Tag Archives: Faith

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

If You’re Carrying Extra Weight, Part 3

Yesterday, our pastor’s message was birthed out of the second chapter of Matthew – a Scripture that we usually study as we are merrily remembering Jesus’ birth and singing “We Three Kings.” Yet, in the midst of February (not the merriest time of year) I found it all the more meaningful to remember the pure earnestness of the wise men’s adoration for Jesus.

What better time than a February morning – after edgy days of cabin fever, after January’s resolutions are just a memory and December’s expenses have come due – to worship?

These are the days when I remind myself that worship is a response, not to changeable circumstances, but to an unchanging God.

And later in the morning our Bible study lesson came from John 20, when Jesus rose from the grave, appeared to His disciples, breathed on them, and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

These are the days when my heart longs for worship to be as natural and consistent as breathing in God’s grace and breathing out His praise. Not boastful of my own worth. Not matched to my own preferences (or favorite songs). Not limited to a time or place or style. Not conformed to my mood. Not arising only from the mountain top experiences.

If my worship depends upon any of these things, then resurrection power and freedom are sucked right out of my spirit. Worship becomes another joyless load heaped on a weary, self-sufficient soul. What my heart needs instead is for the weight of God’s worth to be breathed out of the limitless, liberating, life-sustaining gift and expression of the Holy Spirit…

And so yesterday, later in the day, while thinking about Jesus’ birth and resurrection, the realization hit me that we are almost halfway between Christmas and Easter. I thought of this after walking away from Daddy’s grave.

What better place than the cemetery to cling to the incarnation message of God with us and the resurrection truth of us with God, eternally?

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This is a rainbow charm that I chose to be a part of my “living locket.” * At last week’s jewelry party, I looked over hundreds of charms that could have been chosen. To me, this rainbow is a tiny representation of the mysterious ways of God and of a journey of faith that began almost two years ago when we learned that Daddy’s cancer had returned.

The Fourth of July fell a few days after the scan showed the unmistakable spot on his spine. Despite the stormy evening, my parents, husband, daughter, and I continued tradition, hoping that the clouds would break in time for the fireworks. Our usual spot was the top of a tall parking deck in the center of our city, not far from where the fireworks were ignited. We rode the elevator to the top, and as we exited to the parking deck, before us was the fullest, brightest rainbow I had ever seen. Immediately my heart leapt with hope. Taking that brilliant rainbow as a sign, I locked arms with Daddy.

“Look, Daddy! Everything is going to be alright.”

Many months later, I look at a rainbow charm perched on my finger and I think of Daddy. You and I know how things turned out. How could I have said that everything would be alright? How would I know that? How could I claim that? I was just a Daddy’s girl who, wanting more than anything at that moment for that ugly spot to vanish, grasped for any promise of hope.

My Daddy is alright. He is. The cancer IS vanished. No, this is not the way I wanted. Heaven wasn’t the healing I hoped for at the time. Now it’s February. My feelings are not merry but my mind is made up. It has to be. This is the only way I know how to do faith. Perhaps it’s not always natural and consistent. But the Holy Spirit fills my spiritual lungs with grace and mercy every single day. This is the air that travels to the deepest parts of my soul and resurrects trust within my heart and mind.

One day the storms will pass, the clouds will part, rainbow colors will spill through, and hope will be fulfilled. Whether a particular hope is realized on this side of Heaven or not is not up to us, but God does what is right and good. His faithfulness is as sure as the star in the Bethlehem sky and the scars on Jesus’ hands.

The ways of God are mysterious alright, but would I want it any other way? I can barely comprehend all the features on my phone, so if I’m honest, I don’t want a God that I can figure out. This God, who is beyond my understanding, is able to do beyond what I can see or put into prayers or claim for this life. And while that can be frustrating, it ultimately is my comfort. Because if hope were for this life only, it would be a mocking burden beyond what I could bear.

The Apostle Paul spoke of burden – or weight – in 2 Corinthians. The Greek word “baros” means anything pressing physically or spiritually upon oneself. In 2 Corinthians 1:8, Paul used the verb form of “baros” when he wrote “We don’t want you to be unaware, brethren, of the affliction which came to us in Asia … we were burdened (bareo) excessively beyond our strength so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again.

While Paul was heavily, frequently burdened by all kinds of persecution and weaknesses, his story includes many physical and spiritual deliverances. But not always. It was through dangers and darkness where Paul found Christ’s strength in weakness and imperishable hope in a perishing body.

So later in 2 Corinthians, Paul used the Greek noun “baros” when he wrote:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight (baros) of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:16 – 18).

In months of suffering, there was nothing “light” about Daddy’s illness. There’s nothing “light” about our present grief. Except that “light” is not meant in terms of importance to us in the here and now but in comparison to the glory, victory, and freedom that we will know then.

In this passage, it’s clear that Paul’s mind is made up. His hope and his worship don’t arise from his feelings but from his focus upon God with us and us with God, eternally. The glory to come will be so momentous, so weighty that words to describe it are mere wisps in the air.

Eye has not seen nor ear heard what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

In the words of theologian A.W. Pink – “One breath of Paradise will extinguish all the adverse winds of earth.”

Lord Jesus, breathe on me. Breathe faith into me so I can trust that all my burdens are as light and momentary as a human breath in comparison with the glorious joy and healing of Heaven. Breathe worship into me. Let all my hopelessness, pride, distractions, and idols be crushed by the weight of Your worth and eternal glory. Thank You for the promise that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. I am so grateful for signs of Your love and Your power — the star in the Bethlehem sky, the nail-pierced hands. And rainbows. In You, Lord, everything is going to be alright.

Amen and Come, Lord Jesus.

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“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

Resources –

John MacArthur, Comfort in Trouble – http://www.gty.org/Resources/Sermons/47-4

A.W. Pink, Affliction and Glory – http://www.sermonindex.net/modules/articles/index.php?view=article&aid=1147

W.E. Vine – Reflections on Words of the New Testament

* “Living Lockets” and Origami Owl custom jewelry – http://jccollins.origamiowl.com/parties/jennifercollins169479/how-to-build.ashx

God Leaves the Light On

My daughter has one of these cool new nightlights – the kind that projects a beam of light onto the ceiling. A flashlight stays within reach of her bed too. She’s not alone in her fear of the dark – a lot of kids and even adults say that they’re uneasy when the lights go out. In a survey of 2000 adults, 40% reported being frightened when walking around their own houses in the dark.

When asked: “Why are people scared of darkness?” a panel of Yahoo users gave these answers:

  • “That’s the stuff horror movies are made of.”
  • “People are not afraid of darkness. People are afraid of the unknown.”
  •  “When I was afraid of the dark, I used to say: It’s not the dark I’m afraid of… it’s what’s IN the dark I’m afraid of.”
  • “Because they can’t afford night vision goggles” (wise guy).
  • “Read Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness.”

The last response reminds me that as a teenager I was riveted by the depiction of spiritual warfare in This Present Darkness. Frank Peretti’s book disturbed me into the awareness that this dark domain is more active than I had imagined –

(“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this present darkness and against the spiritual forces of evil…” Ephesians 6:12).

But these days I’ve been aware of another kind of darkness. It’s not of this dark dominion. It’s not eternal darkness. I’m convinced that the Light of the world makes this darkness flee –

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in Me should stay in darkness.” – the words of Jesus ( John 12:46).

“For (God) has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves.” (Colossians 1:13)

While this is an assuring guarantee for Christ-followers, we still have to live in a world where the shadow of sin and death is far-reaching. At times darkness falls across our paths through illness, grief, loneliness, rejection, sadness, fear, weakness, loss, and uncertainty. The way ahead is unknown. Sometimes a veil clouds our awareness of God. We can’t see Him. We wonder – does He see us?

The honest laments of the psalmists, as in Psalm 88, assure us that godly people aren’t exempt from these struggles and doubts –
“I am overwhelmed with troubles …. My eyes are dim with grief … Why do You hide Your face from me? Darkness is my closest friend” (verses 3, 9, 14, 18).

And Micah the prophet lamented, “What misery is mine! … I sit in darkness” (see Micah 7).

In his book When I Don’t Desire God (an honest title that intrigued me) Pastor John Piper reassures his readers that seasons of darkness are normal in the Christian life. Remember that most people’s discomfort with darkness is primarily a fear of what they cannot see or anticipate. While we rely heavily on our sight to navigate the physical world, this Christian journey is one of believing and not of seeing (2 Corinthians 5:7). When clouds of fear or doubt obscure our view of God, we must anchor our faith in His character, not our feelings or senses. As Piper says, “…the darkest experience for the child of God is when his faith sinks out of his own sight. Not out of God’s sight, but his.”

My faith rises and falls. God’s faithfulness does not rise and fall. I may not always see Him in my circumstances but I will trust His character:

“When darkness seems to hide His face,
I rest on His unchanging grace.
In every high and stormy gale,
my anchor holds within the veil.” *

What helps me in dark times is to remember that God is not absent when I can’t see Him. In fact, throughout Scripture, He shows Himself working out a glorious plan in the midst of darkness.

Exodus 14 –
“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the (Red) sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.” (verses 21 – 22).

Mark 6 –
Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and Jesus was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn He went out to them, walking on the lake …. when they saw Him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified. Immediately he spoke to them and said, “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” Then he climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed …” (verses 47 – 51)

Acts 12 –
The night before Herod was to bring him to trial, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries stood guard at the entrance. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up!” he said, and the chains fell off Peter’s wrists (verses 6 – 7).

Acts 16 –
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!”

The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were baptized. (verses 25 – 33)

A dawn of deliverance and deepened faith awaited Moses and the children of Israel, the disciples, Peter, Paul, Silas, and the jailer. Whether chased by an angry army, bound by prison chains, or rocked by natural forces, these people experienced God making a way. And when morning came, they were changed. Their stories still speak of a God who moves in the darkness.

Scripture promises us that what seems dark & hidden to us is plain to Him (Psalm 139: 11 & 12). Even as He keeps dawn on the horizon, He choreographs a timetable and a plan for the midst of the night. Perhaps like Peter He will give us rest. Or like Paul and Silas He is calling us to worship and drawing those around us to the Gospel. It could be that like the disciples we will experience Him in a jaw-dropping way. Perhaps like the children of Israel, He is preparing a miraculous story that will be shared for generations to come.

And although we experience the shifting of shadows here on this earth, the Day is coming. There will be a new dawn of deliverance as the inexhaustible Light cuts through the darkness. It will be so pure that nothing will obscure it. No more shadows of sin and death. We see dimly now, but on that Day we will know and see fully.

When it comes to the dark, I don’t know what’s there but I know Who’s there. So I won’t be afraid. And as surely as the sun (Son) rises, morning is on the way!

Isaiah 60:19 – 20 – The sun will no more be your light by day, nor will the brightness of the moon shine on you, for the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your God will be your glory. Your sun will never set again, and your moon will wane no more; the Lord will be your everlasting light, and your days of sorrow will end.

Revelation 22: 3 – 5 – No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”

Psalm 139: 11 – 12 – If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

Isaiah 61:1 – “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners” – a prophecy fulfilled in Jesus (see Luke 4: 16 – 31).

Isaiah 42:16 – “I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.”

Isaiah 50:10 – Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of His servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on God.

Psalm 30:5 – …weeping may stay for the night, but joy comes in the morning.

2 Corinthians 5:7 – We walk by faith and not by sight.

Sources –
“Why Many Adults are Still Afraid of the Dark” http://www.bps.org.uk/news/many-adults-are-afraid-dark

“Why Are People Afraid of Darkness?” http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20060616005052AAZjM7U

This Present Darkness by Frank Peretti – http://frankperetti.com/

* My Hope is Built on Nothing Less (The Solid Rock) hymn lyrics by Edward Mote

When I Don’t Desire God by John Piper – http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library/books/when-i-dont-desire-god

I Think You are Courageous – Another Letter to my Daughter

First of all, I’m sorry. The Bible provides timeless principles for raising kids but I haven’t yet found specific instructions for “what to do when your child wants to do something really hard for a sixth grade project.” And so, being a little overwhelmed for you, I wasn’t very enthusiastic about your project, was I? Truthfully, we know that I tried to talk you into doing something different – something easier.

Sweetheart, I’m learning so much as your Mom. While you are an imaginative, positive, creative thinker, I’m realistic and sensible.

You dream up a project and say “That has potential!”
I consider your ideas and ask, “Is that possible?”

It’s my responsibility as a parent to be reasonable and practical. I think about costs and time and effort. Some people would say that’s being “down-to-earth.”

And yet, honey, I never ever want to ground your dreams to fly.

I was afraid that you would be disappointed. And that your idea might be a failure. And you’d be working on Plan B at the very last minute.

But now I understand that protecting you from failure doesn’t serve you well. The time for you to fail is now. Doesn’t that sound weird? It’s not that I want your ideas to fall flat or I’m hoping that you will miss the cut. But my better responsibility as a parent is to be a safe place when you try. If you fail, if you don’t make the team, if you don’t make the grade, if you’re disappointed after the big audition, I will love you. And support you. And cheer for you anyway.

I want you to try.

As you walk with Jesus, He will take you on a narrow road. You might think that this was just a history assignment, but I’m proud of you for not shying away from a difficult choice. Take it as a life lesson — as part of your own story.

Of course I want you to think and plan and practice wisely. Learning how to do this is a process of growing up. Learning how to let you learn is a process of growing as a parent. You’re just beginning middle school, and your decisions are going to become much bigger than what to do for a school project. We have a lot of learning and growing to do together.

We’re going to make mistakes. I just did, as a mom. I’m writing about it. Failure is not final. I think somebody famous said something like that. Oh, Winston Churchill. (I just looked it up.) You’ll probably learn about him this year.

Ok, here’s what he really said: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

So, all day long, on Saturday you worked. And shed a few tears. And continued.

“I can do it, Mommy.”

Sweetheart, I think you are courageous.

Kids and parents are discussing the life application of courage this month at our church. How appropriate, huh? Last week, our leader asked us to talk at home about things that have been hard and scary. I told you that, for me, 2013 has been a year of hard things like going on a mission trip without you and Daddy, taking a class on pastoral care at the hospital, and watching our dearest loved ones go through surgeries and chemotherapy.

At the class in the hospital, I had to go into the rooms of strangers and offer a word of hope or prayer. Sometimes those strangers were thankful and friendly and sometimes not. The director of the program knew that this was hard for a shy person like me.

“I think you are courageous,” he said.

His words gave me encouragement. Get it? En-COURAGE-ment. Just hearing that someone considered me courageous made me feel courageous.

But I couldn’t ultimately depend on courage coming from within myself or from the words of another person. An unkind word could just as easily dis-courage me. Before I could raise my fist to knock on another hospital room door, I had to rely on a promise that the Lord gave to Joshua:

Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

The Lord is with you, sweet girl. By His Spirit, you are courageous. Continue in hard things.

I remember now where I saw that quote from Winston Churchill. It was posted in a room where your Poppy received a treatment for his cancer.

Cancer is a hard thing. Your Grammy knows that too.

Poppy and Grammy are courageous. Sometimes you have to be courageous about things that you don’t choose.  But no matter what, God chooses to love you and stay with you, just as He continues to do so for your grandparents.

It is the courage to continue that counts.

Colossians 1: 6 – 7 says, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in Him….”

Continue on, sweetheart. He will give you roots and let you fly.

A Lesson from Gideon

I’ve been anticipating Priscilla Shirer’s latest Bible study, Gideon, for several months now, and it’s finally here! With an amazing group of ladies at my church, I’m eager to be challenged, encouraged, and strengthened through this study.

Gideon has inspired me for a long time, ever since I heard an unforgettable sermon about this “mighty warrior” and his story recorded in the Old Testament book of Judges.  I was in a forgettable season of life when I first heard how God called Gideon out of obscurity and oppression. As he addressed a group of people desperate for a word of hope, the chaplain’s message brought Gideon’s story to life. My husband and I volunteered occasionally for the Sunday chapel services at a local rehabilitation hospital, and our “congregation” consisted of patients who were recovering from traumatic, life-changing injuries. Believe me, I counted my blessings as I witnessed their physical suffering, but somehow I felt a kinship with their doubt and discouragement. As I was recovering from the eating disorder, I was getting better on the outside, but on the inside remained a mess of regret and insecurity.

The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”

Go in the strength that you have.

The angel of the Lord gave these affirmations to Gideon as he threshed wheat in a winepress (where no one threshes wheat, but it served as an adequate hideout from the Midianites).

God had chosen reluctant Gideon to lead Israel out from Midianite oppression. I can just imagine Gideon spinning around to see who the angel was speaking of — this “mighty warrior.” Can you sense his surprise when he realized….

Who, me?

God knows full well that we are not mighty. The psalmist put it this way: “He (God) remembers that we are dust” (103:14).  And yet, throughout stories of Scripture, we see that He purposely chooses to use the weak (see the calling of Moses in Exodus 4 and the testimony of Paul in 1 Corinthians 1).

Why me?

Moses had doubts (“Who I am that I should go…? Ex.3:11). Gideon had excuses (“My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” Judges 6:15).

God had a purpose.

The Apostle Paul discovered the answer to why me?  “(God) said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

God can turn the weak one into a warrior. But He always starts with weakness. THEN, the power of Christ rests and redeems.

I trusted that God would bring redemption out of this seemingly useless time of my life. I sensed that He was calling me forward in my healing so that I could someday share it with others. When I was sitting in the rehabilitation gym, I was afraid.

How do I move forward?

Go in the strength that you have.

I don’t have any strength.

YOU don’t. But this is not about you.

While preparing him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, God assured Moses that Pharaoh would only let them go “Because of My mighty hand…” (Ex. 6:1).

Moses was the leader with skin on, but God was the deliverer. Future generations would know and worship the mighty God.

Commemorate this day, the day you came out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery, because the Lord brought you out of it with a mighty hand” Ex. 13:3

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.” Deuteronomy 5:15

“But the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt with a mighty hand and outstretched arm, is the one you must worship.” 2 Kings 17:36

God calls us to commemorate, to remember, to worship. It’s all about Him.

Dr. Tony Evans aptly said, “God is the source. Everything else is a resource.”

God is our source, our strength. I learned that day, from that sermon, that it was time to step away from my hideout; time to take the focus off of me and focus instead on His might.

Maybe it’s your time too.

You may be weak, but in the power of His Spirit, you are a warrior. It’s a promise!

As Lysa TerKeurst recently posted, “We need to let our identity, not our insecurity, be the first thing to walk into any situation.”

Our identity is who we are in Christ. It’s our esteem of ourselves turned Godward.  On the other hand, our insecurity is our esteem of ourselves turned inward.

I often walk into situations where I feel pretty inadequate (facilitating a Bible study, volunteering at the hospital, facing the chores & errands of any given day, having awkward conversations with my tween-age daughter). An inward focus urges me to run in the opposite direction. And yet, a Godward focus compels me to move in the direction of dependence upon Him. I am chosen, accepted, beloved, and redeemed. God promises to fulfill His purposes for me. My weaknesses are reminders to look to “Christ in me, the hope of glory.” My cracked places indicate that there is light within.

Perhaps future generations will look upon my life and your life, weaknesses and all, and know that God is mighty.

He doesn’t ask us to have it all together. He simply asks us to “Go…” and His presence is enough.

The Lord is with you, mighty warrior ….. Go in the strength that you have.”

Resources:

Gideon’s story is found in Judges 6 – 8.

For more on Priscilla Shirer’s Gideon study, http://www.lifeway.com/Article/bible-study-priscilla-shirer-gideon-weakness-strength

Follow #lessonsfromgideon on Twitter

I’ve found encouragement through the series “OUT of Insecurity” by Holley Gerth. Visit http://holleygerth.com/

Fantastic inspiration here too – http://lysaterkeurst.com/

What an amazing promise …. Christ in you, the hope of glory! (Read more in Colossians 1)

The Prize

It just amazes me that our Father God is so majestic and yet so merciful. And powerful but at the same time personal. He truly speaks and acts in our lives tenderly, deliberately, and individually. I’m sure of this because I experience how He teaches me patiently when I need to learn the same lesson over and over again. And how He continually points me back to His voice and His purposes when I’m prone to wander or wallow in discouragement. Sometimes through different circumstances or various people, the same messages will coincide, and I’m certain it’s not a coincidence.

It’s graduation season, and whenever I attend a commencement ceremony, I look most forward to the speaker’s address to the graduates. The message is usually filled with inspiration, challenge, and vision. After all, the word “commencement” means “beginning.”  It’s obviously an occasion to congratulate the graduates on their accomplishments but it’s most importantly a time to direct their energies and hopes toward the future.

For this reason, as I was preparing to graduate from seminary two years ago, I chose to memorize Philippians 3: 13 – 14 ~

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (words of the Apostle Paul).

As the big day drew near, I mediated on this passage and prayed that my heart and mind would be focused not upon worldly success or gainful employment but upon the upward call of God in Christ.  I wasn’t sure what this would look like in terms of future ministry. I was receiving a degree in Christian counseling, yet I was pretty certain that God would use my training in unexpected ways. Unlike most of my classmates, I didn’t feel lead to pursue the path toward counseling licensure and practice. I wanted to go out into hospitals, nursing homes, and crisis pregnancy centers, perhaps serving in a way similar to a chaplain.

Standing in the lobby as we awaited the processional, my fellow graduates were buzzing with excitement. There was nervous talk about their next steps, such as taking the licensure exams and applying for residencies. Several of them asked me when I was taking the exam and where I was seeking a position. When I replied that I didn’t have immediate plans for either step, they were perplexed. “But,” a classmate protested, “you should follow through right away before all this becomes….a  waste.”

Hmm. Thousands of dollars and countless hours of work. A waste.  Geez – not the most cheery thought as I walked toward my diploma!

As I sat among the rows of people with black robes and silly hats, I glanced over the graduation program. And my eyes fell on this Scripture on the back cover:

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For me, it was the sweetest moment of affirmation. The Word doesn’t say “press on to the most logical step” or “press on toward what makes you professional and significant” or “press on toward a job.”  No, the Holy Spirit reminded me that my goal is the prized upward call of Christ. Certainly my classmates, in their pursuit of becoming Christian counselors, were also seeking God’s will and His Kingdom purposes. Having received the same rigorous training, I highly appreciate and respect their very important ministries. But the call of Christ for me was to be different, and in that moment God reassured me that it was good. Underneath the uniform black robes and silly hats, all of us graduates were created uniquely for God’s personalized plans.

The prize lies wherever Christ’s love compels us. It may be in a counseling practice, the backstreets of town, an orphanage in China, your kitchen, a Bible study, your office, the yard that connects you with your neighbor, or a nursing home. When Christ’s love compels you and you go, nothing is wasted.

So, fast forward two years, and I am sitting at a friend’s graduation from seminary. Honestly, the speaker doesn’t capture my interest this time, but I do remember one thing he has to say: “God doesn’t use a measuring stick.”

I think about that as I drive home, having congratulated my friend and having spoken with several familiar people who asked, “So, what are you doing now?” With all honesty, I replied that I happily love my family, serve my church, and volunteer at a hospital and a nursing home.  Only one person asked why I’m not using my training. It doesn’t really bother me. I’m slowly learning that while a paid position could be really nice, it doesn’t validate me or my degree.

God doesn’t use a measuring stick. The same is true for you. God’s love and purpose for you doesn’t depend on what you have or haven’t accomplished. As Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” When Christ’s love compels you and you go, it’s joyfully significant. My sweet husband and I trust that one day we’ll see an eternal return for our investment.

There are days when I struggle with discouragement or selfish motives. I am a “Martha” (Luke 10: 38 – 42) at heart, and Marthas often try to find their significance from what they do. But Jesus calls out the “Mary” in me – the heart of devotion and worship for what He has already done. Jesus said that this is “the one thing needful” (verse 42).

Notice that Paul said, “This one thing I do…” His one thing, his focus, his purpose was in living his values – supremely the Love of Christ. When we truly live out what we value, I believe that the prize is discovering the freedom, simplicity, and significance of God’s personal call upon our lives.

I’ve been blessed with an incredible opportunity to stay at home with my girl, love on my husband and our parents, and serve in ministry with amazing people in my church and community. Perhaps there will be different seasons with different opportunities, but I’m cherishing this one. And when another season comes, I’ll continue to look forward to the prize of God’s call and go where Christ’s love compels me.

On the day that I graduated, my husband presented me with a treasured gift – a beautiful new study Bible. Without speaking with me beforehand (this was a surprise), he chose a verse and asked a sweet friend to write it in calligraphy on the inside of my Bible:

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God is so mighty and merciful – so powerful and personal! Sometimes the same messages will coincide, and I’m certain it’s not a coincidence.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again. 2 Corinthians 5: 14 & 15

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Jeremiah 29:11

The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me; Your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of Your hands. Psalm 138:8

He who began a good work in you will carry it to completion until the Day of Christ Jesus. Philippians 1:6

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