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

 

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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

 

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.

 

 

 

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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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

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