Sunday, December 25, 2016

As We Wait

As we wait for Christmas to arrive, what are we really waiting for?

I've been thinking of those, from years past, who were waiting for their lives to end. Who, by choice or not, each heard the call of death. And I've been wondering what must have filled their hearts and minds as they prepared to die?

Jonah ran away from God. Was swallowed by a great fish. And called out to God in his distress.

A widow gathered sticks. Planned her last meal for herself and her son. And made a cake for Elijah.

Elijah ran for his life. Collapsed by a broom tree. And prayed that God would take his life. He was done.

Hagar wandered with Ishmael. Sobbed in despair. And discovered that God had provided a well.

Each one was

Waiting for death. Receiving life.

God sees. Even when we feel hidden. And hopeless. And helpless.

Surrounded by darkness. In a seemingly never-ending wilderness.

We cannot escape His presence, even if we try.

He pays attention to every detail. And He lovingly touches the brokenhearted.

What are you waiting for?


Simeon has to be one of the greatest wait-ers in history.

“Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Christ. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:25-32)

Simeon knew that he would encounter the long-awaited Messiah before he died. He held on to that hope for many years. And he lived to see God fulfill His promise. He wasn't just waiting for his death. He was waiting to hold the Giver of Life in his arms before God brought an end to his days on earth.

How are you waiting to receive the Life He has for you this Christmas?








Thursday, December 22, 2016

Unwanted Gifts

Sometimes we receive gifts that we don’t really want. Like the time my husband crossed paths on campus with the Chinese director of the English Department and was a little too enthusiastic as he marveled over the beauty of his newly purchased porcelain horses. When he realized his mistake and tried his best to back pedal on the praise, it was too late. His protests were no match against Liang Laoshi’s insistence that he bring them home as a gift. Unfortunately, because we really didn’t want them and had no place for them in our tiny apartment, those horses have collected dust–never leaving their box–these past 20 years.

What have you done with the unwanted gifts you’ve received?


As we exchange gifts this Christmas season, we pause to reflect on the greatest gift ever given: Our complete acceptance as sons and daughters by our heavenly Father. A once broken-by-sin relationship restored for eternity by the gift of God’s perfect Son. And we humbly receive His freely-given, grace-filled Sacrifice with empty hands and needy hearts.

Through God’s deeper-than-we-can-imagine love, enshrouded in mystery, He offers us other gifts as well. Some of those gifts are answers to our prayers and just exactly what we wanted (the gift of a spouse, a friend, a child…) Other gifts come in packages that we feel much more resistant to unwrap (a broken marriage, betrayal by a friend, infertility…)

One of the gifts God has lovingly chosen for me is the Gift of Pain through migraines. And when I said, “No, thank you. I’ll take the pain-free life instead,” He didn’t give me the trade-in I wanted...

You can read the rest of this post at Velvet Ashes: http://velvetashes.com/unwanted-gifts/

Saturday, December 17, 2016

The Gift of Advent

We pressed pause this week. And lit some candles after dessert with our Grace Group. As we soaked in the peaceful silence of the candlelight, a sense of calmness settled over the table. And our souls found space to rest. 

An Advent gift from God. 


We talked about Light/Darkness based on an Advent reflection by Christena Cleveland. As the dancing lights flickered through the broken pieces of glass surrounding the candles, Charly played a song for us that he's been listening to a lot this week. A song that he shared with our close friends across the ocean who are going through a very dark, difficult time in their marriage. Wondering if the shattered pieces can be put back together. If there is any life at all in a relationship that seems dead. 

This song breathes hope. And new life. And a story that's not finished yet.  
When we see wounded He sees mended:


by Matthew West

How many times can one heart break?
It was never supposed to be this way
Look in the mirror, but you find someone you never thought you'd be

Oh, but I can still recognize
The one I love in your tear stained eyes
I know you might not see him now, so lift your eyes to me

When you see broken beyond repair
I see healing beyond belief
When you see too far gone
I see one step away from home

When you see nothing but damaged goods
I see something good in the making
I'm not finished yet
When you see wounded, I see mended

You see your worst mistake
But I see the price I paid
There's nothing you could ever do, to lose what grace has won

So hold on, it's not the end
No, this is where love's work begins
I'm making all things new
And I will make a miracle of you

When you see broken beyond repair
I see healing beyond belief
When you see too far gone
I see one step away from home

When you see nothing but damaged goods
I see something good in the making
I'm not finished yet
When you see wounded, I see mended

I see my child, my beloved
The new creation you're becoming

You see the scars from when you fell
But I see the stories they will tell

You see worthless, I see priceless
You see pain, but I see a purpose
You see unworthy, undeserving
But I see you through eyes of mercy

When you see broken beyond repair
I see healing beyond belief
You're not too far gone
You're one step away from home

When you see nothing but damaged goods
I see something good in the making
I'm not finished yet, no
When you see wounded, I see mended

Ooh, I see mended
Woah, oh I see mended
I'm not finished yet
When you see wounded, I see mended

Beauty from ashes in God's gift of Advent. Waiting in anticipation. For the Healer, Messiah, Immanuel. The story He's writing through our lives doesn't end in darkness. 

Do you see the Light?

Jesus fulfilled the prophetic words of Isaiah: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released, that the blind will see, that the oppressed will be set free, and that the time of the Lord's favor has come." Luke 4:18-19

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Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the Theme of Gift

Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Simple Act of Noticing

Last week Charly checked out a book from the library that he thought I would like called Listen Love Repeat: Other-Centered Living in a Self-Centered World by Karen Ehman.

It's an encouraging book and I appreciate all the practical ideas she offers for noticing and then acting on the needs of those around us. She calls them heart drops (glimpses into a person's heart through their words or a feeling we get from them).

And she highlights Jesus as our ultimate example of paying attention to those in need:

“Although he was the Son of God and on a very big mission, Jesus was never too busy to notice. He lived alert. He could be among a crowd of thousands and yet focus on one weary soul who needed a look, a word, or a touch from him. Sometimes, even while on his way to do something important, he turned his attention to what appeared to be lesser requests. Because Jesus wasn't about doing big things. He was about doing the right thing. And often for him, the right thing was noticing one simple soul.”

She goes on to describe what it looks like for us today:

“People all around us every day are longing for someone to notice them. They may feel alone or ashamed. Afraid or apprehensive. The simple act of noticing someone as he or she journeys through life can lovingly mirror the behavior of God. But in order to behave like Jesus did, and spread the healing balm of his love, we must be willing to drop our agenda—or at least put it on hold—to reach out and touch those who need it most. The scene doesn't have to be impressive. The circumstances are usually quite ordinary. And often the stage is set right in front of us as we go about our days. In fact, sometimes the stage is set right within our own four walls.”

We celebrated Thanksgiving with my parents last month and I observed a beautiful example of how they live this out. One of their elderly neighbors across the street had just returned home from an extended stay at the hospital. My parents had been checking in on her husband while she was in the hospital and walking their dog for him. My Dad noticed how discouraged he seemed and offered to take him out for coffee. He also extended an invitation for them to join us for our Thanksgiving meal, but the wife didn't have enough energy yet. So my parents said they would bring the meal to them. And they filled two trays with portions from each one of the many Thanksgiving dishes, in individual containers for easy reheating. My Dad and I delivered them before we started our meal. 


And then we enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast with other friends my parents had invited. The Mom of the family was sick and couldn't come, so my parents had one of the daughters fix a plate to set aside for her, before anyone else went through the line.


I'm sure my parents will be surprised (and even embarrassed) that I shared this with you. These kinds of acts of service are, to them, as natural as breathing. They are always on the alert, always reaching out, always seeking to bless. Whether its serving in the soup kitchen, interacting with senior citizens at the memory loss nursing home or listening to young readers at the library (with their therapy dog Rocky), wrapping Christmas presents for a friend with rheumatoid arthritis, helping a friend organize his garage, taking neighbors to the airport or checking on their houses while they're gone, their lives are all about service. And serving others brings them joy.

Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.” Colossians 3:12

“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” St. Augustine

What needs are you noticing around you today?
Which ones might God be prompting you to act on?


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Gratitude for Grace

What if we lived like there was no limit to Grace?

What if we gave Grace away as freely as Jesus did when He walked on this earth? With His deep love for all those He encountered. Some who had eyes to see who He really was and had the tiniest beginnings of faith. He watered those seeds with His abundant Grace and watched with delight as they blossomed in Gratitude. Furthermore, in what I consider to be one of the greatest challenges ever, He persevered in His love toward those who rejected Him, always extending Grace to the very end.

Our Grace Group met on Saturday and as we sat around the dinner table, we discussed the story of Jesus healing the 10 lepers. One friend shared an image she had of Jesus reaching into His unlimited supply bag and tossing out Grace. And how much joy He must have experienced as He showered Grace on the undeserving.

“Like Santa Claus,” another friend chipped in. “And his unlimited bag of gifts. Maybe that's where the idea came from..."


The one leper in the story, a Samaritan, who returned to fall at Jesus' feet and thank Him, was filled with Gratitude. It's easy to imagine him living a life that poured out Grace to others. Always thankful and mindful of his past life and the new start Jesus had given him. But we're left to wonder about the other nine. What happened to them? Maybe they came to their senses a few days later and tracked Jesus down to thank Him for the miracle of their new skin and being welcomed back into the society from which they had been cast out. Or maybe they only experienced physical healing, without a change of heart. Maybe they weren't transformed by Gratitude for Grace.

Which one of the lepers would we be?

Charly shared with our Grace Group that our discussion made him think of the blog post I wrote a few years ago on Extravagance. We place such a high value on being good stewards of what we've been given, that we tend to see extravagance as being wasteful and wrong. But, what if in our family, instead of saying, “Stop! That's too much,” we said, “You didn't get enough chocolate syrup on your waffles. You really need some more.”

What if we weren't worried about running out?

And what if our kids weren't afraid that we didn't have enough love in our family to go around? We had this discussion in our Adoptive Parent Sunday School class yesterday. About how some of our adopted kids don't believe that our love for them is constant: deep inside there's still the fear that parental love can't be counted on. So they have to keep fighting for it (or fighting against it), maybe choosing to look for it elsewhere.

How do we keep giving Grace when their fear expresses itself in rejection, when they say "I don't want to be part of this family"? How can we persevere in Grace giving, as Jesus did when He was rejected? Our hurting kids need the outpouring of our Grace to help their brains and hearts undergo necessary rewiring, so they can let go of the fear that they're going to be left out, left behind, left with nothing. Abandoned again. It's hard, on both sides.

How can we help our kids to personally know God as the Giver of Grace in their lives?

To truly believe that His Grace will never run out.

If we haven't first received Grace, it's pretty impossible for us to give it away. We can look at the example of the unmerciful servant who was forgiven of a great debt, but wasn't transformed by Gratitude. So, when he walked away from what could have been a transforming moment in his life, he found his own servant and demanded repayment of the debt owed to him. His heart, still keeping track of every penny, remained hard.

Gratitude for the Grace we've been given can soften the hard soil of our hearts that lives in fear that there's not enough. And can enable us to be generous with Grace. Watering the thirsty hearts around us with showers of blessing.

How has Gratitude for Grace impacted your life?
How could your heart be changed by Grace and Gratitude even more?




Friday, November 18, 2016

Taking the Higher Road

Sometimes we end up on a team where our teammates are actually cheering against us. I saw this happen when I volunteered in Daniel's 3rd grade class for their Fall Party. I was in charge of handing out bean bags for the pumpkin toss game and explaining the simple rules. If they hit the pumpkins, that were taped to the blackboard, in the mouth they would collect points and end up with that many tickets for buying prizes.

Three of the teams were very positive, cheering each other on. “Oh, almost.” “Good try.” “You got it!” “Good job.” High fives. Smiles. Joy. Wanting each other to do well. I was glad that Daniel was in one of these groups, along with his supportive friend Steven.

But two of the teams had a very different attitude: they wanted each other to fail. I actually heard one student whisper in the ear of his teammate about to throw, “You can't hit it.” Followed by, “That one didn't count.” “You didn't hit the mouth!” Oh my. I was so ready for the 10 minute timer to be up and for those two teams to rotate on to their next game. The negative attitude, started by one or two, was infectious. I know that not all of the students in these two groups were characterized by negativity. But how can you stop it once it's started? It's a natural human response when we hear, “You can't do it,” to say “Oh yeah. Well you can't do it either.” I felt helpless and defeated myself, swallowed up by the negativity in these two groups. And I was the adult.

It's what's going on in our nation.

I've been studying the Sermon on the Mount with a group of friends this fall. Last week we discussed the verse “Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy.” In The Blessing of Humility Jerry Bridges writes that merciful in Matthew 5:7 "is stronger than pity or compassion; it denotes not only feelings but action." Extending mercy was counterculture in Jesus' day, and when we choose to give people grace instead of what they deserve, we're swimming upstream in our society too.

Jesus showed us how to respond in a way that's opposite to the way of the world. He didn't call down fire on those who beat him, mocked him, and nailed him to the cross. Instead, he prayed, “Father, forgive them for they don't know what they're doing.”

We can choose to exercise that kind of restraint as well, and forgive our persecutors when we're on the receiving end of hate. The line in Michelle Obama's speech, “When they go low, we go high” is such a great challenge. This was beautifully played out by the hundreds of students at Baylor University who joined together in support of a classmate after she was harassed because of the color of her skin. Baylor’s vice president for student life, Kevin P. Jackson said, “As Baylor Bears, it is our responsibility to care for and treat each other with love, compassion and dignity. Any behavior short of this demands our full attention so that we can hold each other accountable while seeking to reconcile and restore damaged relationships.” 

 Let's prove that hate will lose and love will win.

Another inspiring example of solidarity was the hundreds of students at the University of Michigan who came out to form a wall of protection around their Muslim classmates who prayed in a public place on campus. To let them know "You are not alone."

Mohammed Ishtiaq, the University of Michigan’s Muslim chaplain, told The Huffington Post that both the Jewish and Christian communities on campus came out to show their support. He said some members of the crowd held signs that read, “You Belong Here.”  
Although it was a cold night, the amount of support we got was really heart warming,” Ishtiaq said in an email. “Events of solidarity like this give us hope.”
 What a powerful message

My friend Iris in Tianjin wrote a great blog post this week: A challenge to the American church after the election. We are all welcome at the Table:

"I will not stand idly by while those who bear the name of Christ exploit the weak for their own gain.
I will not prematurely call for unity and peace while the religious continue to hinder the marginalized from experiencing God.
I will not turn a blind eye while the church traffics in power and profit instead of offering refuge and solace.
I will not sit quietly while some defend the right to their precious traditions at the expense of another’s personhood.
I will not maintain the status quo while those who are made in God’s image are being desecrated and demeaned.
I will not pass on the other side of the road while the most vulnerable among us are dying."

I was also inspired by the blog post of my friend Rachel in Djibouti. Election 2016: Loving People Well “We can block freeways and burn flags and smash windows. We can boast and thump our chests. We can mock and ridicule, insult and lie. We can refuse to accept a process that may or may not have turned out in our favor. We can wait and see. We can open our mouths and scream. We can hide in silence. We can cry. We can celebrate. 

But we must listen. We can find people who are not like us, both online and in real life, instead of hunkering down behind walls with people who already think like us. We can seek to understand their stories and their histories and their hopes, fears, dreams. We can empathize and not demonize. We can be humble. We can win with grace and lose with dignity. We can speak our own ideas with passionate conviction while allowing others to have different ideas. We can refuse to label or to lump people into certain categories.”

We can choose the higher road. By choosing love. Not hate.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:14-18

Let's fight for, stand for, and cheer for our teammates, our neighbors, our nation.



Wednesday, November 16, 2016

On the same team?

This is how Charly made the bed this morning. 


He doesn't know that I took a picture of his interesting arrangement of the pillows. But I'm pretty sure he won't mind if I share it with you. It's kind of different than the way I choose to arrange the pillows most mornings. But, we're on the same team. And it's ok, because he's the one who needed the pillows out of his way around the desk so he could work on his dissertation today. And a nice-looking pillow arrangement is just not that important to him.

There are lots of things we do differently, but we can still be on each other's side.

I think President Obama did a great job of modeling this in his post-election speech about his commitment to a smooth transition of leadership.

“It's no secret that the President-elect and I had some pretty significant differences...I have instructed my team to follow the example that President Bush's team set eight years ago and work as hard as we can to make sure this is a successful transition for the President-elect.”

“We are all rooting for his success in uniting and leading the country.”

"Now, everybody is sad when their side loses an election, but the day after we have to remember that we're actually all on one team. This is an intramural scrimmage. We're not Democrats first. We're not Republicans first. We are Americans first. We're patriots first."

"We all want what's best for this country. That's what I heard in Mr. Trump's remarks last night. That's what I heard when I spoke to him directly. And I was heartened by that. That's what the country needs -- a sense of unity, a sense of inclusion, a respect for our institutions, our way of life, rule of law, and respect for each other."

"I hope that he maintains that spirit throughout this transition. I certainly hope that's how his presidency has a chance to begin.”

Obama compared the presidency to a relay race where the baton gets passed on to the next runner. “I want to make sure that hand-off is well-executed because ultimately we're all on the same team.”

I was also encouraged to hear the positive way Trump spoke about his gracious phone calls from Hillary and Bill Clinton after the election. And in his interview with 60 Minutes, after he had met Obama at the White House, he described him as “terrific.” “I found him to be very smart and very nice. Great sense of humor, as much as you can have a sense of humor talking about tough subjects.” When the topic came up about Trump supporters harassing minority groups across the country, he said, “I am so saddened to hear that. And I say, 'Stop it.' If it helps, I will say this right to the cameras, 'Stop it.'”

Joshua told us about the Interfaith Prayer service at Notre Dame that he attended last night. A united campus effort to focus on peace for our nation, and to promote respect and solidarity during a time where division has become so evident. Charly and I were inspired to listen to Father Jenkins speech, beginning with his thoughts on the conversation Jesus had with the Samaritan woman in John 4:

Noting that while the Samaritan woman and Jesus, a Jew, were so different religiously and culturally, “despite these barriers, Jesus … opens a conversation about something much more profound,” Father Jenkins said. “It is perhaps in the very exchange, in reaching with compassion and understanding across what divides a Jew and a Samaritan, a woman and a man, that the ordinary water becomes something else — a spring of water gushing up to new possibilities, new hope and to quenching a deeper thirst.”

Jenkins told the crowd, “We now have elected leaders and we should pray for them and, as far as we can in accord with our principles, cooperate with them to serve the common good. We also pray for those holding opposing positions that they might continue to be engaged and that their voices continue to be heard. I do not want to minimize the very real differences in perspectives and principles that divide us. Yet I believe there is no peaceful, fruitful future for us except though the respectful, constructive dialogue that is so critical for a democracy.

“Dialogue, one can argue, is the central activity of any university community. We can disagree passionately, but we should not demean our opponents. We should state our convictions, but we should listen to all, and most attentively to those who do not share our views. It is the responsibility of each of us to foster a conversation that engages and enlightens, rather than descends to mutual recrimination,” Father Jenkins continued.

He stressed, “At Notre Dame, we must never allow any election cycle, law or policy to make us forget what we stand for.” Those things, he said, include respecting the dignity and worth of every person, committing to work toward the common good and standing in solidarity with every person, particularly the most vulnerable and marginalized.

“That is Notre Dame. Either we walk together in mutual support, or we do not walk at all. Either we are all Notre Dame, or none of us are,” he said.

Such powerful words to consider as we try to walk together. On the same team with people who are very different from us. It is possible. And necessary for our nation in order to be able to move forward.

Solidarity.

What if we could experience, as we reach across the divides, what Father Jenkins called "a spring of water gushing up to new possibilities, new hope and quenching a deeper thirst"?




Friday, November 11, 2016

One Nation Under God

There are still leaves on this tree.


I stopped to take a picture yesterday on my walk with Charly because I was marveling at how well I could see with my new glasses. Everything looks sharper. Clearly, I didn't realize how bad my vision really was. How much I was missing. And now I know.

I drove for the first time with my glasses Tuesday night. And I kept thinking, “Oh my goodness. I can read that sign from way back here! Look how clear those letters are. I don't have to squint anymore.”

And I want to see clearly. Because honestly our world feels like a mess right now.

I went to bed Tuesday night before all the results were in. And when I woke up at 4:30, Charly rolled over to tell me who won the election. And I wished that it was a bad dream instead of our next four years.

Shock and Sorrow. A feeling of betrayal by our nation.

Sobered these past two days to read firsthand accounts of how this news is affecting different groups of marginalized people. Those who have been targeted during this horrible presidential campaign because of who they are. Made to feel they have no value.

I felt the need to write to my local Muslim friends yesterday to tell them how sad I felt over the anti-Muslim views our new president has expressed. And to let them know that our family is committed to standing up for our Muslim friends. One of them wrote back to tell me of the protests going on in different cities last night. She said, "I pray for peace."

Isn't that what we need? There is incredible hurt and pain in our nation. Deep division. There has been so much ugliness uncovered and garbage thrown throughout this campaign that I guess it's unrealistic to think that it would all go away once a decision was reached. A happy ending for everyone was not possible. So here we are with shovels looking at the unbelievable amount of trash all around us.

Asking "What can be done?"

How can we see past our deeply entrenched convictions and agendas? And engage in conversation that doesn't involve raising our voices at those who don't agree with us?

Do we truly want to listen? And not keep trying to prove we are right?

No matter who we voted for, Donald Trump is our new president now. And I strongly believe that we all need to support him. Not throw more trash around. Or stab our shovels at each other. Not participate in protests and refuse to accept him as our president. We need to pray for him. And for our nation.

We need to come together. Now more than ever. 
Not focus on the trash but on each other.

One nation under God.


We each have a part we can play in rebuilding what has been torn down. In cleaning up the piles of trash all around us (even within our own hearts). Are we willing to extend grace and forgiveness to those who hold different views? Are we able to see beyond our political differences and the ways that we've felt hurt, and even betrayed, in order to focus on what we have in common? 

A desire for our country to be a place where needs are protected and everyone has a voice.
A desire for us to invest in the next generation of leaders. Building men and women of character.
A desire for us to uphold the values of peace and compassion and unity.

I want to bring my vision into better focus.

I can see that there are still leaves on the tree.

What do you see?

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Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the Theme of Betrayal

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Power of Hope

My splendor is gone and all that I had hoped from the Lord.”

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The Lord is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.”

The Lord is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord. It is good for a man to bear the yoke while he is young.

Let him sit alone in silence, for the Lord has laid it on him. Let him bury his face in the dust—there may yet be hope.

Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace.

For men are not cast off by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he will show compassion, so great is his unfailing love. For he does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men...

I called on your name, O Lord, from the depths of the pit. You heard my plea: “Do not close your ears to my cry for relief.” You came near when I called you, and you said, “Do not fear.”

Lamentations 3:18-33, 55-57


This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

Jeremiah 29:10-14

But as for me I will always have hope; I will praise you more and more.

Psalm 71:14

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.

Hebrews 6:19-20a

God, give us Hope to see beyond the clouds of darkness. To believe that You are working together all things for our good. Help us to believe that You are doing much more than we can see and that You love us more than we could even begin to comprehend. Empower us with Hope.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Power in Pain

I've been blessed recently to connect with a small group of women dealing with chronic pain. I have learned so much from them as we've discussed what God is teaching us about the power of pain.

I love the way that one pain sister expressed how she experiences God by walking at the beach: “the seemingly endless wild ocean before me never ceases to turn my inward spiritual gaze onto my all-powerful, all-knowing, always present, all good Father Who knows me and loves me and as soon as I connect with Him in that moment I feel the freedom of being His daughter and His beloved and I am at rest and I respond in praise no matter what I am going through. His goodness is everlasting and rich...There are layers of His goodness and glory that I don't think we are even able to reach without the experience of pain. There's no glory in resurrection without death and there's no victory without a battle. I don't understand it but I think I'm learning to accept and appreciate His ways more and more.”

Another sister said that she's learned power through surrender. We have to reach a place of surrender for healing to start.

Another choice we have is that we can see ourselves not as victims of the pain, but as victors. We always have the power to choose our response.

As a group we've discovered that one of the blessings we've gained through pain is empathy for others. One sister exclaimed, “It's our super power!” There's so much we would miss in our relationships with others if we didn't look at life through the lenses of pain. Each one of us has grown in the area of compassion.

We've talked about the stripping effect of pain. The rawness and vulnerability. And feeling of being alone. The desire to find ways to escape when dealing with pain that won't go away. And the challenge to find more healthy responses. Entering into the pain with the questions: Where are you God? What are you doing? What do you want me to let go of? To embrace in this moment?


Our group discussed the ways pain has affected our capacities. And the image of a fruit bowl came to mind: when a piece of fruit representing Pain comes in, a fruit labeled Capacity has to leave. When more Pain fruit comes in and takes over the bowl, it can feel like there's no Capacity fruit left at all. But we hold all this fruit in a beautiful bowl. And the bowl is not affected by how much Capacity fruit we can hold. It remains beautiful and its purpose is to Receive, to Hold, and to Give. Whatever we can do that day based on the pain limitations, we can choose to find reasons to be grateful.

1 Chronicles 4:10 records the prayer of Jabez who asked God for quite a lot: “'Oh, that you would bless me and enlarge my territory! Let your hand be with me, and keep me from harm so that I will be free from pain.' And God granted his request.” We can all relate to these longings, to be free from pain. To have an enlarged territory. But sometimes God answers in a different way. Can we thank Him because of the blessings that come with pain? Did Jabez actually miss out on some of those blessings because God granted his request and he was free from pain???

"There are layers of His goodness and glory that I don't think we are even able to reach without the experience of pain."

The Apostle Paul pleaded with God to remove his thorn in the flesh. And God chose not take it away. “But he said to me, 'My power is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.'” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Paul experienced God's power in new ways because he became a weak resting place. And God showed Himself strong through Paul's complete dependence on Him. He will do the same for us. As we rest in His power.

Today I read a beautiful poem by Becky Stephen about seeking God's power in the midst of pain:

Jesus, here I am,
all weakness and wishing for
Something more,
Something else,
Something better.
But without the power to bring it about.

Jesus, your grace is enough for
My painful situation,
My longings,
Me.
Apart from You I am nothing and have nothing.

Jesus, I am relying on You for
Perspective on pain,
Peace in pain,
Perseverance through pain.
May Your power rest upon me.


Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Power Through

Jordan has taught me what it means to Power Through.


She invited me to climb Pikes Peak with her in July because she wanted to climb a 14er before starting college. I didn't really think I was the best choice, but agreed to be her climbing partner.


As we got close to the top and had to scale a challenging section with large rocks, she encouraged me with the words "Power through." Even with a headache. Even in the wind and cold. Even when the path wasn't easy to see. And the footing was difficult. Keep going.


This time last year we ran a half marathon together. Actually she ran way up ahead with two of her cross country friends and came back to cheer for me as I struggled to make it across the finish line. But I was out there because of her. My Power Through Daughter.


She talked CJ and me into doing the Incline in June (the steepest mile ever!) with two of her friends. The three of them made it look way too easy, but cheered CJ and me on.


And we made it to the top.

The next month, when her best friends from Lanzhou were visiting, she helped them to reach the top as well.



Then my Dad, also inspired by Jordan, decided to climb the Incline with us.

 
When we visited Jordan last weekend at Calvin we got to see her play in a rugby game. And she was truly as tough as nails. She told us before the game that they were playing against the best school in their division. And there was a girl on the other team known as Square. "No one can stop her" was Square's reputation. As we scanned the other players, we tried to figure out which one best fit that nickname, but there were too many possibilities.

Jordan wasn't intimidated at all out there on the field. We didn't really understand the rules, but we cheered wildly from the sidelines as she made two back to back tackles. And then she got the ball and ran for about 10 yards before being taken down.


Jordan's tackling strategy is to Go Low


Run hard.

Power Through.

Look past the obstacles.


Encourage your teammates.

Set your eyes on the goal and never look back.


Jordan inspires all of us to be tough and to keep pressing on.



Friday, October 28, 2016

Empowered

Empowered means to receive power.

The only prerequisite is to be in need. Tired. Weary. Lacking. Limited.

And then to be connected to a source of power.

Do you not know? Have you not heard? 
The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. 
He will not grow tired or weary, and his understanding no one can fathom. 
He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; 
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. 
They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, 
they will walk and not be faint.” 
(Isaiah 40:28-31)


Last week was fall break for four of our kids, and we took a road trip to visit Jordan for Family Weekend at Calvin College in Grand Rapids. One of our highlights was the 40 foot high Rock Climbing Wall. After watching a few people climb, David surprised us by saying he wanted to try it. And he did great! His success inspired Daniel, who announced that he wanted to climb too. I knew there was no way he could climb the wall, but he was so excited that I decided to ask.

"Could he wear his own shoes to climb?" I asked the guy behind the desk. "He has braces on both feet...

"Sure," he responded. "No problem."

"I know he won't be able to make it all the way up. But he really wants to try it. Could he just go up a little way and then come back down?

"Of course," he assured me. "You know, we've had Calvin students who were paralyzed from the waist down climb the wall."

Encouraged by this enthusiasm and positive attitude toward disabilities, I told Daniel he could do it.
 He could barely contain himself as his new friend strapped him in.

Then he started his climb.


As he began his ascent, I realized that the guy who had strapped himself to Daniel was pulling him up. It didn't actually matter about his being able to place his feet the right way.


So Daniel kept going higher. And higher. By the strength of his partner.


He told us afterward how scared he felt. But he kept climbing.


And he had a great cheering section.


He reached the top of the wall!


He could hardly believe it.


And his partner didn't seem tired at all.

Empowered.

To climb higher than I ever thought possible.

To soar on wings like eagles.

I know that Daniel believes this verse: "I can do everything through him who gives me strength."
(Philippians 4:13)

His climbing adventure rings true with the song You Raise Me Up.


You raise me up. To more than I can be.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The End of Me in Ministry

Not a polished presentation of the gospel.

Not winning a religious debate with someone of another faith.

Not having the perfect house, the perfect kids, the perfect life 
(along with the perfect amount of humility) to win all neighbors to Christ.

Ministry means coming to the end of me.

Recognizing my limitations.

Embracing my weakness and brokenness.

Creating a safe space for others to enter into and be real.

Being attentive, available, and approachable.

Not knowing all the answers but knowing the One who does.


One day about 10 years ago, my friend Karen (not her real name) quietly knocked on my apartment door. To be honest, I had been dreading her visit since she had called the night before to tell me that she had just discovered her husband was having an affair.

I had no idea what to say or do as I opened the door and embraced her. My dear friend, dressed in all black, mourning her shattered marriage.

We sat together in our living room and shed tears as she unveiled more of the deep pain of betrayal she had been through.

As I listened to her, I became aware of our 1 Corinthians 13 scroll in Chinese characters on the wall behind her. So I got out my Bible, opened it to that passage, and handed it to her to read on her own.

After a few moments she looked up at me with shining eyes and exclaimed, “I know what I need to do.” I held my breath as I heard her answer. “Love him."

"I can let God love him through me."

And with those words her life was transformed. A spark of restoration in her broken marriage...in the coming days, her husband, greatly impacted by her forgiveness expressed a willingness to change. Their marriage grew stronger. And, by God's grace, is still strong to this day.

God's power made perfect in weakness. The impossible made possible. Hope for the hopeless. Beauty from ashes.

Clearly not because of any advice or wisdom from me. Because I had none.

I just provided the space.

God's power.

Through His Word.

Through His Spirit.

Through the weak.

His Ministry. Not mine.

Now to him who is able to immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

"Not to us, O Lord, not to us but to your name be the glory because of your love and faithfulness." (Psalm 115:1)


Linking up with Velvet Ashes this week on the theme of Power.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Road Called Deliverance

I did not find Deliverance on the road by that name. I got lost.

Purgatory, just two roads over off of Union, I would have expected to provide wrong turns and no way out.

But for Deliverance, a name that offered such Hope and Promise, I had other expectations. Instead of connecting me with the trail I was hoping for though, it turned back up the hill I had just run down. And left me feeling even more confused. Ready to quit.

Deliverance took me in the wrong direction. And wasn't the road I wanted after all.

Sometimes we find ourselves on wrongly-named, bumpy roads going in the wrong direction, that feel like Purgatory, wondering how we got there. And how we can get back on the “right” road. To take us to the pain-free, stress-free, ideal life that must be out there somewhere. Right? Is it actually out there?


We recently listened to a sermon by Thomas Thompson called Choosing Joy in Change. He said that “The detours in life can hold new paths to joy.” What is God calling you to in the detours of your life? There's no way we can know all that He is doing behind the scenes.

The detour can become The Road that He has always intended. We just didn't know it. Are we resisting or accepting? Resenting or surrendering? Our response determines whether or not we find joy. God's goal for us is actually not to be pain-free, stress-free, always-getting-everything-we-pray-for. He wants us to be able to choose joy no matter what kind of road we're on. 

He wants us to become more like Jesus. The One who walked a hard road of suffering, that no one would have chosen. For the joy set before Him. For us to have true life in Him.

Following Him on the road He chooses.

Detours.

Feeling lost.

Running out of gas.

Doubting we're going to end up in a good place.

He is with us. Leading. Strengthening. Providing. Sustaining.

HE is our Deliverance (not the road).

And He uses many different roads to bring us Home. Roads that we would not have chosen.


New paths to joy.




Saturday, October 8, 2016

Quotes by Daniel

I LOVE my body!” (while I was helping Daniel dry off after a bath when he had his arm in a cast)


JESUS! Jesus is in the bathroom!” (at a friend's house this summer after discovering a picture of Jesus in an unexpected place)

Can you be quiet?” (in a singsong voice to himself while sitting on the couch)
No, I can't” (his singing answer to himself)

How many days we stay in this house?” (after house-hopping for the summer and moving into the house where we'll live for a year)

I think you seem very lost” (to me after I made a wrong turn on the way to his neuropsych exam)

I've got a lot of jeans going on!” (after sorting through a bunch of new hand me down clothes)

video

 
For me???” (after watching this video of his cross country finish last week, surprised at how many people were cheering for him. He was so focused on the finish line that he didn't hear the cheers while he was running)

"God, help us more love you." (his prayer at dinner last night)

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

The Desires of God

Come all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; 
and you who have no money, come buy and eat! 
Come buy wine and milk without money and without cost.” 
(Isaiah 55:1)


Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. 
Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, 
and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” 
(Isaiah 55:7)

You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace
the mountains and the hills will burst into song before you, 
and all the trees of the field will clap their hands.” 
(Isaiah 55:12)


And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to serve him, 
to love the name of the Lord, and to worship him, 
all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant—
those I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. 
Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; 
for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” 
(Isaiah 56:6-7) 


And it will be said: 'Build up, build up, prepare the road! 
Remove the obstacles out of the way of the Lord's people.' 
For this is what the high and lofty One says—
he who lives forever, whose name is holy: 
'I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, 
to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.'” 
(Isaiah 57:14-15)

The Lord will guide you always; 
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. 
You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. 
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; 
you will be called Repairer of Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” 
(Isaiah 58:11-12)


The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, 
because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted
to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor and the day of vengeance of our God, 
to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, 
the oil of gladness instead of mourning, 
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair
They will be called oaks of righteousness, 
a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendor." 
(Isaiah 61:1-3)


Since ancient times no one has heard, no ear has perceived, 
no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.” 
(Isaiah 64:4)

Behold I will create new heavens and a new earth
The former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind.” 
(Isaiah 65:17)


Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear.” 
(Isaiah 65:24)

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