We Are Held

In some ways, I am feeling unsettled, uncertain, and unsure as 2017 dawns. Maybe you are, too.

We can’t know what to expect from this new year, but we do know that this is the life of faith – taking one step after another in confidence that the Way-Maker goes before us and leads us exactly where we need to go.

Whatever may come – The Lord is our portion, therefore we will hope in Him. (Lamentations 3:24)

Here’s what I want for this year, for me and for you – I want to keep seeking. Keep knocking. Keep coming to the table where He has set a place just for us. Keep following Jesus, wherever He leads.

If we keep our eyes fixed on Him alone and our hearts open before Him no matter where we are, no matter the season…what I think we will keep learning soul-deep is this: He will sustain us.

Behold, God is my helper;
    the Lord is the upholder of my life…-Psalm 54:4

Even to your old age, I am He,
And even to gray hairs I will carry you!
I have made, and I will bear;
Even I will carry, and will deliver you.-Isaiah 46:4

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You Came

It’s not labeled as a Christmas song, but the words of this song are Christmas to me…

He came. Jesus came when I needed Him. He woke up my heart and breathed life into my soul. I couldn’t walk out of the tomb of sin and shame on my own, I couldn’t unbind the fear that kept me from moving, that kept me stuck in the darkness…

He unwound the fear with perfect love, set me free.

He sang over my life and loved me with whole and perfect love until I began to believe what He said about me: that I was wanted. Cherished. A daughter of God, beloved. He loved me into days like this one, days when I can dance through my house with joy, wild and uncaring about awkward limbs because it is my heart that is leaping without worry, without shame….because it is His song that moves my feet and my voice.

The Light, the glory, the holiness of the Father…it’s given to us, revealed through this Savior whose selfless, all-encompassing love led Him into Bethlehem…to the cross where He took my pain, my sin, my death and gave me righteousness, strength, and life  — life overflowing and never — never, ever, ever — ending.

Can we know how deep, how wide, how long, how high His love is?

Didn’t He begin to show us when the virgin glowed with expectation, when a baby leapt in the womb of the old, when the wedding feast was saved, when the net was filled with fish, when the bellies where filled with lunch, when the blind eyes opened clear and full of wonder, when the deaf ears heard music in the wind, when limbs helpless and frail strengthened to running, when demons ran back to where they belonged, when life was called from death, when He carried the cross in our place, when the tomb stood empty and the upper room was filled with Spirit?

He comes to our need, our miracle-working, beyond-expectation, mightiest, nothing-is-too-hard God.

Turn our fear into faith, God — help us to see who You are again – again and again, let our hearts burn within us until we know that we stand in Your presence.

He has life enough, love enough, joy enough, peace enough, grace enough, healing enough, power enough — for me, for you, for every one who will ask for Him to come….for every one who will believe Him.

We begin in rags, we begin broken, we begin alone and orphaned, we begin hiding in shame, dead in our sin, slaves to our fear.

But Jesus came.

And we come out of the grave, blinking in His brilliant light, washed white and purified…we come out of the grave, free and unfettered, wearing beauty for ashes. We come out of the grave, a child of the Most High God. We come out of the grave, made whole. We come out of the grave, loved. We come out of the grave, alive.

And what can separate us now from the love of Christ?

... I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8: 38-39 

Annunciation by Scott Cairns

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Deep within the clay, and O my people
very deep within the wholly earthen
compound of our kind arrives of one clear,
star-illumined evening a spark igniting
once again the tinder of our lately
banked noetic fire. She burns but she
is not consumed. The dew lights gently,
suffusing the pure fleece. The wall comes down.
And—do you feel the pulse?—we all become
the kindled kindred of a King whose birth
thereafter bears to all a bright nativity.

(Scott Cairns is one of my favorite poets, but I was unfamiliar with this poem until another poet I hold in high esteem featured it in his Advent series…please check out Malcolm Guite’s site for more beautiful words and images. You can also hear him reading this poem, which is a moment you don’t want to miss.)

What I’m Holding Onto This Christmas

You’re probably seeing the same things I’m seeing these days: Christmas trees twinkling, white wire reindeer grazing on lawns, cookies frosted in red and green lining the shelves of the grocery store bakery…for Thanksgiving has come and gone, bringing us into the midst of another Advent season.

It’s a strange time of year, isn’t it? We’re told by most Christmas songs blaring over the store’s speakers that we’re supposed to be jolly and full of festive cheer…but that’s not all that Christmas brings to us. For me, it also brings nostalgia for my childhood and a yearning to create a sense of wonder in my kids…it brings an awareness of another year of my life coming to an end…it’s a reminder of the stark contrasts of our world: those who have an abundance of all they need and those who – simply – don’t. December brings the darkest days of the year and sometimes those shadowy edges of our days feel unnerving, uncertain.

This year, especially, the world does feel heavy with pain and so fragile…

but, then, it always has been.

That’s why we needed our Savior to come.

It’s why we still need Him now.

This is the side of Christmas I need the most this year: Mary and Joseph saying ‘yes’ to God’s purpose even when they couldn’t understand it all, a people who would not give up hope of rescue even in their time of fear, the unlikely manger becoming the bed for a King who could not leave His people hopeless, the brightest and most wondrous words coming in the dark of night to ordinary men:

Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all the people; for there is born to you this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:10)

The glitter and the Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree are fun, and I’m sure there will be  moments for that kind of festivity — but I am leaning on the every-day-and-all-year-round-truths that undergird the celebration: Christ has come. Christ is with us.

He is with you. He is with me.

The One who loves us does not leave us. He is steadfast in His love…He waits for us to welcome Him, waits with a heart yearning for us, and once we do — He is here. He bears our pain. He understands our sorrow. He takes away our fear. He gives us His own righteousness to wear instead of our sin and shame. When the darkness descends, He shows us the beauty and power of His light.

In the middle of it all, we have the hope of His unfailing love –

and this love is my candle steadily burning bright, my consolation, my peace, and the hope of every tomorrow held in His hands.

(I know how busy and overwhelming this season can be…so I’ve decided to pick up our journey through Genesis with Together We Follow in full-force this January. Until then, I’ll be sharing the music, poetry, and art that quiets my heart and re-focuses my eyes on what matters most during the Christmas season.)

In The Storm

Things look a little different around here these days. There are trees, their leaves now golden-brown, bowed low to the ground along the highway. Ditches are deeper, wider. Cracks and widening gullies have appeared on the edges of the woods near our house. Water lines stain buildings in town. Gaps appear where trees used to stand and, in one spot, an entire row of pines has disappeared.

Hurricane Matthew may be long gone, but the evidence of it still remains. Our land is changed. We have been marked by the storm.

I know I’ve been absent here on the site over the past little while. I’ve been watching and waiting as this storm of contention continues to hover over our entire nation. I’ve been wondering what the long-term affects will look like…I’ve been wondering how our land will change…I’ve been wondering how my life will be altered.

We can’t control the storm or the changes time will reveal…but I’ve been thinking a lot about the landscape of my own heart in a time when wildfires of anger are hot and fierce, ignited by careless words…in a time when hatred and fear are raining down…in a time when the ground beneath us seems to be cracking under the pressure of it all.

My instinct is to find shelter, to avoid the storm as much as I can, to keep change at bay.

But I’m reminded, as I watch the constant flow of painful news stories, that Jesus willingly stepped into our storm. He came into the pain, into the sin-filled world, to bring His peace. He didn’t avoid the chaos, but pursued our hearts in the middle of it. He came into the mess of my mistakes so that I could know His life-giving love.

If I am following Him, I cannot pile sand-bags around my heart to maintain my own safety. If I am committed to loving people like He loves people, I have to be okay with exposure to the gales…and I CAN be, because I know that the Peace-Speaker, the One whom the wind and the rains obey, always holds my soul steady in His hands.

We’re all enduring a storm and, one way or another, we’ll be marked by it. But I don’t want to be marked by fear, apathy, anger, or confusion. I want it to be the Holy Spirit teaching and shaping the landscape of my soul as this season continues.

Instead of hardening toward those I disagree with, I want my heart to soften in compassion. I need to strengthen my resolve to become quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger, and the first to love. I want to tend even more diligently to these roots so that I am firmly planted in truth, immovable by even the fiercest wind. I want to remain bowed low in prayer. I want a deeper desire to intercede for others who need Him. I want to be more vulnerable, to throw up the windows and open the doors even as the rain pours and the thunder bellows — because I  want to be faithful to go into the world…into the storm…with the good news of Jesus Christ.

We are the children of God, the body of Christ, the citizens of the kingdom of light — so let us live unafraid and undeterred by the schemes of the enemy. Don’t let the cacophony of the storm persuade us to stop singing the song of mercy, grace, and redemption we have been given…it may seem powerful and overwhelming at times, but ‘all authority in heaven and on earth’ belongs to our Savior. His voice cuts through the chaos. His truth does not falter. His power and His love do not fail.

Our world will keep changing – but the One who holds its purpose remains steadfast.

He has entrusted us with the call to shine into the darkness, not just to light up our own safe circle…and we can follow where He leads us, knowing that there is no storm strong enough to extinguish the Light of Jesus Christ within us.

Knowing You are with us, we can boldly declare Your name to this world.  Knowing how You love us, we yield to the changes You make in us…conform us to Your image, Jesus, and let our lives glorify the Father.  Remind us, Lord, of who You are…in our hope in You, we can stand firm through every storm that comes into our lives.  

“Death could not hold You,
The veil tore before You
You silence the boast of sin and grave
The heavens are roaring
The praise of Your glory
For You are raised to life again

You have no rival
You have no equal
Now and forever God You reign
Yours is the kingdom
Yours is the glory
Yours is the Name above all names.”

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.  Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer…

 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble…

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” – from Romans 12

“He’s Never Failed & He Won’t Start Now”

After the unexpected impact of Hurricane Matthew in our area, planned and unplanned days out of school for my kids, and a family trip…I am finding my footing again in a return to regular rhythms of life.

I am thankful for the routines, for the quiet corners of a day and moments to spend with Words that bring peace and life….especially because things feel hard right now. There’s a level of anxiety around us that is palpable.

This darkness tries to pull us in, this sinking feeling strong in this time when discord tries to win the day.

But, again — as many times as it takes — again and again and again — “I will stand my ground where hope can be found.” Again and again and again, I will put my trust in the Light that conquers darkness. I will put my faith in the One who is the Prince of Peace, the One who has already overcome. When I am uncertain and afraid  — I will sing praise. I will stake my life in His love.  When I feel helpless and small, I will remember that authority over nature and time, nations and governments, the church and our future, my family and my heart — it still belongs to God. It always has and always will.

In this time when everything feels mixed-up, I know that this is what I need: Prayer. Time to listen. Time to read His words to us. I need to see the world by His Light, by His truth.

On that note, I’ll pick up our daily readings again tomorrow…we’re in Genesis, walking alongside Abram.

For tonight…I think that the most useful and true thing I can say to myself and to you is this – it’s His presence that we need.

Forget the noise and the answers flying around and the dire predictions and the stress of what has been and what will be — let’s get away, find even just moments of silence, and turn our eyes to Him. He is our help. 

We need Him.

I pray that we will knock and find the door swinging wide open….listen and hear the still, small voice….lay down the burdens and pick up peace…

Father, we come to You.

 I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, which made heaven and earth. -Psalm 121:1-2

My flesh and my heart faileth: but God is the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever.
-Psalms 73:26