I Love You, Too

We hadn’t been to church in awhile and the person who keeps track of that sort of thing started to notice. She called and left a message letting us know how much they loved and missed us. I made sure to find her the next time we were there to tell her how much I appreciated that she reached out to us. We don’t know each other well and my hairstyle was different so when I approached her, I could almost see the gears turning in her head in an effort to place me. Even before the light bulb came on and she realized who was talking to her, she opened her arms wide, inviting me for a hug. I read her precious expression to say, “I may not know you, but I love you.” Even without instantly or fully comprehending, she threw open her arms with love. And in that moment, God taught me the first part of a beautiful lesson. When your understanding fails, throw open your arms to Love.
~
l’ve had some serious questions for God over the last few years. One particular question that kept nagging me was, “why are we even here?” I didn’t understand why God would bother creating us just to suffer here on earth for all of our days. If the goal was to get us to heaven, why not just skip what I considered hell on earth? It didn’t make sense to me and I wrestled. Sometimes I still wrestle. But one day I read a quote from Henri Nouwen that stopped me in my tracks:
"God loved you before you were born, and God will love you after you die. In Scripture God says, 'I have loved you with an everlasting love.' This is a very fundamental truth of your identity. This is who you are whether you feel it or not. You belong to God from eternity to eternity. Life is just a little opportunity for you during a few years to say, 'I love you, too.'"
Oh, the beautiful ache of conviction. Without the pain of this life, could we really love? Would skipping right to heaven be able to produce a deep love like the love experienced through pain? Or would we simply possess a fair-weather love? I have started to believe that God put us here to learn and experience the full measure of love so that our hearts can be ready to embrace a greater Love than we can imagine in heaven. He is stretching our hearts to hold all He intends to pour into us. And this is our only opportunity to learn to love Him back with a pure, deep love. Oh, how sorry I am for squandering such an opportunity! I am afraid that if I don’t learn to love well here, my heart won’t be big enough to hold all the heaven love God has for me. My prayer has been, “God, stretch my heart to hold heaven love.” I want my heart prepared for the beauty of heaven and if that means it needs to be painfully stretched, so be it. When all else fails, I throw open my arms to love.
My arms have been closed for a long time. As long as I can remember, I’ve been trying to protect myself. I’ve been trying to fix myself and others and I cling so tightly to my perception of control. God is showing me that my control is just an illusion. The ‘solid’ ground I built has been cracking along the fault line for awhile now. The ground quaked again today when, despite months of treatment, my Lyme-fighting numbers plummeted in the wrong direction, almost down to where they were the first time I tested positive for Lyme. I have been searching, always looking for the next thing to try, relying on doctors who seem just as stumped as I am. And it has resulted in very little, if anything. I am disheartened and tired. Exhausted, really, from fighting for control. The ground shook so hard, it’s releasing a volcano that has been simmering for quite some time. But in the midst of my gut-wrenching tears, something amazing is happening. I hurt so, so badly but, at the very same time, I am relieved to have nothing left to do but let God fight for me. I’ve tried to let go so many times but my fight for control is such a habit. I needed to get to this place, a place with nowhere else to turn but to God. It’s amazing to me that in the midst of my devastation, I have a glimmer of hope, maybe even more hope than I’ve had in a long time. I am heartbroken, but I have nothing to cling to but God. And that is the beauty. God is the only one who knows how to heal me. I wonder if He’s just been waiting for me to let Him. The song below, by Selah, has been my anthem lately. When all else fails, I throw open my arms to Love.
As I lay me down, Heaven hear me now
I'm lost without a cause after giving it my all
Winter storms have come and darkened my sun
After all that I've been through, who on earth can I turn to?

I look to You. I look to You
After all my strength is gone, in You I can be strong
I look to You. I look to You
And when melodies are gone, in You, I hear a song
I look to You

After losing my breath, there's no more fighting left
Sinking to rise no more, searching for that open door
And every road I've taken led to my regret
And I don't know if I'm gonna make it. Nothing to do but lift my head

When the levees are broken, my walls have come crumbling down on me
When the rain is falling, defeat is calling. I need You to set me free
Take me far away from the battle. I need You to shine on me

I look to You
I hope that someday soon I will be able to follow the example of the precious friend whose instinct it was to welcome love before she fully understood the circumstances. Instead of waiting until all else fails, I want to open my arms to Love in the midst of pain. Even if it is as gut-wrenching as it feels right now, I want to welcome it, knowing that God is filling my heart with true love, deep love. Before I even understand what is happening, I want my heart to be stretched with heaven’s love.
~
Instead of throwing open our arms to love when all else fails, may we throw open our arms to Love first so that nothing fails. May our arms remain open to accept love in whatever form it comes and, in turn, fill us so much that it overflows to others. God, we love You, too.
"He gave me the grace to hope before, so I am asking that He would give more grace, again, even if it is harder to grasp this time. Grace to feel joy and grace to hope for life and grace to fight hard...Grace to have arms so filled with Him that they have to remain open and that He spills out." - Katie Davis Majors
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It’s Your Breath in our Lungs, So We Pour Out

These bones are My daughter, Karina. She says, “My bones are dried up and my hope is gone; I am cut off.” This is what God says: “My daughter, I am going to open your grave and bring you up from it; I will bring you back to your home. Then you, My daughter, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your grave and bring you up from it. I will put My Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own place. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it.”

I wrote these words in my journal during a particularly rough day. Ezekiel 37 happened to be in my reading for that day and I wondered what it would be like to put my name in the passage, to put myself in the valley of dry bones. It seemed appropriate, really. For quite awhile I felt like I was in the depths of a grave. I was dying spiritually. I often referred to it as darkness or a pit. Months ago, I started meditating on Psalm 86, particularly verses 11-13, “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart that I may fear your name. I will praise you, O Lord my God, with all my heart; I will glorify your name forever. For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.” It would take another post entirely to explain why I need this whole passage but for now you just need to know that somehow in the depths of my pit, I started to believe that God would do this for me. I believed that delivering me from the depths of my grave was how He planned to restore me.

Back to the dry bones. Believing that God would restore me from the darkness has not been easy. Some days the light seems very dim. I wrote my name into the valley of dry bones on a day when nothing seemed to be going right. Then I decided to read back through my journal. I thought that reading about what God had been doing in my life would help me feel better. It’s not a coincidence that when I got to March 4, my birthday, my jaw dropped at what I saw.

On March 1, I wrote out Song of Songs 8:6-7, “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away.” I remember being struck by the phrase “love is as strong as death” and a tiny spark of belief lit that God would use His love to deliver me from my spiritual death. That day, I eeked out a prayer that He would seal me onto His heart and that He would seal Himself onto my heart. I thanked Him for His jealous love that has so relentlessly pursued me even in the darkness, my grave. My prayer that day was one of desperation, wanting to believe that God would do this for me but doubting it could be possible. And the next day my journal entry was perhaps my most hopeless to date. I had prayed deliverance from the grave over myself on the previous day but I spoke hopelessness and death on the next. I poured out my angry heart to God and I commented that it seemed useless to even bother writing because it wouldn’t matter and my faith was wasted anyway.

So you can imagine my astonishment when my next entry was sermon notes from March 4 and the first note said, “Why this waste?” The sermon was about Mary pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet and wiping them with her hair (John 12). At the time of this sermon, I was completely unaware of the connection to my life it would have. I had just basically written that same question about my life as I poured out my heart at Jesus’ feet. Why this wasted life? And on the anniversary of the day God gave me this life, He planted another seed, the growth from which I would only see more than a month later, the day I let God breathe life over my dry bones. I continued to read the next note in the sermon and it said, “At a moment of life and death, the pouring out is not extravagant.” Whoa. I had just been at a moment of life and death two days prior and had expressed that I didn’t know why I bothered pouring out. And the next note, “Follow Jesus because of what you get out of it or because you love Him? Love is never wasted.” I had just written about my love of Jesus being wasted. But I probably only said that because I didn’t get what I wanted from Him. He reminded me that love is never wasted, even if I was unwilling to believe it at the time.

Months after I barely started believing God would deliver me from my grave, three days after I prayed God’s love stronger than death over myself, and two days after I lamented the hopelessness of my grave, God planted a seed of life. It would be more than a month before I would go back through my journal and see the growth, the tiny shoot of life sprouting from the seed planted in my darkness. It would be more than a month after I asked God to seal His love onto my heart and deliver me from death that I would let Him speak life over my dry bones. He promised me so many months ago that He would bring me up from my grave and on the day I wrote my name into the valley of dry bones, He showed me how He breathes life into me and lets me live. I’ve been picturing myself like Mary, on my face pouring out at Jesus’ feet, clinging to Him with all my might. I cling to His feet, extravagantly pouring myself out while I wait to see the fruit. Because love is never wasted. The pouring out is never wasted.

"A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit." - Isaiah 11:1

I want to start looking at my dead places and expect that God has already planted a seed. I want to look at my dry bones and expect that God will breathe His life into them. I want to look at all the suffering and seemingly hopeless circumstances and expect to see a sprout of growth, a shoot of life. I can’t wait to see the fruit that God will grow. I wonder what seeds God has already planted in our darkness, or even from the day of our birth, the growth of which remains to be seen. Let us cling to the feet of Jesus while we wait expectantly to see the growth and to enjoy the fruit. Maybe this is what it means to hope.

And just now this moment I noticed another shoot springing from the seed. Isn’t watching things grow exciting? When I finished this post and was trying to come up with a title, the words “It’s Your breath in our lungs so we pour out” from the song, “Great Are You, Lord”, came to mind. In my darkness it is often this song and only this song that I can sing, because it helps me remember that it’s God’s breath in my lungs, God’s song helping me sing. I went back to look at all the words and gasped at the way it captures everything I just wrote. God is so, so good to me! Take a look for yourself:
“You give life, You are love
You bring light to the darkness
You give hope, You restore
Every heart that is broken
Great are You, Lord
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise
We pour out our praise
It’s Your breath in our lungs
So we pour out our praise to You only
And all the earth will shout Your praise
Our hearts will cry, these bones will sing
Great are You, Lord.”
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He Will Rejoice Over You With Singing

I recently stumbled upon a playlist of a cappella songs from all stages of my life. I had no idea that God was actually going to use this playlist to bring healing to my heart and I owe the creator and the Creator a big “thank you.” These songs are helping me remember the precious things I have heartbreakingly forgotten. With these songs, I feel like I am worshiping with every era of myself and it is helping to heal me.

Indulge me, or reminisce with me, as I recount the memories. Close harmony itself always makes me remember singing in Concert Choir at Milligan. I have very fond memories of that time in my life. But isn’t it amazing how certain songs are linked with certain memories? When I hear them, I am transported back to those memories and I can feel what I was feeling at the time. “Blessed Be the Name of the Lord”, “Glorify Thy Name”, “Only By Grace”, and “Great Are You Lord” take me back to First Christian Church, my home. “How Deep the Father’s Love” takes me back to roommate sing-alongs with Jessica in the dorm at Milligan. I would play my guitar and we would sing together. When I hear “Shout to the Lord”, I remember the day I auditioned for Heritage. I didn’t make it but that didn’t matter to me. It was so much fun singing harmony with dear people. I think I’ve realized that is my ideal day – sitting around singing harmony with people who believe what I believe. It feels like heaven to me. “Rock of Ages” takes me back to playing piano for the early service at my home church while I was in high school and grad school. “Open the Eyes of My Heart” and “Lord I Lift Your Name on High” takes me back to the DIVe band, my youth group band, while Lauren, Mallory, Cassie, and I tried to hold microphones and do the motions at the same time. We were the singing-est youth group. No one could shut us up in the van on trips or anytime we were together. God knew what He was doing when He formed us and I am so grateful for those precious memories. “Blessed Be Your Name” takes me back to singing at Abby’s Ordination. “More” transports me to the time Ashley, Allison, Lauren and I convinced our first youth minister to play his guitar for us while we sang all the songs we had just learned at camp. “Refiner’s fire” takes me back to piano lessons with Mrs. B., who would schedule my lessons last so she could play her flute as I played piano until we got tired. “A Shield About Me” reminds me of the peaceful sounds of Adoration every Tuesday night at Hopwood during college as well as the night my roommie’s precious grandpa died and I slept on her floor while we periodically sang these words to our Comforter into the darkness. “Ancient Words” instantly returns me to Central with Rocky as the worship minister. I remember “Wonderful, Merciful Savior” on the day Shelly spontaneously asked me to sing with her for the service at Central. “Lamb of God” reminds me of my constant need to play the piano and worship even when, and sometimes especially, when I was by myself. My friends Gail and Julie would often find me doing this while I waited for them to get to my house so we could car pool to grad school. “10,000 Reasons” reminds me of when I first started attending Crossroads. “I Will Call Upon the Lord” takes me back to camp and all kinds of crazy kid motions. “Before the Throne of God Above” returns me to middle-of-the night prayers on the floor of our guest room. “I Stand In Awe” takes me back to FCC when everyone would stand during the chorus but more recently to my mountain, where God put this song in my heart to sing to Him on one of my last trips to that sacred place. He reminded me then as He reminds me now that He will provide. And I was floored when “Humble Yourself” started playing because that is my secret song to sing while walking on the beach in awe of the majesty. I can remember singing this into the wind and roaring waves even as a young girl on the shores of Lake Erie and New Smyrna Beach because no one but God could hear me. These moments feel so holy to me and I treasure each one in my heart.

These memories may not mean anything to you, but I needed to write them down for me. I needed to be reminded of the beautiful way in which God is healing my heart. This playlist is carrying me back through every stage of my life’s journey thus far. I am hearing and I am remembering. And I am healing. I have believed so many heart-pummeling lies as of late, and I have contributed to Satan’s field day in my heart while completely buying into His schemes. I have allowed the lies and my circumstances in the last few years to make me believe that I was never actually a true believer. I have believed the lie that I never meant what I said and my life was wasted. I have believed that I am a worthless fake. The tears that have flowed while listening to these songs are healing my blinded eyes, gifting me with the realization that I actually was sincere in my worship. I did mean it. I did love God. I did wholeheartedly praise Him. It was not all a lie. I am passionately in love with Jesus but somehow I was convinced that I never really knew Him. How could this have happened? Beaten-down by so many lies. Thank You, God, for using music to fight for me when words fail!

Another thing I have believed is that I can’t do anything, as mentioned in my last post, Invalid. These songs are reminding me of times when I was less afraid and more excited to experience new things for God. Through the memories, God is teaching me that I am allowed to live life. I forgot that I loved doing new things and being involved.  What I have to contribute now may look different, but I am not just a waste of space. God can use me in some way if I let Him. And amazingly, I am allowed to have fun! I have believed that life is the opposite of fun. It has been so difficult to see beyond the darkness of suffering but this music is helping me remember times that were not so dark, reminding me that life is not all struggle.

And blessedly, I am allowed sing without fear and shame. I thought I had to be silent because I have been unfaithful. I did not feel worthy of bringing a song to God while simultaneously filling with doubt and fear. I have not been able to believe the words so I have avoided the music. But God gave me the gift of music and harmony to awaken something in me that cannot be put into words and unfortunately, I have been avoiding that gift. As a result of believing all of these lies, my soul has been slowly dying. It has been a torturously dark time. But I am learning that it’s okay for me to pour out to God all that is within me that can and cannot be put into words. A song sung with a tiny faith is still sung in faith and will usually, miraculously increase that faith.

Most importantly, these songs are teaching me that God never moved. I did. I have believed the lie that God abandoned me. But I know that God has been my constant through every stage of life. He will not leave me and, as much as I try, He will not let me leave Him. He will let me try but He will always pursue. For an inexplicable, wonderful, heart-melting reason, He has made me His. Always and forever, I am His. And the way He gifted these songs to me at the perfect time, a time when I was finally ready to hear and heal, is another one of the many ways He has relentlessly pursued me. They are His love songs to me and my heart bursts with the knowledge that God pursues me like this. “The Lord your God is with you, the mighty warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing” (Zephaniah 3:17). God is singing over me! How can I not be moved? Praise the God of my past, present, and future! I stand in awe of You!

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Invalid

"For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do." - Ephesians 2:10

Sometimes I refer to myself as an invalid, usually when I’m trying to cover the ache with a little extra biting humor. It’s probably obvious to anyone who hears that it’s just blatant cynicism. But I guess an invalid is what I am, right? “A person made weak or disabled by illness or injury.” But the connotation of that word, when I use it to describe myself, is that I’m not just an invalid. I am invalid. “Null and void”, “faulty”, “weak”, “wrong”, “having no force or effect”, “inconsequential.” Mostly… insignificant.

I used to be involved in so many things, every type of service I could get my hands on and I loved it. My drive was what made me involved in so many things, also a workaholic, and my heart for service is what made me a social worker and a frequent volunteer. I felt like I was doing something important, something that mattered. Part of it was my addiction to striving and proving myself but most of it was because I felt I had a heart that was created for service. There were people in need and I had something to offer so I did. I poured myself out; my abilities, my determination, and my heart. And then…

Then I got weak and faulty. I kept going because I thought I had to and people were counting on me. And, truth be told, I was addicted to my life. But then I realized I couldn’t be counted on anymore and I became null and void, having no force or effect. Just… wrong. At least that’s what it felt like anyway. And as much as I grieved losing it all, I never expected my period of invalidity to still have no end in sight over two years later.

I feel so insignificant. Useless. I sit here at home, day in and day out, rarely touching another life. Sure, people tell me I brighten their day online but somehow the intangible just doesn’t feel like enough. To my grieving heart, it’s not enough. In fact, it doesn’t feel much like anything. Useless. Insignificant. Having no effect. These are the voices in my head. My constant companions.

But you know who else is my constant companion? God. And His voice is supreme. He is significant. He is significant in me. I am not invalid because He is not invalid. I may be weak and faulty but He is strong so I’m allowed to be weak.

And tonight just as the voices got extra loud, drowning out my joy for longer than I would like to admit, I asked God for the truth. When I ask and really listen, He is so faithful with His truth. He reminded me how easy it is to see Him in the big acts of service, in the lives of the missionaries, in the gatherings of His community. There’s never a question that He is in those things. But you know where else God is? He is right here with me too. He is with me exactly as much as He is with the community gatherings and service projects. The same amount of His presence that is so clearly felt and seen in the big things is here with me too. I am breathless with the glory of this. How can this be? How can He love me that much?

I read stories and hear about God’s people doing big things and find my heart lonely, longing for that kind of life, a life saturated with God, a life lived and loved well. And then it hits me. I have the perfect opportunity to be saturated with God. We are one-on-one many hours of every day. And my fire burns. I know I loved Him well during my years of bigger service. But I want to love Him well now too. God was tangibly close to me for years when I could reach out and touch His people, but now I can reach out and touch HIM.

He has invited me to this Holy place and I am overcome. He invites me to sit at His feet and I pray that I eagerly do so, anticipating communion with Jesus Himself. I can feel Him here and I am deeply moved, humbled, and honored to be invited to sit with Him. I know He is in this. He is in the wrestling and the tearing down and the rebuilding and the growing. He is loving me now in such an extraordinary way and in this moment there is nothing more beautiful. I don’t want to miss another second of it by feeling invalid. If God thinks I am significant enough to meet me, just me, here day in and day out, who am I to believe that I am not? What could be more heart-melting than this intimate communion with God?

"As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, 'Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!'
'Martha, Martha,' the Lord answered, 'you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed - or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.'" - Luke 10:38-42

This is my time to sit at the feet of Jesus, giving Him my undivided attention. This is the good that God prepared in advance for me to do, the better choice that will not be taken away from me. I pray that while I have the body of an invalid, God will shape my Martha heart into a Mary heart. I pray that I no longer see this as invalid and insignificant, but the holy, sacred privilege God has given me in His perfect time. I pray that I love Him well here, and that I never stop being awed by the way He extravagantly loves me here too.

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Isn’t it ironic? Don’t you think?

"I have seen the burden God has laid on the human race. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end." - Ecclesiastes 3:9-11

A burden that is beautiful? A longing for eternity but not fully understanding what that means?

Irony: “A state of affairs or an event that seems deliberately contrary to what one expects” (Merriam-Webster).

Sometimes I wonder if I live in a constant state of irony. And when I look at my diseases in that way, it is almost… ALMOST humorous, depending on my mood. I need to eat salt (POTS) but my mouth is dry as a desert (Sjogren’s). I need to take detox baths (MTHFR gene mutation) but the hot water makes me tachychardic (POTS). I need to wear compression stockings (POTS) but when it’s hot outside they make it worse (Dysautonomia). I’m constantly fatigued (you name the disease) but am plagued by insomnia (again, all of the above). I need medicine (for everything) but my doctor literally said sometimes the cure is worse than the disease for me (MTHFR mutation). I have Lyme disease but not the kind insurance or the CDC recognizes or that conventional doctors treat. I constantly feel feverish but have a low temp until I get to the doctor’s office and then I have a fever. They joke that I’m the only one in the world with low blood pressure but “white coat fever”. And on the mental and emotional side of things, I have severe depression and severe anxiety at the same time. So I’m completely amped inside but also listless. I have an extreme sense of empathy for others but also apathy toward myself and life in general. One of my deepest fears is hurting anyone but I end up lashing out or pushing away and hurting the people closest to me.

I get angry about the ironic circumstances of life. I like things to be black and white and very easily understandable, so life feels like the biggest, most exhausting puzzle and I’m tired. Indescribably tired. I’m tired of trying to figure out why God does the things that He does. I’m tired of trying to understand how horrible things keep happening to the same people over and over again. I’m tired of hope. It hurts too much. I’m tired of trying to understand how this burden could ever be beautiful.

But, here’s the thing that endears my heart to the heart of God. For whatever reason, God seems to love irony. He works in the unexpected. Jesus valued women and children in a culture and time that did not. He shared meals with tax collectors and social outcasts. He came to save the world and yet He did it by serving and dying. In our lives, God’s presence is often best known through suffering. He speaks to us in the small things while we are looking for the big things (like Elijah experiencing an earthquake, wind, and fire but God was in the gentle whisper – 1 Kings 19). God hasn’t healed my illnesses or taken away the suffering of my loved ones, but for some reason he cares about the convenience of my dental appointment (that’s a story for another day but suffice it to say that the one person in this world that could have made the appointment possible called the office at the exact same time that I was calling).

I want God to do big things, but maybe the small things are really the big things, or at least adding up to the biggest thing. Jesus’ lowly servitude and seemingly hopeless death turned out to be the biggest gift of all. I don’t know what God is doing, but maybe it’s much bigger than I often want to believe. And isn’t that one of the very definitions of irony? “A literary technique by which the full significance of a character’s words or actions are clear to the audience or reader although unknown to the character” (Merriam-Webster). We, God’s children, do not grasp the full significance of what happens on this earth and yet, He is still leading us to the end of the story. He has set our hearts on the path to eternity. I push and wail and fight Him at every turn but at the same time, I’m glad He gives us the gift of the unexpected. And He works in the midst of my sinful fight because “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

When I can see things the way I’m supposed to see them, I’m glad God works in ironies. I’m glad He cares for the lowly, fellowships with the sinners, and even dies for love. And I’m glad He still loves me even when I am so far from okay. See, I’m pretty ironic too. The apple didn’t fall too far from the Tree, except that my irony isn’t the good kind. I’m fearful but unbelievably stubborn. I am gifted with words but have allowed myself to be silenced. And I love God but sometimes I scream at Him. I pray that God fixes my version of irony and uses the ironic state of my life to draw me to Himself. I pray that life’s ironies become proof that God is working because there are no coincidences.

And I wrote this entire blog post before I remembered the verse that my friend sent me this morning, the verse at the top of this post. An ironic verse given to me on the day I write a post about irony. There are no coincidences. God has set eternity in my heart and I pray that He grows that desire into the healthy version. He has laid a burden on my heart and I pray that He helps me see it as beautiful in His time.

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Don’t Shout at Me, Walk with Me

Originally written on January 25, 2015.

We sit behind her every Sunday.  We exchange hellos and occasional hugs and she tells my roommie and I that we have beautiful voices.  But I did not even know her name for sure until today.  Today she gave us a beautiful gift.  Simple, but more profound than she will ever know.  She asked us if we were attending an event and we both replied that we were not.  She knows we are young, paycheck-to-paycheck couples.  To our surprise, she responded that she loves us and it would be her honor and privilege to pay for us to go.  Our immediate reply was of course not, we cannot let her do that.  It’s too much.  But she asked us to think and pray about it and finally told us her full name so we would know how to get in touch with her.  So, I did what she asked.  I thought about it.  Rather, I should say, I couldn’t stop thinking about it.  Roommie thought about it too.  A precious thought came to us and it eventually changed our minds.  She was not just simply offering to pay for us to have a weekend away at a retreat.  She was offering the gift of fellowship.  A precious gift that I’m ashamed to say I have pretty much lost over the years.  I started realizing that I wanted that gift.  I wanted to get to know the sweet lady who smiles and waves at me every Sunday, and so many others in the process.  If I could not humble myself enough to accept, I would miss out on an incredibly precious gift.

I have been discouraged and complaining a lot lately about the state of the church in general.  Those who have the loudest voices in the church make my skin crawl and my insides churn.  I don’t want to be linked with the ‘shouters’ – those who scream hatred to sinners in the name of my Jesus.  Jason and I watched a movie recently called Meant to Be.  It was not a great movie that I would recommend, but I did appreciate one part in particular.  I think Jason was waiting for me to try and fist-bump the woman who said this – “Sunday after Sunday we go to church and we sit and listen to what God’s word says about a Christ-filled life. Well, Christians are never more visible than when they’re standing on their soapboxes screaming that abortion is wrong.  They take the time to protest the clinics, to snub their noses at the women that go in and out of these establishments.  But tell me something.  Where are the Christians who say, ‘let me take your hand. Let me help you have this baby?’  It is lazy and it is an arrogant way to respond and I can no longer be a Sunday Christian.”  I could say the same about those who scream on the street corners or even social media about anything in the name of Christ.  Or even those who think they are doing the Lord’s work by shunning those who sin differently than they do.  I want to know where to find their love.  I want to know why they think shouting is going to change someone’s heart better than actually walking through life with them and offering help.  They scream so loudly that I cannot find the love anymore.  I have lost sight of the love that Jesus portrayed when he walked side-by-side with the same people at whom we scream – ‘sinners’!

I found that love again today.  It may appear to be hiding, but it’s not.  That love is in the Body of Christ.  It’s in the church.  It’s just hard to see it behind the shouters.  But it’s there.  It’s steadfast.  It’s beautiful.  And if I avoid the church because of the shouters, I miss the lovers.  They are the ones who befriend the outcasts, who make extra food and pray for someone to share it, who walk beside the hurting and share their burdens.  They are the ones who have taken my own hand over the years and walked me though trials.  They so beautifully represent the love of Christ.

The shouters do not represent my Jesus.  They just happen to be louder than those who do.  But in the end, actions speak far louder than words.  And I am far more blessed by the lovers than I am put-off by the shouters.  Because what speaks the loudest and most beautifully to my heart is Love.  And I am so thankful that the beautiful, Christ-filled woman, whose name I finally know, was there to love me today.  She has no idea how deeply she has blessed me.

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Half-hearted Holi-daze

Are you only half-there this Christmas? Me too. My glass feels far less than half-empty. I used to love Christmas. Christmas music began in my world on Halloween. I decorated every room in the house. I hand-made Christmas cards and gifts. I would lie awake in my room on Christmas Eve listening to Christmas music by the twinkling lights until midnight when I sang Happy Birthday to Jesus. And I was still doing this as a full-grown adult!

But something has happened to my joy. I’m only feeling half-Christmasy, and even mustering up that much is a stretch. It’s hard to welcome Christmas music into our weary world anymore. God knows there’s a couple who already buried one child, pleading for their new little one’s damaged heart to keep beating one more day. There are Jesus-followers haunted by the memory of that one Sunday they watched as their brothers and sisters were murdered while they worshiped. There are people holding vigil over their loved ones this Christmas because pain doesn’t ever take a holiday. There are countless people I hold dear who can’t remember the last time they felt well. I am wrecked by the suffering I see and feel. Most days I wonder if I’m even half the person I used to be. I can’t get to my feet after one bout of depression before another flattens me and I yelp, “can’t You give a girl half a chance? Can the suffering not break for just half a second so we can catch our breath?” I wonder if God is half-asleep or half a world away.

I’ve got half a mind to just give up. And some days, many days, I do just that. I’ve got half-written songs and half-written blog posts, testifying to my half-hearted focus. And sometimes I have to ask what God was thinking with this seemingly half-baked plan being carried out down here. And I start to wonder, what has happened to my faith?

"Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord's feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, 'Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.' But the Lord answered her, 'Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.'" - Luke 10:38-42

Martha chose distraction and anxiety. Mary chose the good portion, the good half of things. She sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to Him teach, and it was the very thing that would not be taken away from her. I think I’m like Martha. I am “anxious and troubled about many things”, keeping only half an ear on Jesus, half an eye on His love and the other half on my pain. I’ve been listening to Satan’s half-truths, or flat-out lies, instead of the voice of the one who whole-heartedly entered the flesh so many years ago. Evil wants me to believe that all of this suffering means that God doesn’t love us. I’ve closed half my heart that sees good in the world, good in God, thereby magnifying the choking darkness when only “one thing is necessary”… Jesus.

Here’s the problem though, Jesus. Distraction and anxiety aren’t easy to lay at Your feet. Not when the pain still scalds our hearts with each fresh pour on the fire of suffering from our half-empty glasses. We just don’t have it in us. And You repeat.. just give Me what you have.

"He put another parable before them, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his field. It is the smallest of all seeds, but when it has grown it is larger than all the garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.'" - Matthew 13:31-32

"For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you." - Matthew 17:20

This is the best news for our half-alive hearts this Christmas and always. Jesus has come. He is not half a world away, nor does He sleep. He is here and the more our eyes focus on Him, the more clearly we will see Him. It doesn’t matter how big our tired faith is as long as we plant it in Him. It can be as small as a tiny seed as long as we lay it at the feet of Jesus. He will grow it. He will multiply the smallest faith because nothing is impossible with God. We don’t even have to fight half the battle, because He has already won the whole thing. AND IT WILL NOT BE TAKEN AWAY FROM US.

Even as we wave our flag at half-mast, deeply grieving the things we just don’t understand, let us plant our tiny grain of faith where God can grow it, where it will not be taken away from us. The very best thing we can do this Christmas is drag our weary and broken hearts to the feet of Jesus, believing that, “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). It makes sense that if we listen with more than just half an ear, we hear His voice more clearly. And we’ve never even heard the half of it.

"For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known." - 1 Corinthians 13:9,12

Jesus, meet us here in our half-hearts. Make them whole as we plant our tiny faith in You. We long for the day when the “partial will pass away”, but for now, we place it in the only place it can’t be taken away, the soil of Your love. We may only know half, but in You, we have always been fully known. Thank You for coming, Lord Jesus. Happy Birthday.

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Eyes and Eagles, A Reflection

I love how God surprises us with His Word. It’s so full of life and truth and His very breath. Not long ago, I spent an entire day studying Deuteronomy 32, of all things. It’s as if the passage was drawing me in and I could not pull away.

"In a desert land he found him, in a barren and howling waste. He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye, like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads its wings to catch them and carries them aloft." (Deuteronomy 32: 10-11) 

Wandering in a desert like the Israelites, living what feels like a wasted life, howling because I have forsaken God, He finds me, cares for me, guards me, and carries me.

The phrase, ‘apple of my eye’, refers to something cherished above all other things. It represents the pupil of the eye, which is one of the most sensitive parts of the body. We can usually tough it out when we have an eyelash on the white of our eye but try to focus on anything else next time you have an eyelash touching your pupil. The sensitivity makes it nearly impossible. The original Hebrew literally translated this phrase as “Little Man of the Eye”, referring to the reflection of yourself seen in other people’s pupils (deseretnews.com).

Is this not one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever heard? God guards us occasional wanderers as the apple of his eye, the most sensitive part of Himself, and His own reflection. He allows Himself to be affected by us, to care for us, and to long for us (Isaiah 30:18, Matthew 23:37). I love this quote that references the stories of Hosea and the prodigal son, “God’s longing and love could leave some embarrassed for Him, saying, ‘I don’t want God to make a fool of Himself over Gomer or a delinquent young man. I don’t want to see Him standing there with red, swollen eyes, or an aching lump in His throat.’ And then He turns those red eyes toward us. He puts the robe around our shoulders. And slips the ring on our fingers. And turns us toward home” (eagleflight.org). The God of the universe loves us, allows Himself to be tender toward us, and welcomes us home to Him. And He made us tender so that we could reflect Him, so that He could be the Protector of our sensitivity, and so that He could provide for us (vs. 13-14). If we were not wired with sensitivity, we wouldn’t need God, and if He had no affection, He wouldn’t be jealous when we wander (vs. 16).

In verse 11, God describes Himself using an eagle metaphor. An eagle lines the bottom of its nest with its own feathers to protect and comfort its young until they are ready to fly. Then the eagle loosens the comfortable feathers and stirs the nest with its wings so the feathers fly away and the nest is no longer pleasant. If that doesn’t work to make the young leave the nest, the eagle will knock them out of the nest and fly next to them, catching them until they learn to fly on their own (eagleflight.org).

God’s metaphors are stunning! Just like an eagle stirs its nest so the young don’t get too comfortable, God stirs up our comfortable lives so that we learn to thrive. And He catches us and carries us if we have some trouble learning right away. I got too comfortable for awhile so God stirred up my nest. And because I have been refusing to learn how to fly, this thorny nest is even more uncomfortable on my sensitive flesh. It’s the security I have always known but now God wants me to fly, to be the person He created me to be. But I’m afraid to fall so I sit in uncomfortable misery. God promises that if I spread my wings and jump, He will catch me when I don’t soar the heights right away.

At first I wasn’t sure I believed the truth in this because I have jumped and I have regretted it. I’ve done what I thought God wanted me to do and seemed to fall pretty hard. But I’m starting to wonder if that’s not really the case. I think maybe when I tried to fly, I got scared. Instead of trusting God to catch me, I flew back to the nest to sit in misery. I fear that if I, as the sensitive apple of God’s eye, were to jump out of my comfort zone and allow myself to be affected by Him and other people, the tender heart that God gave me would shatter. So here I sit aching in my jagged nest, the life slowly bleeding out of me, not letting anyone touch me. If only I would leave behind the things that used to give me comfort, God would be my comfort. He would heal my heart when it breaks and my life would not slowly, achingly bleed away. If I let people touch my  heart the way God lets all of us touch His heart, He will spread His wings to catch me when things get too uncomfortable and He won’t let me fall. He will fly with me.

"Let my teaching fall like rain and my words descend like dew, like showers on new grass, like abundant rain on tender plants" (vs. 2). 

Making this even more precious to my musical heart, this whole chapter is actually a song that God Himself wrote for the Israelites to memorize. He wanted them to remember how affected God is by their choices and that He helps them learn to fully live. Can you believe that? God wrote His people a song! God wants His song to pour into our tender places. As our Protector, He doesn’t want us to try and protect our own hearts from being affected, but He wants His song, His love, His longing, and His reflection in other people to touch our tender hearts. God cherishes, guards, and even sings about, our sensitivity.

"I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand" (vs. 39). 

It is possible for our tender hearts to be wounded when God stirs our comfortable nests, but God heals and delivers us. At first glance, this beautiful verse means that no one can take us out of God’s hand. But I see an even richer meaning as well. Nothing and no one else can bring us God’s deliverance. Nothing can truly heal us or make us more secure than our Protector, not even the nest He first built for us. No one else can vindicate or clear us of blame when we waste our strength resisting God’s flight plan (vs. 36). No one else can be our rock, refuge, help, or shelter (vs. 37-38). No one else can bring us life or heal us. Nothing we see as ‘good’ outside of God can be the thing that delivers us. We are the cherished, protected reflection of God. It’s time for us to believe that, to open our hearts, and to leave the nest. We may be surprised at how healing it is to fly.

"Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings." -Psalm 17:8
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He Holds Hands Full of Lilies of the Valley

I’ve noticed something about myself lately that I don’t like at all. I’ve been responding to everything with biting sarcasm, whether just in my head or spewed from my lips. Any attempt at trying to cheer me up has been met with an internal scoff and usually external negativity. I should apologize to anyone I’ve allowed to see that ugly bit of myself but hey, at least I was being honest for once… or so I thought. I have felt anger within myself for awhile. It’s ok to be angry sometimes but it’s not ok to sink into bitterness, which is what I have done. But I’ve realized that most of this knee-jerk sarcasm and anger is a cover for the way I’m really feeling. Because I’m really feeling like a lost and terrified little girl who needs her Father to take her home.

I’ve become aware that every bit of my existence has been about striving for something. If I am not striving for something, perfection of some sort, I have no idea how to act. I am trying to find the way home my own way and have gotten frustrated and given up. Instead, I need to let God carry me home in His way. I’m terrified because it’s not the way I have always known. I have never fully grasped what it means to be God’s child. Somewhere along the way I picked up the notion that I had to work hard to earn that position, that I had to be perfect for God and everyone else or they would be disappointed in me. I thought I had to work harder to be better, and to make everyone else’s lives better, or I wasn’t good enough. And since I have not been able to make my life or the lives of anyone around me better, I am hopelessly lost and my entire life has been a failure, perhaps even a lie.

I think that’s a big reason my illness started right after my first Social Work job. It was impossible to be a perfectionist at that job because there simply weren’t enough hours in the day. I had to cut corners and I constantly felt guilty for doing so. It was unacceptable to me that I couldn’t hack it. I was miserable because I could not do everything exactly right. So instead of finally accepting that it was impossible for me to be perfect, I found a different job and quickly realized I had stumbled back into my comfort zone. I loved this job more than I can say, and not just because I was good at it and could accomplish it with my normal perfectionistic drive. I genuinely looked forward to it every day. And when it was taken from me due to my illness, I found myself lost again.

Probably one of my most frequent prayers since leaving work has been, “what am I supposed to do?” God’s only clear answer has been, “rest and let Me heal you.” That may sound good, but it is indescribable agony for someone who only knows how to work, how to do, how to strive for perfection. There has never been one single moment in my life that has not been spent analyzing which “self” would be best to present in that moment and working hard to present only that self at that time. I have never been at rest within myself. This fake world crashing down around me has left me lost, vulnerable, and basically non-existent, since I have never known my true self and don’t know how to be her. I HAVE NO CLUE HOW TO REST AND IT FEELS LIKE IT IS KILLING ME. Hence, the healing crisis. But it’s easier for me to be angry than sad because it’s less vulnerable, so that’s where I’ve been hiding out for awhile. See, always hiding.

I finally started to allow God to reveal to me how completely heartbroken and devastated I am. Then, I visited my work friends the other day. It was good for my heart to see them again but it also reawakened in me deep sadness and loss. As I watched them move about their office, familiar in their workplace, and as I listened to their lives, my ache became evident. And when I realized that it was not even two hours from the time my friend picked me up to the time she dropped me back off and my body was completely finished, overly-exhausted and unable to function anymore, I just knew that was the last time I could push it to have much of a life outside of this house. I felt my body telling me it was finished for awhile and that scares me. It’s not just the loss of my job that has left me reeling, but the loss of my ability to strive for perfection, the loss of the only way I know how to act, the loss of who I truly believed I was. I miss work. I miss knowing my purpose (even if it was misguided). I miss familiarity. I miss helping people. I miss the daily support system and camaraderie. I miss being able to go places without issue. I miss knowing what to do with myself. I miss everything about the life I used to know….except when I remember that the life I used to know was a life of my own making, not God’s.

But the sadness is still overwhelming. So I’ve been asking God where He’s keeping the comfort that He talks about, because I don’t feel it. I keep asking Him to hold me, to come find His lost daughter and carry her home with Him. My heart is so broken and I just don’t feel comforted. I asked Him to show me in His Word. As I was reaching for my Bible, my alarm went off and played the song, “Held”, by Natalie Grant. Yes, I chose the song as my alarm but I didn’t remember that’s what I had chosen, nor that I had chosen it for this hour. God used my previous choice to show me this hour that He is holding me.

Indulge me while I apply the song lyrics to my life. “Two months is too little. They let him go. They had no sudden healing. To think that Providence would take a child from his mother while she prays is appalling… This hand is bitterness. We want to taste it, let the hatred numb our sorrow.” I’ve had no sudden healing and to think that God would do this is appalling. I’ve been covering and numbing my sorrow with anger and sarcasm. I just didn’t want to feel the pain. I would rather blame because at least that convinces me there’s a reason for my suffering. Without the anger, there is only loss. But I need to let go.

“The wise hands open slowly to lilies of the valley and tomorrow.” Lilies of the valley are a symbol of humility and also of the Second Coming of Christ. It is also a highly poisonous flower. How profound. In order to gain the hope of tomorrow (Jesus’ return), I have to have the wisdom to open my hand and accept the poison (pain and suffering of life) with humility, recognizing my need for God and that the life He is building for me is better than the one I built. Vaneetha Rendall Risner, about whom this song is written, says, “I can experience true joy only after I have acknowledged my sorrow. And when I do, I find myself in a deeper place with the Lord, who helps reframe my disappointments and pain.” I highly recommend her book, The Scars that Have Shaped Me.

“This is what it means to be held, how it feels when the sacred is torn from your life and you survive. This is what it is to be loved and to know that the promise was when everything fell, we’d be held. If hope is born of suffering, if this is only the beginning, can we not wait for one hour watching for our Savior?” Maybe comfort is not necessarily removal of the pain, but knowing that I am still held and loved when my world falls apart. Maybe it’s knowing this is only the beginning and that we can wait for our Savior to deliver us. Maybe the comfort is knowing that God will never waste our pain and will use it for good. Knowing this probably won’t take the pain away but it may remove the sting of bitterness.

When I finally made it to the Bible after the song was over, the verse that seemed to mean the most to me was Isaiah 66:13, “As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you.” I thought about how a child doesn’t understand why anything bad happens to her and she runs straight to her mother to be held and comforted. Being held may not change the circumstances but she cries it out in her mother’s arms. Even if her mother is the one causing what she perceives as bad, she still lets her hold and comfort her. And though the child’s pain grieves her mother’s heart, her mother doesn’t change the circumstances because she knows what is best. This deeply touches my heart and it’s where I have been in the last few days. I have been angry at God for so long but right now I don’t want to be angry anymore. Instead, I crave comfort and I want to be held. I can trust God enough to let Him hold me even when I perceive that what He’s doing is bad. He knows what’s best for me and will accomplish it even if it grieves His heart to break my heart. After all, “The Father said no to the Son. And that no brought about the greatest good in all of history.” – Vaneetha Rendall Risner

Earlier in Isaiah 66, God says He esteems those who are humble and contrite in spirit (vs. 2) and He will not bring labor without delivery (vs. 9). This is such a beautiful promise. God will not bring pain without delivering us. He will comfort us (vs. 13), we will rejoice, and His hand will be made known to His servants (vs. 14). To those who humble and submit themselves to God, opening their hands to the lilies of the valley, to those who allow themselves to grieve in God’s arms, He will bring deliverance, comfort, joy, and a knowledge of His work. This is what it means to be held.

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I Am Held

While I was growing up my grandparents had a cottage at Lake Erie and we spent many summer days on the beach and nights sitting around the campfire ring. I remember the delicious breakfasts over the fire and the camp pies and singing around the fire at night. Many wonderful memories surround that fire ring.

But there is one memory I have of the fire ring that isn’t quite so pleasant. I was very young and I was ‘helping’ my dad burn trash in the fire ring. At one point, my dad reached down with his left hand and touched the fire ring while he threw trash into the middle of the fire with his right hand. I don’t know why he did it, and he certainly wouldn’t have done it if he had known that I was going to do it too. Because I thought I could be like my dad, I touched the very hot fire ring and was burned. I did not understand that it would hurt me because I was not as strong as my dad. I didn’t have calloused, hard-working hands like he did and I didn’t know how to just barely touch it for a moment so I wouldn’t get burned.

Ever since the beginning of time we have been trying to become big and strong and knowledgeable. We have been trying to become like God. Adam and Eve wanted to become like God so they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Becoming like God hurt us. We thought it would make us like Him, to understand like Him. But all it brought was pain and shame. I still don’t understand why my dad touched the fire ring. There really wasn’t a reason that I can see. But just like I didn’t understand what my dad did, I often don’t understand what God does. There doesn’t seem to be a reason behind His methods sometimes. But God’s ways are always going to be higher than our understanding can reach. I am not strong or knowledgeable enough to understand Him completely and I never will be. Constantly trying to become like God and understand things like God has hurt me, just like trying to be like my dad hurt me for a brief moment. I try to ‘help’ God by becoming like Him and I hurt myself instead. I question His ways and live in fear when I could just rest and let Him be God.

But, here’s another truly beautiful thing about God. Even when we try to be like Him, He still takes us in His arms and comforts us when it hurts. He still covers our shame and offers us His love and grace. My dad held and comforted me when I got hurt and I learned a valuable lesson. And each time there is pain in our lives, it’s an opportunity to learn a valuable lesson and to be held by the greatest Love in the universe. I am so glad my Father is strong enough to hold me when I hurt.

Oh, and I imagine there will be camp pies in Heaven! 😉

"'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord." - Isaiah 55:8
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