Author Archives: Renee Ratcliffe

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Unexpected Answers to Prayers for My Mother

Dear friends of “dimly burning” –

I think of you often and hope that we can reconnect at my new blog! I’d be thrilled and grateful for you to follow me at “Eternity in Our Hearts.” May God lift your eyes to Him and set your hearts on things above this day ….

Many of you may remember a post from August 2013 – “A Prayer for My Mother on Her 80th Birthday.” And as you may know, our lives have been greatly changed since I offered those requests for my Mom. In honor of her, Mother’s Day, and especially my Hope-Giver, I’ve written this follow-up:

 

It was one of those awkward situations that you want to politely ignore but things are playing out right under your nose. This past weekend, we were in Disney World, standing in line for the monorail to take us into the Magic Kingdom. The mother in front of us was trying to take a picture of her toddler son.

This was obviously important to her, as she implored her son to stand still for a photo in his current clothing in case they happened to get separated. And it was equally urgent to the little boy to evade her every attempt to capture a decent image. The other family members were standing around being generally unhelpful. This poor woman had a very long day ahead of her.

Exasperated, she yanked her son out of line to a private spot to “work things out” and snapped: “Yes, this IS the happiest place on earth.”

I inherited my love for Disney from my parents. Over the past few days, I’ve remembered taking Daddy’s hand to ride the “big rides.” I heard his laugh through the dips and sharp turns of Space Mountain and the Rockin’ Roller Coaster.  I can’t count the times that Mom and Daddy took me to Disney and then carried on the tradition with my husband and daughter along.

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While Daddy was sick I prayed for a long time for one more Disney vacation.

The travel agent must have thought that I was nuts, welling up with tears in front of her as she booked our latest trip for four – me, my husband, daughter, and Mom.

Despite our aching hearts, we wanted to affirm to Mom that we will continue because she matters and memories matter.

A few nights ago, as we watched the “Wishes” fireworks show, I was especially aware of the narration through the innocent wistfulness of Jiminy Cricket:

When you wish, upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires will come…to…you.

Like a bolt out of the blue,
fate steps in and sees you through.
When you wish upon a star,  your dreams…come…true

Puppets become real boys. Cinderella goes to the ball. Snow White’s prince comes.

But … like a bolt out of the blue came a cruel thought, “Your wish didn’t come true.”

For a moment, it really jolted me, I have to admit it.

I’ve been an adult long enough to know better when it comes to Disney’s wish-upon-a-star optimism. Just ask the mother with the toddler – If the happiest place on earth can be maddening, how do we cope beyond its borders? You can call me a pessimist, and I probably have a natural bent that way, but the reality is that every person who walks into Disney World has to eventually exit into the real world where the credit card bills come due and wishes don’t always come true. As a party of 4 on this trip, we experienced it.

And during that blasted fireworks show (ha, the pun wasn’t intended, but I’ll leave it), I realized that I was, even with teary eyes, more hopeful than I had ever been.

Like smoke after a fireworks show, wishful thinking drifts with the wind. But hope is anchored into the solid foundation of God’s wise and loving character.  It’s not based upon my mood or upon magic. It’s an eternal reality, purchased with sacrifice and sealed in my soul.

As an adopted child of the Most High, I belong to another Kingdom. I don’t need to believe in fate, thank you, I (still) have a Father. With infinite wisdom and compassion, He works all things in my life for His good purposes. I have enough experience with my Father to understand that He is too wise and loving to give me everything I wish for. While He doesn’t always grant the desires of my heart, He has placed eternity in my heart. This truth tells me, whether I am in the happiest or the saddest place, that I have everything to hope for.

And so now that we’re home, my attention turns to Mother’s Day.  Today, I thought about my most-read post: “A Prayer for My Mother on Her 80th Birthday.” And I recall those requests made on August 8, 2013 –

“Lord, would this day – her birthday – be the beginning of a year in which my mother knows the deepest peace and richest joy?  I pray with thanksgiving for the promise that You are the strength of her heart and her portion forever. May she be sustained daily by the comfort that You are the eternal refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.

And Lord, I pray for the simplest but most meaningful joys to come her way – such as sweet times with Daddy and with her family.

For laughter. And more opportunities to explore an open road.

For days to enjoy good meals with good friends. For many more victories on the court or on the field for her favorite teams (Your help is especially needed here, Lord!).

I pray for precious memories made with the little ones. For weekends to watch swimming practice or go shopping or eat ice cream with her granddaughter. For the satisfaction of knowing that these shared experiences are creating a lasting legacy.”

In August 2013 we knew that Daddy’s cancer wasn’t responding well to treatment but we really had no idea.

Yet, in May 2014, I hold hope in my heart. Daddy is experiencing more delights than a trip to Disney could ever offer. And my prayers for my mother have been answered.

Dear Mom –

Even in your deep grief and darkest days, you have been a testimony of God’s enduring joy and strength. You have demonstrated the peace of being comforted and carried by everlasting arms. Because He is your refuge and strength, you are still laughing and loving well. Our family finds perseverance through your example of courage and resiliency.

You are brave enough to accept and explore the unknown adventures of an open road. As you share life with us, your days are rich with meaning and purpose. We understand more fully the sweetness of simple moments. In these past few months, we’ve eaten well and cheered hard and watched swim practice and shared ice cream with the dog. Our family is growing with great-grandchildren whose lives will be enriched by your legacy. We will live and experience togetherness to the fullest because you and Daddy taught us to love God and love each other with all our might.

My prayers for you are still being answered in God’s most loving wisdom. Perhaps His answers have not come as I wished, but because of your faith, I know that hope always remains. And so I will keep praying. Thank you, Mom, I love you.

Hope tells me that these unexpected answers come from an unchanging God whose promise of eternal life is unwavering.

I’d rather have that sure foundation than a wish in the sky any day.

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Commencement

In April, we celebrate new things.

Like our new baby birds :)

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Last week

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This week. Hello world! What’s for dinner?

And new flowers – 20140424_101018

New shoots on our lantana. Love to see these come back year after year!

New shoots on our lantana. Love to see these come back year after year!

New babies

Elisabeth Grace

Aww … Elisabeth Grace – my great-niece. Isn’t she precious?

Since this is a season of new things, I’m excitedly introducing a new blog today. From now on, I’ll be writing here – @ Eternity in Our Hearts.

If you’ve subscribed to Dimly Burning, I would be thrilled and grateful for your support of the new blog. You have been dear, patient friends to me as I’ve journeyed through seasons of grief, parenthood (with a tween!), marriage, and faith. These seasons have taught me that in the midst of heartbreak, life continues because – as a responsible adult – I  have to show up everyday whether I want to or not. But in my heart of hearts, I know that this is not all there is. God has placed eternity in our hearts.

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest. A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up. A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance. A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away. A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away. A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak. A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.

God has made everything beautiful for its own time and has set eternity in our hearts, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:1 – 11).”

 April is what we longed for during the long, cold days of January. But sometimes new seasons, with their closures and beginnings, are messy.

For instance:

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“Helicopters” or “whirligigs”

These little maple seed pods are covering our yard, sidewalk, driveway, flower beds, and our lazy dog (no, just kidding).  As a kid, I used to love to throw these things up in the air and watch them twirl to the ground. But now, I have to sweep them or pluck them out of the beds before this happens:

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A tree where I don’t need a tree

Often, when we think of “new” we think of things shiny and efficient. But “new” in life is not like a new car. Many times, “new” blows in with a storm, a crisis. New creates a mess. A new divorcee or the new widow knows this. Anyone with a new diagnosis knows this.

Today I’m celebrating a blog with a new title and a new look. I kinda like it and I hope you do too.

And yet, friend, the sufferings and experiences that I’ve witnessed this week tell me that it may be spring outside, but it’s not necessarily spring in your soul.

My husband and I were recently eating outside at a deli on a beautiful day, and a couple walked past us. Because both of them were formally dressed in black, I instantly thought “funeral.” And I remembered how I wore a black dress not so long ago on a day when lots of other people were stringing Christmas lights.

We live in this tension between merriment and mourning. Those who have trusted in Christ live in the now and the now yet. More than ever, I believe that eternal life in Christ begins the moment we say “yes” to Jesus. Living as if we believe this can change everything about the “now.”

We’re entering the season of graduation. At some schools, this final ceremony is known as “commencement.” It’s the end. Yet the beginning. Life will continue as a series of conclusions and commencements. Some people will be ready for these adventures while others are riddled with anxiety. I’ve been both. I suppose it depends in part upon the season but more fully upon my measure of trust in the Timeless One.

I wrote the following words on a January day when the year was young and my heart felt old. I read these words now and I can’t come up with any different words to close one chapter (one blog) and begin another:

“The cyclical nature of seasons, even in the bleak midwinter, serves a preparatory purpose. Growth awaits. New life. Hope.

Duke Cancer Center, where I’ll be spending the day tomorrow with Daddy, is newly refurbished. It’s pretty and shiny, and no one wants to be there … You go there and realize that while the seasons of climate are relatively predictable, the seasons of physical life are sometimes not.

And so, when we think we know what to expect, we really don’t. In a mortal world, we see through lenses that are scratched and dulled by the jagged edges of sin, brokenness, and grief.

Even still, in seasons we couldn’t and didn’t predict, there are preparatory purposes. Even here, growth awaits. New life. And Hope. The truth, as told in Ecclesiastes, is that we were created for an eternal world. A different set of eyes are needed.

The season of Hope is not contained to Christmas or Easter morning. It’s not boxed in the attic or hauled to the curb.

Because ultimately each of us needs Someone who created the seasons and knows the scope of time from beginning to end. We need His eyes to see beyond the exterior and into the eternal. To see beyond the mess and into the meaning of it all.

The eternal cannot be boxed or packed or managed. One day everything that once looked messy will have meaning. We will see. For now – in whatever season we find ourselves – let us live with anticipation, fully and with purpose.

The seasons, those present or those that have passed away, hold for us purposes unfolding and promises coming.”

I hope you’ll join me for new seasons at Eternity in Our Hearts.

And if you are in a place where it’s not spring in your soul, I’d like to pray for you … If you want to leave a comment with a request, it’s truly my honor to lift your concerns to our Father.

Holy and eternal Father,

Thank You for being the God of all seasons. I praise You for being the same yesterday, today, and forever. You are before all things and in You all things hold together. I pray today with thanksgiving for the community I’ve come to know through Dimly Burning. I lift these dear ones up to you and ask that You would hold their hearts, especially those who are in a season when circumstances and hope seem dark. Lord, would You open their eyes to Your Word, Your faithful and good character, and Your promises? Give them grace to trust that You are the Guide who makes a stream in the desert and a path in the wilderness. Where they feel weak, rekindle a new dependence upon You that makes a dimly burning wick shine as a lantern for Your glory. When storms blow in, may Your hope be the anchor of their souls. Allow their hearts to rest in the love of the cross and the promise of the empty tomb. May they stand on the truth that any suffering on this side of heaven is nothing compared to everlasting joys that await believers in Christ. May we give all new opportunities and circumstances to You – whether we rejoice or grieve – in the faith that Your unfailing purpose is to make beautiful, eternal things.

Amen.

God Uses Broken Things

My family enjoys American Pickers – the History Channel show where viewers follow Mike & Frank’s treasure hunt across the country that takes them into junkyards, abandoned barns, and garages off the beaten path in search of memorabilia.

According to the American Pickers website, pickers are “modern archeologists” who “drag valuable relics out of obscurity and into our stores, museums and living rooms.” I like the show because Mike and Frank always uncover something that looks like a piece of junk to me but it’s a gem to them.

They get really excited over rusty and broken things because, despite outward appearances, they have an eye for value.

I’m thinking about broken things lately. And not only because the toaster oven wouldn’t warm up this morning or because the mechanic called to say that the lawn mower is beyond repair.  Although inconvenient, I wish these were the only broken things in my life. But no, honestly, there are things that can’t be tossed away in a junk pile and forgotten. Like deep disappointments, persistent weaknesses and fears, fractured friendships, and sorrow over sin and suffering this side of heaven.

A few years ago, as I was preparing a lesson on “jars of clay,” I first understood the significance of Gideon’s unusual weapons of warfare. Last night, as I read from the Gideon Bible study by Priscilla Shirer, I returned to this story:

Judges 7: 15 – 16 – (Gideon) returned to the camp of Israel and called out, “Get up! The Lord has given the Midianite camp into your hands.”  Dividing the three hundred men into three companies, he placed trumpets and empty jars in the hands of all of them, with torches inside.

When you consider that Gideon’s 300 men were outnumbered 450 to 1 against the well-armed enemy camp, their torches, jars, and trumpets seem pretty useless.

Judges 7: 19 – 21 – Gideon and the men with him reached the edge of the camp … They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled.

God uses broken things.

Made of clay, the jars in the soldier’s hands smashed instantly at Gideon’s command. The frailty of the jars served their purpose – piercing the darkness with a blinding flame and surprising the enemy into retreat.*

2 Corinthians 4: 6 – 7 – For God who said, “Light shall shine out of the darkness,” is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of glory of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves.

As Priscilla Shirer says, “The weaknesses we often despise are required for the light of Christ to be seen and for the darkness to be dispelled. Without the limitations and deficiencies of our vessels, we would not serve our purpose well.”*

What Gideon’s story tells me is that there is purpose in the pain of brokenness. There is a divine reason behind my disappointments. There is treasure in the midst of my troubles.

It is the surpassing greatness of the power of God.

Jars of clay, back in biblical times, were as common for storage as plastic containers are to us today. But when a clay jar became broken, it didn’t get tossed away. Instead it was turned into a lantern.

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Those times when you and I feel useless, weak, broken and beyond repair are the very times for the hope and the power of Christ to shine.

Last evening, as I was finishing my Gideon study for the day and thinking about all these things, I reached for a book by my bedside. The devotional Streams in the Desert has often soothed my thirsty soul. In the index, I searched for “brokenness,” and this is what I found:

(October 15) – “It was not until Gideon’s three hundred specially chosen soldiers broke the jars that were in their hands, which symbolized brokenness in their lives, that the hidden light of the torches shone forth, bringing terror to the enemies. It was once the poor widow broke the seal on her only remaining jar of oil and began to pour it that God miraculously multiplied it to pay her debts and supplied her means of support (2 Kings 4)….It was once Jesus took the “five loaves and broke them” (Luke 9:16) that the bread was multiplied to feed the five thousand… It was when Mary broke her beautiful alabaster jar of very expensive perfume (Matthew 26:7), destroying its future usefulness, that the wonderful fragrance filled the house. And it was when Jesus allowed His precious body to be broken by thorns, nails, and a spear that His inner life was poured out like crystal clear water for thirsty sinners to drink and live….It is not until a beautiful kernel of corn is buried and broken in the earth that its inner heart sprouts and produces hundreds of seeds and kernels. And so it has always been – God uses broken things.”

Psalm 51:17 – The sacrifice You desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

You and I may be broken, but our Heavenly Father has an eye for value. As jars of clay, our worth is not determined by our composition but by our contents.* May it be the blazing flame of Christ – with His hope, victory, strength, and glory.

Let it shine!

Resources:

* “Unusual Weapons” in Gideon by Priscilla Shirer, pages 121 – 125.

Streams in the Desert by L.B. Cowman, devotion for October 15

American Pickers – http://www.history.com/shows/american-pickers/articles/what-is-picking

Hope Set Free

Easter Sunday must be the most positive day of the year on my Facebook & Twitter feeds. I love that. So many affirmations of hope, victory, and resurrection life (and a lot of spiffy family pics).

Of everything that made me smile or nod or rejoice, this tweet was my favorite:

 

The ridiculousness of confining God! The futility of boxing in the First and the Last!

Who would attempt that?

Oh.

Yeah.

Ouch.

Immediately I have 2 circumstances replay themselves out in my mind.

Yeah. that. and that.

So when a few men decided to ensure the confinement of the Creator of the universe, here’s what happened:

The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”

“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.” So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard (Matthew 27: 62-66).

As evidenced by archeology and references throughout the Old Testament (Genesis 38; Exodus 28; 1 Kings 21; Nehemiah 9; Esther 3 & 8, etc…), a seal was used to represent authority.

Seals were made of wax which was melted and impressed with an identifying mark, typically borne on a signet ring. Closed doors (or tombs) were often sealed to prevent the entrance of an unauthorized person. In the story of Daniel and the lions, the door of the den was secured with the king’s seal (Daniel 6:17).

In the two circumstances that popped into my mind, I remembered the words that came to me from  authorized people.  And I visually pictured them putting their seal upon the closed doors of my long-cherished dreams:

“Given your psychological history, I suggest that you not pursue the adoption application any further …”

“Given the fact that all hospital chaplains must be ordained, I suggest that you move to another denomination.”

My dreams have been entombed. I feel a bare inkling of what the disciples must have felt on that darkest Saturday.

What now?

What can I do? Where can I go?

Where is God?

Oh. That’s right. My doubt and disillusionment are imprinted upon that sealed tomb. Some person in authority has pressed all potential out of me and my deepest hopes. I have boxed God into reasoning that seems logical, realistic, explainable. And human.

It is finished.

And yet, I wonder …

Do you think the enemy of our souls breathed a sigh of relief when Jesus uttered those words on Good Friday?

It is finished.”

Any delight on his part was as short-lived as his demise is eternal.

Because “It is finished” means something entirely different in view of Sunday morning.

Scripture plainly tells us: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins … If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”

On Resurrection Day, followers of the Risen Christ celebrate the most critical foundation of our faith: Our hope is not for this life only!

Hope. Security. Joy. Redemption. Freedom. Future.

Have only begun.

When Jesus arose on Sunday morning, He released our freedom to hope. The hope of Christ is so much more than wishful thinking. It is the deepest, most secure and settled reason for living – and living in view of eternity.  I long for my dreams to remain alive. But because Jesus lives, He releases in me a capacity to discover in Him more than I could ever desire, ask, or imagine.

And when Jesus arose on Sunday morning, He proved Himself to be the final authority. History tells us that many people were crucified. But Jesus died in such a way that even His opponents had to admit that His was a noble, even divine, death.

(They hadn’t seen anything yet!)

Glorious Day! One – only One – resurrected!

From life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.

Jesus is the Authority. If He chooses, He can command these dreams of mine to be unsealed. Perhaps that’s not His plan. But I have entrusted Him with my very life and eternity; and if that faith is to be authentic, it must include every desire and dream of my heart while I wait in the here and now.

If God wants something to come to pass, it will be.

“The LORD of Heaven’s Armies has spoken–who can change His plans? When His hand is raised, who can stop Him?” (Isaiah 14:27)

My doubt can’t stop Him.

My fear can’t stop Him.

The wisdom and reasoning of this world can’t stop Him.

The headaches and heartaches of Easter Monday can’t stop Him.

And if God chooses for something not to come to pass, that will be better.

As I remember these three days – Good Friday to Resurrection Sunday – I have everything I need to know. Jesus has demonstrated His love. He has proven His power. Everything that comes to pass – or not – in my life is consistent with these truths.

Friends, we are free to hope.

The sealed-off dreams can be trusted to the power of the unrestrained Savior.

Seeming dead-ends can be trusted to the One who defeated death.

The empty places of the heart can be filled with the promise of the empty tomb.

Lord Jesus, please impress upon my life what You will …  Seal in those desires in Me that reflect You and Your purest, most perfect plan for my life. Break loose those areas where I have been discouraged and defeated. Where I have boxed you in, I pray for a resurrection of faith in my heart. I thank You that You have sealed my soul for forever, and there is nothing that matters more. That’s the hope that gets me up on Monday morning. Please imprint eternity in my heart so that every motive, every longing, and every ambition would be aligned with Your Kingdom purposes.

Amen … Let it be.

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Beautiful words from Ann Voskamp on “The Truth You’ve Got to Know About After Easter:”

What’s been wearing death clothes in a life can get up and walk, what we’ve felt as wounds, by His wounds, are being healed, what’s being burnt to ashes will birth beauty. Ashes are always the papery birth announcement of beauty rising.

Us bound in that sin that’s always been, us with that heartbreak that just won’t take a break, us who feel locked up in these patterns and someone’s thrown away the key — we’re the people who’ve seen that the stone’s been rolled away.

We’re the Resurrection People who push back against the dark of impossible, because we’ve seen the impossible stone’s been pushed back against the dark. We’re the Resurrection People who walk in strong hope because we’ve seen the strong stones moved and Hope come right out to meet us and move us.

He is Risen indeed – because I want Him to be risen in me.”

Hope Wins

Daddy lived his entire life in a town known for its abundance of trees. As a lumberman, he was well-learned in the characteristics of maple, oak, and pine. Yet dogwoods – flowering trees which are valued for landscaping but not for lumber – were Daddy’s favorite.

I ask my daughter to walk with me in the neighborhood so that I can show her the dogwoods up close. As we step up to a tree and hold the blossoms in our fingers, I show her the shape of the cross, the pure white interior, the pointy crown in the center, and the crimson edges on each petal. At Easter, Daddy’s favorite tree presents a picture of our Savior’s shed blood, a hopeful reminder that love is stronger than death.

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As I sit on the damp ground days later, I notice anew that Daddy’s grave marker is outlined with dogwood blossoms.

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And I cling to the promise. Hope wins.

Driving from the cemetery, I find comfort in these words:

Stripes of blood that stain its frame; Shed to wash away our shame;

From the scars pure love released; Salvation by the Mercy Tree.

Death has died. Love has won! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Jesus Christ has overcome. He has risen from the dead.

One day soon we’ll see His face; Every tear, He’ll wipe away;

No more pain or suffering; Praise Him for the mercy tree.

More days pass, and my daughter doodles pictures of dogwood blossoms. I smile, knowing that she’s thinking about it.

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She asks more questions now. In the past few months, she’s witnessed a lot of heartache. Our home feels more broken and yet all the more sacred. Real life is happening here.

My girl is old enough to absorb the truth that it’s hard. And crazy. And joyful. Because authentic life in Christ means that we worship Jesus the same at home as we do at church. We’ll praise Him whether our hearts are content or they are cracked into pieces. Following Him is something we do when life is happy and full and when life is hard and fragile. And we can’t shy away from sharing with our daughter the paradoxes in this life of faith:

Joy comes through suffering.

You must lose your life to find it.

Blessings come through insults.

The greatest in the Kingdom is the least.

The meek will inherit the earth.

God chooses the foolish over the wise.

Strength comes through weakness.

“It must have been fascinating and frightening,” she says. We’re talking about what it was like for me, at her age, to visit the Holy Land and stand at Golgotha – the “Place of the Skull,” the site of Jesus’ crucifixion.

Alternative Crucifiction Location

Photo credit – Wikimedia Commons

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Picture of the Place of the Skull. Taken by my Dad in 1983.

“Like disturbing and wonderful all at the same time.”

My girl is getting it. Only Jesus can take the most disturbing, horrific event in human history and make it … wonderful.

Only Jesus can look upon the very ones who mangled His body and see them with mercy.

Only Jesus can receive an offering and deem it beautiful when others judge it as either too extravagant or too meager.

Only Jesus’ torn body could tear the veil.

Only Jesus can roll away the fear and shame that entomb me.

Only Jesus can transform loss into gain and “light and momentary troubles” into eternal glory.

One day this little girl of mine will suffer a broken heart. Maybe one day a doctor will answer her most fearful questions with a shake of the head and a solemn voice. A friend will walk away. Her faith will be met with sneers.  The door will slam shut on her dream. She’ll sit at a grave.

But maybe she’ll remember the time we held the dogwood blossoms and she’ll think about how those little red stains add beauty and meaning to the flower.

Maybe she’ll think upon the tree; and how her Savior’s blood turned it from a method of murder into a means of mercy.

She’ll remember that He said, “It is finished” and she’ll trust that life in Him has no end.

Joy comes through suffering.

You must lose your life to find it.

Blessings come through insults.

The greatest in the Kingdom is the least.

The meek will inherit the earth.

God chooses the foolish over the wise.

Strength comes through weakness.

Love is stronger than death.

Hope wins.

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This is a picture of me stepping out of the empty tomb beside Golgotha (1983, I think).

He is risen! He is risen indeed!

Song – “Mercy Tree” written by Krissy Nordhoff & Michael William Neale, sung by Lacey Sturm, and featured in “My Hope with Billy Graham.”

The Bible doesn’t specify what kind of tree was used for Jesus’ cross. The “legend of the dogwood” isn’t taken from Scripture. It’s merely a symbolic depiction of Jesus’ sacrifice seen in a dogwood blossom – http://www.visualforces.com/christian/photography/nature/the-dogwood/

 

 

 

 

You Have Messages Waiting

So I’m thinking of something I learned yesterday from my phone (of all things). While waiting for cycle class at the Y, I tried to check my email. I’ve only had a smart phone for a few months, and the constant accessibility is something that I see as both blessing and curse. (Anyone with me?)

Sometimes I’m amused by my feeble attempts to wrap my mind around the ways of God when I cannot understand all of the features of this phone. It’s very likely that the settings aren’t set correctly. I had 3 new email notifications, but none of them were showing up in my inbox. So I refreshed and refreshed and refreshed again. No new messages.

Now something like this drives me crazy. I mean, I need to know immediately what those 3 messages are. What if I am missing something life-changing?

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I tell you, the Holy Spirit is sharp (duh) and does not miss an opportunity. Because while I was fretting about my unread email, He whispered to my spirit that I had rushed away from home, leaving fresh messages from His Word unread . 

God had messages for me yesterday. Life-changing messages. Words that could refresh, renew, and transform me if I would take time to open and read.

 Oh, that my heart, mind, and soul would be constantly accessible to the Words of the Spirit. God wired us for connection. When my phone alerts me to a new message, I enjoy the thought that someone wants to communicate with me. I’m disappointed when it turns out to be some lame, impersonal notice like my library book is overdue.

But God is eager to communicate with me. And you. Every day. Every moment. His Word is living, active, relevant, and always personal.

Lately my heart is heavy just thinking about my birthday next week. Yes, my birthday. Not because of my age, but because of the memories. On my last birthday, my Daddy and I sat together for hours on end while my Mom was in emergency surgery for an aortic aneurysm. It was a grueling day. Daddy taught me how to play Free Cell on my tablet to pass the time. We watched the breaking news about the Boston Marathon bombing until Daddy said, “I can’t watch anymore.” We ate lunch and dinner and sat and waited and said nothing and said everything. When we finally saw Mom, looking in very grave condition, I remember how Daddy said, “What will I do without her?”

Oh, Daddy, I can barely believe that a year later, here we are, doing life without you. How I long just to sit in your presence. I didn’t know then.

How desperately I need to be in a Father’s presence and say nothing and say everything. And the Founder of the universe allows me to come to Him as child comes to a Father. What extraordinary mercy! What an incomprehensible gift! He has messages that my heart needs to hear. How can I leave them unread?

Today, I have a choice. I can rehearse my problems or I can refresh myself in Jesus’ presence. My problems tell me that life is stressful. Jesus’ presence tells me that He is sufficient. Which message will I choose to receive?

As I walked from the hallway into my cycle class, I checked my phone again. 3 new messages in my inbox! All it took was a change in my position (and yeah, the messages weren’t all that important).

Sometimes my soul requires a change in position. When my heart and my mind and my willfulness are rushing ahead, I must pause and make a u-turn. And wait. And admit my needfulness. When I open God’s Word and allow it to permeate my soul, the Holy Spirit can send the notification that the message is there – whatever the need is and whenever it arises.

  • Humility helps me to hear.
  • Dependence draws me to His Word.
  • Obedience opens my eyes to His vision.

Life-changing messages are waiting.

May we pause and position ourselves so that the Holy Spirit will refresh us to receive them.

Psalm 119: 35 – 37.

Direct me in the path of Your commands,
    for there I find delight.
36 Turn my heart toward Your statutes
    and not toward selfish gain.
37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things;
    preserve my life according to Your Word.

 

 

 

 

 

Things I Learned in March

Seems like I just wrote about what I learned in February. But Emily Freeman @ Chatting at the Sky has asked her readers to again share pieces of life lessons, so here’s my take on life at the moment from random to relevant to reflective …

1. I like alliteration.

2. God speaks, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit is real. I recently felt led to find and send a Bible verse to a friend about “confidence.” While searching, I discovered Jeremiah 17:7 ~ “Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him.” I wasn’t familiar with that verse, but it seemed fitting. After I shared it with my friend, she replied: “Love that verse!  I actually have a necklace based on that verse and wear it often.” God is amazing like that! If He places someone on your heart, do something about it. I am so grateful for friends who have listened to the Holy Spirit and encouraged me with just the right words and timing.

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3. Although I’m part of a congregation that doesn’t formally observe Ash Wednesday, I’m drawn to its significance. This past Ash Wednesday, I shared my recovery story with a class of high school students, and the timing was not lost on me. Everyone bears a mark of sin, frailty, and mortality. It’s good to be reminded that we need a Savior who exchanges our shameful ashes for His beautiful mercy.

4. The best foot warmer is a furry doggie.

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5. Frederick Buechner said so well, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” I’m learning that deep gladness arises from those places where I once knew the deepest fear and regret. It is a place touched and transformed by God’s compassion. This junction between my deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger isn’t confined to one place. I may find it located within my family circle, down the street, on the other side of my city, and across the world. This place is likely outside of my comfort zone, yet God would not beckon me a place where He is not already present. He’s calling, and that’s all I need to take the first step.

6. Can we just let go of “Let It Go” already? The song from Frozen was everywhere in March.

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As the mom of a preteen, I became concerned with its lyrics; for example, “It’s time to see what I can do; to test the limits and break through; no right; no wrong; no rules for me – I’m free!” Uh oh, red flags. But I eventually considered that the mass appeal of “Let It Go” has less to do with its lyrics and more to do with its compelling tune. We covet (oops, admire) Idina Menzel’s soaring voice. In the context of “Let It Go,” Princess Elsa finally owns up to her long-hidden secret. When she casts off restraint, however, her actions have damaging consequences. Eventually, a plot twist leads to a redemptive act of love. I exercise “parental guidance” over my daughter’s entertainment choices, but if there is a questionable agenda in Frozen, it floated right over her head like a snowflake. One of the challenges of being a preteen parent, I’m finding, is discerning when to step in and when to – uh – let it go.

7. Just because something is attractive on the outside doesn’t mean that all its attributes are beautiful.

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Have you walked under a pear tree lately? Eew – that smell! Reminds me of a birthday cake that my mother purchased for me from an upscale bakery. It was gorgeous, but as my mother lifted the cake out of the box, she sniffed and said, “Something is wrong.” The repulsive mold on the inside became an object lesson that I’ve never forgotten — a rotten interior will eventually be exposed.

8. Thanks to one of the leaders in my grief support group, I’ve learned to think of “comfort” as “common-fortitude.” We are stronger together.

9. I’m learning amazing new things about the intentional foreshadows in the biblical events leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. Our church commemorated a version of a Jewish seder, the Passover meal that Jesus observed with His disciples on the evening before Calvary. As we passed the elements of the seder, we learned how specifically they point to Jesus, the promised Messiah. Read more here @ the Word of Messiah Ministries Passover page.

Plus, I never knew, until a few days ago, that the name “Gethsemane” originates from a Hebrew term meaning “oil press.” The garden where Jesus went to pray before His crucifixion was a grove of olive trees. The “gethsemane” was a press that crushed the olives until they extracted the highly-valued oil. When we feel hard-pressed on every side, may we remember that the Lord Jesus, who has already withstood the crushing weight of sin and death, invites us to exchange our yoke for His.

10. “Target haze” has been coined to describe the experience of going to Target for a specific something and leaving the store with a cart of goods except for that one item. Apparently, I am not the only person who succumbs to this phenomenon.

11. “Remembering” between generations is something that my husband and I want to prioritize.  Now that one of us has lost a parent, we appreciate even more the opportunities to speak words of honor and gratitude to the generation before us, to cherish past memories, to prioritize occasions to create new ones, and to hold fast to this treasure called legacy. Some may call us the “sandwich generation,” but we choose to see this season as a tremendous privilege to create remembrances with the generation before and behind us.

Our church’s Generations Ministry equips parents to commemorate milestones with our children as they mature in Christ, and at this weekend’s Blessing Retreat my husband and I had an opportunity to intentionally speak words of affirmation and blessing over our 12-year-old daughter. As John and I wrote letters of blessing to her, he wanted to write about “remembering.” His written words encourage our young lady to remember for years to come that her identity, worth, and purpose are established in the love of Christ.

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After the Lord and Israel won a victory over the Philistines, the prophet Samuel set up a stone and named it Ebenezer or “stone of help” for “Thus far the LORD has helped us” (1 Samuel 7:12). Whenever the Israelites would pass by the stone, they would remember what the Lord accomplished on their behalf.

Now, an “Ebenezer” (as in “here I raise my Ebenezer“…) refers to the remembrance of a spiritual principle or an important life event.  This weekend, we gave gifts to our daughter to help her remember our words of blessing. We hope and pray that she will commit to memory this occasion as a marker of maturity, developmentally and spiritually. And for us as parents, we will remember this milestone event as a “stone of help.” While it’s probably normal to be a little nervous about the years ahead, we’re reassured by God’s guidance and the wise people who walk before and beside us along this journey of milestones.

12. This year, “March Madness” could refer to the weather as much as basketball. Equally unpredictable, both have thwarted our best efforts to nail them down. Maybe a little perspective can be gained here; life usually doesn’t go as forecast.  So we’ll roll with the messy days, but we’ll take every warm & sunny day we get here in North Carolina as an opportunity to stock up on the allergy meds, open the windows, and enjoy the ride!

Happy Spring!

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