2015: Stripped

I had such high hopes for this year. Having turned a corner from failure to focus, I was ready for new spiritual heights — success, joy, fruitful ministry! January started so beautifully, with a clear, divine call out of my invented chaos and into His silent simplicity, and I was so ready for all that God was going to do in the upcoming year.

Except that I wasn’t ready at all. I had no idea what God meant by calling me to simplicity. The loneliness, the pain, the confusion. Maybe by “silence” I thought “peace and quiet.” So much happened that I entered into a new kind of chaos — a total panic. Frankly, I quickly forgot that He had even called me to simplicity until a friend reminded me, but even then it didn’t ring familiar. Embarrassingly late in the year, I remembered that setting spiritual goals was something I even did. What was it this year? I remembered it was just one word, but what was it? In desperation, I pulled out my Life Box and read January’s entries. In addition to “simplicity,” I also found a recurring theme throughout the first two months of this year: rest.

And then these words disappeared from my writing. Everything happened, and I forgot the very reason for everything. I was suddenly panicking in the waves, not remembering that God had already told me to hold tight to my Anchor as He stirred the emotional and spiritual storm. That that’s all I had to do as He led me to simplicity and rest, to a truer understanding of clinging to Him regardless of the weather.

“He led me.” Ha! He dragged me. I feel like He pulled me deeper and deeper beneath the waves until I finally stopped struggling, reaching that moment when a drowning person finally accepts the inevitable — that he’s powerless to prevent death and a strange peace washes over him.

But that peace came late, late in the year. It came well after I re-read the prophecy on those pages, which left me wondering at God, laughing at myself, and then crying at both of us. Most of the year was a wrestling match with the Almighty, who seemed to be bent on plunging me deeper and deeper until I just couldn’t breathe. Maybe what He wanted to die — what was not of Him — is finally dead. But even the good kind of death never comes easy.

He completely broke my heart. He removed everything from me that I found my identity in. He took relationships. He took away any illusion of my having control over anything. He brought me into deep intercession and then devastated me by saying no. He took Ruthie. He took Baby R. He took Jude. He took all my plans and threw them out. He took away my energy, my productivity, and eventually, the freedom to even walk. (Seriously, I had medical restrictions against it for weeks.)

He wasn’t kidding about rest. He literally made me sit. Alone. In a dirty house I couldn’t clean, with a bored preschooler I couldn’t entertain and an overworked husband I couldn’t help or encourage. I was totally depleted and unable to “do” anything but listen. And of course, I had selective hearing.

He never gave up on me, though, wretch though I am. What a year full of beautiful, messy grace this has been.

There have been seasons of my life when God has been silent — when I’ve begged and persisted and cried and been met with silence. There are great lessons in those times, too, but that is not what this year has been. This year, I’ve begged and persisted and cried and been met with His power, His grace, His nearness, and the fact that I just don’t understand everything He’s doing. But He has not been silent. He hasn’t answered all my exact questions, but He has been with me in ways that have brought sudden tears many times. I’ve felt Him, and I’ve heard Him. He’s the only one who’s known the devastation in my heart this year, and He never forsook me or told me it was wrong to grieve. He let me grieve, and kept drawing me in.

Two thousand fifteen: a beautiful year. I’m ready (I think) for 2016. I’ve got my listening ears on this time.

Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)

By Hillsong United

You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand

And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now

So I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior

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The Practice of Waiting

For months now — for months and months — I have been waiting on the Lord for something. This something is dear to my heart, and the longer I wait, the dearer to my  heart it becomes and the harder it is to keep waiting.

This morning, I read Joshua 16 and 17. Don’t look it up. If you do, you’ll be all like, “Why did I look this up?” I’ll go ahead and give you a taste, since I know you’re dying with curiosity:

The sons of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, received their inheritance. Now this was the territory of the sons of Ephraim according to their families: the border of their inheritance eastward was Ataroth-addar, as far as upper Beth-horon. Then the border went westward at Michmethath on the north, and the border turned about eastward to Taanath-shiloh and continued beyond it to the east of Janoah. It went down from Janoah to Ataroth and to Naarah, then reached Jericho and came out at the Jordan. From Tappuah the border continued westward to the brook of Kanah, and it ended at the sea. This is the inheritance of the tribe of the sons of Ephraim according to their families, together with the cities which were set apart for the sons of Ephraim in the midst of the inheritance of the sons of Manasseh, all the cities with their villages.

See? It’s a lot of this kind of stuff in these chapters. Foreign words we can’t say right and ancient places no longer on the map. But God spoke something beautiful to my heart through the discipline of reading through unfamiliar geographical accounts and waiting for His voice. Here’s what spilled onto my journal page:

God chooses our lot. And God’s choice is always good.

You may not have noticed those crucial few words in the passage above, those words that pierced my heart and opened my ears to the Spirit. It’s likely that you skimmed past it or had even stopped reading before you got there. Let me highlight it for you —

This is the inheritance of the tribe of the sons of Ephraim according to their families, together with the cities which were set apart for the sons of Ephraim in the midst of the inheritance of the sons of Manasseh, all the cities with their villages.

They didn’t get to choose their portion. God chose it in time past, according to His wisdom and goodness, because they were His children. If they’d been given a choice, they might not have chosen this. Would they have preferred to execute God’s judgment on foreign peoples and take their lands? Probably not. I bet if given the choice, they would have rather liked finding an empty, unclaimed land. And if given the choice, they would have liked that land some 40 years prior, thankyouverymuch.

Oh, but God doesn’t operate on our timetable or with our tiny thoughts or shortsighted reasoning. He made them wait, and then He made them fight. Their honey- and milk-flowy inheritance was truly grand and extravagant, but it wasn’t handed to them on a silver platter. It was messy, and bloody, and not for the faint of heart.

And that made it so much better.

How much better did they get to know the Lord in the waiting? In the fighting and in the trusting? How much more did they appreciate the gift, the sovereignty and the majesty and the extravagant grace of the Lord?

(Kind of the same lessons we try to teach our kids — “Good things come to those who wait” and “You’ll appreciate it more if you work for it.” We don’t like these lessons anymore than they do, right?)

wait-661072_1280So here’s what I believe He’s telling me right now: Just wait, and press into the waiting. Give thanks for the practice of waiting for the Lord, and be ready to fight. Don’t settle for anything less than the lot He’s already set aside for you. Don’t be fooled by man’s counsel or the devil’s craftiness. This waiting is a blessing — this is true spiritual warfare — this is beautiful and worth it, and God is worthy to be praised in it and because of it. Just wait. It’s gonna be good…

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

~Isaiah 40:28-31

Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.

~Psalm 27:14

Write it Down.

100_2374In 2013, I started keeping a praise jar. It’s rather straightforward; every time there was something to praise God about, I tried to remember to write it down and put it in the jar. In January of 2014, it was so amazing to lay out all of God’s blessings (that I had noticed) month by month for the previous year. I spread them out on my kitchen table and just looked, in awe.

I never knew.

Never before had I kept such a meticulous record of every way God had blessed me and my family. And to be honest, I wasn’t all that meticulous about it. If I’d really written everything down, I’m sure my whole house couldn’t have contained all the sticky-notes.

Last year, I continued the tradition, but this time I included every answer to prayer — not only for us, but also answers to our prayers for friends, for relatives, for acquaintances, or for whomever else God had put on our hearts to pray. So this month as I looked back on 2014’s blessings, I also saw 52 specific answers to prayer.

Babies were a theme. We saw miracles for Ridgeley, Hunter, Caleb, Samuel, Deacon, Ethan, Emma, Abby, another Samuel, Josiah, Noah, and Graham. I tear up as I write these names, because some were “everyday” miracles of birth, but very many of them were miracle healings — babies who weren’t supposed to live; babies who were supposed to have extreme abnormalities; babies whose mommies had very high risk pregnancies; babies whose mommies’ doctors told them not to waste their time continuing gestation. All of these tiny people are alive today, healthy, loved, and a continual testimony of God’s mighty hand. We prayed fervently for these babies, and look! Look what God has done! Great is His name!

Oh, but I can’t forget baby Robert. We prayed fervently for him, too. We prayed; we begged; we wept; and God answered. God brought him Home as his mommy held him tight, whispering love.  I still cry over this beautiful baby; I cry for the loss his family feels. I remember May 12, knowing that when it comes again in a few months, and again next year, and again forever, his momma will feel a deep hurt resurface. But despite this pain, baby Robert is in my family’s praise journal because he is dancing with the King! Healthy, loved, alive, and not regretting a moment of his little life on earth. Look what God has done! Great is His name!

Friends were healed from cancer. Others were hopeless, then given hope. Missing, and then found. Hurting, and then comforted. Jobless, then employed. Addicted, and then freed. And so much more. Look what God has done! Great is His name!

I would have never remembered. Who remembers all of this? We may rejoice in the moment, at the news, but inevitably there’s dinner to cook and laundry to fold and butts to wipe. Life goes on, and we get right back to complaining about the dinner and the laundry and the butts.

We forget to notice the blessings. We forget to see the answers to prayer. We forget to recognize the miracles. We forget to praise God.

No wonder He seems so far away — we refuse to see Him. 

I was somewhat negligent in my attempt in 2014 to keep up with praises and answers to prayer. I forgot a lot. But even in the little bit I remembered, I recorded 52 specific answers to prayer and several more sweet blessings.

That’s because I wrote them down. This year, just like last year and the year before, I will see God.

Will you?

I will extol You, my God, O King,
And I will bless Your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless You,
And I will praise Your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised,
And His greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall praise Your works to another,
And shall declare Your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of Your majesty
And on Your wonderful works, I will meditate.
Men shall speak of the power of Your awesome acts,
And I will tell of Your greatness.
They shall eagerly utter the memory of Your abundant goodness
And will shout joyfully of Your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and merciful;
Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.
The Lord is good to all,
And His mercies are over all His works.
All Your works shall give thanks to You, O Lord,
And Your godly ones shall bless You.
They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom
And talk of Your power;
To make known to the sons of men Your mighty acts
And the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.

The Lord sustains all who fall
And raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to You,
And You give them their food in due time.
You open Your hand
And satisfy the desire of every living thing.

The Lord is righteous in all His ways
And kind in all His deeds.
The Lord is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He will also hear their cry and will save them.
The Lord keeps all who love Him,
But all the wicked He will destroy.
My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
And all flesh will bless His holy name forever and ever.

–Psalm 145

 

 

 

 

Reflecting on Year Two of Homemaking

On June 4, I “celebrated” (okay, acknowledged) my two-year anniversary as a full-time homemaker! I realized it was a little late to get a post out on time, which I regret, but, you know, who cares? I’m just glad that I have the date marked down to observe! I got over the regret quickly and resolved to think about what I shared on my one-year anniversary, and what goals I should make now.

A quick list of my goals a year ago:checkbox checked

  • Exercising
  • Limiting computer use
  • Getting out of the house
  • Serving

[If you want more details about these goals (or what I actually termed “a few things that I still really suck at”), check out that post at the link above. ]

Okay I’m going to get real here. I completely forgot about this post listing things I suck(ed) at. Completely. Yet I’ve met or at least made progress on all of them! God is so good, and this is why everyone should journal! If I hadn’t had this post from a year ago to reference, I would have completely missed God’s specific answers to my prayers. Consequently, I would have failed to praise Him for His sovereignty, wisdom, and tenderness in leading me through these areas of growth!

A year ago, I called myself the pillsbury doughmom. I couldn’t figure out a workable plan for exercise with so much other stuff going on (namely, my son not napping well). Today, I ran more miles than I would have ever thought possible at one time (for me) — my personal best! My right hip is aching, and I am pretty sure I’ve developed arthritis in my left knee because of all this running, but I have probably never been this healthy in my life. Although I only run 2-3 times a week, it’s part of my routine that I’ve come to crave. I don’t exactly enjoy it, but I need it. I feel the difference in my body and in my general emotional well-being.

A year ago, I struggled with getting sucked in to Facebook and blog-reading. Today, I still struggle with that a bit here and there, but tremendously less so than a year ago. I simply don’t have time. (You may have noticed that I almost never blog; this is also because I don’t have time!) My son, now nearly two years old, is so busy that it’s impossible to be on the computer like I used to be. This is a great thing! How much more important and rewarding is it to invest in exploring outside, or singing and dancing together to extremely loud music, or reading THE truck book again (“Mamma! Read it!”), or wrestling, or tickling, or chasing, or spinning, or running, or hiding-and-seeking, or ______. Infinitely. Infinitely more important and rewarding.

A year ago, I was a slave to my baby’s schedule and never wanted to deal with all the packing up and planning that went into leaving the house. Today, there is rarely a day when we DON’T go somewhere! Granted, hauling a two-year-old is easier than hauling an infant, in my opinion, but this is definitely somewhere I’ve intentionally grown. I found story times, and we go twice a week. I joined a gym that has an AWESOME kids’ club, and we go two or three times a week. We go to the park (a lot) and to the zoo and to play dates. Today, I find this section from last year’s post a little prophetic:

I have a feeling that my little boy might be all critters and baseball and dirt like his daddy, so I need to do my part in not confining him to the house. How boring for a little boy anyway! We need to get out into the wide world, meeting people and getting our toes dirty.

That he is, and that we have! This introverted reader/writer is way out of her comfort zone with all this activity, but she has to admit that it is pretty fun.

And a year ago, I recognized how I wasn’t serving others outside of my immediate family. Today, serving my church is a major part of my life. I’ve grown in teaching and discipleship, and I’m very active in serving the women’s ministry and in the nursery. I’ve participated once in a neighborhood outreach where we brought food and hope to those in need, and it was a profound experience for me. I hope to go again. As I connect with people through the gym and the library, I’m praying for ways to encourage new friends and show them Whom I serve and why. Recently, we purchased a zoo pass that allows us to bring a guest for free. The idea was both to save money and to use it as a ministry. I’ve gone a few times and invited mom-friends, and I hope to be able to use this to reach out to new mom-friends I don’t know that well. As a result of reading a really amazing book called Speaking of Jesus: The Art of Not-Evangelism, I am getting bolder in simply being a Jesus-follower publicly. To know what I mean by that, read the book. 🙂 Although I’m far from having “arrived” in the area of service, I’m undoubtedly growing.

Year Two? A success! Praise God for His faithfulness! Come back soon to read about my goals for Year Three.

“Frame Your Heart to the Burden” (from Elisabeth Elliot)

I know I’m cheating twice now by posting something I didn’t write, but this is just too good!

Many things laid on us by life, by circumstances — let’s face it — by the Lord Himself, are not at all to our own liking. We complain that they do not fit. They weigh us down, hem us in, frustrate, annoy, destroy. They are the cause of wipeout, freak-out, burnout, dropout. 
But those are excuses. The truth is we do not want them. They were not in our plan. It is resentment of the burdens, not the burdens themselves, that destroys us. It is the unwillingness to shoulder them in company with Christ. 
But there is another way. 
Samuel Rutherford wrote, “How sweet a thing were it for us to make our burdens light by framing our hearts to the burden and making our Lord’s will a law.” Get under the load gladly. “This needs to be carried by someone — I’ll carry it, Lord, with You.” That attitude — that “frame of heart,” we could call it, will radically change both us and the burden. We’ll be amazed at its featherweight. 
“Take my yoke,” said Jesus. “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:29-30, KJV). 
Source: The Music of His promises: Listening to God with Love, Trust, and Obedience by Elisabeth Elliot

Empty Moments

This is not true:

Winter, with its inwardness, is upon us. A man is constrained to sit down, and to think.
~Henry David Thoreau

I wish this were true, but it’s not. Not anymore.

100_3721Last weekend, we had an ice storm. It was beautiful and dangerous: trees bowing in submission under the glassy weight of it all, and cars careening into walls and into each other as their wheels grasped at nothing. Many people lost power and shivered by firelight for days. Those people, until all batteries died, probably were forced to sit and think — at least about how miserable they were!

For everyone else, it was exciting to get a day or two or four off of work, albeit a bit maddening after a while to be iced in, but they still had TV, Internet, iPods, iPads, iPhones, (i, i, i, i…), video games, etc. How many were truly forced to sit and to think?

We are a culture that does not much value sitting and thinking; we are a culture that makes sure no one ever has to sit and think. (And we wonder at the difficulties teachers have.) There are pockets of deviant individuals who do still value this archaic exercise, but as a whole, we as a people do not. We are obsessed with entertainment (i, i, i, i…); we feel we have the right to be entertained constantly, and therefore we feel we need to be entertained constantly. In fact, we have no idea what to do with the gift of a few empty moments. This comes with a hefty price, as we abandon God’s gift of Himself and embrace something more sinister:

Entertainment is the devil’s substitute for joy.
~Leonard Ravenhill

We don’t know joy because we don’t take time for it. Constantly drugged, never sober, we accept a lie that ends in death. We rush through small, quiet moments looking for noise, for distraction, for anything to take us away from facing the pain and realities of life. As we push away the pain, we push away the joy, too.

Even with each other, we’ve lost the art of intimacy. Of spending time with another. Of conversation. Of listening and sharing and being vulnerable. Of being a friend, a neighbor. Next time you’re in public — at a restaurant, in the grocery store — look around you. Count how many people are NOT using a phone or electronic device. (Earbuds connect to an electronic device, by the way.) Do the same at the next family gathering or get-together with friends. How long until you or I check out and dull our senses on our phones?

We can’t even BE with other people; how can we possibly BE with ourselves?

And then — and this is literally of infinite importance — how can we possibly hear God? We wonder where He is, why He is silent, all the while we’re doing everything we can to drown Him out. 

Regardless of the weather, we are generally never “constrained” to sit and to think. Never. For those who found themselves cold and at the end of their battery life this past weekend, I hope some let themselves embrace it and grow their souls a little bigger and a little deeper. As a general rule, however, if we want to hear Him — if we want to find joy — we must willingly impose these constraints on our lives. We must initiate and embrace those empty moments regularly and welcome Him to fill them. (And we must push through and not give up after two minutes, or five, or ten, or even after six tries of an hour each time. It’s a discipline with great reward. No one ever said sitting and thinking was easy; but then again nothing that’s worth it ever is.)

For all of us, regardless of how we respond to Him and to His quiet gift of empty moments, and regardless of whom or what we choose to be our god in His place, He WILL be exalted.

“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
~Psalm 46:10

(With or without us.)

Now that is beautiful and dangerous.

“God’s Delays” (from Elisabeth Elliot)

I suppose no one, however long he has lived a life of prayer, is immune to the enemy’s attack on his confidence that prayer “works.” Again and again we are tempted to feel that God is not paying attention, our prayers are futile, why should we keep on praying? Jesus told a story about a widow who made such a nuisance of herself that even a judge who cared nothing for her or for God was finally moved to action. He used this to teach us never to lose heart. “Will not God vindicate His chosen, who cry out to Him day and night, while He listens patiently to them?” (Luke 18:7). A note says that that last phrase may also be translated “While He delays to help them.” It is worth remembering, when the delays tempt us to quit praying, that He is listening patiently — paying attention when we feel He has forgotten all about our prayer, biding His time. And He Himself is the very One, remember, who commanded us to keep on praying and never lose heart. He is listening. He will act. Do not doubt His promise.
 
Source: The Music of His promises: Listening to God with Love, Trust, and Obedience by Elisabeth Elliot