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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

what we know

Why, O Lord do you seem so far away?

Longing, frustration, loneliness, confusion--here we are again.  What is God doing?  What does He think about me?  Has He forgotten me? The trail we walk is sometimes so winding that it seems to go nowhere.  It feels as though our lives have gotten off course and maybe He's unaware.    We want to turn back and go to what we know, we want to stop and find people who will commiserate with us, we want to turn any direction other than the one we are going.  Words that once seemed sure, feel like a thin paper map, and we fear that a wind will come and blow it to pieces.   We begin to question what we once knew; we begin to question God's character; we certainly question our own. 

When Scripture refers to God as a stronghold it gives us the picture of the security and strength that He is and provides.  We never read that the world we inhabit will be secure or fair, we read the opposite actually.  We will have trouble, people will lie and cheat and steal, prayers may seem unanswered.

And yet, in the midst of suffering or disappointment or confusion, we must listen to The Great Whisperer.  The Spirit who raised our Jesus and lives in us reminds us of truth--truth that is strong and unchanging.  Truth that we cling to when everything else is giving way underneath.

When I am suffering and caught up in the worst of fears, I often make a list I title what I know.  The simple writing of this list reorients my thinking and lifts my eyes to a faithful God and away from myself.   Sometimes my list is just a few words and sometimes it’s longer.  Here is my most recent one.

What I Know:
God's love for me is unchanging.
There is nothing I can do to make Him love me less and nothing I can do to make Him love me more because His affection for me is based on His character, not on mine.  
He is aware of my lot and is involved in the details of it.
The things God is accomplishing in me in the midst of this time is more important than the things I feel I should be accomplishing.
If He is not responding to my request, it is because waiting is better than a resolution.
His desire for me, above all else, is that I know Him from personal experience, not just hearsay.
There are some realities I learn about God that I only understand through struggle and suffering.
My heart, though lukewarm, doubting, wandering, or questioning, securely belongs to Him because He paid the highest price for it.

I hold onto His words, but during times when my grip is weak, they hold me.  And I am held by the strong God who knows me and knows what He is doing.  When the world around me is uncertain and dark, He holds me close.

Friday, June 26, 2015

there once was a girl

There once was a girl who said all the wrong yeses and all the wrong no’s,                
she was one who was worse than her foes.                                                                

She had a heart that was tender and mind that went deep,                                          
but she wanted a man who her soul he would keep.                                                

She was liked by some and loved by a few,                                                                         
still she lay on her bed at night wondering what she should do. 

Keep searching, keep searching, keep searching she thought,                                      
but she could never quite find what her heart truly sought.                

After looking and looking she settled on some,                                                                  
but she quickly kept looking when she realized we’re done.                                     

Then finally she met One who was different than the rest,                                            
she noticed that He was concerned with her best.         

She followed whole-hearted and loved all that He showed her,                                    
like that He was enough, her looking was over. 

How closely they walked while His truth He revealed,                                                    
she was overjoyed that her soul He now healed.                                                             

One day, to her surprise, He brought a new man to her path, 
but all she noticed was his dirty blue hat.                                                        
She looked closer to find something in his heart unexpected,                                      
that he too loved this God they both once neglected.

She was thrilled that his heart had met the One too,                                        
and now she knew exactly what to do.

Fall in love, fall in love, fall in love they did do,                                                                 
they loved the One and now they loved each other too. 

Days turned to months and months to years,                                                               
they laughed many laughs and cried many tears.

They dreamed and they lived and shared in much joy,                                                    
but then it was time to knock on His door. 

And though their love-long days had come to an end,                                                   
they knew they would see their One, truest friend.

Come in, come in, come in to my home,                                                                              
I’m thrilled to welcome you two with my song. 

They hugged and they danced and they sang for forever,                                           
they were finally home, complete, together.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Sunday Lunch

When I was young, we spent Sunday lunch at Nanny and Pawpaw Neel’s house.  Regardless of what kind of week we had or how chaotic the rest of life seemed, those few hours were reserved for 130 North 14th Street.  Still in our “church clothes” (not wanting the time we spent ironing them the night before to go to waste by only wearing them for an hour), we’d park on their root-cracked driveway that was just long enough for three-fourths of a car, race across the cool, rooty St. Augustine, run up those steep concrete steps, and knock on the locked screen door—Nanny was serious about locked doors.   The smells of baking bread and pecans were the first to greet us at the door, and then Pawpaw, with his wide smile, his shirt unsnapped down to his belly—a small picture of this carefree man.  We were clearly his delight. 

Their house was full of tangible comforts.

After sneaking Wrigley’s Spearmint from the drawer just inside the den, we’d plop onto the kitchen stools to watch Nanny Neel work her magic.  She was always busy in the kitchen, but effortlessly so.   Cooking and feeding were her gift; she was an artist and watching her create in her studio was also a gift.  I love that woman. 

Since my mama was the baby of three, she was never expected to contribute anything to the meal—I guess that’s one of the compensations for the total number of her baby pictures adding to zero.  I get it, by the third you’re tired. 

In the winter time we would take turns standing over the floor furnace.  We’d keep to the heat as if it were a newborn baby--there wasn’t a minute that it was left alone.  I loved that furnace. 

After all the food was at just the right temperature (how did she do that?) we circled up to give thanks, no matter how spiritual the prayer sounded, what we were really thinking was, thank you, God for this gift you’ve given our Nanny.

“Make your plate,” she’d say—even now, twenty years later, when I see a sturdy Styrofoam plate, I hear those slow, familiar words.

Our favorite Sunday lunch was chicken-n-dumplins (What exactly is a dumplin? And where is the “g”?  These are questions I still ask.) and rolls.  My goal was to fill that plate with as much white as it could hold—I quickly learned that at my grandparents house, the adults paid no attention to unnecessary details--I’d open up those hot rolls and pour homemade muscadine on like syrup--no less than 5 and no more than 8, usually.   I loved those rolls.

I guess the tables were cleared and the dishes were done, but that was also magical.  Us kids just let the adults do the adult chores.  The only expectation on us was to eat and be loved. 

We ended each Sunday sitting on the stiff living room couch, some fell asleep and some would talk about all the important things like septic systems and new carpet for the camper.  My sister and I would give updates too, her cheerleading tryouts, my dance recital.  I loved those days. 

Pawpaw has been gone seven years this November.  I miss him something deep.  I miss him teaching me to hold my fishing pole just so; I miss him throwing me to the sky in DeGray lake; I miss his calm comfort.  I loved that man.  And while Nanny’s days are drawing to a close, at 94, she dreams about Pawpaw often.  Death has just been a small interruption for them.  You can tell when you talk to her that she can’t wait to see him.  I’m sure she has a lot to tell him.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

the river of delights

Wow.  I'm reading a Psalm this morning, because I read Psalms in the summer, and I read one that I promise was just inserted today.  I've never noticed it before, but it's such confirmation for what I shared yesterday.  God is so good.

They feast on the abundance of Your house;
You give them drink from Your river of delights.
For with You is the fountain of life;
in Your light we see light.
psalm 36:8-9
Feast, abundance, river, fountain...the message of God's extravagance and His "more than" nature is unmistakable.  He is more than enough and when we find our delight in Him He gives it abundantly.  In Him we find ourselves and find our soul's deepest longing. 
Drink from His river of delights today, friend. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

out of the depths

Think about the good today. 
These words woke me one morning.  They weren’t audible, they came as a thought, but not a thought of my own.  They were soft and generous as thoughts from above can sometimes be.  I got up, still wondering how a thought could wake me.  I had been having quite the restless night—the result of many restless days, and then a simple sentence shook me.  It wasn’t complex or profound, but revolutionary for sure.

I'd been feeling like I was in a type of pit for some time.  God’s nearness and faithfulness were still certain in my mind, but I began to wonder if He had forgotten about me or set me aside.  As a self-proclaimed realist, “looking on the bright side” when things are difficult has always bugged me.   I love the part in Romans that says “Abraham…faced the fact that his body was as good as dead…”  Facing the facts makes much more sense to me than the power of positive thinking.  Pardon the clich├ęs.  I’m on a roll.

But maybe, instead of focusing on the hard circumstances, I was being instructed to focus on the good that was also true—to the rest of that verse in Romans that says, “yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised.” …to shift my thoughts from the brokenness and questions to the ways God has poured out good things and Himself.  I think the Lord was saying, “ok, you’ve examined the difficult, now let’s examine the good.”  Could it be that the deliverance I’d begged for begins with the renewal of my mind?...with my deliberate choice to follow Him out of the pit? 
Sometimes God sheds His oh-so-bright light into our dark places and we sit in awe, but sometimes He shows us His light and asks us to walk to it, leaving the darkness behind. 
Sometimes He says, “be still and watch my deliverance,” (Ex. 14:14) and sometimes He says, “get up and come out.”  (John 5:8; 11:43) Today was the latter.

So how do we think about the good and how does that bring healing and restoration?
First, I think it needs to be said that grief is part of life.  We cannot expect our lives to be free of sadness.  Even if our lives were completely free from all hardship, which they’re not, the state of the world around us and the condition of human hearts can cause deep sorrow.  Our world is so broken, lives around us are so broken, our own hearts are so broken.  I think it was Amy Carmichael that said, we follow a crucified Savior.  But we face the facts and then we face a great God who can be trusted.

One command in Scripture that helps us is found in 2 Corinthians 10:5—take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ.  In other words, when thoughts of self-pity, doubt, or sadness (or pride or self-righteousness, for that matter) come knocking, shut the front door.  No really, shut the front door, the back door, the windows and the garage.  You’re not escaping reality by not focusing on the difficult because the truest reality is found in Jesus Christ, which brings us to another command.

Delight yourself in the Lord.  Yes, this is a command.  Delight literally means to bend towards or to be inclined to, it also means to take pleasure in.  We serve a God who commands us to take pleasure in Him! It doesn’t say “you should delight in Him.”  The words should and delight don’t work together.  Delighting in the Lord is the response to a clear view of Him--God is delightful, we are told to enjoy Him.  As John Piper proclaims, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.”  Don’t seek joy (or satisfaction or pleasure), seek God and find all of the above.   If I took my son to the candy store, opened the door and simply said, “go for it!” he would have no trouble finding delight inside.  This is what God does for us, “here I am, find your delight in Me.” 
All of God’s fullness is made available to us in Jesus Christ,
we can either feast, snack, or fast.

If I am not finding delight in the Lord it is either because I haven’t subjected myself to His fullness—maybe because of busyness or disinterest; because I have looked in the wrong places and settled for a lesser-God, one that glitters and shines, but found to be fools gold; because I have so filled my thoughts with self that there is no room for Him or anything else; or because I have looked for pleasure in shadows--good things, even religious things, that only point to the reality found in Him.  As long as we are delighting in something other than the Lord, our delight in Him will be minimal. 

Think about the good.  It takes practice when those thinking muscles are atrophied, but He gives strength with every command. 

 We still face life’s difficulties, but the difference is that our joy is steadily anchored in Him—not because we have masterfully created a good anchor or a good rope, but because that which we are anchored in is strong and sure.