It’s the little things.

it’s warmth and shelter in the middle of the storm
it’s card games and Mario Cart and wii
it’s lingering over books
it’s baking cookies and bread to enjoy together
it’s a selfless man who constantly and consistently works hard with no need for a spotlight
it’s food for sustenance and enjoyment
it’s soothing, soul-feeding music
it’s more than enough of everything even when my warped view tries to tell me otherwise
it’s reading Truth freely and without constraint
it’s sharing memories over old photos
it’s prayers prayed with the same, loving man for nearly 3 decades
it’s the love and affection and friendship of mothers and daughters and sisters
it’s laughter, unforced and free
it’s a future Hope of more than enough Grace
it’s everyday reminders that we’re not alone…
and there is a God…
and He does love us…
it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big.

It’s the little things.

it’s waking up to a world covered in a million white sparkles
it’s time spent with my sweet mom
it’s phone calls with my sisters
it’s the countless games of cards played around the table
it’s praying as each loved one came and left again
it’s finding meaning in the mundane
it’s knowing growth will come
it’s the words of hope and comfort that sooth the weary soul
it’s hope that life isn’t lived in vain
it’s experiencing peace and rest amid a strife-filled world
it’s conversations so long and meaningful that your coffee gets cold
it’s help with the dishes
it’s the joy of hearing familiar voices after long absences
it’s laughing until you cry
it’s sharing struggles and rejoicing in victories
it’s finding a draft you meant to post two weeks ago
it’s everyday reminders that we’re not alone…
and there is a God…
and He does love us…
it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big.

Diffused Light

In 12 hours I’ll be back home again…not the ideal thoughts on the Monday morning after a break, but it gave me the motivation I needed to get up and get going. I like my job. I really do. But each morning I wake up dreading the day for whatever reason. No, it’s not “whatever reason” it’s that when you struggle with chronic depression, mornings are particularly hard. The day ahead feels daunting. I’ve found over the years that once I’m going, it’s fine; it’s the initial thoughts that need to be overcome. Anyway, this morning I got up, got dressed, read my devotions, and chose to put on a smile. I don’t mean a poser-fake sort of smile, I mean the this-is-your-life-you-are-truly-blessed-even-if-you-don’t-feel-it sort of smile. Every morning I have to remind myself that how I live this life and view this day is a choice–depression or not.

Anyway, I walked out my door and I found a stunning white fur-covered world. Fog caused frost to settle all over the trees, decks,power lines, the antenna on the car and each leaf and twig and blade of grass. Anything and everything that the fog touched, frosted. I was beautiful. Stunningly beautiful. An otherwise dismal, cloudy day transformed to a magical world. Once again, I thought of the beauty in the midst of the dismal. Beauty in pain. Beauty in suffering. Beauty in confusion. Beauty in the fog.

The roads were fine, but the fog hung thick and allowed only limited vision. As I drove through the cloud tunnel, the monochromatic world around me, I saw a small break of diffused light. It wasn’t bright yellow. No round orb was visible. But a brighter light glowed and for that moment, it allowed me to see a little further down the road. Instead of the 100 feet in front of me, I could see a bit more asphalt.

Once again, I was reminded how much depression is like fog. The sun isn’t blocked out completely, but vision is impaired. I often deride myself for struggling to get out of bed in the morning, but driving through the ground-level clouds, I thought how natural it is in the diminished vision to slow down, be careful, and just concentrate on what’s immediately in front of you. As soon as I look beyond the day (or sometimes the hour) I’m overwhelmed because all I see is hazy white. My vision is impaired. But if I simply look at the road in front of me, trusting that the pavement will lead me, I’m ok. Alert. Possibly on edge, but ok.

I have no idea what your fog or struggle is today. It may be finances, a crappy marriage, hurting kids or chronic illness. I have no idea. But I pray that, whatever your situation, you will look to God and take heart. The Light of Christ will never leave you even if His light and presence are diffused by struggle. And believe it or not, there is intense and immense beauty right in the middle of (and sometimes because of) the fog.

Seek

 

Don’t get lost in despair; believe in God, and keep on believing in Me. My Father’s home is designed to accommodate all of you. If there were not room for everyone, I would have told you that. I am going to make arrangements for your arrival. I will be there to greet you personally and welcome you home, where we will be together. ~Jesus

I am the vine, and you are the branches. If you abide in Me and I in you, you will bear great fruit. Without Me, you will accomplish nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is like a branch that is tossed out and shrivels up and is later gathered to be tossed into the fire to burn. If you abide in Me and My voice abides in you, anything you ask will come to pass for you. Your abundant growth and your faithfulness as My followers will bring glory to the Father. ~Jesus

So many questions whirl around in my head regarding the future that I easily “get lost in despair”. I wonder about my own direction and purpose as I view my emptying nest. I wonder about my kids’ futures as they try to determine their own paths. I  can quickly feel overwhelmed and small. Then, I’m drawn back to the basics. Called gently by my loving God to the simplicity and power of these two actions: to seek God and seek good. As we seek God and seek good, He draws us to Himself; it’s the essence of abiding in His love.

Seek God…seek good…

I have no idea what this year will bring. I have no idea what the road ahead holds. But, no matter what my home or bank account or job looks like and no matter where my kids are, I know as I seek God and seek good I’ll be exactly where He wants me to be.

Seek God…

You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart~Jeremiah

Seek God and live. ~Amos

Your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” ~Jesus

Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.~Jesus

Love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. ~Jesus

Seek good…

Seek good and not evil, so you can live. ~Amos

 Learn to do good;
    commit yourselves to seeking justice.
 Make right for the world’s most vulnerable
the oppressed, the orphaned, the widow.
Come on now, let’s walk and talk;
let’s work this out. ~Isaiah

The Lord told you what is good,
    and this is what he requires of you:
to do what is right, to love mercy,
    and to walk humbly with your God. ~Micah

Love your neighbor like you love yourself. ~Jesus

 

 

 

It’s the little things.

it’s waking up on a Friday after a challenging week
it’s knowing that in just a few hours the house will be full again
it’s the smell of coffee–it’s always the smell of coffee
it’s the 3 am snap-chats from the kids on the road
it’s experiencing shared joys and little triumphs with students
it’s meaningful conversations
it’s possessing the ability to express gratitude
it’s the crazy squirrel perched on the deck providing entertainment
it’s beauty in seeing prayers answered
it’s the gentle forgiveness offered and received
it’s listening to Christmas music
it’s the privilege of bearing one another’s burdens
it’s the reassurance that the dark days will eventually end
it’s the hope and reality of Dawn
it’s everyday reminders that we’re not alone…
and there is a God…
and He does love us…
it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big.

The Beauty

 

IMG_3650The screen and keyboard blur as my eyes fill with tears. Words fail me. Stories elude me. Only salty stains streak my face as I think about my mom. It’s her birthday today: 80 years young.

I realize that every child who knows a mother’s love, knows beauty.

But my mom’s beauty?  Well, it’s remarkable. She’s always been physically stunning, but the love and encouragement poured out by my mom to each person she meets is beyond the beautiful ordinary.

Her defining Faith,
Her pervading kindness,
Her ever-present gentleness,
Her genuine humility,
Her inventive creativity,
Her wise instruction,
Her servant-leadership, 

Her quick smile,
Her easy laugh,
Her compassionate heart,
Her tender tears,
Her soft spirit,
Her fierce grace and

Her authentic, freely given, over-flowing, self-sacrificial love,
impacts every room she graces.

The words written in Proverbs truly do describe you, Mom:

Who can find a truly excellent woman? One who is superior in all that she is and all that she does?
    Her worth far exceeds that of rubies and expensive jewelry.
She inspires trust, and her husband’s heart is safe with her,
    and because of her, he has every good thing.
Every day of her life she does what is best for him,
    never anything harmful or hurtful.
Delight attends her work and guides her fingers…
She wraps herself in strength, carries herself with confidence,
    and works hard, strengthening her arms for the task at hand.
She tastes success and knows it is good,
    and under lamplight she works deep into the night…
She reaches out to the poor and extends mercy to those in need…
Clothed in strength and dignity, with nothing to fear,
    she smiles when she thinks about the future.
She conducts her conversations with wisdom,
    and the teaching of kindness is ever her concern…
Her children rise up and bless her.
    Her husband, too, joins in the praise, saying:
“There are someindeed many—women who do well in every way,
    but of all of them only you are truly excellent.”
Charm can be deceptive and physical beauty will not last,
     but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Honor her for all that her hands have done,
and let her works bring her praise.

We honor you today, mom. May your heart be full!
Love you.

It’s the little things

it’s climbing into a toasty bed on a cold, damp night
it’s the smell of fresh-baked brownies mingled with the sound of my daughter’s laugh
it’s early morning texts from a far-away friend
it’s long, slow conversations about everything and nothing
it’s purpose-filled work
it’s finding scraps of paper etched with handwriting and wisdom from a beloved
it’s the privilege and strength to pray for hurting souls
it’s soul-feeding words found in unlikely places
it’s the hope and anticipation of seeing loved ones
it’s laughter in the midst of pain
it’s creamed, blueberry honey on a big bowl of oatmeal
it’s gradual peace in letting go of past hurts
it’s knowing your dear ones sleep in safety
it’s the unexpected gift of grieving
it’s typed messages on What’s App from Costa Rica
it’s being enshrouded and enfolded by a Love I cannot fully comprehend
it’s everyday reminders that we’re not alone…
and there is a God…
and He does love us…
it’s grace in the little things and as well as the big.

 

Walls

Thick cinderblock 521walls lined each narrow, meandering street. Topped with barbed wire and broken glass they shouted a clear message of stay out. Iron bars covered every window and door. Heavy gates, either of solid wood or black metal, completed each mini fortress. Walking out of our simple guest house into the courtyard each morning, hearing the noises of a city waking up, yet only seeing cement walls and metal gates saddened me. A long history of government corruption, instability, and violence led to the walled, barred and gated atmosphere in Nicaragua.

It felt disconcerting to be on either side of the wall. When we were safe inside the fortresses, there was peace accompanied by a sense of loss. Lush trees, vibrant flowers, beautiful birds, and even more beautiful people lived in abundance on the other side, yet couldn’t be seen from within. When on the outside, we saw the immense beauty, but we also lived with a heightened sense of our surroundings, cognizant of the real dangers we faced on the street. Constant tension existed between experiencing relative safety and beholding abundant beauty.

90 down the mt

But if we never ventured outside the walls of Quinta Emily or Hotel Rosario, we would have missed meeting Moeses and Ricardo and we would never have seen the beauty of Mombachito or Somoto or Laguna de Apoyo. We may have experienced comfort and safety but at what cost? We went to Nicaragua to experience Nicaragua. We went to see the natural beauty, to experience a different culture, to practice another language, and to observe what God is doing through His people in other places. We didn’t go to stay safe behind walls in a sanitzed  environment.

One of my favorite lines from one of my favorite movies is “There’s a wall there.” (Kronk speaking of Eyzma’s reluctance to share emotionally in Emperor’s New Groove) It’s a funny part of the movie because it’s true. We’ve all built walls in our lives.

In an attempt at self-preservation and protection, we build our own emotional fortresses. Some walls we erect to keep our inner life hidden, our emotions in check and our faults and secrets safely vaulted. Others we construct clearly to keep danger at bay. Block by block, we wall ourselves in, trying to insulate our lives from pain, hurt, disappointment and failure. We hide behind our walls of bitterness, envy, anger, shame, and judgment both confused and fearful of the reality on the other side. Regardless of why we build our walls or what they’re comprised of, the result is the same: we hold others at bay and hide. We don’t fully engage in the beauty on the other side of our walls and we don’t allow anyone to see our true beauty. Living inside our fortress makes it difficult to accept or give love, encouragement, and grace. We each have a unique beauty to offer this world and when we hunker down, drawing our knees up to our chest and keeping our head down, no one sees or benefits from what we could offer.

For we are the product of His hand, heaven’s poetry etched on lives, created in the Anointed, Jesus, to accomplish the good works God arranged long ago. ~Paul to the Ephesians

When we stay hidden behind our walls, either paralyzed by fear or too comfortable with apathy, it’s impossible to give the unique gifts we possess. Living in solitary worlds behind walls deprives everyone of the beauty that is you and prohibits you from fully experiencing what others can offer.

Personally, I know I don’t always realize when I’ve built walls until they’re so high I can’t see over. Brick by brick, I build them…shame, doubt, anger, jealousy, discontententment and pride mortered together with fear. Tearing down the fortress is hard. It wasn’t built in a day, it won’t come down in a day. And sometimes, I don’t want to pull them down. I’m used to these walls and there’s a perverted comfort living within them. But it’s a false sense of security that doesn’t bring actual peace; it only adds to loneliness and isolation. It’s a risk to tear down the wall. It’s a risk to venture beyond the gates. It’s a risk to love, to share, to give and recieve grace. But in the risk, also comes a freedom and a deep sense of living the way we were created to live: in mutually beneficial community.

A friend introduced me to this song not long ago and I love it. Even though the metaphor is light and darkness, the message is the same: we weren’t created to hide.

With years of keeping secrets safe
Wondering if I could change
‘Cause when you’re hiding all alone
Your heart can turn into a stone
And that’s not the way I want to go

So I walk out of the darkness and into the light
From fear of shame into the hope of life
Mercy called my name and made a way to fly
Out of the darkness and into the light

Read more: Ellie Holcomb – Marvelous Light Lyrics | MetroLyrics

The Prayer of a dying man

*I posted this entry the morning my dad passed away. Two years ago today, his heart stopped beating, his eyes stopped seeing, his lungs stopped drawing in oxygen and this dying prayer was his last. I miss him every day. At the risk of sounding cliché, please, don’t take for granted those whom God gives you to love. Death is a certainty so please don’t waste this day of life, but offer it in worship.

CIMG0089A good tree can’t produce bad fruit, and a bad tree can’t produce good fruit. A tree is identified by its fruit. Figs are never gathered from thorn-bushes, and grapes are not picked from bramble bushes.   A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart. What you say flows from what is in your heart.    ~Jesus

“Give me a worshipful heart”, he prayed.

Even as his breaths weakened, his spirit whispered praise.
Even as his body failed, he offered himself in worship.
Even as his mind struggled to keep events, dates, and linear reasoning intact (yes, he used the words “linear reasoning” in his last days), his heart remained steadfast.
Even as he languished with pain and discomfort, he spoke of the privilege of suffering if suffering for God.
This  intelligent, analytical, systematic, studious, loving and kind man, in the end, still offered heart and mind to his God.
The words of Paul to the Colossians became his dying anthem:

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church,  of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known,  the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints.  To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.  Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

Hand-me-downs and leftovers

I’m all about hand-me-downs and leftovers. The youngest of three girls, I grew up in my sister’s clothes and, in general, loved it. Even today, I still benefit from my generous (and incredibly stylish) sister. And leftovers? They’re my friend. Chicken chili or lasagna the next day? Even better than the first time!

But hand-me-downs or leftovers in a relationship? No, thank you. No one wants to feel like they’re getting leftover time, money, affection or attention. No child wants to feel like they come second to work or church or siblings. No friend wants someone who only calls when it’s a crisis or they need something. No spouse wants to feel the leftover energy or affection or love from their significant other. Hand-me-downs and leftovers leave us feeling like we don’t deserve any better. We don’t just feel loved less, we feel unloved, un-cared for and ultimately rejected.

To recap…

hand-me-downs from your stylish sister that save you money–good; hand-me-downs of affection–bad.

leftover food–good; leftover time, energy or love–bad.

Apply that to a spiritual relationship and it magnifies the feelings of worthlessness. If you think you get God’s leftovers or His crumbs, then you constantly feel like the kid with dirty shoes who can come in but needs to wipe their feet and stand in the corner. No warm welcome or seat at the grown-up table for you. No sir. Be quiet and wait until someone more important offers you what’s left. Be happy with hand-me-downs and leftovers from God’s children who are well-behaved, more faithful and frankly, just better than you.

Yeah. That’s how I’ve felt lately. I’m not gonna lie (and believe me, I wish I could), September was a crappy month. Many times I wished someone would wake me up when it was over– just like the Green Day song. Saying goodbye to kids (real, grown-up goodbyes), grieving both old and new losses, coming to terms with past hurts, dealing with physical illness, and enduring depressing thoughts left me cold, sad and tired. To be brutally honest, the cumulative effect of all this gunk, is thinking, feeling and believing that all I get or deserve from God is hand-me-downs and leftovers. Why should I get anything else?

But here’s just one of the many problems with thinking and living this way: if you live thinking you’re impoverished, you believe you have nothing to offer. You either believe what you could offer isn’t good enough or you believe that you don’t have enough resources. And then, perhaps, you get some weird self-pitying pride mixed in there and the whole thing turns into an ugly mess of self-accusations and self-defamation and a faulty, dangerous view of God and self. Brutal.

So how do I (we, if you can identify with anything I’ve written) interrupt the cycle? One way to start is by remembering and believing Truth.

If we believe we’re children of God, then here’s the Truth:

We’re not given hand-me-down rags; we’re dressed in the King’s own robes. 

We’re not invited to a rickety table of leftovers; we’re invited to a feast.

Because of God’s love and Jesus sacrificial gift of his own life, we’re invited to share in His bounty and sit at his table.

“Is anyone thirsty?
    Come and drink—
    even if you have no money!
Come, take your choice of wine or milk—
    it’s all free!
Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength?
    Why pay for food that does you no good?
Listen to me, and you will eat what is good.
    You will enjoy the finest food.

“Come to me with your ears wide open.
    Listen, and you will find life.
I will make an everlasting covenant with you.
    I will give you all the unfailing love I promised to David…”

Seek the Lord while you can find him.
    Call on him now while he is near. ~Isaiah 55 1-6

I know when you’re struggling it’s difficult to see Truth, let alone believe it, but I pray these words bring hope and encouragement to your mind and heart today, friend.