Life Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Photo taken at Monte Sano State Park, Huntsville, Alabama (May, 2018)

Grief and loss can gush like water and run for days, weeks, even years –finding routes into the tiniest cracks and crevices of our innermost being.  Sometimes the seed of suffering and loss gets lodged between a rock and a hard place and forces it to crack open until the cracking and the spilling make you feel like life is over …leaving in its wake the feeling that it’s the end of the world as I know it and you don’t feel very fine at all.  The shell of comfort and protection has been ruptured and our insides are left gaping  …vulnerable and bare.

I watched a mama-friend spill out her grief as she agonized over the loss of her  30 year-old daughter.  Too soon.  Too much.  Too tragic.  Open caskets can crack open any heart.

I held her face …one mama to another.  I have a daughter the same age.  Words don’t hold water.  Love does.  Love holds the weeping and gives space  for the joy and the sorrow to  mingle freely.

You pray she has reason to get up in the morning.  You pray she doesn’t lose heart …that true joy will come in the morning after the weeping rain.    You pray that the Comforter will wrap His arms around her with the weight of His glory and you trust the Father’s love to hold her, knowing His mercy and grace  also have a way of raining down on every cracked open  seed– producing a ray of hope!

Our own son has been going through a battle of his own and the soul of a man can feel the skull of his existence cracked open …wondering if it will ever be put back together again.  Scans.   Scopes.  Specialists.  Sans answers.

And there is loss that lands like a rock too heavy to bear up underneath  –crushing us with painful force against the wall of emotions until we break apart.

But hope still lives even though it seems all is lost and we watch for the tiniest sprout of tender green to emerge from the cracks.  Life.  God always gives life after death.  He told me that in my own deep loss.  He always gives life after death.

I’ll start looking and watching and praying and hoping and waiting for that life to sprout from the spaces between the rock and the hard places.  Beauty. Growth.  Renewal.  Hope.  The wild flowers that sprout up in the most unlikely places where you thought all hope was gone — uninhabitable.

Photo taken on a routine #walkingitoutwithJesus walk near our home

And we feel and ache out this hope  that “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;  persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.  We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body.” 

And we believe and have faith in Jesus Christ to redeem and restore what has been lost. 

 It is written: “I believed; therefore I have spoken.”  Since we have that same spirit of faith, we also believe and therefore speak,   because we know that the one who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to himself.   All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.”

And we pray that we can somehow keep our eyes on what is unseen …eternal …what really matters.  

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.   So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.”

And we keep walking it out together with a Holy and Loving Father Who takes us by the hand and whispers, I am  with you alwaysI will never leave you.  Sorrow may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.” 

Waiting. Watching.


Scripture Quotations from Psalm 30:5 (NKJV), Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT),   II Corinthian 4:7-18 (NIV)John 14:16 (NLT).

Photo Challenge:  Unlikely

Waiting for the Arrival …

It’s December 3rd and the season of waiting has begun.

I’m not waiting for Christmas to arrive or Santa in his sleigh with 8 reindeer and a red nose leading the way.  I’m not waiting for presents under the tree …3 French hens, 2 turtle doves or even a partridge in a pear tree.

Truth be told, I’m not  excited much at all about Christmas this year but I’m very excited about what’s coming–or should I say “who’s coming”… in January.  Our kids and grands  are planning to come from the east, west and  north and should be arriving to the land of cotton in the south to a place that I now call, home.  I can hardly wait!

You see, not long ago– my husband, Roger, and I  began a season very unfamiliar to both of us.  For the first time in many years, we found ourselves in a quiet house with just the two of us.  A full table at family meal time and a home with kids and grands running all around became a table for two.

We love to see each other as often as we can but realistically,  with tighter finances and work schedules, it’s a good year when we can get together  twice in the same year.   And when I say “we see each other” — that might mean Roger and I visiting with one or two of our kids at a time. Rarely have we all gotten together at the same time in the same location.

For me, our 4 adult children,  the 3 spouses, 7 grandkids and a Nana and a Papa make for the hap-happiest season of all.

I’m waiting.  Anticipating the coming.  Planning for the get-together and praying for a house big enough to hold all 16 of us so we can enjoy a relaxing time together like none other we’ve been able to experience in years.

I grew up in a  home where love was always in plentiful supply but not so much the whole gift giving at Christmas.  When I married, it was a similar story.  Christmas is about family and being with those you love and enjoy being with.  Eating mounds of good food.  Playing board games –for many, that is.   Singing silly songs and worshiping together.  Guitars, drums, cello, piano and home-made instruments created from items found in the kitchen drawer.  The lights.  The smells.  The laughter.  The chaos.  Imperfect joy, as my daughter, Carrye,  calls it.  Family.

But today is the first Sunday of the Advent season and I find myself in another kind of waiting.  Waiting for the coming.  The arrival.  A quiet excitement.  A longing for the light to break through.

God knew we would need a season to remind us of His birth and renew our longing for His coming again to make everything right.

Everything is surely not right with the world  as we know it.  It seems no place is exempt.  Depression, anxiety, disease,  loss, violence, addictions, hopelessness make their appearance in the wealthy neighborhoods as well as the neighborhoods where the poor make their home.

Cancer is not a respecter of persons.  All are suspect.  Hunger has ravaged the stomach as well as the soul of mankind.  We’re smarter than ever and yet lacking the sense needed to get out of the mess we’re in.

But the season of Advent is here and with it we take another deep breath.  Hope.

Photo by Rachel Martin Raddatz

In a book of Christmas meditations, When the Time Was Fulfilled, Alfred Delp speaks of Advent as “the time of promise” but “not yet the time of fulfillment.”

We wait for the promise to be fulfilled and we wait in expectation with ready hearts …hands and feet actively  participating in God’s redemptive story.  But waiting is hard.  It’s hard to see the redemption in all the evil that’s going on in our world.

We talk about Advent as the arrival yet redemption seems slow in coming.  We long for God to fix things and redeem what seems to have gotten lost in the hustle and bustle and chaos of life.

Where do we get those eyes to see and that heart that longs for His coming?  How do we become like the widow in the Bible who stopped everything in life and went on an all-out-obsessive search for that one lost coin.  One. Lost. Coin!

How do we remind ourselves that Jesus and the Kingdom of God is that true pearl of great price and worth selling all to find the True Treasure!

How do we become like Simeon and Anna who watched and waited expectantly …longing to see the Messiah arrive!  How do we keep our eyes focused on what is unseen when what is seen is blasting before our eyes  in technicolor on prominently displayed flat screens every single day?

Eyes fixed on Jesus.  Hearts surrendered to His will.  Hands willing and ready to serve.  Loving deeply.  Forgiving quickly.   Watching for His coming.  Alert to the Holy Spirit’s voice and His activity.  Anticipating God’s redeeming power in every story.  Noticing His glory all around.  Praying always. Uncluttered.  Awake!

“To eyes that do see, it seems as though the final dice are being cast down here in the valley of death:  on the battlefields, in the cities of violence and poverty, in the souls of millions who live lives of desperation.   Those who are awake, however, sense the working of other powers — eternal realities, which shine their light of the radiant fulfillment to come.”

(Alfred Delp — When the Time Was FulfilledPlough Publishing)

Will you wait and watch with me?  Join me in this season of Advent.  Share your journey and what you see along the way!

Here’s one book I’m reading right now during the Advent season if you want to read along with me.   You can order a copy HERE.  I hope to share more resources along the way.    Waiting …Watching …Longing!

 

 

 

 

 

The Moses Clause ~ When God is Calling You to Step Out on a New Journey of Faith

 

New season.  New journey.  New uncertainties.

New implies there was an old –or former way of life.  The wind is changing direction and carrying you on a different path …unknown to you. Familiar is experiencing a reset.  A new starting line is being set in the race God has marked out for you.

Moses must have felt the hot, desert winds shift as they blew across the questioning, furrowed  lines of his forehead on his weathered face.  The journey out of Egypt had been  full of adventure but the  ongoing wandering around with thousands of people to look after was not for the faint of heart.  He was worn and weary.  It was time to move on but he knew he needed God’s supernatural help or he wasn’t going to make it.

God said,   “Get going, you and the people you brought up from the land of Egypt. Go up to the land I swore to give to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.”  

God goes on to say …”And I will send an angel before you to drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites.  Go up to this land that flows with milk and honey…” (from Exodus 33 NLT)

Moving on is a good thing, right!  A necessary path to the destination prayed for and longed for.  Healing steps in the right direction.  Letting go of anything holding you down and pressing on toward that new realm God  is calling you to.

But as the victory march was sounded, God said these shocking words that no one wanted to hear …

“But I will not travel among you, for you are a stubborn and rebellious people. ”  (Exodus 33:2 NLT)

What!!??  I can imagine myself coming out of my tent and stomping down the dusty road as I yelled out, “You mean You’re telling us to ‘Get going’ but You’re not going with us!?  What about the pillar of fire by night and the pillar of cloud by day?  We’re used to You being with us and showing us the way.  How will we know the direction to go without Your miraculous signage?”

Evidently Moses felt the same way. He interjected the conversation He and God were having with what I call, “The Moses Clause.”

Then Moses said, “If you don’t personally go with us, don’t make us leave this place. 16 How will anyone know that you look favorably on me—on me and on your people—if you don’t go with us? For your presence among us sets your people and me apart from all other people on the earth.” (Exodus 33:15-16 NLT)

He went on to plead with God from a very personal place of relationship and friendship …

 “You have been telling me, ‘Take these people up to the Promised Land.’ But you haven’t told me whom you will send with me. You have told me, ‘I know you by name, and I look favorably on you.’ 13 If it is true that you look favorably on me, let me know your ways so I may understand you more fully and continue to enjoy your favor. And remember that this nation is your very own people.” (Exodus 33:12-13 NLT)

And God heard Moses and his plea for help.  He saw the  longing in Moses for comfort in knowing his Friend and Father God would stay with him.  He responded to Moses’  need for security and affirmation with my favorite line in this conversation…

The Lord replied, “I will personally go with you, Moses, and I will give you rest—everything will be fine for you.”  (Exodus 33:14 NLT)

And who doesn’t need to hear those words of assurance when you’re starting a new journey!  The God of the universe promising to go with you as a personal Companion and Guide …giving rest to your weary, troubled heart and mind … assuring you that everything will be fine.

And maybe you’re in the same boat I’m in right now where God is saying, “Get going” on a new path He’s marked out for you–new job, ministry, season, calling.  Maybe you and I both need to know that with that new directive, God has already sent and angel before us to “drive out” our enemies — our insecurities, fears, anxieties… attacks from the enemy of our soul on our mental, physical and emotional well-being.   Oh yes, those too!

And maybe — just maybe — you need to hear that call again to get up and get going to that place God has called you to that will be flowing with the fruit He’ll produce as you step out  to obey and follow His lead.   Milk and honey blessings.  The Promised Land of opportunities …for our good and God’s glory.  A well of water springing up just beyond the gate… for  personal refreshing and to give that same refreshing, life-giving water to others.  God’s Kingdom come …His will being done in and through you.

I’m learning there’s no getting around it.  You have to go through it.  You and I have to get close enough to others so they can actually feel the heartbeat of Jesus beating through us.

For those of us stepping through an open gate into a new opportunity,  take comfort in knowing that our Father God knows us and calls us by name as we walk into this new open space.  His favor is already on us.

The Lord replied to Moses, “I will indeed do what you have asked, for I look favorably on you, and I know you by name.”

He has given His very own Word that will “prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”  We have everything we need  to accomplish His purposes while we’re in this place.  He promised He will never leave us to fend for ourselves.  God is our ever-present Companion, Guide, Comfort and Friend.

Take heart my friend.  We’re not alone.  God’s presence has gone before us to prepare the way and He will personally walk beside us with every step.  Walk through the gate into His promised land.  He’s already there …calling our name to come on through.

Top Photo taken at Ivy Green, the birthplace of Helen Keller, Tuscumbia, Alabama.
Bottom photo taken at the Huntsville Botanical Garden, Huntsville, Alabama.

 

Amending the Soil of My Soul

I love gardening.  Planting flowers and watching them grow and bloom into the beautiful creation of God they were meant to display brings joy to my heart.  However, planting flowers and watching them gradually slump as they gasp for air and nutrients, eventually turning brown and brittle– makes me  sad and frustrated.

I’ve gotten pretty good at figuring out the sun/shade factor when it comes to planting;  but the soil issue is another level beyond my limited horticultural expertise.   My front garden bed has …issues.  Clay soil.  Hard packed.  Tough as nails to weed.  Uninviting environment for  healthy plant life.

I’ve hemmed and hawed around this clay issue for the 5 years we’ve lived here until recently when my amazing husband  transformed our front walkway into a welcoming, cottage-like brick path.

Now the stakes were much higher!  This walkway needed to be paired with  beautiful, healthy plants gracing the soil it bordered. No garden of shame could live here.  The hard soil had to be dealt with.

My expert horticulturist, Beth, recommended amending the soil with coarse builder’s sand and pine bark soil conditioner as a mulch.  She also suggested waiting to plant anything in it until the soil had been …well, amended. Healthy. Fertile.

Waiting is hard.  I would rather have a quick fix like you see on the fixer-upper shows on HGTV.  Can’t we have perfect in one week and celebrate the miraculous transformation as fast as you can say, “Move that bus!”?

But then I received a  one-word writing prompt in my inbox –“soil”–  and the Holy Spirit took that little prompt and proceeded to use the hard, clay soil issue as a mirror to the issue that was going on in my own soul.  Ughhh… don’t you hate–I mean –love it when that happens!

Old wounds resurfaced like a drought-tolerant weed and with them– seeds of resentment, rejection and self-pity began to pack down the soil of my heart.  Before I knew it, I was consumed with unhealthy thoughts  of hurt and the self-centered, woe-is-me-thinking.

The problem with clay soil is the drainage.  When the rain and nutrients are poured in, they don’t soak in.  The soil doesn’t receive what it needs to stay soft.  It’s too hard-packed, often rejecting the good that is given unless …that gritty sand gets stirred in.

Sometimes it takes the gritty, hard truth to act as a catalyst for change.  Hard hearts need to be amended.  Wounds tend to pack down hard into the soul.  You can pour healthy nutrients  over it but they can’t penetrate.  Nothing good is produced.

But seeds of bitterness, resentment, and jealousy grow too well in the hard soil.  Rehearsing wrongs and disappointments and hurts help push them down a little deeper until they have a stronger hold.

I struggled this morning and wanted to let the weeds grow.  I didn’t want to pull them out.  I wanted to water them and nurture them.

The Holy Spirit  plowed a little deeper into the root of the problem. It turns out, clay is great for sculpting a shape of my own making.  God was calling it an idol.  I was seeking the approval of others — pleasing others …being liked by others–  more than the approval of my Creator God.

“…if pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant.” (Galatians 1:10 NLT)

Back to the soil …

According to dictionary.com, amended means  — to remove or correct faults in; rectify,” and in order to have the soil of my soul amended –these roots of wrong thinking would have to be removed …evicted from the garden of my heart.

I needed the Word of God to be the sand and tell me the nitty-gritty truth of where this was coming from.  The seeds of self-protection, people-pleasing and the need for approval had begun to take root.  I needed the Holy Spirit to water my soul and wash the seeds of weeds away.  I needed God’s Word to take deeper root and re-condition the soil.  I needed to receive the life-giving nutrients of His truth to amend my soul’s soil into soft, fertile ground.

The heart will take on the shape of your thoughts.  

My grandma Carrie used to tell me so-and-so had “hardening of the arteries” to describe their decline in health. Unhealthy thoughts, left unattended, can build up like plaque on the walls of the soul — narrowing the passage-way from the flow of  love … resulting in a  spiritual stroke or heart-attack.   Seeds of self-pity, resentment, jealousy, bitterness, anger, and selfish ambition can gradually build up until the life-giving blood flow is blocked.  The damage is hard to reverse.

But thanks be to God!  He has a way of working the soil of my soul  with His love  and grace …His mercy and truth.  

“For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him.” (Philippians 2:13 NLT)

In Christ, the hardening of the spiritual arteries  can be reversed.

 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols.

And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.

And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.”

Ezekiel 36:25-27 (NLT)

And as I  walked it out with Jesus this morning –telling Him all of my …ahem …troubles,  He gently spoke to me about the idol that I had built of seeking man’s approval and the need for  affirmation from others.  He reminded me to keep being about my Father’s business and stay on the path He had marked out for me.

I needed to ask for forgiveness. And the soil of my soul was amended as God took His loving hands and personally tilled up the hard places with His grace and truth.  And the Holy Spirit prompted again with a song I needed to hear…

“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.”

written by John Newton

And in an ironic twist, the prophet Jeremiah knew a little thing about clay as he talks of us being the clay and God, the Potter.  And since God is the Potter, He is able to take  our lumps of clay  and shape them into a thing of beauty for His glory to shine through.

“But the jar he was making did not turn out as he had hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.  Then the Lord gave me this message:  “O Israel, can I not do to you as this potter has done to his clay? As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand. “

from Jeremiah 18 (NLT)


In response to the daily prompt: Soil

In His Hands

There’s a story I feel like I need to tell you …

When I was around the age of 15, I had a very personal encounter with Jesus Christ.  Growing up in a family immersed in all things God related, it was no surprise that I knew of the  life-giving truth that Jesus came to offer all of us. My dad was a pastor.  We went to church Sunday morning, Sunday night and Wednesday night.  On other nights we participated in youth group activities and “visitation”–a term meaning we went out to visit others for encouragement, comfort, and to share the gospel of Jesus with them.

We lived close to the church where my dad was a pastor.  The school I attended was on the church property as well.  My life was literally immersed in the church and the ways of God.

Still, there had to be a time of personally owning what I was going to believe in.  I had to come to my own crisis of faith  to decide the direction I would take.

I followed along as a compliant child.  It was familiar to me.  It was all I had ever known.

As I remember the journey, I think I was around 14–almost 15– when I had a terrible dream.  I dreamed I was standing before a desk and a pastor I had loved and respected  who had already passed away was sitting  behind the desk.  He seemed to be looking at my life in the present moment and had found  something missing.  I wasn’t going to heaven.  It was as if they had  checked my status and I wasn’t  ready to meet Jesus.

That began a deep soul-searching and I found that in all my efforts to follow along with what my parents had taught me — do all the things Christians do, sing in the choir, tell everybody about Jesus, attend every church service, visit the shut-in’s,  be that “good-Christian-girl”– I still had to make a personal decision to follow Jesus.  I couldn’t follow on the coat-tails of my family and make it in.

I struggled with my pride.  How can I say I’m not a Christian when I’ve been acting like one for all these years?  and I’m the pastor’s daughter, for Pete’s sake!!  Pride almost held me.  I shudder to think that I almost let that fear of what others thought keep me from choosing life and peace with Jesus for now and eternity.

God won that victory for me.

He brought me to a place of surrender through the compelling power of the Holy Spirit.  I came home from school, told my Mama I needed to ask Jesus into my life and we knelt down beside the couch together …and I fell into the loving arms of my Savior as I gave my heart to Him.  He took me right in and I was at home with Him.

Within the next few hours,  I could tell something had changed within me.  I even noticed the leaves on the trees in a whole new light.  It  was as  if my eyes could really see.

The battle wasn’t over.  The enemy of my soul didn’t want me to enjoy this new freedom in Christ.  He threw doubt at me during the night hours when weakness often overcomes.  He wasn’t able to remove me from  this position in God’s family  but he sure wanted to keep me from any joy and peace and from any further fruit  developing.

God won that victory as well. 

The Holy Spirit took me to the words in John 10:28-29 …

And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish,
neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.

My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all;
and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.

John 10:28-29 (KJV)

It’s been many years since those first days of choosing to walk with Jesus.  There have been many battles and doubts and days of confusion.  But there has also been a deep, abiding peace in knowing and following Jesus and knowing He will never abandon me.  The Holy Spirit has had to remind me many times that I belong to the Father and He loves me dearly.  These verses, however, always bring  me back to  those early and fresh beginnings when the Father promised me that whatever is placed in His hands, no one  can ever “pluck them out .”

I’m holding on to that for dear life and I just wanted to tell you that tonight.

This is my story …this is my song …

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine!
Oh, what a foretaste of glory divine!
Heir of salvation, purchase of God,
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood.

This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long;
This is my story, this is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long.

Blessed Assurance
Frances J. Crosby

 

Pluck

A Rainy, Sunny Day {Finding Life :: A 30-Day Challenge}

The sky seemed mixed up today.  Rain. Sun. Raining while sunny.  A strange, beautiful, wonderful mix.

Life seems like that.  Some days, the weeping rain.  Other days, the joy of sunshine.  And some days, a mix of  the scattered clouds of uncertainties, the raining tears, and the smiles of sunshine after the rain.

And the interesting thing about the mix of rain and sunshine … joy and sorrow?  In the distant sky, God gives a rainbow as a promise …even if ever-so-slightly seen.

There will always be a mix but there will always be a promise.

Weeping may last through the night,
    but joy comes with the morning.

Psalm 30:5 NLT

Today’s Challenge:  What promise has God given you?  A mix is often in life’s forecast but take heart!  Don’t give up in the waiting.  Keep planting.  The harvest is coming!

Those who plant in tears
    will harvest with shouts of joy.
 They weep as they go to plant their seed,
    but they sing as they return with the harvest.

Psalm 126:5-6 NLT


#Day29 ~ Finding Life :: A 30-Day Challenge 

When You’re Looking for Life After the Death of Someone You Love

It was a simple gift of a hibiscus plant from a friend …to bring God’s comfort “when I miss my Mama’s voice”.  It seems the voice of the Holy Spirit would  be the voice I would hear whispering to me –unfolding a bit of a story through this God-created-visual of life and death.

hibiscus fotor

Every day it seems there is an ever flowing cycle in this plant.  It’s as if when one is gently laid to rest, another one blooms …and still others are beginning the budding process–preparing for their big entrance under the sun. And the seed planted has given birth and rooted and the nutrients are strong and pushing up through the stems into the miraculous budding and blooming of new flowers.  The cycle continues.  Life. Death. Life…

There is still more life to come …more unfolding of His grace for others to see.  There’s beauty in the process that results in quite the brilliant display of His splendor …but the birth of life is not easy.  

I experienced that pain on December 5, 2000 when my Dad breathed his last breath here on earth and was birthed into heaven’s glory.  His solid-and-secure presence was the strong structure for our family.  I had never lost a parent before.  It was terribly painful.  

We grieved deeply and yet  we were also relieved that his struggle with Parkinson’s Disease was over — his struggle with the shell of this earthly  tent that had begun to wear extremely thin …no longer able  to give the healthy protection and covering that was needed.  Just as creation groans in expectation, we also groan in the waiting for the redemption of our bodies.  {Romans 8:18-27, NIV}

Death.

But  a gift from God came during that season of grieving death …a promise of hope … a phrase I’ve hung on to since that day.  

You see, our youngest son had evidently been  listening  as the stories continued to be shared of the hope we have that his Papa was secure in the arms of Jesus in heaven because of his personal decision to receive the Savior’s gift of love and forgiveness.  On one average-normal-ordinary-kind-of-day about two weeks after my Dad’s funeral, Ben came into the kitchen and asked how he could know he was going to heaven …like Papa.  We weren’t having any kind of “spiritual” conversation at the moment –no devotions …no intentional prayer time — just  walking together throughout the day.

In a very matter-of-fact-kind-of -way,  I tried to simply explain  the beautiful story of how Jesus loves us …how He died on the cross for us to  save us from our sins and give us hope and life with Him both now and forever–including the promise of heaven one day …just like Papa had experienced.  I’m not sure all of the words I spoke but I think it included something about praying to Jesus to accept Him …personally making that decision to trust Him.  I’m not even sure my words were very clear but obviously there was something going on that the Holy Spirit was doing that was speaking in ways I could not.  

He ran to his room, laid face-down on his bed and began having his own personal prayer time with Jesus to invite Him into his life!  The Holy Spirit spoke life into his life  and life into mine as well with this truth…

God always gives life after death.

The impact of these words were so strong that I found myself in later situations  looking for the “life” after any “death” that had come.   Seeing this new life in Jesus that our son was beginning was the LIFE after the death of my dad.   One life passed; another  life was beginning.

Life.

On  June 9, 2016 I experienced another deep loss.  My sweet and precious Mama went home to be with Jesus.  It seemed she had been hovering between here and eternity for the last few months and just one day shy of her 93rd birthday, it was her turn to breath heaven’s air along with my Dad.  We sang her into heaven …loving on her and kissing her while she passed peacefully from one shore to the next.  The hundreds of little notes she had written and stuffed in every book and note pad within reach speaking volumes about her love for Jesus and her longing to be with Him was now written in stone.

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Her life always pointed to Jesus …the Author and Finisher of her faith–and her life was written on our hearts with a love that will endure for all time and eternity.  

While I am so happy for her and the final freedom and peace she is enjoying, my heart has a pain so deep I can hardly breath at times.  I keep trying to find encouragement by reading the  little “book” she wrote –her thoughts and prayers penned on hundreds of little scraps of paper …

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As the days after her passing seem to pass so slowly and the plodding through life here seems to be painstakingly slow, I found myself looking for the LIFE!  Hadn’t Jesus promised me He always gives life after any death?  The truth is, when you hurt so deeply it’s hard to see any life.  Your world gets wrapped up in the grieving and the pain and the heaviness of heart that seems to be sinking you deeper by the day.  

But there’s always life …

And on June 23rd, ironically just two weeks after Mom’s death, God brought life through her granddaughter–our oldest daughter, Carrye–in the form of her first published book, Gray Faith…God using her own little scraps of thoughts and life experiences scribbled out in journals over the years to bring life and hope to others who might be wrestling with their own faith.  

And the love of Jesus my Mom and Dad walked out in this life would  filter down through the generations to their children and grand-children and great-grandchildren and Jesus would birth LIFE from the seed planted … to produce many seeds for His glory. (John 12:24, NIV)

And my brother had prayed it …had prayed that as Mom passed from this earth that her “mantle” and a “double portion of her spirit” would fall  on her family left here on earth–just like God did for Elisha as he watched Elijah cross over. (See II Kings 2, KJV) And I began to see the birthing of life after this death that  completely crumbled  my world and left me feeling “life-less”.  God was continuing the beautiful work that He had started  and was not leaving us without a blessing and a hope.  

With this hope–even in the deep pain of our grief– we carry on until all of us who are born of the Spirit are forever with the Great Shepherd and Keeper of our souls — Jesus Christ.

*You can order your own copy of the life-giving book “Gray Faith” HERE  🙂

Finding Home

Finding Home …

There’s a weaving and a wandering to life with many twists and turns along the way.  The highways become like the tape of a reel-to-reel motion picture with a cast of actors merging on and exiting off at different mile markers.

In the coming and going, finding home seems hard.  You lose your compass or in a moment of frustration, you throw it out the window.

Where is true North or does it even exist?  The familiar landmarks get torn down and you find yourself looking for that ancient path that leads you home …the path marked out for you.

And in the search to dig down roots, the voice of the Father says, “You’re going to be mobile.”  It didn’t make sense then.  It does now.

The coming …the going.  The leaving …the staying.  The settling in …the building of homes …planting gardens …growing relationships … all mixed together with leave it all and “follow Me.”

And life becomes more like my  “Purple Heart-Wandering Jew Plant”always meandering about, but always looking up — stretching  toward the Light with hopes of blooming wherever planted!

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For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come.

Hebrews 13:14 (NLT)

Finding beauty in every place under the heavens you might find yourself residing…

From birdhouses outside the assisted living home where mama lives …

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to butterfly bushes along the sidewalk trail at a state welcome center …

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…trusting the Father to equip you with every good thing needed for the journey.  Living all out yet being all in…

Now may the God of peace—
    who brought up from the dead our Lord Jesus,
the great Shepherd of the sheep,
    and ratified an eternal covenant with his blood—
21 may he equip you with all you need
    for doing his will.
May he produce in you,
    through the power of Jesus Christ,
every good thing that is pleasing to him.
    All glory to him forever and ever! Amen.

Hebrews 13:20-21 (NLT)

And the words of Jim Elliot  become another deeply embedded carry-on to always-feeling-at-home  …

Wherever you are, be all there.

Jim Elliot

…embracing others along the way as brothers or sisters on a similar journey who need to be noticed, heard, loved, encouraged.  A word spoken here …a word spoken there …planting seeds of hope and healing …Life!   Finding wherever you are right now is always a significant  place to be… rest stops, gas stations, auto repair shops, fast food stops, back yards or front porches or any place someone calls “home”. 

…hearing the voice of God in surroundings and responding to His nudge.  Realizing every place is a possibility to give hope and healing as well as  receive His surprise gifts that might be needed for  today’s journey.

The weaving …the wandering …the fullness of joy!

And the planned destinations don’t always satisfy.  It’s the holy moments along the way that breathe life and contentment …the unexpected detours and the scenic overlooks …the miracles from the Father,  hand-picked just for you.

And the truth in finding God is everywhere! Enjoying His presence that fills every crack and crevice in the universe …finding there’s no place you can ever travel that His presence doesn’t go with you …filling every space…speaking from every platform whether brick and mortar or grassy mound or waters deep.  There’s always something to hear for the listening ear.

And anywhere can become a sanctuary to enjoy His presence …

From my brother and sis-in-law’s lush Australian “Garden-of-Eden-like” back yard   …

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to a metal chair surrounded by concrete and cinder block walls …

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His voice is heard all around.  Listening …hearing the birds sing His praises …feeling the breeze blow across your face…letting the sun warm your being and knowing “every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” James 1:17 (NIV)

And always having a soundtrack playing in the background  …filling your soul and letting your soul feel at home…the scores of notes and melodies carrying you along the road of life!

…being with others and witnessing the glorious moments between here and eternity.  …a week here — a week there …and  many stops in between.  And there’s a comfort in His presence that allows a sweet comfort in the presence of others.

And Jesus!  …finding He’s the only One who will truly never leave you or abandon you.  He’s always there.  He’s your traveling Buddy and  place of rest at every spot  you lay your head.

The anxieties are still real.  The ache and pain of loss are sometimes more than you feel you can bear.   There’s no  formula– just the latest chapter in the journey but the story is not finished yet.

 “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you his peace at all times and in every situation. The Lord be with you all.”

II Thessalonians 3:16 (NLT)

And finding the bottom line is this …

Find your home-place and  really live there.  Everything you need will be provided for the journey.   Wherever that is, be all there, enjoying the sanctuary of His presence with Bible and coffee in hand.  It will sustain you through it all.  Make your own  playlist as a sound track for the road ahead.  And Jesus …well, He’s a necessary traveling Companion. Stay with Him. Take His Name with you. Never leave home without Him.  He’ll be your Mainstay.  Follow the path He has for you and always listen for His voice.  He’ll be the one to tell you, “This is the way. Walk ye in it!”

Take the name of Jesus with you,Child of sorrow and of woe;It will joy and comfort give you,Take it then where'er you go.Chorus-Precious name, oh how sweet!Hope of earth and joy of heav'n;Precious name, oh how sweet

Thanks for reading my latest pondering!  I’d love to know what you’ve found to make you feel at home along the journey.  Do tell!  I just might need more help ! 😉

Song Credit:  “Take the Name of Jesus With You” by Lydia Baxter (Public Domain)

Living Between Here and Eternity

A friend texted me one day while I was out-of-town and asked if I was writing.  My response was simple:  “I’m writing memories.”  My normal routine is to write here at least once a week but it’s been at least 3 weeks since my last post.  Life has interesting twists …

A couple of weeks ago we loaded up our truck like the Beverly Hillbillies and started off on a long trip to New England …stopping for a  wedding along the way and then continuing on our way to the Northeast for  another wedding of a dear friend and some sweet time with our two daughters, their husbands and 4 of our 6 grands …and life was grand!

Weddings and my Ramblin Man  in a suit! … and babies and conversations on kitchen floors and around dining tables and on winding trails  …and laughter and visiting dear friends and wiffle ball …and walks together and worship and building tepees and  a grandbaby’s spiritual dedication  …and putting my feet in the soul-healing waters of the Salmon River and the beauty of New England in the spring …oh the joy!

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And then the call came as if from another season of life altogether …my 92-year-old mom was having a major health episode. She was unresponsive.  Within a few hours everything had changed.  Laughter had turned to tears. Uncertainty hung in thick clouds– saturated …the deluge sure to come.  Waves of emotions …wanting to be here and yet longing to be there.  A heart torn as a sobbing 6-year-old grandchild held on to us for dear life while at the same time  looking at  pictures sent to me  on my cell phone of my own mother trying to hold on for her own dear life.

And it seems we’re always torn between life and death … the here and the there.   With every open door we step through there seems to be one closing behind it.  We navigate between here and eternity …one foot here …the other on heaven’s shores.  Life seems to meander between the two as we see with our eyes what is here but get glimpses of what is to come…the glory and mystery of it all flowing together in “ceaseless praise.“*

We loaded up our truck yet again but this time with a different kind of anticipation.  The mix of emotions between weddings and now a possible funeral…the swings of life that leave you nauseous.  The longing to be there right alongside the agony of maybe I can’t handle this after all…maybe it’s too much …too hard …too painful.

With a long drive and little sleep, we arrived in time.  Life was fragile but holding on.   God’s timing can be both interesting and quite mysterious.

With family all around, Mom would rally back to the land of the living.

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And my thoughts continue to rally around the thought of the seasons of life …from seeing a newborn baby to another beginning the birthing process into eternity.  It’s always about letting go.  As a baby comes into this world, mamas have to let go and release them to breathe the air of this world.  As we watch someone we love begin the birthing process into eternity, we have to let go yet again and release them to breathing new air –the breath of heaven!

I’ve never been good at letting go.  I hold on to all that’s dear to me with a white-knuckle-grip.  Living and loving deeply leaves deep grooves engraved on the heart that mighty rivers can’t re-route.

Peace has come in knowing that many years ago my mom put her trust–and ultimately her whole life–in the hands of Jesus Christ for His saving grace.  She’s held securely in His arms.  She said she’s waiting on God to take her home …her true home where all is at rest and she’ll finally see Jesus face to face.  All over her room are little notes she’s written about her love for Jesus …  “My Jesus, I love Thee.”  She’s ready for new air …trading the air from an oxygen tank to pure air made by God Himself.

We wait with her for that glorious birth.  While we wait we sing … and pray …and hold hands …and speak love …and hug and kiss … and watch and wait together.

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One of her med-tech/care-givers at Carolina Gardens Assisted Living sent me a few lines from Don Wyrtzen’s song, “Finally Home”  saying, it “fits Rev. and Mrs. Waters’ reunion to be” since my dad’s birth into heaven was over 15 years ago.  Mom’s story is still being written. God is not quite finished with her work here on earth and He is  doing a work in me as I’m learning to lean into His embrace and rest there as the journey unfolds.  It seems letting go of anything ultimately means grabbing the hand of the Father and holding on for dear life.

I’m holding on …

When surrounded by the blackness of the darkest night,
Oh how lonely death can be,
At the end this long tunnel is a shinning light,
For death is swallowed-up in Victory, (Victory!)

But just think of stepping on shore-And finding it Heaven!
Of touching a hand-And finding it God’s!
Of breathing new air-And finding it celestial!
Of waking up in glory-And finding it home!

Finally  Home!
by  Don Wyrtzen

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The faithful love of the Lord never ends!
    His mercies never cease.
Great is his faithfulness;
    his mercies begin afresh each morning.
I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance;
    therefore, I will hope in him!”

Lamentations 3:22-24 (NLT)

You can listen to the song, “Finally Home” Here

*”Ceaseless Praise”:  From the  hymn “Take My Life and Let it Be”

Words cannot express how much we appreciate and love the caregivers, med-techs, staff and administration at Carolina Gardens Senior Living in South Carolina. They have become family to us.

Hosanna! Save us!

-See, your King comes to you ...

If you’re on the 40 day journey to the Cross, we’re coming to the last  week of Lent and the Biblical calendar reminds us of that final  week before the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ–Holy Week .   Palm Sunday is a day of remembrance  and celebration.  It’s a day to remember and retell the story of  Jesus  riding into Jerusalem  as people  lined the streets, spreading  their cloaks and palm branches as a sign of victory and triumph to honor the King …Jesus Christ.

 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

 “Say to Daughter Zion,
    See, your king comes to you,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
    and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.

Matthew 25 (NIV)

The air must have been filled with excitement as the people longingly looked for someone to ride in and save the day…the volume and intensity in their voices raising with each palm branch waved.

The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!”

“Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Hosanna“save, we pray”!  Like most of us, all those gathered were most likely desperate for something …longing to be saved from something or someone.   Author and pastor, Bill Hybels, says it this way …

But everyone who lined the streets had a different reason for waving those palms. Some were political activists; they’d heard Jesus had supernatural power, and they wanted him to use it to free Israel from Roman rule. Others had loved ones who were sick or dying. They waved branches, hoping for physical healing. Some were onlookers merely looking for something to do, while others were genuine followers who wished Jesus would establish himself as an earthly king. Jesus was the only one in the parade who knew why he was going to Jerusalem – to die. He had a mission, while everyone else had an agenda.

–Bill Hybels

Jesus knew His purpose for being there and He  was definitely passionate about it!  As everyone cheered loudly, “Hosanna {save us!}”,  Jesus knew that was exactly what He was headed down the road to do–in the only way He knew it could be done.

Hosanna! Save us!

I’m finding myself in the crowd lining the streets and I’m crying out to Jesus …”Hosanna! Save, I pray! Save ME from my sins that so easily entangle me …anxiety that grips like a choke hold on my throat,  too much attention on me and my own needs!”

As I see my own sins and weaknesses, I realize how they spread themselves like a cloak on those around me, creating disaster and chaos of every kind. This anxiety and selfish ambition will do that every time, you know.   Relationships are stretched beyond normal limits and strain  under the pressure.  I need King Jesus!  Like  David in the Psalms, my sins are ever before me and what I really want to do is lay them down to be crushed  by the mighty Savior, Jesus.  And I find this thing I’m waving looks more like a white flag of surrender than a palm branch.

Have mercy on me, O God,
    because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion,
    blot out the stain of my sins.
 Wash me clean from my guilt.
    Purify me from my sin.

Psalm 51 (NLT)

It seems as I cry out, “Hosanna!  Save me!” from myself,  it’s also a good time to cry out for my people here in America as well –especially during this critical time in our country …

Then if my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sins and restore their land.

II Chronicles 7:14 (NLT)

Fast forward to the Presidential campaign trail of 2016.  With a donkey and an elephant as the “beasts of burdens”, many are lining the streets–waving their fists and jumping on bandwagons of philosophy and opinion.  While many are looking to be “saved” from something broken in this world, agendas and judgments are being strewn all over– trying to find a place to land and mark a path for the rising ruler.

There is anxiety  and distress in our country and in the church and frustration over the options. Some are grabbing one part of goodness in one candidate in hopes to overshadow the glaring faults in another. Some shift their loyalty trying to find the better deal.  Some are opting out all together.

Rewind back to that first Palm Sunday …

Jesus … riding into Jerusalem to begin His last week on earth — His ultimate mission to  save us …from ourselves!  His mission was clear then. His mission is clear now!  I will lay down my fears before Him and let Him trample them in victory.  His rule will never end .

I have a simple theology–Jesus is the  Eternal King and He is in charge of everything.  I will do my part to pray diligently and  vote for the candidate that is closest to His heart but I have to trust the sovereign hand of my Father in Heaven to keep this ship upright until He turns the world upside down at His return.

Jesus is the ultimate King of kings and Lord of lords (Rev. 19:16 NLT).

Jesus trumps all others.

God have mercy on us all!  Join me in this prayer as we come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.” (Hebrews 4:16 NLT)