Following Close Behind

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It has been a noisy week. As I sit down to write this post, I still have all of these words scrambling around in my mind…words I’ve heard, words I’ve read, words I’ve spoken, words I’m trying to figure out how to express.

And as I come into this space…I’m yearning for quiet. I’m yearning for stillness. I’m yearning for less of me. I’m tired of my words.

It’s a sure sign that I need to hear His.

As we move into the weekend, maybe you (like me) are feeling that your brain is over-crowded and your heart is feeling a little weary.

We all need Sabbath-rest, friends.

So I’ll leave words here from the Psalmist, words to help my eyes re-focus on Him…and maybe take a walk, let everything else fade away for a little while, and leave room for the Father’s still, small voice.

May you find some room for quiet this weekend, some rest for your heart, some time to let everything around you fall to a hush for even just a little while…let’s leave space for His words, room for His presence.

My heart is confident in you, O God;
    my heart is confident.
    No wonder I can sing your praises!
Wake up, my heart!
Wake up, O lyre and harp!
I will wake the dawn with my song.    

 I will thank you, Lord, among all the people.
    I will sing your praises among the nations.
For your unfailing love is as high as the heavens.
    Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds.

Be exalted, O God, above the highest heavens.
    May Your glory shine over all the earth. – Psalm 57:7-11

Your unfailing love is better than life itself;
    how I praise you!
I will praise you as long as I live,
    lifting up my hands to you in prayer.
You satisfy me more than the richest feast.
    I will praise you with songs of joy…

Because You have been my help, Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice. My soul follows close behind You; Your right hand upholds me. -Psalm 63:3-5,7-8

 

Don’t Be Afraid of Taking It Slow

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When I was in fifth-grade, my class spent a day planting pine tree seedlings to fill areas of a local forest left bare by a lumber company cutting down trees. It was our Earth Day project and I was so excited to get out into the woods. I was even more excited when we were all given a few baby trees to take at the end of the afternoon so that we could plant them wherever we chose.

My parents helped me plant my bundle of pine trees on the border of our property. It wasn’t too long afterwards that we moved away from that house and that town…but my grandparents, uncles, and aunts remained there, living on that stretch of land where I’d ran so many times from my house to theirs. So, over the years, I’d go back to visit our family and always take a look at my trees, too. It felt good to have left something behind, something good that could keep growing; I didn’t live there anymore, but my trees did…so I felt like I was still a part of that land.

I remember when they were knee-high…I remember how impressed I was when they grew to reach my shoulders…I remember how delighted I felt, years later, when I first saw that they had finally outgrown me.

It sometimes feels like it wasn’t really that long ago when I first placed their roots in the ground, but since I’ve planted those trees? I’ve lived in no less than seven new towns, graduated from high school, moved out of my parent’s house to start college, got married and had three babies, watched my little sisters and brother grow up to start families and careers. My oldest baby started high school and my youngest is already 9. 

It has been twenty-four years since I planted those seedlings.

And last week, I stood in that old yard of mine and looked up in awe at those same trees. These trees of such fragile beginnings, once so carefully carried by my ten-year-old hands, are now strong and deeply rooted. They’ve survived snow and thunderstorms, the heat of twenty-four North Carolina summers. The fragile limbs I once knew are now thick branches — and they’re home to birds, to insects, serve as the playground of happy squirrels.

The same trees that I once held in my lap on the ride home from school now touch the sky.  

I haven’t been able to get those trees off my mind since I came home from that visit. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about how many years have passed and all that was changing in my life while all the while, those trees were steadily digging roots into earth, drinking in sunshine and rain, stretching inch by inch, reaching higher and higher. They never tired of holding their ground. No matter how many days and weeks and years passed, they simply stood taller.

They had small beginnings, those trees. Little hands planted them and then I had to leave them, trusting them to my grandparents and to their Creator to watch over them as they grew. I can’t pinpoint when it happened, not exactly. I can’t tell you in what year they changed from seedlings or lanky adolescents into mature pines that thrive on their own. All I know is that they stand now in the fullness of what they were created to be.

It took time, and maybe that’s why I can’t get them off my mind — because it’s something I’m learning over and over again…the things that matter, the growth that matters — it all takes time and, usually, more than we expect.

It can be so, so easy to get caught up in looking for quick results. It can become a daily race to make sure we get the right numbers, the right boxes checked off, the right amount of accomplishment. There’s a feeling of urgency to succeed, a worrisome hum in the air that we’re going to get too old to matter, that there are too many people ready to take our place if we don’t out-speak and out-do them right now, right this instant. We feel guilty if we don’t finish our ideas or achieve our goals within the time-frame our culture (and our own panicked selves) expect of us…

But, most often, the truly good things in this life do take time.  The garden of nourishing greens, the caterpillar’s transformation to butterfly, a baby in the womb, a child growing day by day, long-lasting friendships, a forest filled with trees…real growth and real maturity requires time.

And while we grow frustrated with anything that feels too slow, God is patient. And although He can (and sometimes does) change things in an instant, He is interested in consequences that are eternal.  

He cares about the single seeds that are planted. He tends them, watches them grow, looks for harvest that endures.  

The earth is layer over layer, soil rich with yesterday nourishing today.

The stars go on further and there are more of them than we can imagine and not a one of them panics that their light isn’t significant. It takes a sky full to light up the night.

He tells His story through generation upon generation, never growing weary of reaching us with His love.

There is space for you, for us, for our lives. Don’t be afraid of losing your place. Don’t be afraid of running out of time.  

God has entrusted you with a dream, with the work in your hands, with the relationships in your life — be patient with these sacred gifts. Our time is in His hands…so don’t fear the passing of seasons. When we live surrendered to Him, He never wastes time. He uses it to help us grow…what He asks of us is that we follow His leading and do what He enables us to do in the day we are living now.  Offer your best while you entrust Him with the enduring and eternal harvest…He promises to finish the good work He begins in us.

When we believe that it’s all up to us and that it only matters if we get it done as soon as possible – and the sooner, the better – we will begin to live, create, and love surface-deep.

When we begin to believe that our words are important only if they’re the loudest in the room, we’ll get caught up in the clamor and miss the still, small voice that matters most.

If we believe that small beginnings aren’t worth our time and effort, then we’ll never see how beauty can grow.

When we try so hard to keep up with the pace of the crowd, we will lose step with Him.

Let’s be brave enough to get quiet and listen. Let’s be brave enough to take our time. Let’s move to the rhythm He sets for us, His melody of grace.

Let’s be brave enough to trust Him.

Day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year – keep digging roots deep into love, keep nourishing your life with Light, keep drinking in the water that you never have to fear will run dry, keep reaching out toward the heavens.

In this simple way, with patience and perseverance, we will hold our ground through every storm and the change of every season…through it all, our Creator will sustain us and we will bear the fruit He intends for us to share.  

Steadily, inch by inch, we’ll keep growing into the fullness of who our God has created us to be.

They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.-Jeremiah 17:8

Encircle Me

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There are some days that are harder than others. There are some days when self-doubt and fear drum away in the corner of my mind. There are some days when accusation and anxiety clash their cymbals over and over again, raising a ruckus. There are some days when a chorus of insecurity plays over and over again.

The longer I let myself sit as an audience to this band of reproach, the louder and more enthusiastically they play.

So here’s what I do these days. I reach for God’s Word. I reach for the words of Spirit and Life.  When I refuse to give ear to the uninvited band and open my heart to the voice of Jesus, a different song begins to play.

When I encircle myself with the truth of what God speaks to me, about me, and for me, insecurity becomes confidence in who He is, in who He says I am.  Self-doubt becomes His perfect strength in my weakness. Accusation becomes my story of redemption, the melody of grace.  Anxiety becomes faith in His goodness, in His purpose for me. The fullness of His love leaves no room for fear.

It’s a choice for me – and some days it’s a fight – to resist the lies and to purposefully tune into the words of truth.

But these words are our defense and our greatest weapon against the darkness that tries to infiltrate our hearts. And when we pick them up, when we open our ears to Him and ask Him for a new song – even in the presence of our enemies, He lifts up our heads and puts our feet on steady ground. He is near to us when we call Him, our help and our strong Deliverer. We are more than conquerors – we have overwhelming victory – over all these things through the Savior who loves us.

I’m holding onto this book even more tightly these days, and His words daily hold me together.

Wrap us in Your truth, God. Hold our hands steady as we hold Your word. Open our ears to hear the song You sing over us, the song of deliverance and delight. 

For the Lord your God is living among you.
    He is a mighty savior.
He will take delight in you with gladness.
    With His love, He will calm all your fears.
    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”-Zephaniah 3:17, NLT

 

Spirit & Life

I’m sitting here in the little corner of my room where I like to write. There’s a window in front of me; it’s still light outside, even though the dusk is as gray as the afternoon was. We’ve had a few cloudy days in a row here, with rain falling off and on.

It’s been a quiet day. I’ve done some laundry, helped Kailey take care of her birthday-guinea-pig (our first actual needs-to-exercise and have-attention pet), read quite a bit. I’ve been reading through the book of John again. I come back to John again and again; I love to hear Jesus’ voice in this gospel. When my heart feels a little shadowed, it’s His words that leave no room for darkness.

So when I read John 7:46 today, I had to laugh at what is maybe the understatement of all time. The Pharisees were trying to get local officers to detain Jesus and they wouldn’t do it. “No man ever spoke like this Man,” they said.

 They couldn’t know how deeply true this was, how wholly right they were.

No man ever spoke like this Man, for there had never been a man like Him. Jesus was a son of man, yes, but also the Son of God. Before the creation of the world, He was there. Through Him, it was all made. Through Him, we were made.

And He spoke the heart of His Father into the world, into us.  He spoke forgiveness. Healing. Peace. Freedom. Love.  His words were power. His words were glory. His words changed everything.

And on this regular day that’s turning quickly into night, this quiet Thursday, or whatever sort of day it might be while you’re reading these words…He is still speaking to me and to you.

Maybe now is the time to slow down, to ask Him what He’s saying, to listen for His voice. If you need kindness, if you need Truth, if you need grace…if you need love that doesn’t falter and hope that doesn’t fail – His voice is like no other voice. His words are like no other words.  He said it best: The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life. 

 

 

Sustain

Rather than resolutions, some people find a word to focus on throughout the year…a single word to dig into, to learn from. I don’t always do this, but I picked a word this year – or, rather, the Holy Spirit led me to this word in the last days of 2016: sustain.

To sustain is to give support, to supply, to nourish, to keep up, to support, to bear up under, to buoy up…and as the new year dawned, I thought about God’s promises that He is all of this for us, our very present help in every single day.

We can’t know what’s around the bend of time. We can’t plan for what we don’t know is coming our way.  What we can do is lean into His love, listening for His voice and following when we hear Him.

And when the difficult moments show up, He has gotten there first. He is already holding us steady. It is beautiful when we can see it, when we can see how God has already prepared us for whatever may come.

These six months of 2017 have been full of uncertainty, crossroads, grief, and holding onto hope. These six months have taught me more about give us this day our daily bread…I’m learning how to depend on the presence of God to sustain for today, for this moment, for this need.

I’m learning to trust that He has already shown up, already made a way before me.

And what is there to fear if He is the One promising to sustain me every step of the way?

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Maybe it has been a few weeks, maybe a month – I’m not sure how much time has passed since I’ve started playing this song a few times a day, sometimes over and over again. Sometimes this happens. A song will plant itself firmly into my heart and the words will grow into protective branches over my heart, lyrics like leaves of shelter.  And when moments come that would bring anxiety to my heart, the words of truth and grace are already growing wild there, leaving fear no room to grow.

I hope it reminds you, too, that His love has always shown up first and always, always will.

 

 

 

Just As We Are

Tonight, words are few. I’ll be honest – my kids are loud, my house needs a ferocious cleaning, and there are all manner of things on my to-do list that I have not yet gotten done today.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has their share of distractions…I’m sure there are those of us, too,  who would raise our hand to say – my heart is heavy, my mind is too full, my shoulders are feeling weighed down with everything I’m trying to carry or the problems I wish I could solve.

If you’re raising your hand to say ‘me, too’ —

The psalmist says again and again, at different times and in different ways – I cried out to the Lord and He heard me. He helped me. He healed me. He delivered me. He rescued me. Out of His great love, He lifts me out of every dark place and even the deepest pit.

That’s for us, too. That’s for me. That’s for you. When we surrender our pride and our expectations and our try-hard and our figure-it-out  — we are free to cry out to Him and put our hearts in His hands, to have these promises as realities: “weeping may endure for the night, but joy comes in the morning…You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, to the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to You forever.”-Psalm 30: 5, 11-12

Don’t wait for things to get easier. Don’t wait to make yourself ‘presentable’ or for the ‘perfect’ quiet time…now, in the middle of the noise and the chaos – in the middle of the heartache and the questions – in the middle of everything…go to our Savior and let it all fall at His feet. Surrender every bit of it, because He loves us so much that He wants to bear our burdens. He is already praying for us. He is our safest place. He is our peace. He wants to give joy and comfort, strength and rest. Find Him there, at the throne of mercy. When we surrender ourselves, just as we are,  and lift our eyes to Him…we find arms-wide-open-welcome.

“How great the love, how strong the hand that holds us.”

 

 

Sunday Morning

It is still early here. The sun isn’t showing its face quite yet; when I peek through the window, all I can see is darkness draping the front yard. Street lights burn in their spaces, a porch light is a pool of light across the street…but around these points, darkness reigns.

But I know the light is coming. I know, at the right time, the sun will begin to dispel the darkness. I know the strength of that bright star will end the night. Even now, even as the darkness seems to cover us, the sun is on its way and so I do not fear. Its power has never been overwhelmed by the night; instead, darkness flees from its presence.

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I’m turning my eyes this morning to the One who is steadfast, to the God whose strength always, always overcomes the darkness. Our prayers are heard by the God who reigns above all…our God who is able and good is still with us — even when it seems like our situation is dark, even when it seems like the night is long.

I do not fear because He is faithful.

I know that He is bringing a Day that will chase away the darkness forever. I know that, one day, night will be no more.

In the meantime, we let Him shine through us. We are the porch lights and the street lamps and the candles and the stars. In our lives, darkness has no hold.

Lord, let us shine ever brighter and ever bolder. Let our lights shine until others see Your glory, Your love, and Your power even in the night.

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Even now, the darkness is thinning and the sun is changing my view…before it fully shows its face, I know that morning has come.

Let us acknowledge the LORD; let us press on to acknowledge Him. As surely as the sun rises, He will appear; He will come to us like the winter rains, like the spring rains that water the earth.-Hosea 6:3

The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armor of light.-Romans 13:12

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