Occupied By Joy

There is no better place to consider the status of your life goals & dreams than in the line for a roller coaster at a theme park. I created that statement 2 blinks ago yet….I think it’s mostly bogus. But, for good or bad, I have done this “soul searching” in the winding, stinking lines of thrill-seekers multiple times. Yesterday, as well as years ago, when I was a bruised teenager who did not know where she ended & where others started. I gazed glossy eyes at thin women in small bathing suits or tank tops, wearing confidence I never dreamed of having. My heart bled all over my family (foul words & festering attitudes) as I searched & searched the crowd for something to make me happy. What missing piece did others have that made them happy & left me empty? I saw teenagers too close, mouthing each other here & there & felt pangs of loneliness I was sure no one else had ever experienced. I thought that a man’s physical touch would make me happy. Month after month I swung between feeling that my diet was the only thing I could control–and restricting my intake severely–to feeling I had no control & was stuck swelling larger & larger. When I needed to say “yes”, I was powerless. When I needed to say “no”, well, I was unaware of the power my “no” had so I neglected it (until I broke down in burned-out, teary exhaustion). Certainly, I thought, I am the most unhappy girl in the world, with the sorriest life. I didn’t just think it, I believed it, deep into my bones. Everyone else has it all, and God has left me with nothing.
These agreements with the Enemy, this despair that he spun into a sticky web stuck against the walls of my heart caused pain for years. Resolution after broken resolution led me to the end of myself time & again. There was emptiness, hollowness, & desperation that culminated in many gooey, dirty encounters with people who seemed more concerned about keeping themselves clean than trying to understand my agony.
The aching made me long for life to speed by. I wanted the painful moments to rush away towards–where?–I didn’t know or care to think.
Yet all that time, something inside me wouldn’t give up. Settling for this pained existence wasn’t an option. Even in my despair, a whisper graced the atmosphere around my mind: Why would God make life purely for desperation & no joy? Why would He create a world only to make it suffer? Why would he bless everyone else but not me? Why would He make me hollow without filling me up?
So I plunged deeper & deeper into his Word. Even when I hated it, I read it. I wrote it on my wrist & on my mirror. I engaged people who did not know Christ & encountered messes that made the hair on my arms stand up. I believed from the center of my chest that there was hope. And when I did not believe, He believed for me.
A transition began with no bells or whistles at the turning point. No altar call. More nights alone feeling abandoned & empty than nights with friends or at a church. I went from crying to weeping, from agony to relief (& eventually expectancy), from flicking ash off the end of cigarettes to showing children of poverty how smoke leaves our lungs dark & shriveled. I took the route of prayer, the role of seeker, the process of making room within myself. I went from determination not to break, to embracing my brokenness.

As indeed He says in Hosea, “Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’ and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’~Romans 9:25

The contrast between my thoughts this weekend & my thoughts years ago shocked me. I stood in the line to ride a gravity defying machine yesterday & as I looked around, concern for the wellbeing of the poor souls around me flooded my spirit. I wanted them to know Jesus. I wanted my life for them, the teens too close as well as the women whose veil of shallow confidence I could now see through. Now that the blinders have been lifted from my eyes I see that everyone else is not blissfully happy. We’re all broken. Fearful. Desperate. Rebellious. Hurting. Addicts. Lonely. Hungry. By a wonder bigger than this universe I have gone from one extreme to the other. I’m deeply in love; I’m deeply loved. Each morning is a priceless gift instead of drudgery. Even on bad days, I know I have purpose. When I am angry, I know that there is power available to help me overcome it. When people revile & wound & ignore me, I am seen & nurtured & blessed. I am truly the most fortunate woman alive; I went from believing that God had given me nothing, to believing He has spared no expense on my life. None of my worst fears will ever come true. He lavishes gifts on me from season to season.

For he will not much remember the days of his life because God keeps me occupied with joy in his heart.~Ecclesiastes 5:20

If I could change one thing about my life, I wouldn’t. The pain, the tears, the sorrow…it’s all leading me home, intensifying the ache for a beautiful & secure tomorrow. I could gush on & on, but truly it comes down to this: He has delivered us from the domain of darkness & transferred us to the Kingdom of his beloved Son. ~Colossians 1:13-14
How did I come this far? What car carried this heart from waste land to Promised Land?
I offer no A,B, C formula for how to get from one to the other. It wasn’t my mentor–though she helped. It wasn’t being involved in ministry–though it got me headed in the right direction. It wasn’t my church. It wasn’t my location or my school or my job.
It was simply the One who says: When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you. ~Isaiah 43:1b, Message
He threw me a rope, and by his mercy & Jesus’ blood, I grabbed it.

For thus says the One who is high & lifted up, who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: ‘I dwell in the high & holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite & lowly spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly, and to revive the heart of the contrite.’~Isaiah 57:15

We’re broken, whether we like it or not. Low & dirty is our natural state, but it doesn’t have to be anyone’s final state. Seek Him & be healed tonight, sweet friends. He makes masterpieces of our mud pies.

Can you tell how happy I am? What a wonder!

Can you tell how happy I am? What a wonder!

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10 Lessons of Hope

I have accumulated some great nuggets of knowledge over the past year and I want to share them! Not because I know it all, or even half of it all, but because I know different things than you do, and sharing our lessons is a good way to practice loving each other and living wise.

Here we go…

  • Wherever you are, be there. Community is built by people who invest in the lives of those around them rather than spend time searching for the group to be in. I realized this last summer when I noticed that the “favorites” list on my phone was over a page long, and full of people I did not talk to on a weekly basis. I had accumulated a list of the people I thought I needed to be with, and that had only served to damage the community God had placed me in. I trimmed the list down to seven people: it is far more user-friendly now, and I do not so often feel stretched out and stressed by the demands myriads of friends used to place on me.

“There isn’t anything on earth like relationships to make you holy.” ~Stasi Eldredge, Becoming Myself, 146

“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.” ~Acts 9:11, ESV

  • Be refreshed by the things you like to do. If you tend to overwork yourself (like me), you may find no space in your life for activities you enjoy. Change that. You need to do frequent, inexpensive things that you find refreshing. God gives us these pleasures as blessings; they help us through the ache of everyday life. For me it is yoga, and writing in my journal. Other people go on walks, cook, or build bonfires outdoors. (**Beware of idolatry: don’t turn these blessings into curses by giving them the heart that only belongs to God.**)

“But a heart alive is a heart that is awake and curious and pressing in to more.” ~ Stasi Eldredge, Becoming Myself, 115

  • Be (extra) kind to minorities. Not because they are any more desperate or less important than the ethnic majority, but because, odds are, things in their family tree haven’t gone so smoothly. Why else would they be far from their biological roots? Just subtly offer to pay for dinner when you’re out with a friend who is a minority member, or get plugged in to a mentoring program for at-risk youth. America has a situation on her hands. What are you gonna do about it?

“We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” ~Matthew 7:12, ESV

  • Own what you’re good at. I’ve wasted too many compliments, shrugging them away, saying, “Oh, it’s nothing, I’m not that good.” Take the compliment! Don’t be puffed up with unrighteous pride, but don’t apologize for being good at something either. I struggle with math and science but I’ve wowed some college instructors with essays and short stories. God has made me this way so I can serve HIS amazing purposes!

“God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted us to live. That’s why he sent Christ to make us what we are.”  ~Ephesians 2:10, CEV

  • Learn to say “no” to demands people place on you. Practice it if you have to; I did. This is especially difficult and of key importance if you have an enabling personality. Ask God, not men, what he would have you do with your time.

“Made in the image of God, we were created to take responsibility for certain tasks. Part of taking responsibility, or ownership, is knowing what is our job and what isn’t. Workers who continually take on duties that aren’t theirs will eventually burn out.” ~Boundaries, Dr. Henry Cloud & Dr. John Townsend, 27

  • Be OKAY with not knowing. No one knows it all. Don’t drive yourself mad searching for the answer to every question that flies through your head in a day. *You don’t have to win the arguments.* Doing research, learning, and seeking council is good, but no amount of historical data or advice or analysis can set your heart to rest. Only God offers real rest. Trust him as you spend a lifetime learning the truth.

God, show me the truth and show me the lies.

      “We are not uncertain about God, but uncertain of what He will do next. If we are only certain in our beliefs we get dignified and severe and have the ban of finality about our views but when we are rightly related to God, life is full of spontaneous, joyful uncertainty and expectancy.” ~Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, 120

  • Beware of people who do know. Again, no one knows it all. The president, scientists, your parents, your mentors, your pastor, your therapist, they may have pieces of truth that cultivate discernment within you but they do not know it all. Our not-knowing is what makes us human, and spurs us forward to humble reliance on God. His ways are **not** our ways. Look out for people who have the answers to all your questions. Imagine a librarian who, when asked for books about World War II, starts reciting her personal knowledge of the war. You’d probably walk away slowly and Google it later. Surround yourself with people who don’t have all the answers, but are quick to point you in the right direction.

“Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.”~1 John 4:1, ESV

“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” ~Hebrews 5:14, ESV

  • Grieve. It’s OKAY to cry when you leave a job you have only had for two years. It is OKAY to spend an entire afternoon writing down memories of a loved one who passed away. If you need to weep, weep. If you need to take time thinking and wading through your emotions, set aside that time. You can experience the pain now or let it snowball for the rest of your life. God wants to bring healing to the pain in your heart, it’s part of your restoration.

“There is hope for your future, declares the Lord.” ~Jeremiah 30:17, ESV

“Jesus wept.” ~John 11:35, ESV

“Smooth sailing does not make a good sailor.” ~Louis Zamperini, Devil at My Heels

((for more on grief check out Prayer as a Place, by Charles Bello))

  • Ask God what his special love language is for you. Heather Nelson (http://sunshinedreams2u.blogspot.com/) told me this at a retreat a few weeks ago, and little did I know, God would reveal our special language to me less than an hour later. I stood next to a window and the sun slowly peeked around a thick tree. The white rays pierced glass and kissed my forehead. Sunlight. Sunshine. That is one of the way God speaks to me, letting me know he is near. Today I basked in that same glow, feeling alive and rejuvenated by this tangible taste of everlasting love. Perhaps he speaks to you in dreams, or via shapes or sounds. Just ask!

“And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” ~Ephesians 2:17&18, ESV, emphasis mine

  • If you are not a slave to God, you are a slave to death. In a way, slavery is our only option. But the slavery of God leads to fruit, to life! With God as our master, we find true freedom and the ability to rest in his grace and do good things. The other option is default mode: remaining in bondage to our own fickle, wounded hearts. None of our decisions are for good when we live by the flesh, but though the war rages on when we live by the Spirit, we are able to surrender to God’s excellent plan for the redemption of our souls and this planet.

“Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.” ~Romans 6:16-18, NIV

“Give your life away in exchange for many lives, give away your blessings to multiply blessings, give away so that many might increase, and do it all for the love of God.” ~AnnVoskamp, One Thousand Gifts, page 197 (http://www.aholyexperience.com/)

Have a new year filled with hope, friends. Happy 2015!

Unforced Grace

You, Lord, are enthroned forever.

In my little life, You have already done so much.
You raised me up in Your word via loving parents.
You ignited that knowledge of the Scriptures by Your Holy Spirit.
You took me to Jamaica to break my heart for the nations.
You led me to a Native American Reservation in Washington state to set me face to face with the choice of who I will worship. In a fierce competition between me and You, You won.
Blessed be Your name.
You broke my body and wholly took control, though I fought it tooth and nail.
You shattered my pride and claimed my heart for Your own.
You led me to Mexico to discover grace and peace.
You drew me to North Little Rock to glimpse Your heart for the marginalized.
You allowed tragedy to strike as close to my heart as possible outside of my nuclear family.
I don’t know Your plan but I can see Your hand
Moving, shaping, preparing, making.

Few delights can equal the mere presence of one whom we trust utterly~George MacDonald

When I take a moment to reflect on the road I am walking,
I quickly become overwhelmed by what an eloquently written story my life is.
This God–His way is perfect. (Psalm 18:30)

Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me–watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythm of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.~Matthew 11:28-30 MSG

Poem, II

Much of my time is joy, is light
I won’t deny: there too is despair, there is night.
Though rare, there are times
When-a vine-angst climbs.

I am worried about going,
I am worried about throwing
All I have down a funnel,
Down a labyrinth tunnel.

Suddenly cigarettes and sex
Ashes blowing in my face, legs braced
Shine their neon lights, croon a hex
Put in reverse, the Highway to Hell now trace.

The road to Heaven: paved with negative emotions
Then they wash away: holy oceans.
By His breath, now I see
Often I choose death, though for life I am free.

Despite my natural tilt, He
Takes the wickedness away;
He soothes empty guilt, it won’t
Come into play.

He may not stop me
But he lets me decide:
Who will I be?
Which way will I ride?

I am not a romantic, but
Tears of my eyes against Him I can’t hide,
In the midst of my frantic He
Is there by my side.

Glory Bound and Growing

Right now is the best moment, the blessed moment.
*corny, but I kind of like it*
This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine here, in a place called “Dark Hollow.” In mid-America? Yep.
I swing on a swing-set with my two best friends (both under the age of 11). I love knowing that if not for me, they would not be at the park. And if they did not love me (even when I’m late and my truck is so messy there is barely room for them!), I would not have these sweet relationships. (Who would I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe too?!) They show me Jesus every week. The body of Christ is interconnected in a dazzling way. Praise to the Lamb!

Men sit on the park benches, dirty, next to their glitzy new cars. The skin on my legs that is exposed tingles unpleasantly as I walk by, not because of anything they have done or said, but because society has branded the word “rapist” on their foreheads. My preliminary judgment rests not on the content of their character but on their location and the way they wear their clothes. What if we look past their brands, Martin Luther King Jr. style, and invite them in to the Kingdom to worship beside us? What could people do if they were empowered by a friend who has everything (the Gospel) to offer?

I close my eyes. No guilt in life, no fear in death.

I know I’m spending my life in the right place. I am selling myself for the cause of righteousness, investing in a market with eternal dividends. Her smile, set off by the gap between her over-sized front teeth reminds me that darkness cannot hold back the light. Even when it seems we have the time and resources to undo only a fraction of the evil that exists, we know that there is hope. No soul is beyond redemption. Maybe if we take them gently by the hands, if we bid every other broken person come and worship Jesus with us, the lightness can push away the darkness. The church will grow, because we will grow. We’ll dance and sing and eagerly await the happy day when the Jesus who bids us be children comes to redeem this unimaginative world.

Christians should be troublemakers, creators of uncertainty, agents of a dimension incompatible with society,~Jacques Elliot

I ask the good Lord to cure me of my dry skin and my disobedience.

Let my actions speak loud enough to drown out my faulty words.

He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and the water of affliction, yet your teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your teacher. And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.~Isaiah 30:19b-21

Joyous Juncture

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.

Fall has come. In less than 32 hours my entire world has changed, has flipped.

Dad once told me that fall reminded him of Papaw’s death and the slow, steady cycle of time. The fall I experience is much more young and merciful.
I breath the steely, unclouded air. The light is yellow but in a less harsh way than it has been. This sky is feeling, growing, expanding. It’s a yellow that gently turns corners and peeks through dirty fiberglass doggy doors.
A thought, a déjà vu, lurks in the corners of my mind: love. But I’ve never fallen in love in the fall. In another life I must have loved someone for an autumn. It seems right. More right, at least, than dismissing the thought entirely.
The mystery in the cold air seems to whisper the word adventure. It bids no thought be spent on yesterday. It says, “This moment! This moment is now!”
Even my fatigued body perks up, willing exploits to take place, and daring me to knock on Danger’s ingress.
Don your flannel and let us be off. Up trees, near rivers, Tolkien-fashion, let us create a world in which to feast and bivouac.
You see, it’s not just a drop in temperature. More than that has happened to be sure. The whole world has changed. It readies itself for the gray death of winter.
I look forward to spring and its sunny charm, but the joy I enter into now is perfectly scheduled. A shadowy, breathy thoughtfulness reshapes my reflections. Liturgy seems more appropriate now, as the bold sun retreats for greater rest. Christmas lights are to come, leading to the turn of a 12-month era. I soak in Halloween and Harvest festivities but dare not peek around the bend to thoughts of holly and carols. We war with the urge to bury ourselves in blankets and contemplation, wishing all the best to those outside our threshold.

All of this is self-confessed by a whisp of air that blissfully tugs my bangs from their place against my skin. Magically the earth communicates with us more clearly than it has since last fall.

Real Talk

Living counter-culturally is going to be harder than I thought. Because the American church  is blending in so well with the culture (and forfeiting the ideals of Jesus) it is hard to say what really should be going on in a Christian’s life. And it is oh-so difficult to live with a Heavenly mindset in a culture obsessed with being comfortable right now! Less sinning should not be the only thing that’s different between the life of any given Christian and any given Unbeliever. There’s so much more to being a Christ follower. Hear it from the lips of Jesus Himself:

…Come you who are blessed by my father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me. Then the righteous will answer Him saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? and when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”~Matthew 25:34-40

 

It’s difficult! Living the way Jesus did is super hard. It is hard to do lots of good things (sans earthly reward) and not begin thinking to highly of yourself. Dying to self is just that…dying. It is hard to know where to start in a world as wide & wild & wrecked as this, It’s challenging, grueling, difficult.

But wait.

God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted us to live. That’s why he sent Christ to make us what we are. ~Ephesians 2:10

Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.~Matthew 11:29

He’s got a plan. And a promise. If you believe in God and all the words of Jesus above…then why do you hesitate to let it all go? Forget temporary “comforts,” go for gold, and find rest for your soul! Ask Him to send His Good Spirit to lead you on level ground (Psalm 143.) Follow Him like a sheep, not turning away for the sake of earthly desires or security. Step into your new life.

Enjoy the wild ride.

Peace Playing Hard to Get

Don’t be a runner,
I constantly tell myself
For runners break down & destroy.
Nomads move towards while runners move away.
Away from people, places, experiences, the earth, God: everything we were meant to embrace.
Be a lover and a leader,
A never-giver-up-er.

Through the hardness,
Through the wandering,
Through the hate and ignorance and hurt feelings,
Through dark and light;
God lifts His children up.
He offers immense hope.
His peace is an elusive, yet everlasting one.
His love is home,
His world a declaration of glory!

Remember me, O God, for my good~Nehemiah

Giant Leap

The sun filets the blurred green countryside. I’m driving too fast. Sun-bleached hair whips my cheeks, coarse.
Pumping gas I realize that everyone sees the same me that they saw last summer; a kid lifeguard in that not-quite-full-fledged-adult stage. $32.98. I get a little discouraged as I hang up the nozzle. Have I gone nowhere since last year? Is the only difference between me now and me then the few thousand dollars in my bank account and the restored air conditioning unit in my truck? Is that all I have to show after the most challenging year of my (short) life?
I recall the thoughts of this morning: how heavy my wrongdoings now weigh on me, some more than others. I see how destructive my foolishness has been more clearly than ever before. I feel God’s displeasure when I make sinful mistakes. Ouch, for I slip so often.
Decide what to be and go be it.
That’s just it. You have to know Right to know wrong. The weight that I feel, the tears running down the window panes of my heart, those are of God, not the Devil. Recognizing those blunders is a step in the right direction. Maybe even a leap. I care; I care more than ever that what I do be glorifying to God. I believe I know a little better what pleases Him now than I did last summer.
No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him! 1 Corinthians 2:9
The chasm is wide between me and eternity. Happiness is far away, but it is closer. Closer than ever before!
The ache, the roughness of shame feels like a noose tightening on my neck, threatening me now. The good news? It only gets better as the noose gets tighter. God’s redemption becomes more dramatic, His love more radical. Messiah Jesus draws closer, I am made new.
Sometimes I wish that I was under the sun in Africa instead of Arkansas, or at a pool in Chicago instead of Chenal, but I would not change this story for that of another. It’s so exciting, it’s so amazing.
I don’t know about you but I am definitely staying tuned to see what happens.

“Go, and sin no more!”~Jesus

Soul Trouble

“Do you think you can do a better job with your life than I can?” God asks

God’s voice, it comes, calm through stormy thoughts and emotions. Like the moon on a lake, His voice glances off every ripple, all the waves. And it’s peaceful. He calls me to go, I know not where. He promises grand adventure, I insist on knowing how I can get myself there.
But it’s not about that.
It’s about my obedience. Keeping His word. Loving the unlovable. Telling the Truth. Dying a little bit here and there.
“And I will give them one heart, and a new Spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people and I will be their God.”-Ezekiel 11:19&20
Phew. All I have to do is tell Him that I love Him.
“For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has Himself given me a commandment-what to say and what to speak. And I know that His commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.”~Jesus
I’m not here to figure out what is going to happen next. It is my joy to follow Him around this corner, to listen, obey, speak the Good News. That never changes.

Ask Him for a some peace. Feel it wash over you, erasing the trouble from your tired tired soul.