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Tuesday, February 11, 2020

wandering

Alone. Wandering. It’s unnerving when life takes a turn and the ground you’ve built your life on is unsure...when you realize the path where your feet have settled is no longer a path at all, when equations you’ve relied on no longer balance.
~~Like the time my friend and I went on a simple four-wheeler ride and 10 hours later found ourselves walking in the woods, no trail in sight, no person in sight, and no 4-wheeler in sight. We had lost our way. And yes, we even lost the 4-wheeler. How does that happen? That’s a story for another day. “Help, Help” our shaky, tearful preteen voices yelled. We clung together like magnets, walking and looking and yelling. Hours and hours. Scene after scene went through my mind of living the rest of our lives in the woods, lost. I was terrified, but not the horror movie kind of terrified. No, it was more of a sudden realization that life was not as safe as I once thought—for the first 12 years of my life I didn’t have the understanding that life is hard or that scary things happen or that all trails don’t lead home.
I think of this story when I feel the wandering rumbling within. I think of this story when I see someone so far down a road and returning feels impossible. What once felt like an exploration has quietly shifted to being lost in a shifting maze. And the result? Fearful, breathless searching.
It can be terrifying when looking around no longer brings comfort but instead suggests alienation. So alone, not only are you unfamiliar with the surrounding scenery, you’re also unfamiliar with yourself in this unmarked space.
~~Just as the sun was setting we finally heard a voice--a distant “Heather!...Shelley!...Come toward my voice” The voice so distant we couldn’t tell which way to turn so we stood still, listening and hoping. Minutes that felt like hours passed and then we saw him. We had been found. If you’ve ever gotten lost, you know the sudden burst of hope, joy, and relief at the first sight of rescue. They had called in a man who knew those woods “like tha back a my hand.” I remember the sight of him, this burly, serious man. He was clearly the keeper of the woods and he was on a rescue mission. We climbed on His 4 wheeler and clung tight, breathing deep, because we had been found.
Friend, I’m not sure if this story is familiar to you. I don’t know if you are wandering right now or not. But if by chance you are, can I tell you something you may need to reread when you’re ready? You are not alone. Your God knows the way. He knows how far you’ve traveled and He knows the reason.
He knows if you’re wandering for survival-- whether it’s running from chaos or looking for safety, The Prince of Peace knows.
He knows if your wandering is rebellion--a rejection of people, ideas, and beliefs in search of your own, The Truth incarnate knows.
He knows if boredom has caused you to wander-- life hasn’t turned out the way you envisioned and your restless heart has grown too restless to contain, The Abundant Life-Giver knows.
Questions, doubts, anger, hurts...whatever your reason, your Father in heaven knows.
The One who knows the way, the “Keeper of the Woods,” is on a rescue mission. It isn’t to bring you shame, but rather to bring you home. It may not be so He can bring you back to life like it was, but it certainly is to bring you to Himself.
“Son! Daughter! Come toward my voice,” He calls. And in His mercy and grace, He’ll clarify, prove, and confirm who He is, who you are, and why walking with Him is infinitely better than walking away from Him. He calls your name. His eye is on you. He is your rescue.

flourish

Flourish. Jesus has called me to flourish: to grow prolifically, to thrive, to display His glory. But I admit much of the time I feel the opposite...like I’m a case study of what it looks like to not flourish. Tired, distracted and vacillating between living on autopilot and living on the wrong fuel, I’m repeatedly surprised by the resulting emptiness.
I’m reminded of a plant in my kitchen. I had listened to the advice to keep it in a dark room and not water until the soil was bone dry. Bad advice. Yellowed and wilted, each day it looked worse than the day before.
Finally one day, when it was the saddest plant I’d ever seen, I absentmindedly moved it near my kitchen window and flooded it with water. I went to change out the laundry and here is what I saw when I returned: its arms were raised high, palms facing the window with its turgor pressure in full force. And it was smiling. Have you ever seen a plant smile? I have. And it whispered a quiet, “thank you.”
Ok, maybe that didn’t happen. But the change after simply moving it to the sunlight and giving it a drink was shocking. It was doing exactly what it was created to do, what it had been longing to do for longer than I’ll admit--taking in sunlight and nutrients and showcasing it’s green leaves.
It had found its glory.
I wonder if this is a lesson on what it means to Flourish? Maybe it’s as simple as facing the light, taking Him in, and then doing what I’m created to do. Why do I complicate this? Why do I often choose to starve and wilt? Why do I persist in my stubbornness to live my days without Him? I don’t know if it’s my lust for control or accomplishment, but I’ve taken the simple life with God and added stuff He never intended.
The truth is, flourishing is clear and simple. I take Him in and I flourish: I feast on His word and I flourish; I marinate in His presence and I flourish; I drink in His Spirit and I flourish. In Him I grow and His light brings health and wholeness. And then I simply do what I was created to do--I display Him in whatever season, circumstance, joy or pain I find myself. Fully nourished, I am free to display His glory, no longer wilting, but flourishing in Him.

showing up

A life meant to be vibrant, now dull.
A life meant to flourish, now yellowed and wilted.
Busy. Moving, always moving but barely thinking.
Distracted. Unaware and disengaged from my own soul.
Sleepy. Deciding by default that the easy choice is the best choice. 

Showing up for life takes courage. What if what we have to offer is rejected? What if we show up with all we can muster and it’s only given a passing glance, a halfhearted look that doesn’t hold anyone’s attention, including our own?
If we show up, what comforts will we have to forego? Because showing up always comes at a cost. Showing up for our own life means setting laziness and ease aside. It means not watching the lives of others, but participating in our own life. It means not seeking things that numb but doing things that require discipline. It means having all the conversations--the good soul-feeding ones, the hard ones, the messy ones. It means valuing authenticity over pretense.
When did escaping reality become such an attractive choice? Maybe when reality required more than we were prepared to give. Maybe when we believed the lie that comfort was priority. I wonder if it happened little by little, one small choice to avoid or disengage at a time. Like a drug addict who began with a few impulsive half-hearted decisions which led to larger decisions, until eventually there wasn’t a decision to make at all--the path unknowingly had already been decided in small increments along the way. As the addict one day looks around and sees nothing resembling real life, just cheap counterfeits, I wonder if after living on autopilot for far too long, we might have this same realization. We know our life is a gift, but we’ve treated the minutes and days as if they were something to be wasted. We’ve allowed ourselves to live in a stupor, full of mind-numbing entertainment and distraction.
In our quest for something more interesting, we’ve traded reality for a false, heavily filtered image that no longer resembles anything true. What if we decide to lay our current image of a life down and search out and remember a life that is LIVED? A life that GOES, a life that DOES, a life that is no longer just a reaction, but thoughtful and intentional. We can show up and participate or we can retreat. We can hide who we are--our thoughts, ideas, gifts, failures, uncertainties, or we can open them up for others. We can take our desire to be admired and wad it up like an old grocery list and toss it in the trash, because connection trumps admiration every time.
Oh Lord, When my vision is hazy and feet walk in the grooves made from repetition, when the world feels like a wheel I simply must rotate, awake my soul, turn me upside down, shine that bright bright light in my eyes. Help me not move left and right because of decisions I made years ago, or because of decisions made for me, living without thinking and thinking without pausing. Make my heart one of intention and purpose. Draw me out of spiritual stupor and invigorate my soul with You.

home

“In my deepest wound I saw your glory and it dazzled me.” St Augustine
Home. Thinking back on our first understanding of home can come with a torrent of emotion...the warm sliver of window light that woke us each morning, the black lab that met us on the driveway each evening, the daily paper always plopped just so on the counter, the hustle before holidays, the calm of Sunday afternoons, the smell of Friday night pizza, the sounds of that loud heater “warming up”...the memory of home is pregnant with nostalgia.
We remember the precious simple things that made up our life. We thought these would always be, but then time ticks away, calendar pages flip and one day we look back and we see it. What was once our whole world is now a memory. We didn’t know the permanent things were temporary, taken-for-granted gifts. They were seeds to nourish, many of which would not sprout for years to come. We assumed we would always be in this environment where we were loved and adored. At the time we may have wanted freedom from home’s constraints, but we were unaware those constraints were pieces of a foundation that would hold up in life’s ebb and flow.
But for most of us, memories of the past contain a unique mixture of comfort and pain. Whether thinking back brings common hurts caused by friends or hormones, or lingering memories of abuse, avoidance, or addiction, we wonder what do we do with this individualized GIF of pictures, phrases, and feelings running through our minds? What do we do when remembering brings pain? What do we do with neglect that masqueraded as freedom, control that masqueraded as care? Where do those memories settle? And how do we cause some to take root and others to fade away?
Memories are precious, not because they’re always wonderful but because they cannot be bought or sold. We speak of “making memories,” but we have no control over what becomes a memory and what doesn’t.
We’ve been long taught to avoid feelings of despair, loneliness, and sadness, but we may have forgotten that those feelings have a purpose. Terrified of falling into the pit, we stay on the periphery dreading what may be down there, forbidding ourselves to go there, living on the surface all while knowing the slightest “scratch” may unleash the ground swell below. In doing this we’ve forsaken the gift of wholeness, living days and months and years with the tangled mess that is our heart. It seems like a good idea because the untangling can be uncomfortable. What if we don’t like what we find, what if it changes us? Isn’t it better to move on? Maybe sometimes. But what do ignored wounds do? They either fester or they seem to heal but the stubborn scar tissue won’t allow for complete healing. May I ask you a question? Are there places where the ground has started to crack? Situations that bring out something unexpected? Maybe it’s time to go there.
In remembering and revisiting there can be healing--feelings that accompany pain help digest and process that pain. The depth of the pain varies, the intensity varies, the time needed varies, but one principle that doesn’t vary: healing happens when pain is no longer ignored. A wound, whether physical or emotional, must be tended to. Painful? Yes. But the pain of healing is purposeful and liberating, while the pain of avoidance is a passive aggressive inhibitor of abundance and freedom-- a constant dull ache. The potential healing is in direct proportion to the intensity of the pain.
And like the sweet sentiments of our past, pain also becomes a building block in making us who we are. Did your wounds break your heart, I can’t imagine the magnitude. Did Christ weep alongside you? Yes. Is it fair that your pain is worse than another’s. No. It isn’t fair. But do those things nullify or negate who God is and who you are in Him? No. Saying those things mattered does not mark them with a stamp of approval from you or from God. Saying they mattered means you are acknowledging their ability to bring Jesus to you. You want to just avoid old hurts and pain? That’s fine, but know this: you are forfeiting the healing offered you.
Many have ignored the hurt only to find it surface in the most unexpected times, others have marinated in past pain and instead of welcoming healing, they’ve lived crippled their whole lives.
But some have sat with those memories, felt them, even relived them, and found their power to be weak in light of our Great Healer. Jesus never said to avoid uncomfortable or painful feelings. In fact it seems He usually addressed it. The sick, the dying, the sinful, the broken, the guilty--never did He paint their lives with optimism, but with faith and healing. He didn’t tell the man with the withered hand to hide or get over it...He told him to hold it up. What if the healing we long for, the wholeness we’ve been suspicious of, is on the other side of holding it up to our Jesus? What if acknowledging pain proves to be the first step in wholeness.
Oh, my friend. Past wounds are painful, taking a step toward them is terrifying. But if you’re willing, know that you have One who will travel the course with you. One who has seen the way the whole time. One who knows the depth of that pit and will go down in it with you. One who will bring you back to new, fresh, healed, whole life. One who invites you to find your home in Him.

don't hide your healing

“I don’t think I can do it...I don’t have the resources/time/knowledge...I’m inadequate...my past is still with me, crippling me...if only you knew what I’ve done, what I’ve been through...I’m so broken surely He doesn’t want to use me but would rather I sit on the sidelines.”
I've heard each of these phrases again and again over the last few years as I’ve talked with women about leadership in a ministry for which I volunteer. We always pray for God’s leading as they consider this roll, and we trust His yeses and His nos.
But the thing I’ve been surprised by, the thing I can’t quite get over is the common thread in almost every meeting. Do you see it? Maybe you can even relate to these phrases.
Often after sharing their story with me, they pause, as if they’re waiting for me to say, “oh ok, nevermind...well thanks for meeting with me.” But then a moment that’s simultaneously beautiful and heartbreaking. “Wow God has really been working. I think you’d make a great leader.”
I wish you could see their face. It’s probably similar to my 10 year old face when I thought I wasn’t getting much for Christmas. I came into the living room and there it was, the Sound Design stereo of my dreams. I had settled for socks and underwear, but instead was shocked and overwhelmed at this unexpected gift.
These precious women, their faces a beautiful picture of God’s shocking grace and restoration, have lived years, some even decades, thinking their lives just don’t measure up, that God could never use them. They’ve settled, maybe not for “socks and underwear” but for a life of observing instead of participating.
So here’s what I tell them: The world needs to hear the unique way you’ve experienced His forgiveness and grace--your weakness or brokenness doesn’t exclude you; it’s actually the prerequisite to seeing Him work in a mighty way. God wants to work in and through every single person submitted to Him.
You know what God does with the independent strong? He humbles them.
You know what He does with the humble or weak or wounded? He heals them, lifts them, places their feet on solid ground, and then He spotlights that healing to display His faithful power.
You know what does exclude you? Unbelief that God can and will work in you and through you.
Questioning if God can use you isn’t humility, but actually doubting His heart and His power. God heals the broken, but how will the world know He’s the Great Healer if you hide your story?
So Sister, I’m begging you--don’t hide your healing. Don’t sit on the sidelines because of ________. It’s time for the healed and restored to come out of hiding and in humility share our stories, share our lives...hold whatever we are up with open hands while whispering, “here you go Lord, use it however you like.”

still I follow

Follow Me. His call goes out: the call to something bigger, something deeper, something higher, the call to lay down and leave behind. And even though I’m flooded with uncertainty, I stand, lay down my nets and walk forward.
And follow.
Who is this man who draws and woos my heart?
He invites me to come along, to walk with Him. I’m nervous but I find my feet taking step after step, my feet settling onto this path. I don’t know where this road leads, but I know it isn’t a path to easy or indulgence.
But still I follow.
Following Him means going right or left is no longer my decision. Following means I stay attentive to my Shepherd. Following means my own agenda has dissolved, and if there are any fragments left, they must be submitted. Sometimes following means being propelled at breath-taking speed, sometimes it means pause, being still, waiting. Often, I begin to vere toward interesting things, but in His wisdom and grace He draws me back, “that’s not for you.” And when I object, He beckons again, “Follow Me.”
So still I follow.
“Not follow Me and work, labor, strive, but Follow me and in my supernatural creativity I will make you and remake you. I will form you, rearrange you, place you. Complete dependance is required and if not possessed, it will be formed in you. Follow me, but first consider the way I am going.”
And still I follow.
When I follow I’m reminded that the One I follow went all the way to the cross. I follow a crucified savior. The cost is great, but His love is greater. This is not upward mobility. I am not climbing up a ladder, rather I am climbing down....all the way down to the place of humility and service. And death.
Yet still I follow.
Following, I’m confounded by this Man who heals with a touch, who creates with a word, who confuses and convicts and comforts. I watch my assumptions dissipate, I watch my pride bow low, I watch my shame run and hide. The discrepancy between who He is and who I am seems infinite. But I find He who rose is now raising me; I find He who has called me to die has also called me to come to life. New life. A life marked with His wisdom, power and love.
So still I follow.

face to face

Fear had gripped my heart and wouldn’t let go. I was afraid of making the wrong decision, afraid of outcomes, afraid of what others would think, and even afraid I had misinterpreted my own heart. The fear was swirling, and not the sweet swirling of an autumn breeze. It was tornado size fear, and I was certain the only thing remaining when it was over would be destruction.
But then. God in His sweet tender way put these words in front of me.
Isaiah 41:10: So do not fear, for I am with you, so do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand...V13 For I am the Lord, your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you “do not fear; I will help you.”
I had read these words before, but I guess I missed the picture of what was happening: The Father, holding His child with His righteous right hand--the hand of power and salvation--then takes hold of the child’s right hand. Can you picture it?
Being held with His right hand while He’s holding the child’s right hand puts them face to face. The child is now facing the Father. He is holding the child close. Face to face...whispering, “do not fear, I will help you.” As I read those words over and over, His incredible peace and presence washed over me.
So maybe, like me, you need to hear this: your Father in heaven upholds you with His hand of great power, all while holding your right hand, drawing you close, face to face, whispering words of comfort and hope:
Do not fear. I will help you.