One Word 2019

As I raced through the month of December the thought of picking another One Word for 2019 finally drifted into my heart last week. I had not even given the idea any thought at all. I’ve chosen a word, or maybe it’s more accurate to say that a word has chosen me for the last 7 or 8 years. Honestly, I didn’t even know if I was going to do the one word thing again this year. Usually by this time my heart is eager… but this year has been different. My soul is weary.

Earlier this week, as I sat quietly on the couch looking at the Christmas tree lights, my word showed up as my soul cried out for direction: I need to embrace this, Lord. This life. This moment. This everything!

Embrace.

Lord, that’s Your word for me.

Yesterday during my quiet time as I meditated more on that word, the Lord guided me to the book of Jeremiah. Since I’ve always had a hard time understanding and grasping all that Jeremiah writes about, I decided to read Jeremiah 31 in the Message translation. These words resonated with my tired soul.

“Set up signposts to mark your trip home. Get a good map. Study the road conditions. The road out is the road back. Come back, dear virgin Israel, come back to your hometowns. How long will you flit here and there, indecisive? How long before you make up your fickle mind? God will create a new thing in this land: A transformed woman will embrace the transforming God!” Jer 31:21-22 Message

“God will create a new thing in this land: A transformed woman will embrace the transforming God!” For some reason, those words spoke to me. I won’t pretend to understand them fully. I don’t. But I do know that, in this chapter, Jeremiah is continuing to encourage captives and ensuring them that God would restore them and their children to their own land. He is reminding them to remember God’s faithfulness and that their joy would be restored once again. Lord, I desperately need to embrace that message too.

Yesterday morning, as I meditated on those words, I cried out to the Lord for revelation and direction. Lord, reveal more of Yourself to me today; my soul needs it.

The revelation came in the form of a coworker who walked into my office yesterday afternoon asking me if I’d ever read the book “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership.” by Ruth Haley Barton. I told him I had not. He went on to describe the book and, as he spoke, I knew that God was answering my prayer from earlier in the morning.

Here are some words from the recommended book that I read this morning: “…it is important for us to embrace spiritual transformation as a process that is a full mystery. It is a phenomenon that is outside the range of what human beings can accomplish on their own. It can only be grasped and experienced through divine intervention. God is the one who initiates and guides the process and brings it to fruition.” – Ruth Haley Barton

I then went back and read Jeremiah 31 and then these verses from Psalm 84.

“And how blessed all those in whom you live,
whose lives become roads you travel;
They wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks,
discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain!
God-traveled, these roads curve up the mountain, and
at the last turn—Zion! God in full view!”  Psalm 84:5-7 Message

I then had song lyrics come to mind from Audrey Assad, For Love of You. I couldn’t quite remember how they went so I googled the lyrics. As I did, I stumbled upon another song by the same artist I had never heard before called Drawn To You. I listened to it and realized that my soul tends to live in this state of tension. I know God is faithful. I’ve seen His greatness in my life. I’ve watched Him make something out of nothing, over and over. I’ve watched my Redeemer, redeem. Yet, today, my soul struggles to embrace this Truth. I walk through a valley and all I can do is cling to His sweet hand, remain in His presence, and trust His always guiding Light.

My song on the mountain top:

“You are the highway I travel ‘Cause I watched You carve streets of gold from the sand and gravel I gave You brokenness, You gave me innocence And now this road leads to glory”  For Love of You, Audrey Assad

My song through the valley:

“All my devotion is like sinking sand
I’ve nothing to cling to but Your sweet hand
No clear emotions keeping me safe at night
Only Your presence, like a candle light” Drawn to You, Audrey Assad

So this year, I seek to embrace both. The mountain top moments as well as the lonesome valleys. I embrace His sustaining grace.  I embrace His work of transformation and sometimes painful sanctification, I embrace His faithfulness yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Embraces from Emmanuel

I was reminded this morning of some of the accounts in Scripture where we witness the glory of the Lord. I love how each time folks encounter His greatness we, the reader, can recognize the smallness or the imperfect-ness of the scene.

Jesus comes along and fills a need. Jesus comes along and bridges the gap. He becomes food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, and light for our dark worlds. He becomes the shepherd for lost sheep, a firm Rock for shaky ground, and a Father to the fatherless. He becomes the way home, the truth we are desperately seeking, and the air that fills our lungs.

We see Him meeting people in the middle of their messy lives or complicated situations and becoming the answer. No one is required to get their act together first. No one is required to polish up their appearances or surroundings first.

He breaks through facades and gets right to the heart of the matter… and the heart of the matter is simply this…Jesus, Emmanuel, wants nothing more than to make His home right smack dab in the middle of all of our messy and unpolished lives. In that “going to Walmart in sweatpants and no makeup” part of our lives. In that “one room in the house where we hide all the mess when guests come over” part of our lives. He embraces us and accepts us right there.

He makes a beeline to our lacks and responds with love and grace. He enters our dysfunctional and broken lives and offers armloads of mercy. He shows up in our sea of hurt and offers us a beauty and a hope far beyond what our eyes can see and our minds can fully comprehend.

Thank you, Jesus.

Prepare Him Room

I read a devotional this morning on the topic of joy and it brought me to tears.  It’s funny to me how a devotional on joy can bring a person to tears. Yet, so often in life it’s beauty that breaks my heart open just as frequently as sorrow. 

“What is joy? Joy can never be induced, cranked up or made to happen. It’s something that has to find us precisely within our ordinary, duty-bound, burdened, full-of-worries, and pressured lives…And as CS Lewis puts it, it has to surprise you. You can’t find joy, it has to find you…Joy is always the by-product of something else… Joy will come to us if we set about actively trying to create it for others.”  Ronald Rolheiser

Joy, it can find us in the most painful, heart-wrenching times of our lives. Joy, it’s more powerful than the dark. Joy, it pursues us and suddenly reminds us of this profound beauty that is constantly present but our hearts and souls easily and frequently lose sight of it. 

Joy, it’s that SONlight that breaks through the darkness and warms us, calms us, and fills us at just the perfect time. Joy it’s the thousand little ways our Creator gives us glimpses of His glory and it makes our heart ache because that glimpse is more beautiful than words could ever describe. Joy, it’s suddenly being reminded that life is about this holy moment we are living right now and, yet, simultaneously infinitely bigger than this holy moment we are living right now. 

“Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe in Him so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. ” Romans 15:13

“As the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you. Remain in My love. If you keep My commands you will remain in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commands and remain in His love.“I have spoken these things to you so that My joy may be in you and your joy may be complete. This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you. John 15:9-12


Rest for the Weary

Jesus moves towards chaos and pain 

He is a safe place to ask questions, to seek answers, to doubt 

He invites the broken to come

He doesn’t avoid hard conversations

He doesn’t offer sugar coated replies

Yet He meets His children where they are 

And loves them as they are

He is an open door for the rejected, the outcast, the scorned 

He paints sunrise pictures of His redeeming love 

He shows us snapshots of life abundant…right here, right now! 

He is drink to the thirsty. He is food for the hungry.

All are invited. Come taste. Come see.  

He teaches us that hope has breath

hope is alive

hope bore our pain

and now it waits with arms stretched wide

for the weary world to open tired eyes

to see the sunrise

to gaze upon its beauty

to breathe in grace

to wrap up in the warmth of peace…and rest

Counting Joy

I thought about something this Thanksgiving morning; I’ve been sober for almost as long as I had my mom in my life. My mom passed away when I was 18.

I took my last drink Thanksgiving Day 17 years ago. Wow.

I still remember back when I turned 36 years old and it dawned on me that I had reached the age where I had lived life without my mom for as long as I had lived life with her. I’m not sure why these milestones interest me so much, but they do. It’s crazy to think how on some days the passage of time feels like a blink and on other days it feels like an eternity.

I guess this may not be how a typical Thanksgiving post is supposed to kick off.  I’m pretty sure  it’s considered bad etiquette to mention death in the first sentence. Oh well. 🙂 It’s just hard for me to “count my blessings” without including all the ways the Lord has and continues to redeem the painful chapters in my life too. They count for something. I think of how James said it.

“Count it all joy, my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4

As I look back over my life, more often than not, it’s been the seasons when my hands were empty when I’ve learned to understand and appreciate the beauty of a Savior who can hold us  and carry us in all things and through all things.  This is a strange kind of beauty that, unfortunately, I think we only truly recognize through trials and suffering.  These chapters have taught me more about thanks-giving than any of the easy or pain free ones. At least, this has been my experience.

I’m thankful for the losses that have taught me how to cling to my Rock.
I’m thankful for the addiction that taught me I wasn’t strong enough to save myself.
I’m thankful for the mistakes and wrong turns that taught me God’s grace never runs dry.
I’m thankful for the friends and family who love me right where I am.
I’m thankful for my husband and my son…undeserved gifts in my life.
I’m thankful for sobriety and sweet freedom.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Take some time today and count your blessings.

 

Surprise Visits from Mom

My week kicked off at the annual staff retreat for work. Each year, our multi-campus staff will get away for a couple of days to reconnect together as a team. We have opportunities and space to learn, to encourage, to challenge, and to just be.

Prior to one of our times of personal reflection and prayer, we read these couple of verses together as a team.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
 Point out anything in me that offends you,
 and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” Psalm 139: 23-24

As I sat down to journal some thoughts, one of the songs my mom wrote immediately came to mind. I jotted down the words again and silently sung the words as I did.

Search Me, Oh Lord 

Search me, oh Lord, look within
Make me aware of my sin
Take out myself and then put love in
Search me oh Lord

Take whatever’s wrong in me and make it right
Oh Lord let me live in your light
Just take whatever’s wrong in me and make it right
Oh Lord let me live in your light

Lead me, oh Lord, now I pray
Closer to You everyday
I never intended to lose my way
Lead me, oh Lord

Take whatever’s wrong in me and make it right
Oh Lord let me live in your light
Just take whatever’s wrong in me and make it right
Oh Lord let me live in your light

I love how the journey I am on today will still include moments with my mom.  Every so often, the beauty my mom left behind will show up and sing truth-filled messages over my heart and mind. I wish I could have her here with me but “seeing her,” once again, sitting on our sofa playing her guitar, and joyfully sharing a new creation with me, is definitely the next best thing this side of heaven.  Even after 27 years of separation, these moments are gifts that I get to unwrap and embrace again.

Having songs sneak into our heads is a good reminder of something else too. I am reminded of the importance of being willing to transform our thoughts and to make them obedient to what Christ desires for us. We need to be willing to be willing. We need to honestly listen to the music playing in our heads and hearts and ask the Lord…is this tune in step with Your will for me or do You wish to fill my life with a more beautiful melody today?

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2 NIV)

He has given me a new song to sing,
a hymn of praise to our God. (Psalm 40:3 NLT)

If I Was Jesus

“If I Was Jesus, I’d come back from the dead
And I’d walk on some water, just to mess with your head
I’d know your dark little secrets, I’d look you right in the face
And I’d tell you I love you, with Amazing Grace

I’d lay my life down for you
And I show you who’s the boss
I’d forgive you and adore you
While I was hangin’ on your cross
If I Was Jesus”


“If I Was Jesus”~ Paul Colman

I’ve always loved this song and downloaded it years ago. I listened to it again yesterday morning while out for a run. I hadn’t heard it for awhile but as my phone randomly shuffled through selections, it began to play. It makes my heart smile.  On one level, it’s amusing and light-hearted, yet on a completely different level, it’s full of depth and beautiful truths.

I think what I appreciate most about this song is that it reminds me of what my heart (and all hearts) long for most: love, acceptance, and a place to belong.

I am grateful for Jesus and how he modeled, perfectly, how love should look, respond, and behave. I am grateful for grace when our hearts lose sight of this. I am grateful Jesus never stops pursuing us and reminding us that we love because He first loved us.

I long to live this life consistently loving others with this humble posture of sacrificial abandon. I wish it was always my knee jerk reaction. But honestly, my stubborn pride and and my bent towards selfishness will often be more evident as I walk through my day.  My desire is to be more intentional in my love for others, to tear down walls that divide and build bridges that connect, to lay down my to-do list and pick up His instead.

My heart aches for those who feel they are somehow excluded from God’s amazing love.  God is love and He is the host of the Love Party.  He is the one that does all the inviting and He personally sent you a handwritten invite. This invite has already been signed, sealed, delivered and has nothing do with you meeting a certain standard first. Don’t let anyone try to convince you otherwise. You are loved by Jesus just as you are. Come to the party.

“This is how we have come to know love: He laid down His life for us. We should also lay down our lives for our brothers.  If anyone has this world’s goods and sees his brother in need but closes his eyes to his need—how can God’s love reside in him? Little children, we must not love with word or speech, but with truth and action.” 1 John 3: 16-18

“Love consists in this: not that we loved God, but that He loved us. 1 John 4:10

 

Wake Up Calls

I had a dream the night before last and much of what I can remember involved working and preparing for a service at church.  I remember chatting with a few folks about baptism too.  However, the most memorable part of my dream was a statement the dream me made right before my morning alarm woke me up.

“If I err I’d rather err being too transparent than not transparent enough.”

Wow, what a message to be lodged in your brain at the precise moment the alarm abruptly startles you out of dream land.  As I sipped my coffee and thought more about the ending to my dream, the more I liked it.  It’s a great wake up call.

In my quiet time that same morning, I read the following verse.

The one who conceals his sins
will not prosper,
but whoever confesses and renounces them
will find mercy. Proverbs 28:13

I love the topic of transparency and bringing that which is hidden out into the light. I love the healing power of the light. I love what the Lord is capable of doing in our lives when we humbly bring every single part of us to Him and to His love. There is an incredible amount of freedom, grace, and mercy found in that space of vulnerability.

During the chapter in my life when I struggled with addiction, it was transparency mixed with the truth and love of Jesus that brought ultimate healing and restoration in my life. I know the shame of the dark and I will never go back there. So yes, “if I err I’d rather err being too transparent than not transparent enough.”

As hard as that journey from dark to light can be sometimes…the journey is worth it.  Though the journey involves sacrifice and vulnerability, I will never stop being amazed at how this sacrifice can lead to so much gain.  We open our hands and our hearts and let go and Jesus comes along and fills those empty hands and hearts with something more…something better.  He also gives us eyes that allow us to see beauty and love in a way we never perceived it before.

I believe this recipe: transparency + the love of Jesus is the answer to pretty much everything.  

Navigating “Normal”

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

Sometimes when I drop my son off at school in the morning, something will catch my eye and it will take me back to my own years in high school.  I think about how normal life can seem at the time you are living it but, years later, when you look back at that season of your life it really isn’t as normal as you once thought it to be.

It was 1986 and the summer before my freshman year when my mom sat me and my two older brothers down to tell us she had breast cancer. She would have a mastectomy and then go through rounds of radiation and chemotherapy treatment.  My 13 year old mind wasn’t even scared when she told us the news.  My mom would simply have a surgery, heal, and then life would carry on. After all, bad things like parents dying from cancer is something you hear happening to other families…not your family.

I was a shy and extremely insecure teenager.  In a large high school, I was thankful for the marching band and a couple of band friends who I could sit with at lunch time. On the days when they weren’t available, I would quickly gulp down a carton of chocolate milk and go hide in the library to avoid the awkwardness of the cafeteria.

High school seemed normal yet, simultaneously, excruciating. I sank all my energy into studying and getting perfect grades (even graduated 12th in a class of about 900).  I spent my days trying to walk that line between not doing anything stupid that would draw any embarrassing attention to myself and wanting to just be accepted.  I wasn’t unpopular or popular. I did my best just to blend in. I got along okay with pretty much everyone but didn’t seem to fit anywhere specific.

I fixated way too much on body image and struggled with anorexia. I exercised obsessively and watched as the scale dropped from 126lbs down to 88lbs all the while looking at myself in the mirror still believing my butt and thighs were way too big.  When my concerned parents confronted me about my refusal to eat dinner and opt for a small bowl of cereal instead,  I would tell them I was fine. I reassured them I hadn’t lost anymore weight and still weighed 100lbs.  It wasn’t until my starving body began fighting back when I decided to seek help.  I was eating practically nothing and, one morning, I stepped on the scale to discover I had gained a pound back. In panic mode, I tried to stick my finger down my throat but just couldn’t bring myself to go through with it. I went to my mom in tears and she took me to see a dietician so I could learn how to eat healthy.  Looking back on this season, she should have taken me to a psychologist to learn how to cope healthily with the two “c” words: control issues and cancer.

About the same time I was ending all the fun days of high school,  I found out that my mom’s cancer had returned; it had metastasized to her bones. She would begin more chemo and radiation treatments. My dad added my name to the bank checking account so I could write checks and do the grocery shopping. I helped take my mom to many of her radiation appointments, 80 miles up the road in Tucson.  I would prepare my mom’s lunch and bring it to her in the living room.  So many of the things were not normal teenage stuff and, yet, I didn’t realize it until years later. 

I often think about those days as I watch all the students walking into my son’s high school.  I wonder what load some of these kids carry with them into the building…detached parents, abuse, divorce, addiction, identity issues, cancer.

I wonder how many kids (and adults) are just trying to make it through their “normal” as best they can.

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”

Polarizing Words that I Find Beautiful

“But I will sing of Your strength and will joyfully proclaim Your faithful love in the morning. For You have been a stronghold for me, a refuge in my day of trouble.” Psalm 59:16

“Dear friend, you are acting faithfully in whatever you do for the brothers and sisters, especially when they are strangers.” 3 John 5

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ Matthew 25:34-40

I shared the verses above because they come to mind most every time I hear a certain political ad on the radio as I drive into work in the morning. The part of the ad that always takes me to these verses in scripture is the part where the politician will list all the differences between him and his opponent. He plans on banning sanctuary cities…she is in favor of sanctuary cities.

Let me stop right here and say I’m not desiring this to be a political post. I know folks across our country have very different views on how to handle the illegal immigration issue in our country. What I did want to share was my heart’s knee jerk reaction every time I hear the words “sanctuary city”…and I have heard those two words quite a bit lately. When those two words stand alone…my heart goes some place beautiful.

I think of a place of refuge for a person going through hard times. I think of how Jesus is my hiding place. I think of running to The Rock that is higher than me. I think of resting in the shadow of His wings. I think of a place of safety. I think of a haven from the storm all around me. I think of the phrase “Harbor of Hospitality”, the slogan for the North Carolina town I lived in for 12 years.

It’s just strange how those two words have become so polarizing in our country. I know that in today’s political climate those words don’t represent sunshine and flowers…they are wrapped up in messy and complicated and heated arguments.  And yet, when I look at those two words… alone…they bring my heart comfort and joy. They take me back to a humbling time in my own life when I needed rescuing and was desperate for a safe place to rest my head. They take me back to the Harbor of Hospitality. I was taken in by strangers. I found a home, a place where I belonged and a place where I flourished.