Monthly Archives: April 2013

Anticipating Joy

There’s a wonderfully HUGE event happening in Matthews, NC this weekend, and my husband and I are so excited to be a part of it. Our church family, along with scores of volunteers from the Charlotte-area, will throw a big party for 800 guests with special needs. “Joy Prom” is truly a full-scale prom with music, evening attire, dancing, formal pictures, and some special extras like a dessert reception, a red carpet introduction for every guest, tiaras and jewelry for the ladies, and shoe shines for the gentlemen. Guests will travel from many miles away (like Canada!) for this incredible evening (and some of them arrive in limousines – so fun!) This is the fifth year that my husband and I have participated in Joy Prom, and we always say by the end of the evening that the aching of our feet doesn’t compare with the aching in our faces from smiling for hours.



Joy Prom has been on my mind often this week as we prepare (as I write, my husband is out shopping for a bow tie to go with his new suit – I love that!) I’ve spent the afternoon baking cookies for our guests’ caregivers who will sit back and relax in the hospitality suite on Friday and Saturday nights. As I’ve mixed and stirred, I’ve also been thinking about Sunday morning when my friend and I will share stories and pictures from our recent mission trip to the Dominican Republic.

Whenever I think of our mission in the Dominican Republic, I remember Psalm 126:

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion,
we were like those who dreamed.

Our mouths were filled with laughter,
our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”

The Lord has done great things for us,
and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, Lord,
like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears
will reap with songs of joy.

 Those who go out weeping,
carrying seed to sow,
will return with songs of joy,
carrying sheaves with them.

During the mission trip, one of our team members read Psalm 126 aloud. The psalm served as our devotion before we began another day of hand-fitting wheelchairs for people with severe disabilities who had never before had a means of mobility.

I re-read Psalm 126 several times over the course of the trip; it was so beautifully fitting and hopeful. When the Israelites were freed from captivity, says verse 1, they “were like those who dreamed.”

The people of Israel must have dreamt of



A fruitful Promised Land

God’s Favor



A Home

Are our dreams not the same for ourselves and our children? We are still longing for the Promised Land. In her book Believing God, Beth Moore describes the New Testament concept of the Promised Land. Followers of Christ can experience the Promised Land this side of Heaven. It’s not necessarily a physical place found on the other side of the river or exclusively a spiritual place entered into on the other side of death.  The Promised Land can be known to us today as a life-place of freedom, fruitfulness, favor, safety, security, and a home with Jesus.

From my American perspective, it might be natural to think of the Promised Land in terms of nice house, safe neighborhood, healthy family, couple of dependable cars, full pantry, etc… But the concept of the Promised Land transcends history and culture. It surpasses the dream of health and wealth.

The true Promised Land is the place where we can say, “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.” It can happen even in – perhaps more authentically – in the midst of illness or hardship or disability.


Among impoverished people in the Dominican Republic, I witnessed mouths filled with laughter and tongues singing with joy. Mothers and fathers arrived with heavy burdens, in more ways than one, as they carried their disabled children into the church. But many of these families received not only the gift of mobility but also the gift of an everlasting relationship with Jesus.  As an older woman saw her son placed in his new wheelchair, she said, “He’s never sat so straight. He looks like a king, and I feel like a millionaire.” The love of Jesus became tangible to her, and her joy made her the richest woman in the world.

The day after I came home from the Dominican Republic, I returned to my work-study in pastoral care at the hospital. At chapel service that morning, the chaplain read Psalm 126! As I sat in stunned silence, I realized that joy can be harvested even in a hospital, a place where many tears are sown. God, I prayed, send me out to plant seeds of joy – not just in a village hundreds of miles away, but in my home, my neighborhood, and in the sterile hospital rooms I will enter today. And I witnessed again how the Holy Spirit, through suffering, tills the soil of a soul, uproots the weeds of bitterness and discouragement, pours out the love of Christ, and cultivates His joy. A patient cried as I prayed with her, but through her tears she praised the Lord. “Praise You, Jesus,” she whispered, “I prayed for someone to show me love, and You sent this girl.”

Joy Prom is a large-scale banquet prepared for those who have sown in tears. Our guests have dreamt of and prayed for someone to show them love, to treat them like millionaires. At Joy Proms past, we’ve said that the event seems like a picture of heaven although we know that doesn’t really fit because there will be no disabilities in heaven. Perhaps what we’re experiencing, no matter how abled our bodies are, is the anticipation of ultimate joy. Every one of us is handicapped by sin, but in Jesus we will be fully free.  We are all dreamers, and there will be a Day when we awake to His glory.

The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.”


I Am Redeemed

Have you ever had a chance encounter with someone from the past who takes you back to a long-ago place in your life? Sometimes it’s a good place with happy memories, but other times it’s a really uncomfortable place that you would rather be forever left in the past. I had that experience yesterday.

On Sundays, my husband and I serve in the “Next Step” reception at our church, where we greet guests who stop by to talk with someone about a prompting that God has placed in their hearts.  Yesterday, a lady approached me during the Next Step reception, and although she seemed somewhat familiar, I didn’t recognize her at first. Thankfully my husband remembered how we knew her, from many years back – maybe 15 years ago. We chatted, and out of blue she said, “You look so much better.”

Although I was surprised by that, I thanked her, and we continued to talk. While I tried to see if she had any questions about our church, she said again – and again – five times at least: “Really, you look much, much better.”

Ordinarily you’d think a person would really enjoy comments like that. As if I had some kind of makeover – perhaps a great new hairstyle, a new wardrobe, or some “work done.” But I knew what she meant, and I was uncomfortable. Every time she repeated, “you look so much better,” in my mind I was hearing “…cause you used to look so bad.”

Of course she didn’t mean it this way, and I don’t remember how aware she was of my situation 15 years ago. Maybe she remembered me as having some kind of illness. Whatever she remembered, she was right, whether she had said it explicitly or not – I used to look really bad. Sick. Painfully thin. Standing at death’s door.

Honestly I don’t know why her comments drew out such awkwardness in me. I’ve spoken and written openly about my past struggle with anorexia. Truly I am beyond grateful and thrilled that God has brought me into freedom. Perhaps I look better on the outside, but more importantly, the Lord has healed me on the inside. Whatever my outward appearance may be, He has brought beauty from ashes just as He promised (Isaiah 61:3).

I tried to be gracious to this lady, but I’ll admit being very, very relieved when she walked away.

Why? I wondered. Why didn’t I just say something that would speak of God’s healing work in my life? I thought about this all day long, and I mentioned it to my husband. “She was just trying to encourage you,” he said. And he was right. I was letting myself focus on the negativity – I was hearing the horrible voice of condemnation. You used to look so bad.  You messed up. You wasted years.

But God is so good. The Holy Spirit gave me the grace to redirect my mind onto all the other messages I heard in church yesterday:

Through the Word shared by our pastor:

“By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us” (1 John 3:16).

“God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent His Son into the world, so that we might live through Him” (1 John 4:8).

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

Through the lesson we taught to our fourth grade class in Sunday School:

“In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).

Through the words of the song “Redeemed,” recorded by the group known as Big Daddy Weave:

Seems like all I could see was the struggle
Haunted by ghosts that lived in my past
Bound up in shackles of all my failures
Wondering how long is this gonna last
Then You look at this prisoner and say to me “Son,
Stop fighting a fight that’s already been won.”

I am redeemed, You set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, now I’m not who I used to be
I am redeemed, I’m redeemed.

While I’ve reflected on these messages since yesterday, I’ve decided to firmly replant myself in the truth and utilize the shield of faith. When the enemy reminds me of the past, I’ll remind him that I live in this present and eternal reality:

* God loves me. Nothing will ever, ever separate me from His love. He gave His Son that I can be free. There is no need to fear or shrink back or be bound by shame. I am a conqueror through Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, 31 – 39).

* My hope is in my redemption through Christ. He wipes away my stains and removes my chains. I belong eternally to Him (Titus 2:13 – 14).

The Holy Spirit also whispered “Psalm 107” to my heart…a psalm I often think of as if it were my own story:

Some were fools through their sinful ways,
and because of their iniquities suffered affliction;
18 they loathed any kind of food,
and they drew near to the gates of death.
19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
20 He sent out his word and healed them,
and delivered them from their destruction.
21 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
22 And let them offer sacrifices of thanksgiving,
and tell of his deeds in songs of joy!”

As I re-read Psalm 107 this morning, the Holy Spirit drew my attention to the first two verses:

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever! Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, whom He has redeemed from trouble.”

This is my story; this is my song. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!

Yesterday I failed to say so, but today I will –

“…. thank the Lord for His steadfast love, for His wondrous works to the children of man! For He satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul He fills with good things!” (Psalm 107: 8 – 9).

“Leave that to Me”

Life simplifies when we walk by faith, one day at a time:


“I’ve many a cross to take up now,

And many left behind;

But present troubles move me not,

Nor shake my quiet mind.

And what may be tomorrow’s cross

I never seek to find;

My Father says, ‘Leave that to Me,

And keep a quiet mind.”

~ Anonymous poem printed in Keep a Quiet Heart by Elisabeth Elliot (my very favorite book!)

Psalm 68:19 – Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens.

Isaiah 33: 2 – O Lord, be gracious to us; we wait for You. Be our arm every morning, our salvation in the time of trouble.

Matthew 6:34 – … do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Lamentations 3:22 – 23 – Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.

“This present day has trouble enough attending it, we need not accumulate burdens by anticipating our trouble, nor borrow perplexities from to-morrow’s evils to add to those of this day. What a folly it is to take that trouble upon ourselves this day by care and fear, which belongs to another day, and will be never the lighter when it comes? By our daily prayers we may procure strength to bear us up under our daily troubles, and to arm us against the temptations that attend them, and then let none of these things move us.” Matthew Henry’s commentary on Matthew 6:34

Are you asking “What if….?” today? Your Father answers, “Leave that to Me, and keep a quiet mind…”


  • “To desire with expectation of obtainment…”
  • “The state which promotes the belief in a good outcome…”
  • “The feeling that what is wanted can be had…”
  • “That thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all” (poet Emily Dickinson).

All four of these definitions speak of the word HOPE.

“Hope” means many things to many people. It’s also a girl’s name, a college in Michigan, a town (Hope, Arkansas), a political slogan, and the name chosen to represent countless ministries, churches, & social services.

As I walked through the parking deck at Duke Cancer Center yesterday, I noticed a bumper sticker that read “There is Hope at Duke Medical Center.” And as I walked up the stairs of the open atrium, I looked down and noticed that the mosaic in the floor said “Hope.” Of course the cancer center wants to present itself as a hopeful place.  And it is. The doctors are extremely skilled and knowledgeable. They are committed to the fight. The technology and medical services are the best you can find. It’s a place that “promotes the belief in a good outcome.”

And yet, I know that life on this earth is not meant to last forever. We all know that, but some people live with a hope that’s only temporary.

If one’s definition of a “good outcome” doesn’t include Heaven, Jesus and eternal life, then it’s a grand understatement to say that he or she is going to eventually be very disappointed.

I like how John Piper describes the difference between “ordinary hope” and biblical hope. In his sermon “What Is Hope?” Pastor Piper explains that when we ordinarily use the word hope, we express uncertainty rather than certainty:

  • “I hope you don’t have any side effects,” means, “I don’t have any certainty that you’ll not have side effects, I only desire that you don’t.”
  • “Our hope is that this treatment will work,” means, “We can’t guarantee it, but that is our desire.”

Biblical hope, in contrast, is founded upon certainty rather than wishful thinking. It’s a reality produced in us by faith in Christ and given through the Holy Spirit. It’s a gift with an eternal guarantee!

We grow weary in our present bodies, and we long to put on our heavenly bodies like new clothing …. God himself has prepared us for this, and as a guarantee he has given us his Holy Spirit” (2 Corinthians 5:2 & 5).

Biblical hope is connected to faith. “…faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Hope steadfastly believes, when the outcome is unseen, because it trusts in the One who sees. Hope continues, when circumstances change, because it trusts in the One who never changes. Hope grows, in the midst of suffering, because it rejoices in the glory of God (Romans 5: 2 – 5).

According to Hebrews 6:19, followers of Christ have hope “as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” An anchor was a common ancient metaphor for stability. “To ground hope on a false supposition,” said Socrates, “is like trusting to a weak anchor.” But true hope is held fast in eternal character of God. The writer of Hebrews says that this hope is firm and secure. In the midst of the storms, God never fails, never disappoints, never forsakes us or forgets His promises.

Although hope is ultimately based on what we can’t perceive with our physical eyes, I think God gives us outward reassurances of His promises and His presence every now and then. Sometimes little reminders help us to press on.

Yesterday, as we waited for Daddy’s appointment, we learned that the doctor was running two hours behind. So I went on a hunt for magazines to pass the time. When there were no interesting magazines to be found, I asked the receptionist. “Oh, we don’t really get magazines around here. You might need to check another clinic. Try the third floor.”

So I did, and in that waiting room, I spotted a magazine with a bouquet of flowers on the front. As I walked toward it, I noticed that it was a Martha Stewart Living, but I saw something else too, an index card lying on the cover:


Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. Philippians 4:6

I stood there for a minute, looking at the card. You know we’re anxious, God. You understand. You’re here. This is one of your sweet mercies, just for us. Thank You.

Once I got moving again, I found another magazine across the room and went back upstairs. As Mom flipped through the second magazine, another card fell to the floor:


The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is thy faithfulness. Lamentations 3: 22 – 23

I’m sure that whoever placed the index cards in the waiting room purposely intended to plant seeds of hope, to communicate that the Lord is steadfast, merciful, and faithful. And He is a personal God, caring about every detail and knowing our deepest needs. Some might think that finding the cards was just a nice coincidence. I don’t think so. In fact, when I got home, I read an email from my friend Leah that confirmed the Scriptures were meant for us.

“Hey Renee, I am praying for you today and prayed specifically that you would find something to rest in … a verse, a situation, a prompt from God’s hand.”


Isaiah 49:23 –  “… I am the LORD, those who hope in Me will not be disappointed.”

Thank you for reading today’s post. Be encouraged that in Christ there is hope for your story. And let’s look for fresh ways to plant seeds of hope in our homes, neighborhoods, and the world around us.

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” ~ Romans 15:13


“Hope is the Thing with Feathers” – poem by Emily Dickinson

“hope as an anchor for the soul” – Clarke’s Commentary on the Bible

ESV Study Bible – Hebrews 6:19 notes

“What is Hope?” John Piper.