When We Think It’s Our Idea But It’s Really His Idea

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“They came near the village where they were going, and He gave the impression that He was going farther. But they urged Him: “Stay with us, because it’s almost evening, and now the day is almost over.” So He went in to stay with them.” Luke 24: 28-29

I read Luke 24 this morning and have been pondering the verses above. I wonder how often this still happens? I wonder how often God still positions himself in such a way in our lives where we think it’s our idea (and it is our idea) but it’s really his idea. I love how these verses remind me that God constantly and continually goes out of his way to be a part of our stories. I love how instead of asking to come in to stay with the two men, he sets up the scene so that the two men are the ones doing the inviting.

This to me is significant when it comes to our relationship with Jesus. He walks alongside us, sometimes unrecognizable and sometimes in our saddest hour and waits for us to invite Him in.  It’s His goal from the very beginning, to stay with us. But, He waits for us to do the asking. No pressuring, no strong arming,..just perfectly timed positioning…the rest is up to us.

The other idea I thought about was how this account reminds us there is a time for everything. A time to stay and a time to go. The two men urged Jesus to stay, the hour was late, but as soon as their eyes were opened, it was time to go. But, again, Jesus didn’t order them to go, it was their idea. Their eyes had been opened, their priorities had shifted and they knew what they needed to do. “That very hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem.” (V 33)  I love how they didn’t sleep on it. What they had witnessed was too important. An hour earlier they were tired and ready to call it a night but now they were awake, fully awake. The only thing they cared about was sharing the good news.

What a beautiful reminder of what takes place when Jesus “just happens’ to cross our path and walk with us and then we invite him to stay with us.Total transformation.The lost are found, the blind can see, and the tired who were ready to put their pajamas on, are suddenly wide awake and ready to journey on!

One little encounter can revitalize us and point our hearts and our eyes back towards what is most important.

Jesus positions himself to be found by us. Let’s be awake enough today to recognize it.

Breadcrumbs at 30,000 Feet

10432470_10205341282196204_5538133594822428782_nSunrise Heading Back to Georgia

Yesterday as I was returning home from Arizona I finished Rick McKinley’s newest book The Answer to Our Cry. I read his book Beautiful Mess several years ago and loved it. I was delighted to discover earlier this month that he had released another book. I finished his newest one on the plane ride yesterday and can now recommend them both to you.

On my return flight yesterday, I found myself reading a portion of the book which was titled Returning Home. Don’t you love when that happens as you are reading something. I was, in real life, returning home and I was reading about returning home.

I can think of a few other occasions when this perfectly timed message has happened. Several years ago, I was sitting on a beach and watching my son stick his toes in the ocean while reading Pete Wilson’s book, Plan B. I was reading a chapter about taking the first step and getting our feet wet.

This summer I was reading The Fault in Our Stars and while I was reading about the main characters getting excited about a trip overseas to Amsterdam and their trip on the airplane, I happened to be sitting with my son and husband on a plane, crossing the ocean, and heading to Germany for the first time. Needless to say, we were a tad excited and expectant just like the characters in the book.

I love when this happens while I’m reading a book. It’s almost as if God is saying…here, let me give you a picture to go along with the words you are reading. God must really know I’m a visual learner. :)

Yesterday, I also read many other great and timely messages in Rick’s book. In my previous blog post, I told you all how life seems to be an ongoing lesson on how to process change in an ever-changing journey. I smiled when I read these words yesterday. “Living into the love of God is a life journey…Our lives are not going to change in ninety days. Soul formation is process oriented not production driven.” Truth. And every road we travel down, every decision we need to make to either hold on or to let go is an invitation to deepen our relationship with the God who created us.

I also read these words while leaving the desert state of Arizona. “Perhaps a desert place is not a desert place at all but a place where God is meeting me in his love.” These words? Timely for sure. They were a reminder to me that God doesn’t abandon us when we log time in the desert. In fact, sometimes, it’s those barren and hopeless looking situations when His love is felt and seen in the most beautiful and profound ways. I know this from my own journey through deserts.

And, this is my prayer today for those who are currently trying to find their way through a parched and grief -stricken land.  I pray that our Comforter and Healer will show up in the most incredible way today, that your thirsty and weary souls will be refreshed and strengthened by a love that is infinitely bigger than it all.

Change

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This weekend I flew out to Arizona to be at the funeral for the dad of my good friend, Yvette. I’ve been friends with Yvette and her family for nearly 25 years. As I drove back up to Tucson today to spend one more day with my dad before flying back to Georgia tomorrow, I thought about how nothing in life ever stays the same. Okay, so I know this isn’t shocking news, but for some reason, the whole idea hit me again as I drove away from the town where I spent a huge chunk of my childhood. So much has changed in my 42 years on earth…with me, with my family, with my friends, with my circumstances, and with life. Life feels like one big lesson on how to live life in the midst of its ever-changing seasons.

Sometimes, life seems to be an ongoing journey of learning how to process change. There are times when the lesson we need to learn is how to cling tighter. Some changes we face will require us to hold on and fight…not in a stubborn or angry way but in a persevering “I’m not giving up” way. Then, there are other times when the lesson we need to learn is how to loosen our grip or how to let go completely. The change requires us to surrender, not in weak way, but with an understanding that letting go is the only road that will lead us to peace and freedom.

Yet regardless of which lesson we need to learn…the cling tighter lesson or the let go lesson, the goal remains the same:

What steps must we take or what choices must we make to keep progressing down the road?

It’s probably not a shock to those of you who know me, but I cried (just a little bit) as I thought about all of this on my trip back up to Tucson today.  I cried because it’s hard and it’s beautiful and it’s painful and it’s joyful and it’s sad and it’s hopeful. It’s all those things to me.

But, most of all, it’s worth it.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, because He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23

“We have this hope as an anchor for our soul, firm and secure.” Hebrews 6:19

 

 

 

 

Beauty That Lives On…

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Beauty mixed with pain

This idea has been on my heart again ever since booking plane tickets Monday night to head back to Arizona. A long time friend of mine called me Monday morning to let me know her dad had died. He had been battling cancer for a couple of years. Yvette and her family were by my side 23 years ago when I lost my mom to cancer. I’ve cried several times this week for my friend and her loss but I realize that some of those tears are tears that seem to come from more of a place of deep gratitude. It’s a gratitude that aches in such a profound and beautiful way the only way I know how to express it is through tears.

Over two decades ago, my friend was there for me, and she has been consistent at showing up for many other challenging times in my life too. When I look back on that season of losing my mom, this is what I am most thankful for…a second family who took me under their wing and cared for me as their own. I’m not sure I can think of anything more beautiful than that.

As I was talking to Yvette on the phone yesterday and making a plan for my visit I couldn’t help but think about how life continues to go on after we experience loss. You have to decide what to have for dinner after a loss just like you have to decide what’s for dinner before a loss. There’s this hole in your heart and yet you still have to make decisions and choices about things that seem so trivial.

There were several times on our phone call yesterday when we shared moments of laughter. It’s weird how a part of you feels funny (almost guilty) for laughing at such a time as this…but then this other part of you knows that life goes on. Yesterday I remembered back on those moments of laughter through my own grief journey. I am so thankful for those glimpses of beauty that show up in seasons of pain. And no amount of pain can lessen this beauty…in fact pain only magnifies how beautiful something is.

laughter, friendship, love.

Everything is stripped away and we can see clearly the incredible beauty of these precious gifts.

I’m heading back to Arizona this weekend in hopes of achieving the impossible: to repay a debt that I know I will never be able to repay. No, I can’t repay. The only thing I can do is show up and choose to walk with my friend the way she chose to walk with me.  Some steps will contain tears. Some steps will contain laughter.  But there is no place I would rather be but by her side.

Beauty mixed with pain

 

Thankful for the Graceflakes

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Yesterday I woke up with snow on the brain. Actually, I was thinking about the story of how my husband and I first met. We celebrated 12 years of marriage yesterday and, a little over a year ago, I wrote a blog post called “How April Snow Brought Us Together.”  Before heading off to church yesterday I reread that post along with the following scripture and wrote these thoughts down.

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This morning I read Deuteronomy 31:8 during my quiet time.  “The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you, he will never leave you or forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.”

This verse was part of a devotional talking about worry.  We have a tendency to worry about the future, about what is waiting around corner.  But this verse reassures us that God already sees, already knows, and promises to walk with us through it all.

Today, I’ve been married to my husband for 12 years. Those years have flown by and I am so grateful that God brought Roger into my life. Each year at this time, I can’t help but think about the story of our lives coming together and how it all played out. I love remembering how God was orchestrating a plan months (probably longer) before the two of us even set eyes on each other. Who knew a few snowflakes in Asheville, NC one April afternoon would guide me to where I needed to be? If you’ve never read that story, you can read it here. It’s basically the story of how my husband and I met. This may seem silly to some but I truly believe God used snowflakes (flakes that fell almost a year prior to our first date) to help bring our stories together.

But to go back to the verse above.  This was one of the verses I was clinging to and focusing on 13 years ago prior to meeting Roger. I was in a season of starting over. I had moved to a town (2400 miles away from home) where I knew NO ONE. I was recently divorced. I had fully surrendered an addiction. After a decade of trying to navigate my own life,  I was back on the path where I was letting God lead the way again.  And, like so many paths God leads us down, it’s sometimes hard to understand the why until we are able to glance in the rear view mirror. Then, we get it. Then, we understand.

It’s only then when snowflakes in April make sense.

Now, I do know there are times we look in the rear view mirror and God’s plan still seems to lack a good reason. We are hard pressed to find anything good in the plan. I think of horrific pains and losses and my heart comes up empty. It makes no sense, sometimes.  But, it is during those time when we must choose to cling to the only plan we can cling to…the plan and the promise of His Presence through it all. The plan that says…“I am with you….even in THIS I am with you.” Sometimes, we look in the rear view mirror and that is the only thing that makes sense. And, over the years, I’ve come to realize that this is the only thing that has to make sense: a BIG GOD walking the dark road with us who is fully capable of loving us, comforting us, and strengthening us through it all.

I don’t know what season you might be walking through today but I do know this: You never have to walk through it alone. Never.

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I wrote those words prior to heading to church yesterday.  I didn’t post them to my blog.  They didn’t feel done yet.

As I stood with the congregation to sing prior to yesterday’s message, one of the songs was “Jesus Paid It All (Oh Praise the One)”

“Jesus paid it all
all to him I owe
sin had left a crimson stain
He washed it white as snow.
He washed it white as snow

Oh, praise the One who paid my debt and raised this life up from the dead!”

Thank you, Lord, for snow in April. And, thank you, for the never-ending graceflakes that fall on us continually.

NOW…this post is finished. :)

Sometimes It’s a Slow Dance

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 A friend on Facebook posted this question on her wall yesterday:

Anyone have any stories about praying very specifically for a need and God answering it in amazing ways?

As I typed my answer in the comment section, waves of gratitude hit me again as each word hit the page.  I never get tired of sharing how God reached down into my life and into my pit, picked me up, wrapped his arms around me and guided me home. I am forever grateful for His grace and HIs mercy in my life.

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I’m crying tears of gratitude and joy as I type this.  One of the verses I read in my devotional this morning was Psalm 37:4 “Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart.”

I’m crying because here’s the answer I typed on my friend’s wall yesterday:

13 years ago this month I was struggling with an addiction to alcohol. I was praying specifically that God would change my heart. I did not want to stop, I admitted that to Him and I just kept praying that He would make my desire NOT to drink stronger than my desire to drink. “Just change my heart, Lord” And one morning…my heart was changed and I experienced that peace that surpasses all understanding. Early recovery was not easy but I just KNEW that God was Bigger! I have been walking in freedom and sweet sobriety ever since.

The journey back to God didn’t happen overnight for me. It wasn’t instantaneous, even though I know He is fully capable of doing that.  No, my journey was a slow turn around.  My journey back started about a year and half prior to that moment I shared above.  With each new decision and new path God had another nugget of Truth waiting for me, like breadcrumbs of reassurance guiding me home. Every slight turn, every tiny step I took towards Him brought me more reassurance.  His voice became louder and clearer in my ear, keep following me, Child.  You can trust Me. You can depend on Me, and my footsteps became firmer.  And, today, the journey continues. It’s still a matter of choices, decisions and heart conditions.

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Yesterday morning as I turned into my neighborhood a song I hadn’t heard in a while came on the radio.  I pulled  into my driveway and just sat in my car to listen to the song play.  It was Matt Maher’s Turn Around.  My favorite verse in the whole song comes toward the end.

“You don’t have to take the broken road, you can turn around and come back home.”

Can I encourage you this morning by telling you this:

It’s okay if that turn doesn’t happen fast or overnight.  It’s okay!  Just keep turning.  Keep listening for His voice. When you fall down, get up and listen some more.  Sometimes, I think, the turn around is more like a slow dance where we have to relearn who is supposed to be doing the leading around this dance floor known as life. But, please, just keep holding on, keep trusting that He knows the steps you must take. And, lastly, be willing to go wherever the turning might lead.

When Your Heart is Set on Norman Rockwell But Life Hands You Archie Bunker

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Live expectantly without expectations

I’ve shared this with you all before but since I needed the reminder recently, then maybe you do too. I’ve come to believe that living expectantly without expectations is the best way to walk through life…especially if you’re a recovering control freak like me. The first time I can remember applying this type of living I was heading home to visit my family in Arizona.  I love my family but trips home used to leave me feeling sad and disappointed. When I was younger, I would have unrealistically high hopes for a Norman Rockwell picture visit but it always ended up looking like or feeling more like the Archie Bunker picture. Okay, maybe not that bad…but it never turned out looking like the picture I had created in my mind.

Then, one year, I decided to apply the above approach: Live expectantly without expectations. And, for the first time, I didn’t return from one of my visits feeling let down or disappointed.  I’d genuinely had a great time! This approach helped me to just enjoy the moments, to enjoy the being there.  To live expectantly means that we have joy and hope for what is to come, but it also has a way of supplying us with joy and hope in the moment too.  If we do this without expectations or preconceived notions on how everything is going to play out, then we aren’t disappointed if it plays out one way over another way.

Vacations are much more satisfying if I do more being and less expecting.  Life is more satisfying if I do more being and less expecting.

In a sense, we are just along for the ride, enjoying the view out the window.  We can be excited for what might be coming around the corner but we aren’t “let down” if the scenery doesn’t look a certain way when we get there. It is what it is. We accept it and, surprisingly, we even learn to embrace and cherish it. We are able to see the hidden beauty tucked away in the less than perfect.

I like how I can apply this way of living to every area of my life.  When I am able to live it out, I’m much happier. Yet there are still times I forget. There are times I have my heart set on a scene playing out a certain way and when it doesn’t, I am sad. This happened just the other day and it left me in quite a funk for the next several hours.  Why?  Because I had allowed my heart to fully attach itself to a certain outcome. I forgot that there are twists and turns along the road and that, sometimes, (most of the time) God is holding a different version of the map.

Today, I want to rely on the map holder. I want to live with joy and hope of what’s around the corner but I don’t want to make the mistake of thinking that what He has in store will look or feel a certain way.

I want to enjoy the ride and trust that He knows the way.

 

But, me, I’m not giving up. I’m sticking around to see what God will do.”  – Micah 7:7 Message

“Be brave, Be strong. Don’t Give up. Expect God to get here soon.”  Psalm 31: 24

“Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder.” Romans 12: 11-12

 

The Only Way Out is Through

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The only pain that can be avoided, and some of the worst kinds of pain, is the pain that comes from trying to avoid pain.–Henry Cloud

When I read this quote yesterday from Dr. Henry Cloud, I immediately identified with it. It’s a thought-provoking statement.  Here are some responses I came up with last night…last night at 3 am when I should have been sleeping but instead I woke up and thought more about this quote.

Here’s my take on it. Pain is inevitable. There is no way to live a pain-free life no matter how hard we try sometimes. Things happen, life happens, and many times there’s nothing we can do to prevent  those bad things.  The only thing we do have control over is how we choose to respond. What will our next step be?

Pain sucks.  There is no denying that.  But, the worst kind of pain is the pain that comes on the heels of us trying to avoid, deny or run from the original pain.

I know from personal experience this is true.  When I lost my mom to cancer, there was a big part of me that refused to walk through that pain.  Instead of facing it, and choosing to fully embrace the “suck”…I chose to run in a different direction. The pain of losing my mom was tremendous but I agree with Dr. Cloud, avoiding it instead of walking through it will only delay our healing. Pain must be fully acknowledged before healing even has a fighting chance of beginning. Several weeks ago, I wrote about how it’s like the big elephant standing in the room. We have to admit it’s there.

Prior to reading this quote yesterday, my brother posted this video on Facebook of a man who struggles with depression.  He shares in the video his journey with depression and his journey as an ultra-marathoner. By the way, my brother is also an ultra-marathoner…just one of the many reasons I think he’s absolutely nuts and absolutely incredible. ;)  But, that’s a story for a different post.

This video is worth a watch. I love how this runner has found the common threads between the pain of depression and the pain of running. I love how he has learned to “embrace” both pains. At one point in the video, he shares how trying to deny his episodes of depression only makes the episode last that much longer. His statement reminded me of Dr. Cloud’s quote.

I also thought about John Green’s book, The Fault in Our Stars, again.  “Pain demands to be felt.” Yes it does. There is no “healthy” way to run around it.  We must choose to face it and run through it

depressions – a few moments from 30 miles in the canyon. from Joel Wolpert on Vimeo.

Autumn Takes the Stage

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“I fell in the love the way you fall asleep; slowly, and then all at once.”  John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

This quote came to mind yesterday as I looked at the leaves changing color in my neighborhood. The transition seems to have happened differently this year than it did last year. Like the quote above, it’s been slow and then all at once. I’ve been waiting and watching for autumn to arrive in North Georgia.  I might be wrong, but compared to last year, everything seems to be running one or two weeks behind schedule.  I’m guessing it’s right on time…I’ve just been overly eager for it to fully arrive.

Yesterday, as I drove down the road toward the elementary school to pick up my son, I thought to myself as I looked around, “It’s here!”  The trees I had been waiting on to take their place on the stage of life had finally arrived. Like an impatient audience member waiting for the Broadway show to begin, the curtain had finally gone up!

Waiting for the leaves to transform fills me with hope and anticipation. While I know this season means winter is right around the corner, there is something sacred and special about this time. The breathtaking beauty is almost like our Creator saying…winter is coming…but remember this.

I read Psalm 84 this morning.  Here’s a portion of it:

Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
who have set their hearts on a pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baca,
they make it a place of springs,
the autumn rains also cover it with pools,
They go from strength to strength,
til each appear before God in Zion.

One thing I love about autumn and the changing leaves is that it’s such a good reminder for our hearts that we can draw on the beauty of who He is even in the darkest seasons of our lives. He is our pool of unending hope and strength. Winter is coming…but remember.

Last weekend, I went to see Rend Collective in concert. The lyrics in this song remind me of this ever-present strength and hope we have in Him. No matter how cold or how dark the winter is, this Truth remains:  “We’ll cast our crowns before Him like the rusting leaves of autumn now every chain lies broken…”

Rock Paper Scissors

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“But sin didn’t, and doesn’t, have a chance in competition with the aggressive forgiveness we call grace. When it’s sin versus grace, grace wins hands down.” (Romans 5:20 MSG)

Blame it on the fact it was early, but the first thing that came to mind when I read this verse this morning was the rock and the scissors in the well-known Rock Paper Scissors game.

Rock always crushes scissors.  Christ and His grace always wins in a fight against sin.  Always.

Scissors cuts paper.  Sin’s goal is to destroy us, to break us a part and without the Rock there is no hope for us.

Paper “covers” Rock. Okay this last comparison might be a stretch, but let’s go with it, shall we?  Maybe the paper really isn’t covering  the rock. Maybe that’s just what us humans like to tell ourselves sometimes. But, what if we change our perspectives?  What if we took time to really look at what is going on? Perhaps we would be surprised to discover that paper isn’t covering the Rock at all…the Rock is holding the paper up. We are victorious because of the Rock on which we stand.  He holds us up and on that foundation we are called to rest.

“They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer” Psalm 78:35 NIV

“Now God has us where he wants us, with all the time in this world and the next to shower grace and kindness upon us in Christ Jesus. Saving is all his idea, and all his work. All we do is trust him enough to let him do it. It’s God’s gift from start to finish! We don’t play the major role. If we did, we’d probably go around bragging that we’d done the whole thing! No, we neither make nor save ourselves. God does both the making and saving. He creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing.” Ephesians 2: 7-10 Message