’t you want time to stand still. Don’t you whisper words of love and hope over her life?  Don’t you want her to know how special she is and how completely you love her no matter how many messes you’ve had to clean up? Don’t you sing  and pray over her?

So do I.

Over you.

Do the things you already know to do. Pray, listen, be silent and then, talk to me.  Listen, talk and listen some more.  Look for the beauty and majesty around you. Love selflessly. Forgive sacrificially.  Walk in faith and trust me to be with you. To speak to you. To change you…from glory to glory.

As you understand and know me you will be transformed by the ever increasing beauty of my presence and my glory.  I will do it all.  I will reveal myself. I will open your eyes and heart in perfect  time.  No need to fret.  No need to strive.  No need to worry that you’ll miss me. I’ll never leave you and I will never fail to complete what I’ve begun.  Rest in the joy of knowing I’m in control.   Rest in that…no matter where we are. Rest in that…even when you feel impatient. Rest in that…and hope. I know you better than you know yourself.  I am always moving.  I am always working.  I am always loving.  Have faith, my dear, that my arms are strong enough to hold and carry you. Stop desperately looking for instructions or directions. We are already there. We are right where we need to be.  Just rest in my arms and I will tell you when it’s time to run.”

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Stripping off what holds me down

gull.jpgTherefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.” Hebrews 12:1

Over the last few months, I’ve been intrigued by this thought of “the sin that so easily trips us up.” This sin that is described in other translations as entangling us, clinging closely to us and being easy to fall into (NIV, ESV, TPT respectively.) That kind of sin seems to be something that I should be acutely aware of.  After all, how can I strip it off and avoid it if I’m not sure what it is?  Sure, I’m familiar with the thought of sin.  I have plenty that I struggle with. But, this little statement, tucked away in scripture, seems to elude to the idea that each of us has a particular sin that troubles us more often than others. I was curious as to what mine might be and tried to pay close attention to what it might be over the course of a few weeks.

It’s been annoying how many have regularly reared their ugly heads’. I’ve also been quite annoyed at how difficult it is to pry their ugly claws off my mind and heart. All the will power in the world doesn’t seem to change me, at least not at my core, and that’s frustrating. I want (no…need) practical steps and explanations when it comes to walking out my faith but, sometimes, all I hear are nice sounding phrases that don’t really tell me anything or get me anywhere.

“Strip off every weight that slows us down.” It sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? But sin isn’t a silky dress that we gracefully and easily step out of like a bad Marilyn Monroe movie.  It’s more like a claustrophobic-inducing straight jacket that we viciously rip off. Sin isn’t easily dealt with. I had to ask myself how I could possibly find a way to be free from something that had attached itself to me for years.

Then came verse 2.

We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith”.   It may be a struggle and I might question if it’s possible at times. BUT, Jesus will not only show me the way but will help me. The practical answer of how to strip off that sin is to be so close to Jesus that He’s able to speak, move, convict, empower and work in my life.

The question then becomes, “How submitted am I and how fixed are my eyes?”

The honest answer for me was, “not very”.  Not because I don’t love Jesus or don’t want to serve God with all I am…I do.  But, the amount of time I was giving to the things of this world was much greater than the amount of passion and desperation that I had for the things of God. My words may say differently, but the truth is seen in my actions.

I Corinthians 7:35 became a clue as to how I can draw nearer to Jesus so that He could free me from the sinful side of myself. “I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.”My obedience, devotion, love and service to God should be greater than anything else in life. If it isn’t, I have distractions that I need to get rid of. That’s the only way to run the race that God has set before me.

I don’t like to admit it but I have lots of things that distract me, lull me to sleep or tempt me to feed my personal sins but IF I decide to take seriously the call placed on me in Hebrews 12:1, I need to start getting a little more ruthless with those things. I certainly have not “arrived” but Jesus seems to be showing me some things that help as I try to keep my eyes on him and rid myself of the same old struggles that I’ve dealt with for years.  I’ve got a long way to go, a lifelong journey to be exact, and I still have seasons when I feel miles and miles away from God, but the chaos and confusion in my mind is quieter and the peace that I’ve longed for for so long is becoming an intoxicating treasure that I crave more everyday.

I challenge you to ask God what will help loosen the tight grip of your reoccurring sin, lesson the distractions in your life and help focus your eyes more intently on Jesus. He will speak because you are precious to Him and your heart is His desire. The question we have to ask ourselves is, what is most precious to me and what do I desire above all else? The answer that brings joy is the same as it always is…Jesus.

7 things that help me focus

  1. Don’t look at anything before I spend time in God’s word each morning. No social media, no internet, no newspaper, no emails, etc. Even if it’s just 5 minutes to read a verse and give praise and allegiance to Jesus for the day. It quickly becomes addictive and can easily take over your whole morning once you experience the peace it brings to your heart.
  2. Journal. Whether it’s a verse that speaks to your heart, something you are grateful for or struggling with, a prayer, or 2 pages of thoughts – write it down. It will force you to start talking to God.
  3. Decrease the amount of TV, news and social media that you fill your mind with. It’s such a huge part of our life and culture that you may not even realize how much you’re taking in. Keep track for a week by using an app on your phone   or by writing it down. This was a HUGE source or clutter, confusion and anxiety for me.  In and of itself, cutting back on this has brought so much peace and clarity to my heart and mind.
  4. Along the same lines, every 4-6 months fast from all social media. Yep…I haven’t done this one.  I made it a day and was surprised at what a habit it was. But, I will do It soon (with God’s help) J. Neuroscientists and psychologists across the board say that this is important.  The length of the fast has been anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks. Research it and decide what works for you.
  5. Fill your mind with more good things.Worship music, podcasts and messages by pastors and teachers I respect from all different backgrounds has been great for me. I have to be careful not to overload myself with too much good information just as I have to avoid too much bad information. Too much of anything in my brain makes it difficult to meditate on the things God is saying.
  6. Again, along those lines, READ. Of course, read and study Scripture but also read for fun. Read for knowledge. Read to challenge yourself. Some of my favorites, lately, have been the Christian mystics that my daddy loved.  I also have a long list of Christian classics, novels, poetry and travel memoirs that I don’t have enough time to get too.  This makes turning off the electronics a lot easier.
  7. Get outside. It’s scientifically proven that spending time in nature is a huge benefit to humans. I can’t even begin to express how much I think our society has lost as we’ve become less connected to God’s creation; but, that’s another blog for another time.  For now, just get outside!  It seems to be easier to hear God when we’re reminded of how small we are in this vast universe…and how loved we are by it’s creator.  Plus…it’s beautiful. ❤

 

“House on a hill”

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Melancholy is as certain in my life as breathing. Learning to trust that it won’t last forever and riding the wave with grace and faith instead of struggling against the feelings has been a lesson   that is a longtime coming. I’ve experienced years of God’s faithfulness to teach me and carry me through these melancholy storms. That faithfulness provides me with a deep sense of faith and rest when my heart wonders if the wind will ever stop. Still, I  find myself forgetting, fighting to reach the surface, gasping for breath, angry that I can’t put words to why I’m in the middle of another storm, what triggered it and when and how it will lift.

If only I could remember, more often, that the secret to a storm is to be still in the middle of it, not to wait for it to still.

Stillness isn’t popular.

Stillness isn’t comfortable.

Stillness isn’t a quick fix or something I can check off my to-do list.

But, only in stillness am I able to fight off the racing thoughts, fears, expectations and disappointments of my mind so that I can find some silence.

Silence isn’t popular.

Silence isn’t comfortable.

Silence isn’t a quick fix either.

But, only in silence can I find solitude…and, solitude is the secret.

Solitude allows my heart, my mind and my soul to meet again with my Savior without distractions or competing affections.  Without an agenda or complaint.  Simply present and available to meet with the only one who can lead me through any storm at any time with power and peace that passes all understanding.

I believe the Christian mystics of our past knew something that we desperately need to rediscover as individual followers of Christ and as His church as a whole.  That faith is fueled by a relationship built in solitude and silence, not by a list of do’s and don’ts.

It’s the difference between overcoming in this life and simply enduring. It’s the power to find healing and growth for my hurts and weaknesses.  It’s the peace that transcends the storm. It’s meeting with my God who has been waiting all along for me to stop and sit with him. To open the door to my house and  let him in.

Here’s an interesting fact – Revelation 3:20 was written to believers. Specifically, the church in Laodicea. “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Jesus wants to spend time with his people. To eat with them. To talk with them.  To share his heart with them. To love them and to be loved.  He knows that the solution to a lukewarm life, to melancholy, to fears, to apathy and aimlessness is to spend time with him.  To be with him.  Not to “do” anything but to be changed in his presence. To refuse the hurry, and busyness of life that the enemy has used to distract and to choose the quiet and peace of solitude with our Father.

That’s life. Abundant life. And it’s possible to find even in the middle of a storm.

IF I can just remember, and choose, to be still and know that he is God.

Marriage and Vacations

Cancun20199-36I’ve been married 30 years to an amazing man and, truthfully, it’s hard to believe. Our family was lucky enough to celebrate together by going on a short vacation for the first time since we’ve gained two sweet granddaughters.  Sand, waves, sun, babies, kids, endless food and hammocks were the stuff of memories.

At least in my mind.

What I didn’t expect was that exhausted babies, cancelled flights, last-minute hotel stays, sunburn, lost treasures, diarrhea and fever  would also be a part of our family vacay.  That may not be the idealistic vacation, but its a more realistic description of our past 5 days.

You know what?  That’s okay.  Because that’s life and, honestly,  a pretty accurate picture of our 30 years of marriage.

I treasure both.

Maybe there are couples out there that have laughter,  love, ease, intimacy, connection, rainbows and unicorns 24/7 in their relationship but that’s not us.  We’ve had some really hard times.  We’ve had some years that we refer to as the years from hell.  We’ve had meltdowns, insecurities, fights, counseling and disappointments through the years.  BUT, we’ve also had wonderful moments, joy, laughter, forgiveness, passion, ministry, faith, adventure and lots and lots of love.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

I wouldn’t trade my love for anything or anyone.  My husband knows me better than I know myself. He’s loved me well and has given me the opportunity to learn to love him well. I may be a slower learner than he is, but I’m catching on. Believe me when I say that it’s NEVER to late to learn anything…especially how to love better.

The truth is,  marriage is HARD! Sometimes it sucks.  Sometimes it hurts.  Sometimes we disappoint ourselves and each other.  Sometimes we have to fall on the grace of God and trust Him to lead us back together…even if we feel worlds apart.  But, man, is it worth it!

I recognize that there are times when it isn’t possible to fight your way back to one another but I also believe that those times are fewer than we assume.  We’ve heard of couples who have walked through the worst life has to offer only to find themselves reconnected and stronger than ever.  I’m grateful that that’s our story.  That we chose one another over everything else.  Because let me tell you….there is no love like the love that is on the other side of hardship. There is no marriage like a marriage that has been full of forgiveness, grace, humility, love and hope.  And it’s almost impossible to have a marriage full of all that without also being full of hardships.

So, to all the newlyweds out there…prepare now for difficulties and fight like hell through them because the love you have is nothing compared to the love you can have if you humbly follow God and love one another over time.

To all those in the middle of difficulties…get some great biblical counseling, be prepared to serve, forgive and give until it hurts. Pray constantly. Don’t give up hope and remember to give the grace God has given you.

To all those enjoying  the fruits of faithfully working through the ups and downs of life…find a couple to encourage and never take one another for granted. Life is fragile and life is flitting.

But, oh…life can be so beautiful! It isn’t always palm trees, sand, waves and holding hands in a hammock but when it is…it’s lovely.  I hope to spend the next 30 years holding hands with this man I love whether it’s through storms or sunshine.

I’ll suffer through delayed flights and sleepless nights just to be near him.  My hero. My love. My life.

 

 

 

 

 

Walls of Dubrovnik

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We build walls so easily. So naturally.

Without even realizing it, our hands pick up stones that are mindlessly laid one upon another.

Year after year, the walls reach higher and higher and higher while we instinctively know what we need and what we desire, but, what is not so naturally given or received.

Connection.

Sending out tentative tendrils of a look, a touch, a word….hoping for someone to respond.

Someone to reach over the wall, dig under it, knock out a stone…whatever it might take to touch.

Blind to the way we’ve constructed the world around us. The world that is comfortable but suffocating.

Protected yet alone.

Unchallenged but drab.

Demolishing defenses comes so slowly.

So purposefully.

So painfully and fearfully but… SO WISELY.

With age, maybe, we learn that our walls have outlived their purpose and that safety isn’t nearly as important as love.

Spring Always Comes

IMG_2173Spring has begun to show itself here in Texas and, although it hasn’t been a harsh winter, it’s a welcome friend. I love Spring with every part of my being.  I love the fragrance of fresh-cut grass, newly budding flowers and spring rains.  I love the vibrant colors of our Texas sunsets and the various shades of this beautiful green earth placed against the bright blue sky. I love the sound of birds in the morning, children laughing in a park and lawn mowers humming. And I love the feel of the sun on my skin and the certainty that Spring will always come.

No matter how long the winter.

This affinity for Spring is in my blood.  My Nanny was a gardener with a green thumb that I can only dream of having.  Her yard is still one of my favorite childhood memories that has become something of fairy tale proportions in my mind.  A place of beauty and wonder that seemed larger than life.  Much larger than I’m sure it was.  My Papaw would always take me to the little town of Many, Louisiana to buy me a new Easter dress at the “5 and Dime” store each year so that we could join him and my Mamaw for an Easter sunrise service at Hodges Gardens.  I was so small that I barely remember more than putting on my new dress and paten leather shoes, falling asleep in the car and waking to the sound of hymns and the sunrise coming up over the most beautiful field of azaleas that you can imagine. The memories could go on and on…sitting on the back of my daddy’s bike and riding through Audubon Park…pulling up sprigs of grass and little white flowers off our shrubs to make my mom a homemade corsage for Easter…hunting for eggs after church…crawfish boils…family picnics with chips, cokes and bologna sandwiches at roadside parks on spring break road trips.

Spring is full of life to me.  Feeling it, smelling it, seeing it, hearing it, tasting it, living it but, most importantly, remembering that it always comes.  Life that is.

As I sit on my porch for the first time this year and watch the birds at my feeders, I’m so grateful for the fact that winter can never stop spring from coming.  It’s not that I hate winter.  It’s a needed part of life and, to be brutally honest, winter makes spring so much more beautiful, and not just because we appreciate it more after long months of darkness.  A hard winter actually does something deep in the earth to make plants more vibrant and to kill certain pests. Winter can seem hopeless at the time but there’s a rhyme and reason to it. There’s a purpose for each season even if it’s difficult to see sometimes.

The concept that each season has a purpose and actually prepares us for the next is not an earth shattering one. I’m sure it isn’t new to you either.   But, I feel compelled to acknowledge how this last year has chiseled this truth down deep into my soul. My faith has been strengthened to see how faithful my God is in bringing about each season at just the right time and for his perfect purposes. It’s also grown a passion in me to be actively involved in each season of life and to have as much of an effect on them as humanly possible.

You might wonder what I mean or think, “God is in control of the seasons, what do we have to do with it?” What I mean is that I want to be gardener. I want to work the soil of my life in such a way that God is glorified when Spring comes.  We aren’t called to a passive life of “kind of” obeying and pursuing God while we wait to see what happens.  Granted, we don’t know what’s coming in our lives but we can know that something is coming. Winter always does.  It’s a necessity of life.  It can take many forms but we can’t avoid it. It may be that life simply gets dark, cold or dull.  Or it may mean that we experience hopelessness, death, sorrow or pain. Whatever it may be, we will always encounter winter at some point.  BUT, we also encounter spring, summer and fall. God is so gracious in that way. The question is, will we make the most of the time in each?

Proverbs 6:6-8 says “Take a lesson from the ants, you lazybones.  Learn from their ways and become wise! Though they have no prince or governor or ruler to make them work, they labor hard all summer, gathering food for the winter.” And Proverbs 20:4 says it like this, “Those too lazy to plow in the right season will have no food at the harvest.”

The truth of the statement “God prepares and provides for our future trials today” has been revealed to me in living color as I’ve realized how often he provides through my desire to know him and through my obedience. Yes, he is a gracious and merciful God who often gives us what we need even when we haven’t listened to his voice; but, preparation and provision often comes through what I have done during the summertime of my life.  Summer is a time of hard work! If you’ve ever had a garden that you’ve started from seed or planted by hand you know how difficult it can be. Tilling up hard ground, pulling up all sorts of stuff you don’t want to grow, adding fertilizer to prepare the soil…it’s backbreaking and exhausting.  On top of that, it’s SLOW! As you wait to see the first sign of growth peeking up through the dirt, you can start to wonder if anything is actually happening.  Then, once things start to grow, it’s still a long process of weeding, fertilizing and waiting to see the fruit of your labor.  That’s our part in the process. God is in charge of the growth and the timing of it all but we have the responsibility and privilege to get our hands dirty in the endeavor and to feel the joy that comes in the harvest.

Speaking of harvest…I love that season too.  I love the feeling of accomplishment that comes with picking, eating and canning the fruit of the summer.  Of shorter days and cooler nights spent with family around the table eating fresh vegetables and having long talks.  We don’t seem to anticipate the winter in the fall.  I mean, we know it’s coming at some point but I never really know when or have a clue at how bad it will be.  So, my focus is usually on the moment and on enjoying what God has provided. I seldom think of what I’ll be facing in a few months unlike my grandparents who had a keen awareness of their need to be prepared for the winter. My ability to run to Wal-Mart for food in December has stripped the power from the meaning behind this concept of preparation. Or, at least, it’s lessoned the urgency of it to me. However, spiritually speaking, the urgency is there and the importance of preparing our hearts during the summer and autumn of life in order to face the winter can’t be stressed enough.  It will keep us going when life seems overwhelming.  It will keep hope in our hearts, breath in our lungs and warmth in our souls when all around us is death, fear and darkness.

The things that we didn’t realize God was planting in us during those long, hot days of summer as we obediently spent time in His word, cultivated community, sought to know him in prayer and ruthlessly dealt with the selfishness and sin that so easily snuck into our lives will prove to be exactly what we need.  The fruit that we finally see God produce in our lives when we desire his will above our own and as he lavishly pours out grace and blessing over us will become the very thing we offer as a blessing  to others  in our darkest days. All the time spent growing to know and love our Father will sustain that love when all we have are questions.  During my own personal winter that was full of fear, uncertainty, sorrow and shame, God spoke these verses deep into my soul as an encouragement and a prayer to make the most of  that season.

“But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night.  They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.”

Psalm 1:2-3

That time reminded me that I want to live my life during the spring and summer seasons of my life in such a way that allows me to bear fruit of some sort even in the winter. (Even if it’s just to continue wanting to continue when all I really feel like doing is giving up).  I hope that my faith in His goodness and kindness is never eclipsed by my own suffering and heartache.  And, my desire is to so thoroughly kill fear during the coming summers that nothing but love, faith and trust survives and thrives to carry me through whatever winters are still to come.

Because I know this to be true…. Spring will always come.

One way or another…life will break through the darkness in Technicolor beauty that touches every one of my senses. I will be grateful for the chance to partner with Christ, in some small way, as an apprentice gardener to this world around me that He has planted and tended so lovingly. And God will remind me of His limitless creativity and passion to bless me in countless ways as I sit in awe of His ability to revive, restore and resurrect.

All for His glory.

Dancing with Daddy

dancing on daddy's shoesDo you know how special you are to me, little one?  You’re my daughter. My treasure!

I love it when you walk in my footsteps and imitate me. I’m absolutely blessed as you try to become more and more like me and  I smile at your attempts… no matter how weak they may be. You’re so fun to be with and I’m so proud of you.  So, come dance with me! Stand on my feet and I’ll lead your steps.  Come watch the sunset with me and name the birds and trees and flowers.  Notice people with me. Wonder about their stories, make them smile and show them my love and grace. Enjoy all that I’ve made for you. Everything!  It’s all a gift of love from me to you.

Find peace and safety in my presence because I’m strong. I’m your Daddy. I’ll protect you and fight for you. I’m filled with joy when you  run to me with your arms open wide and I’ll never refuse to lift you up and spin you around in laughter. Or hold you as you cry.  Or sing to you as you sleep and rest. So come to me, Sugar. Nothing you have done or will do can turn my heart away from you because you’re the apple of my eye. I long to see you walking in the knowledge and in the safety, love, joy, peace and purpose of my love Because, then….when you rest in that…. your eyes sparkle like the stars!

I am your home.  Your comfort. The place that builds you up and sends you out to be a “little me” in this world. Share who I am with others.  Let them see what a good Daddy is like.  What a daughter who is loved can overcome and become.  You are blessed, little one, and you are loved with a love that is greater than any sorrow or pain that life may bring,   I’m always with you. I’ll always be here to fight for you and I’m greater than you could ever imagine.  We can do more than you ever hoped.  Never doubt me and never doubt who you are because of me

My eyes never leave you, my arms always hold you and my love for you is fierce!

Love, Daddy”