Arise, Darling! Winter is Over!

We only have one that pops up in our garden each spring. But it only takes one to make me squeal like a three-year-old …

“Look! The daffodil has bloomed!”

Daffodils are one of my favorites. They are the first to bloom around here. With their perky heads and sunny faces, they trumpet promises of warmth and renewal.

2017 May 22 Daffodil

Photo courtesy of Aaron Burden @ Unsplash

God’s promises are like that, too. They trumpet hope like water in the desert, color after a long grey winter, warmth after a bone-deep chill, the beginning of a new productive season. God’s promises are like that because like the flowers we count on to bloom every spring, so God is unchanging and faithful. We can count on His promises because we can count on Him.

Yes, His promises reveal much about His character:

He’s not slow—He’s patient.
He’s bigger than any giant—and He uses the subtlest weapons.
There’s hope beyond our current difficulties—He’s with us in our difficulties.
There’s always a bigger picture—an eternal purpose.

But did you know …

His promises also reveal much about our character?

May 22 God's promises are meaningless unless they've been tested.

For example:

His promise to never leave us or abandon us (Hebrews 13:5) doesn’t much matter until we’re in a place where He seems to have vanished. We can’t see Him, hear Him, or feel Him. It’s at this point we have to discover if we trust Him even then. It’s at this point we have a choice: to let our trust grow or falter.

What about His promise to prosper us and not harm us, to give us a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11)? Do we look at our future through the lens of our circumstances today or through His Word?

Then there’s His promise that nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). How many times have we allowed death or life, principalities or powers, present circumstances or fear of the future, convince us otherwise?

Oh, and the one we all think we’ve passed when in truth we have failed over and over. Whoever believes in Jesus will have everlasting life (John 3:16). How many times have we acted as if our salvation depended on our performance—as if it’s something to be earned?

And there’s other promises we often fail to believe when tested. I can do all things through Christ (Philippians 4:13). He will supply all our needs (Philippians 4:19). The joy of the Lord is our strength (Nehemiah 8:10). And how about, He will give life to our mortal bodies (Romans 8:11)?

I find that it’s easy to perk up when we recite God’s promises—that is until those …

promises experience a hard freeze.

And for me, mothering unattached children frequently blew the door wide open to wintry blasts. But you know what? Though I doubted, I clung like crazy to God’s promises.

I’d like to say those promises have evolved over the years. The way they materialized in the end sure looked a lot differently than I expected at the beginning. But the truth is, the promises didn’t change. My understanding of them did. My mind—my heart—is what has been transformed. And I can tell you now, the scent of those promises is much sweeter than I ever imagined.

So what’s popped up in your garden this spring?

Have you considered

… the effort it took for that sprout to push through the soil? Have you pondered what it might be like to endure a long, cold winter, buried in darkness? Do you realize that near death had to happen for new life to grow?

Oh, but you’ve experienced these things haven’t you? Yes, me, too. And that’s why we take the time to stop, gaze, touch, inhale deeply, and praise the Creator as we see His promises blossom into new life before us.

Like Solomon,

Jesus invites us to enter His spring.

May we follow.

 

“Arise, my darling,
    my beautiful one, come with me.
See! The winter is past;
    the rains are over and gone.
Flowers [daffodils?] appear on the earth;
    the season of singing has come,
the cooing of doves
    is heard in our land.
The fig tree forms its early fruit;
    the blossoming vines spread their fragrance.
Arise, come, my darling;
    my beautiful one, come with me.”

Song of Songs 2:10-13, NIV

Calling the Monsters Out

We sat around a beautiful hardwood dining room table.

Six of us with stomachs stuffed full of egg casserole, muffins, and fruit. A vase of flowers and a tempting dish of m&ms remained on the table. Our china cups recently refilled with fresh coffee. We met like this monthly, each woman sharing updates on the progress—or lack thereof—of her children.

0410 brooke-lark-96402photo courtesy of Brooke Lark @ Unsplash

One mom shared of the ways her near-adult son was taking advantage of her and her husband’s generosity. Disrespecting. Deceiving. Demanding. Where should she draw the line? How could she protect her sanity while trying to keep peace in the home? What should she do about her husband who continuously gave in to the demands?

I finally asked her,

What is it you fear the most?

Continue reading “Calling the Monsters Out”

When Foundations Are Messy

The Originator of life stood resolute. Heartbroken, but resolute. He loathed what He had to do. But do it, nevertheless, He would. Love demanded He do so.

He would take them seemingly backwards—as if before the beginning of time. Back where rebellion was cast down—banished from perfection—exiled from His presence. He would drive them from the garden—His children no longer having a home.

But love would allow, that unlike Lucifer, someday these creatures of the dust would have opportunity to return.

To repent.

To turn around and come back home. Not back to the garden. Rather, to a new home. Where moth and rust could not destroy. Where grace and truth would illumine the halls. Where love and peace and joy would adorn the walls.

And so it began.

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Laying a groundwork that made sense to these dust-filled minds, called for stories. Stories and stories, laid like stone upon stone. Each stone-story allowed evil to show it’s true face. Abel and Cain revealed murder and abolishment. The sons of Cain and Seth multiplied and grew so vile God ordered a total washing. This cleansing was an important part of the story but it allowed evil to think it had won. So God vowed to never flood the earth again, giving wickedness room to continue to draw many away from Him. And so many began to claim someone other than God as their father.

Oh how the Father’s heart hurt! Though the children thought they knew great pain, none felt the pain the Father did. None wanted to gift love in a way the children could absorb deep into their souls—only to have attempted gift-givings scorned and rejected. And so He continued laying the groundwork—letting the story play out, scene by excruciating scene.

Two thousand years into the story the Father began to call out a son through Abraham. And the story narrows, separating evil from good. And in His goodness, Abba began to show His own face.

As Jehovah Jireh, He abundantly provided—even when a wasteland was all that could be seen.
As Jehovah Rapha, He healed every wound and disease—applying balm to afflictions of the heart.
As Jehovah Nissi, He became their banner—their rallying cry, the standard that ignited allegiance, and the confidence that victory was certain.
As Jehovah Mekoddishkem, He set His children apart and made them holy—and wholly His.
As Jehovah Shallom, He bestowed a peace that passed understanding.
As Jehovah Sabaoth, He fought and won every single battle His children faced—as long as they obediently trusted Him.
As Jehovah Raah, He shepherded them—holding the young ones close, guiding, protecting, and feeding.
And as Jehovah Tsidkenu, He provided the sacrifice in Himself—paving the path to righteousness with His own blood.

He was all these things and more. Yet to truly know Him as such, these children had to suffer. They had to learn to need Him—desperately so. Because He had created them in His image, they were strong and capable, wise and loving. It would take hard, hard lessons for them to learn that though beautiful and resilient, without Him they were marred and lusterless; inept and insufficient.

And so, these children repeated the cycle:

obedience … abundance …

self-reliance … rebellion …

punishment … brokenness …

repentance … obedience.

Over and over. The Father had to allow this pattern to turn into a familiar story. The stone-stories: generation after generation, layer after layer. For another one thousand years.

And then in silence He let it sit. Four hundred years of settling—like petrified wood. A foundation. Rock solid. Glazed in tragic beauty.

Ready, this foundation had a hole in it. A Messiah-shaped hole. Soon the silence would be broken and the Chief Cornerstone would be placed. And a new building would arise.

A building of living stones. A temple—a permanent dwelling for God to be with—IN—His people. A HOME for the Father and His children to dwell—to commune and laugh and eat bread and drink cup—for eternity. Eternity—the front side of the story started long ago. The completion of cycling. (But not the end to the stories.)


Before we get too excited about the redemptive side of parenting (the finishing work) we need to first talk about the foundational part of parenting. That part where we watch our children experience for themselves the stories that lay the groundwork for everything else.

The learning to trust Mommy and Daddy would provide for their every need. That booboos would be kissed and bandages applied. That family provided an identity and a place to belong. Slapping hands taught boundaries. Disobedience led to discipline. Obedience brought reward. Truth and grace. Independence yet reliance. Numbers and ABC’s, colors and shapes—building blocks for the quickly growing mind.

These are the stones we expect to place in our children’s lives. We were prepared to do so. But what happens when someone else has laid that foundation? What happens when that foundation is sandy in places and glass-sharp in others. A foundation that’s uneven and causes our children to stumble. A foundation cracked and fractured by years of instability. What then?

These are the foundations my children had laid in their lives. How I longed to bring in the jackhammer, drill it all up and start over. But that was impossible. As I moved across the floors of their lives, I too often stumbled. I too was lacerated by the jagged pieces of their souls. I reacted in anger at something they very well had no control over. And truth is, neither did I.

No, but what I could do was do a little sanding down, leveling out, and filling in. And it took years. Years! I’m not sure I witnessed stabilization until my children were well into adulthood. Sometimes they—we—still stumble a bit.

So what was the sander, the equalizer, the filler I used?

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Truth. God’s truth. Truth about Him and all He could, and would, do in their lives—with and without me. Truth about the real enemy—and the limit of his reach. Truth that God was their Father—always had been; always would be. Truth about God calling me to be their mom. Truth about God’s love for me and His enabling power to accomplish the tasks He’d placed before me.

Truth found in Scripture! God’s promises. God’s heart. God’s rock-solid faithfulness.

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.”
Matthew 7:24-25 (NIV)

When God Became a Father

He wanted more. He wanted something else. Though surrounded by a multitudinous army who unceasingly lavished Him with resounding praise, He craved a smaller audience—an audience of one. Someone He could talk to—face-to-face, soul-to-soul. In a intimate place … like … a garden.

And so He dreamed and planned and designed. And out of nothing, using only words, He created a home—an explosion of microscopic grandeur. But this one—soul of His soul, breath of His breath—He formed intricately, purposefully, with His own hands.

And He became a Father.

In a single moment, He knew love.

feb-6-2017-in-a-single-moment

Joy of joys! Better than merely “good”! One of His heart!

He called this one Adam. Man. Red from the earth. A name to remind this one that without the breath of God, he would cease to be—he would return to dust.

He provided for this Adam a beautiful garden, supplied with every item the dust part of him required for survival. And He provided His own presence, necessary for the God part of him to thrive.

He assigned Adam a job: tend the garden.

He warned Adam of the one choice that would siphon his breath and doom him back to dust. He protected Adam, as long as he said no to that one choice.

Father wanted man to love Him back—if even a fraction. He wanted this child to experience the same ecstasy He felt. And so He secreted His presence from man—a divine hide-and-seek—hoping Adam would long for Him and seek him out. And, like any good father, He always allowed man to find Him.

He left that one tree to test man’s love. Would Adam trust Him enough to choose obedience? Would Adam look at everything God had provided for him and know deep satisfaction? Would Adam crave the presence of God above all else?

But if, heaven forbid, Adam chose the one thing God forbade, then God was ready. Man would have to leave the garden—banished from His tangible presence. But some day He’d provide a way back. It would be a long journey, but Father knew the way.

He would always be Father. He would always provide—though now that provision would require toil and bitterness. He would always protect—though sometimes His ways would seem cruel. He would always warn and instruct and guide—reducing His love to a set of laws and consequences. He would have to enforce these laws because man would fail—over and over and over.

Eventually, He would surrender His own breath so man could be redeemed. But He would revive and send it forth again as a Spirit. His very Spirit would breathe renewal to the Father-child communion He’d always longed for. And once again, Father would embrace His children. Though marred and scarred, they’d be back. Back in His arms.

And that’s all that mattered.


I don’t know what kind of human father you had. No matter how wonderful, or how horrible, he can’t begin to compare to Father God.

Father God designed you, created you, and named you His own special name. He walks with you, plays hide-and-seek with you, and stirs a longing for Him deep within your soul.

He provides for your every need. He guides you, instructs you, expects obedience of you, and disciplines you. He knows your frailties, and understands you are but dust.

He died for you, forgave you, rose again for you, and redeemed you. He set things right for you and now dwells moment-by-moment with you.

He comforts you, holds you, sings over you, and assures you.

You are His joy of joys, apple of His eye, breath of His breath, love of His love.

You are His child.

2017-feb-6-father-and-child

We all watch ourselves parent just like we were parented. Don’t we? Unfortunately, our parents fell short—some more than others—leaving us less than adequate models to follow. But God in Himself has provided a better—a perfect—example. To become the best moms possible, we need to study how God parents.

For the next several weeks, we’ll look at God’s role as Father in the Bible. I have a feeling we’ll find that God didn’t necessarily employ a set of skills or follow a list of “how to’s”. I think we’ll find He parented out of the deep recesses of His heart.

I don’t know about you, but I love delving deep into God’s heart and learning what makes it tick. So, pull out your shovels, and let’s dig in. We’ll start next week, going back to just after the very beautiful-but-sad beginning. We’ll look at the ways God parented the children He’d just kicked out of their garden home. Though they may not always have known it, He did not send them out alone.

I look forward to discovering with you what He was up to.

So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

And God said, “See, I have given you every herb that yields seed which is on the face of all the earth, and every tree whose fruit yields seed; to you it shall be for food. Also, to every beast of the earth, to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so. Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.

Genesis 1:27-31 NIV

 

Even When it Hurts

It was my first birthday as an empty-nester. My husband took the day off work and planned a fun-filled day. A homemade breakfast with fruit, scones, and clotted cream. A visit to a butterfly garden and a conservatory where we discovered a bonsai tree as old as I was. A picnic lunch and later dinner at The Cheesecake Factory. What a splendid day.

Mostly.

No one else remember my birthday that year. No cards or calls from my parents, sisters, or kids. This was very odd – never happened before or since. But at some point midday one child did text me a pleasant birthday greeting.

As we texted back and forth, this child little-by-little began sharing their grievances. They reported how they were seeking counseling … and the counselor felt they suffered from post traumatic stress disorder … a result of trauma in Russia … and in our home … and … I began to sense the conversation taking a turn in a direction that didn’t seem very celebratory. So, I finally said, “It sounds like you have some things you need to share with Dad and I. Why don’t you put it in an email and we’ll get back to you in a few days.”

I knew I needed to offer an open heart – just not on my birthday.

The letter came and we got slammed pretty hard. This was not the first time one of my children had sent a harsh letter. By this point in my parenting experience I had learned the importance of these letters. They were never easy to read. They hurt. But they also communicated hope.

Like puking – my children were getting toxicity out of their systems. Once it’d been shared – and (gross as it sounds) received – the poison lost its power. Continuing with this analogy, if you’ll bear with me, I didn’t have to ingest what they spewed at me. I could receive it, but I didn’t have to take it in. Sometimes I had to be like an armadillo – with a hard exterior while maintaining a soft interior.

I’d learned that if my children sensed I wouldn’t listen, or feared I would only come back at them with parenting rhetoric, they would have kept silent. They shared their pain because they wanted to know if I really cared.

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In truth, they wanted a relationship with me. If they hadn’t, they would have walked away and I’d have never heard from them again. Their harsh words were an attempt to get painful memories out of the way of a positive relationship.

I learned that it accomplished nothing to try and set the record straight. Their perspective may have been totally wrong, but it was reality to them.

At the same time, I didn’t apologize for something I didn’t do, or for something I did that before God believed was right. But I at least learned to say, “I’m sorry you’re hurting.” Or “I’m sorry for the ways I hurt you (without agreeing to their specific offenses). Will you please forgive me?” Because the truth is, I did plenty to hurt my children outside their list of offenses.

And I also learned to say, “Thank you for sharing your heart with me.” Because as cutting as their words were, they were still a gift. My children were facing pain in their lives – a healthy thing for them to do. They couldn’t begin healing if they kept past hurts stuffed in the back corners of their hearts.

If your children at hurling angry, hurtful words at you, I have a feeling that deep inside they are pleading, “I hurt and I need a mommy to care.

january-2-2017-listen

It may be time to crawl into your armadillo suit and let them spew. Don’t correct – right now, anyway. Just receive. Say thank you, and then give yourself time and space to recover.

You may need to revisit the conversation at some point. I never did. I believed the most important thing for me to do was to really listen.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.
James 1:19 (NIV)

Like Mini-Cupcakes

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Oh my word! Making changes is like trudging through three feet of snow: fun, clean, promising, but slow and oh so difficult! Have you any idea what sort of new things a writer has to learn? Mercy me!

But listening to the Lord and following His lead, that’s become a little easier. The other day I read in Rick Renner’s book, Sparkling Gems from the Greek,* an explanation of the word “led” – as in, “For all who are being led by the Spirit of God …” (Romans 8:14, NASB). This word “led” means to fall in line behind. That grabbed my attention.

For some reason I always thought being led by the spirit meant to listen and then go do – like a homework assignment to go off and do all by yourself. Oh my goodness, how much of a relief this gem is to me! Sure I need to listen, and I need to make choices to obey, but I’m not alone as I go forth in obedience. I simply get to step in line and follow the Leader.

Doesn’t that sound so much more doable to you?

And it fits so perfectly with my word for the year. I love the way the Lord is bringing this word, listen alive for me already in the first few weeks of the year.

So as I try to follow the Lord through this huge techy snowbank before me, He has already given me a few exciting opportunities to share His love with other audiences this year. The first one came up rather suddenly.

I got to write for a website called Defying Shadows. This site offers biblical encouragement to those cowering in the shadows – people dealing with mental illness, eating disorders, and other debilitating issues that cause one to want to hide. Defying Shadows has taken on the challenge of exploring the Bible verses that contain the words or idea to “fear not.” The Bible references this directive 365 times – once for every day of the year. The way this group is approaching this study is to invite volunteers to take an assigned verse and share what God is saying to them through it.

I heard of the opportunity and thought, Hey, I’d like a challenge like that. I’d like to see what God might say to me through some random verse. So I signed up. Within a few hours I received my assignment:

“O Jacob My servant, do not fear,” declares the Lord,
“For I am with you.
For I will make a full end of all the nations
Where I have driven you,
Yet I will not make a full end of you;
But I will correct you properly
And by no means leave you unpunished.
Jeremiah 46:28 (NASB)

My first thought was, What a weird verse! How am I supposed to write something encouraging from this?! But then I had one of those “ah-ha” moments and realized, I have lived this verse! And it didn’t take long for God’s grace to begin flowing through my thoughts.

We moms sometimes have to hand out some very stiff consequences. We wonder if we’re overreacting or being unreasonable. Well, not necessarily. Take a look at what God showed me through this passage here at #Fearless365.

The second opportunity God gave me was the honor to share lessons I learned when my husband dealt with cancer almost eight years ago. (in)courage, a women’s online community sponsored by DaySpring (the inspirational arm of Hallmark), sends daily devotional thoughts to a readership of well over 80,000 people. A handful of times each month they allow guest writers to contribute. After three attempts, my submission was accepted and published this past Wednesday, January 11. You can read my article here Where is God When Death Threatens Your World?

I encourage you to check out the (in)courage community. They truly have women’s needs at the heart of their mission. Some of their writers include Holley Gerth, Lysa TerKeurst, and other well-known authors who can communicate God’s grace beautifully. If you’d like to sign-up to receive their devotionals directly into your email box, go here.

Today’s post has been a little unusual. I needed to honor those who’ve allowed me to share on their sites and at the same time hope I’ve honored you with little meaningful tidbits – like a tray of mini cupcakes for you to choose from. As I continue to plow through all the tech challenges before me, I’m also growing as I listen intently to the Lord each day. He’s already given me some sweet morsels I look forward to sharing with you in the months to come.

I can’t wait!

 

*Renner, Rick. Sparkling Gems from the Greek: 365 Greek Word Studies for Every Day of the Year To Sharpen Your Understanding of God’s Word, (Tulsa, OK: Rick Renner Ministries: 2003), p. 18-19.

Experiencing Eternity in Moments

Five of us circled around a corner booth. We snuggled cups of warmth while sharing about our Christmases, wedding plans, and future concerns—close friends who never tire of laughing and crying and praying together. We stayed so long, one friend left an extra tip and I ordered dessert just to give a little extra money for the use of the corner. (Besides, I had resisted ordering the gluten-free turtle bar way too long.)

Are there people in your life you could spend hours with and be so content you fail to watch the clock? Like when you first fell in love, or when you get to escape the house to meet with other adult people. Time is simply not noticed. That is, until it starts blaring at you, “Time’s up! Gotta go! You’ve duties to fulfill!”

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Ah, time. It can be our dearest friend, yet strictest taskmaster.

My husband had January second off work so I took the opportunity to sleep late. I did eventually tackle some projects but first I enjoyed as much time with the Lord as I desired. My mood put me in an odd frame of mind, evaluating the way we humans measure time. Or more specifically, why we make such a big deal out of a new year.

Why do we bang pots and pans, toot kazoos, kiss our sweethearts, and cheer as a silly ball drops? (What’s with the dropping anyway?) Why do communities ring church bells and set off fireworks? Some years I think, “It’s just another tick on the clock.” I wonder, what God thinks of all the hoopla each 86,400th second of every 365/6 days?

So, I asked him. He answered me in the strangest of ways. He said,

“Eternity to me is little moments like this, loving my child. It’s right here. Right now.”

To God, time doesn’t matter nearly as much as people do. God’s not slow, yet not in a hurry. He just cares about being with us. Face-to-face. Heart-to-heart. That’s what He celebrates. God with man residing.

Time with God. It can be scheduled. It can put into a neat little box. God doesn’t care. He doesn’t notice how long or how short. He just delights in being with us. And He longs for us to notice Him and to take a moment to slow our steps and look Him in the face. That’s what sets off the fireworks in His heart.

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We often quote that a thousand years are like a day to God. It’s true. It’s written in Psalm 90:4 and 2 Peter 3:8. In comparison to the God of eternity, a lifetime can fly past in a blink. But we often miss the middle of 2 Peter 3:8: “One day is like a thousand years.” Just think. God has the ability to turn those moments with us into a millennia of time. He can stretch the sweetness of an embrace into a galaxy of star bursts.

I don’t know exactly where to go with this response the Lord gave me—other than to revel in the idea that nothing matters to God nearly as much as being with His children. The only way to keep our world, and calendar, and to-do list in order is to be deliberate about ordering it all around time with Him—even if that time is for a few brief moments. Long enough to look in His face. See His love. Hear His whisper. Receive His hug.

This is the God who lives outside of time. When we meet with Him, He funnels eternity into moments. And those moments explode in our souls and change our perspectives, so we are not longer confined to the circumstances of “now” but free to live beyond now. Free to choose to not be defined by our current situations, but by eternity.