A Hard Kind of Beautiful

These days we are walking in are strange aren’t they? I’ve spent the past 2 weeks wanting to write, but not really knowing what to write. Like many of you, I have been at a loss for words. We are walking through and living in times unexpected. Covid-19 has done things none of us could have predicted or imagined. We are not only living lives interrupted, but altogether halted in a sense. Everything cancelled, right? And with all the store closings, schools shutting down, hotels and restaurants shuttering doors, grocery shelves emptying, we feel a loss of control.

As if control were ever really ours to begin with.

In all transparency, I feel that keenly. At 33 weeks pregnant with a miracle baby after 12 years of not being able to be so and one tragic miscarriage last year, I’ve been wrestling with that a lot lately. I’ve had to let go of my idea of what being pregnant would look like as our birthing class has been cancelled, along with our baby shower. Even just being able to be with family, friends, and church during this time has not been a possibility. It’s been very isolating.

I have had to let go of my own plans and ideas for how I would want my birth plan to go due to new hospital regulations and guidelines. As long as my husband stays healthy, he can be there as a support for me. If not, it could just be me. For one who has never been through the birth process, even thinking about that sends my heart-rate up a little. And if I am not healthy? The new reality is I may have to be kept from my newborn baby altogether for a period of days or weeks until it’s safe once again. There won’t be those beautiful hospital pictures of my older son getting to meet this long awaited brother in the hospital either. No visitors allowed. Yes, I worry, yes, I have been anxious. And there has been something else mixed in with all of that – grief.

With a sense of loss there is grief.

So this morning I have turned back to the psalms, particularly to one I studied last year, Psalm 119. It’s a psalm most often noted for it’s exultation of God’s Word. The Word dominated the psalmists life, and we see evidence of that when he expresses that he turned to it before dawn, daily, nightly, and at midnight. In other words the Word was the central life-line of the psalmist.

But within this Mount Everest of a psalm there is also another dominating theme, and that is lament. For whatever reason, the psalmist was penning this psalm under great duress. Over and over the psalmist points to God’s word as being his most grounding perspective despite others around him and his own feelings. He took great comfort in God’s word.

How? How did God’s word keep him?

It gave the psalmist revival, hope, comfort, strength, growth, assurance, sustenance, peace, and salvation. It kept him and gave him grounding perspective in the midst of great trials. How about us? What is keeping us? Is it the news, the government, social-distancing, health initiatives? While much of this might benefit to some degree, it all falls miserably short of the power that is God’s and God’s alone to provide what we need, when we need it, and how we are given it.

God is in control. He is sovereign.

This is what I am being reminded of currently. It is both a beautiful and a hard reality. Beautiful because as a believer, I know God keeps me. He is my grounding perspective, my present and future hope, no matter what happens this side of heaven. Hard because we are not promised immunity from pain in the here and now. But we are not alone, not if we place our trust and hope in God. He is with us, strengthening us, sustaining us in our weaknesses. In these days which can feel so foreign and isolating, He is present, working.

If you are like me, when in the midst of heartache, trial, or difficult circumstances like these days truly are, you may not feel much like digging into God’s word. I certainly find it hard to worship God and offer praise to Him during times of trial but this is EXACTLY what the psalmist did in 119. He centered and buckled down in God’s Word, and God’s word guided His prayer requests and helped grow praise from his heart. Through worship in and through the Word the psalmist was strengthened.

So this week I’m digging in.

I’m working to tune the news out more so that I can seek God with all the energy that has driven my anxiety and worry these days. I’m actively choosing to look up, not down. Anyone up for the challenge?

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Don’t Wait for Tomorrow What You Can Settle Today

It’s been a while since I last wrote, I admit.  In the time between Winter ending and Spring beginning I have taken extra moments to rest.  In these moments I have been able to disconnect in order to connect more fully to the people most precious to me, my family.  I have seen a year pass and in this time reflect on the milestone of my father’s home-going.  Just this week I received official word that the estate handling had finally found an end.  This business of walking through the valley of the shadow of death has finalized, settled, come to completion.  For now.

And on goes life.

Winter has gone, Spring has come and already it’s preparing to give way to Summer.  Time spins round so rapidly it’s hard to believe that all this new color will fade to Fall in a mere few months.  Time collects so much, leaves so much, and in it’s span of the space between the dots God works change in the landscape of our life.  God changes things, He changes us.

Settle

I have discovered death to be just one of the tools God can use to remind us of the important things, or rather, what should be the most important thing:  the reality of God in our lives, changing us, using us.  I admit that even as I write my thoughts are spinning in a million directions and my heart is heavy.  This week has brought with it news that is as hard to read as it is to understand.  Another senseless and cruel bombing took place in England followed by news of the sudden death of a childhood youth instructor who was kind, humble and a selfless servant. Shocking news.  Hard news.  Every day news hits with another harsh reality of just how hard, bitter, ugly and cold the world’s landscape is becoming.

And so with that a warning:  I’m about to tear down a fence that I’ve been dancing around for far too long.  I generally try to steer clear of writing anything “political” but to be honest, I’m over all the snarkiness.  Politics are not going to change or save us.  Only God can save.  All the ugliness we see in this world can not be solved by the culture’s latest social agenda or terminology re-defining.  You can attempt to re-define marriage and gender but it will never change what God, our creator, has already created and cemented.  Your creator has embedded the beauty of His work in the very fabric of your DNA which can not be re-worked or re-defined.  Your emptiness and fear won’t be solved by divorce, drugs, alcohol, abortion or you fill in the proverbial blank. Our mistakes can not be washed away or re-written.  They can only be owned up to and repented from.  And so, I believe it’s time we start calling out what’s truly the problem and the problem begins with US.  The problem is pride, selfishness, SIN.  The world has a sin problem that we ourselves will not fix or change.  We preach love but if we don’t know the author of love it’s self, how do we even know what real love truly is?   As 1 John 4:19 states, “We love because he first loved us.”

Isn’t anything else we preach or teach just a counterfeit, twisted version of what love truly is or should be?  You and I, we are not God.  We may think we are wise but there in lies the danger.  Proverbs 26:12 poses this question:  “Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?  There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

To be bluntly honest, God’s ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts.  There is but one God and He nailed the answer to the world’s sin problem, once and for all, on the cross in the form of His son, Jesus Christ.  In repentance we must, must come to the point of accepting we are sinners in need of a savior.  God is the only way.  When death comes knocking, it won’t matter how good you were, how kind you were, how much you gave away.  It won’t matter how much you’ve acquired or how much love and unity you’ve preached from sun-up until sundown.  God is the only way.  The narrow way. Someday, whether we want to acknoweldge it or not, we will answer to the one who created all things, who created us.  What will be your answer?  What will be His?  Will He know you?

I’m a bit passionate about this because death has settled and taught me much this year.  I’m a bit passionate and perhaps more bold because there is this box of un-sifted “stuff” sitting in my basement that is the only remaining evidence of a life lived on this earth.  Most of the contents of these boxes will soon be sifted and most likely shredded and discarded.  There is nothing in these boxes of any eternal value at all.

Settle

You see,  my dad didn’t come into this world with anything and he didn’t leave taking anything with him.  He lived most his life cut-off from the world.  He was hard and distrusting and hard to live with.  He was broken but wouldn’t admit that.  He acknowledged a God, yes, but for most of His life belief in God was an unnecessary, foolish complication.  Until cancer hit.  Until death knocked.  God got a hold of him then.  When everything else including pride and self was stripped, the truth and reality of God softened his heart and brought the kind of peace that only God can bring.  Outside the hospital window the day my dad died it didn’t matter how many mistakes he had made or how many times he had gotten it all wrong and messed up.  It didn’t matter what political debate was brewing.  It didn’t matter how much money my dad’s wallet held or what kind of phone sat in his hospital drawer.  It didn’t matter who was president or would be president, just that God was dominate and supreme in his life.  The only thing that mattered in that moment was the issue of being God’s and God’s alone.  To the one about to enter through the doors of eternity, nothing else matters.

So, let’s face it.  I may not be here tomorrow and you may not be here tomorrow.  Death is very real and eternity, well, it’s forever.  Don’t wait until tomorrow to settle what you can today.  Tomorrow may just be a day too late.

Prayer

“Have you prayed lately”?

This was a question a dear friend asked me quite a long time ago and it has resonated with me ever since.  When the question was first posed I had gone to my friend desperate and in need of solid, real answers.  I needed solutions not another glib christian response to a problem that was beyond controllable.  At first I was angry because I viewed the “have you prayed lately” question as glib and dismissive.  It most certainly wasn’t a how-to response or the advice I had sought, but it was the advice I most needed to hear, most needed to remember.  You see, prayer is powerful.  Prayer can change circumstances but more, prayer WILL change me.  Prayer has changed me.

My view of prayer in those days had been so limited, so short-sighted.  In truth, many days it still is.  Through the years this has been the question I have turned to when everything else has failed.  This simple question is the question I ask myself when storms and trials rage like a Kansas tornado and it is also the question I too quickly and easily forget when the sun shines and chases the rain clouds away.  Praying is the single-most thing I need to do more than anything but it is nearly always my go-to last resort.

Prayer

So why don’t we pray more?

Prayer, in the face of the most difficult circumstances feels akin to an irrational grasp for comfort.  We pray for answers and meet uncomfortable silence.  So we stop praying.  Prayer doesn’t have a physical face or a tangible hand to hold on tightly to.  So we simply don’t pray.  We muddle through life grasping for answers like we grasp for straws.  We wrestle, fight, control, claw our way to the next straw until it bends and fails and then we repeat the cycle over and over again.  After all, doing something is better than not doing anything at all, right? That’s what our human nature to control everything tries to tell us.  Prayer runs counter to the fabric of human nature and reasoning and so we believe the lie that prayer is the white flag of surrender, a giving up on, a doing nothing type of answer.

Jesus had a different response.

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”  Matthew 18:20

Jesus not only taught prayer, he DID prayer.  He prayed often, for others as well as himself.   In Hebrews we are told that “in the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence,” Hebrews 5:7. In Luke Jesus speaks to Simon Peter, a man who would deny Christ three times, that “Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have PRAYED for you that your faith may not fail.  And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers,” Luke 22:31-34.  These two examples, dear friends, are just the tip of the ice-berg.  Jesus’s response was so different than ours typically is and there is so much more evidence showing just how Jesus taught and lived prayer.  For a list of at least twenty-nine other references, you can click and go HERE.

Prayer is powerful. Period.

Prayer saves, prayer strengthens, prayer enables faith.  Prayer delivers us from prisons in the most unlikely of ways.  Don’t believe me?  Then go HERE and read about how a church who was praying earnestly prayed an angel to an imprisoned Peter’s side and delivered him from chains and certain death.  God walked Peter past the guards, through the city streets, and delivered him right to the praying church’s doorstep.  It was such a dramatic answer to prayer that even the people who were gathered and praying questioned Peter’s own physical knock on their door.  Prayer does that.  God, through prayer, does what we never could do or dream of period.

Are you living in a prison?

Is your marriage estranged, broken, hurting?  Do you have a rebellious, stubborn, hard-nosed kiddo that has you at the end of your rope helpless?  Are you disheartened and hurting because we live in a hurting and broken world that every day gets a little more evil, a little more unfathomable, a little more at war?  Is your prison one of your own doing, one of your own making?  Is your prison sin?  Are you tired of grasping for a new straw and watching it fall short, fail?  The denial won’t help.  The words ladies, the words we fling at our husbands in fear and frustration won’t help save a hurting marriage.  The alcohol may numb but it won’t deliver.  The drugs will only destroy your mind and your health.  Self-help books may encourage for a time, but they won’t change the course of our decisions or of those we love.  So, have you prayed lately?  If no, then stop right now and go, just go.  Get on your knees before a powerful God and humble yourself and in repentance and reverence pound and knock on the door of the only one who can truly deliver and save.  Do battle on your knees.  Let the tears fall and soak the pages and battle, wrestle in prayer.  Prayer is anything but giving up.  Prayer is surrendering what we can’t control to a God who is in control, always.  Always.

Prayer

As a side-note, if you are praying and struggling through the silence and wondering how to push through, here is a link to one of my most favorite tools and resources.  This little book has helped me through some pretty dry valleys and helped me pray through scripture when honestly, I just didn’t feel like praying.  Don’t give up on praying, keep pushing through.  I promise you won’t regret doing so!

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