A New Year Invitation

Thus says the LORD: “Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls…

Jeremiah 6:16a

I rang in the New Year with a migraine.

But I rang it in after a leisurely morning in the Word of God. I also rang it in at midnight with my husband and all three kids present, including our almost-18-year-old who went out to see some friends and came back in time to toast in the New Year with our family tradition: sparkling grape juice for them and water for this old girl.

So I managed to be awake(ish) at midnight with a heart full of joy despite any pain. Maybe even joy in defiance of pain. But not only because of my family.

I’m still nursing the same migraine today, medicated enough to keep me out of bed but make my thoughts rather difficult to string together. Still, even today I am filled with joy.

This is an abiding joy which would have been with me even if I’d rung in the New Year alone with my migraine and cut off from medication, family, friends, or any friendly face. It’s a joy I’ve been granted, which I’ve found buried in the Scripture records of ancient paths and growing in me as I’ve followed in the footsteps of those who have traveled the Good Way before me.

For this reason, perhaps, as I read in Jeremiah this morning, verse 6:16 captured my attention. However, there is a bit more to the verse:

…But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

Jeremiah 6:16b

My friends, I don’t know what you are facing on the first day of 2019. None of us know what we may be facing tomorrow. In fact, we are never guaranteed tomorrow.

But we have today. We have right now.

Today I invite you to a journey of joy. It isn’t a pain-free journey, nor it is a fool’s journey though you may be called a fool for embarking on it. I invite you nonetheless. Come, ask for the ancient paths where the good way is and find rest for your souls. Walk it, and do not refuse.

I know some of you are dealing with the slow decay of cancer. Others deal with the no less malignant cancer of anger, envy, unforgiveness, self-exaltation, or even the twisted egoism of self-loathing. Leave them by the wayside and find rest for your soul.

Others deal with pain rooted in an unhealed childhood wound. Many have addictions of one type or another, whether to food, entertainment, alcohol, drugs, sex, or something else. If you’ve lived long enough with any of these, you’ve experienced already the law of diminishing returns. The fun is gone, only the endless grind of need remains and grows like its own ruthless, devouring cancer. But you can lay those aside, too. Find the good Way, the One you were meant to be addicted to, and find rest for your soul.

Some have rejected the very idea of God so bitterly you think you can never turn to Him now. People would laugh. He would laugh and refuse to accept you now. He won’t.

You are not the first mocker to find that His way is the one you’ve been seeking after all. Peter, Jesus’s disciple, denied Him at His arrest. I once did, too. But the Lord had mercy on us both. So join me in searching the ancient paths like Peter’s and the paths of our lives today for signs of the God we once denied and like me, find rest for your soul.

The Peter who denied the Lord later received the gift of His Holy Spirit and spoke with enthusiasm to a crowd in Jerusalem. You can read about it in Acts 2. But what is remarkable to me is this: The joy I speak of, the rest for your soul that is promised along the good way, is part of what is called by Paul “fruit of the Spirit.”

…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control…

Galatians 5:23-24a

This fruit grows along the ancient paths and nourishes those who choose the good way, even when the way is hard and the night seems long.

But even on the darkest night in the midst of the most horrendous pain, joy can still light your way and peace be your comfort because you will never walk the good way alone.

Reflections on the Heart of God

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
(3 John 1:4)

A couple of weeks ago, I shared some of my heartache as I cope with a child who appears to be walking away from the Lord. But the story doesn’t end there. With the Lord, it never will which is just one of the many perks associated with belonging to an infinite yet personal God.

There is a strange and wonderful beauty associated with being a parent. I am convinced few other experiences rival it in bringing a peculiar depth and breadth of understanding and insight into my Father’s breathtaking love.

For you see, I do not only have a single child. I have three – or rather, I have at least three if you count several non-biological but equally beloved children I treasure and adore.  But for today, I will stick with the three I birthed and raised as a full-time mom until a year ago.

Lest you think my brain is only occupied with gloomy “what-ifs,” I thought it prudent to share some of the more exciting goings-on at this season of my life. My son may concern me by seeming apathetic to God, but my girls are really just starting to bloom in their faith.

It is astonishing, really. The older of the sisters just got back from a month of volunteer work, home only for part of each weekend. She served kids in the kitchen and cleaned up after them for two of those weeks, and for the other two she was a day camp counselor and helped in kitchen during her time off.  What’s more, she LOVED the whole experience and thoroughly enjoyed spending time in the Word and prayer with other young ladies.

The youngest has also been growing in Truth.  She, too, has been enjoying her time in the Word. During the spring, she saw a notification in a church newsletter about a summer mission trip to New Orleans. Turning to me with eyes shining with a delight every parent loves to see, she said in an awed tone that she could afford to pay for it and had been praying for just such a chance.

And there you have it. Between the somewhat melancholy musings of one morning and the singular satisfaction behind today’s meditations lies the whole spectrum of parental sentiment.

As my emotions run from a knife-edge of longing through to a joy so keen the tears well up as if the two were one emotion, I begin to see my God with a whole new level of wonder. He, too, pines for the one errant sheep even as He rejoices over the 99 who have never been lost or have strayed from safety and returned.

And if my emotional spectrum is broad, His is infinitely wider and deeper.

There must be no end to His grief for those who reject Him, for then He must watch in agony as they march jauntily to eternal destruction. Indeed, He alone understands the totality of their doom and thus understands the deepest reaches of grief.

But His joy and rejoicing are endless for those who choose to trust Him; whose trust and worship are not diminished by persecution or hardship. For these will come through difficult seasons victorious, still proclaiming the good news of the Son of God who conquered death to set us free from captivity so sin.

These are the ones who are more than conquerors through Christ – conquering not armies but the seething evil of our own depravity. These are not left to walk the dark valley alone but have the Lord of Hosts to walk with them and so can find joy in the midst of suffering.

And these – like me – can find a shared grief for a straggling sheep and yet have peace that the Most High will bring His plans to success in the end.

…For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

(2 Thessalonians 3:2b-5)

Oh what a wonder! Oh what a God we serve! I thank You, my King, that You have lit the fire of Your Spirit in the hearts of my girls and I pray my son, too, will be caught up in You until we are all consumed by zeal for Your Kingdom. Make my heart and the hearts of my family faithful to You, amen.  

Legacy

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.
(1 Thessalonians 4:13)

Just over a week ago, a lady I have immense admiration for passed from this world. She was an absolute beauty and the wealth she left behind is a fortune of dizzying proportions.

But neither her wealth nor her beauty were notable by the standards of this age and culture.

In fact, her body showed the wear and tear of her 96 years. Small of stature, I doubt she weighed 90 pounds fully dressed and soaking wet. The last few months saw her in much pain and often in a wheelchair, yet she was cheerful and had a smile and kind words for everyone.

Nonetheless, she was truly lovely. Hers was the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit – a beauty which has followed her and found its fulfillment in her permanent home with the Eternal God.

And her fortune… How can I describe it? It is one of the largest I have ever seen. A spiritual legacy spanning four generations. A wealth of faithful obedience to God and of love and compassion which staggers the mind. It is a fortune of far greater value and permanence than any dollar amount.

Her son and daughter-in-law, their children, and their grandchildren have all been heirs of this vast treasure. I see the same gentle and quiet spirit in them. There is joy and laughter and love all around.

Of course, there is pain and strife, too. But when error or rebellion rise up here or there in the family, mercy and grace abound. Within the family and for those who know them, there is not a soul who has reason to doubt that they are loved and important, not only by the family but also by the Lord.

But the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him, and his righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep his covenant and remember to do his commandments.
Psalms 103:17-18

One of my close friends, a prayer and accountability partner, comes from this spiritual inheritance and so I, too, benefit from it. So do our daughters who are also close.

Of course there is mourning for the temporary loss of this precious woman of God. Yet I must say they grieve splendidly, for in the family’s grief, there is also a streak of joy – the joy of knowing she has arrived safely Home.

All of us, myself included, look forward to our own Homecoming. Some future day, we will see her again and once more worship the King of Glory together, but better than before. Then, we will no longer encumbered by sin, weariness, or pain.

And in the meantime, all of us have seen in her an example of eager expectation of the day the Lord calls us home and faithful, uncomplaining endurance if He leaves us here – even if leaving us here is the most difficult part.

So today, my prayers go out for these, my friends. But even more so, my prayers reach out for those friends and loved ones who do not have this hope. My prayer is for my Lord to draw all who are consumed by sorrow and despair to Himself that they may share in an inheritance beyond all imagining.

I was once one of these – hurting and hopeless – and I well know the futility of denying God and living for myself. But He called me out from this pit; called me to die to myself and live for Him.

For my recently departed friend,  for her loved ones, and for all of us who are in Christ, physical death is no longer the enemy to be avoided but the friend to be embraced. It will be the final conquering act over our flesh before our true lives begin.

My friends, my dears, if you have not found love in this dark world, know that it is there. He is there – the One who is Love. The Way, the Truth, the Life.

Find Him. Find hope.

And someday, I pray I can introduce you to Nan – one of my personal heroes.

“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
1 Corinthians 15:55

Rejoicing in Hope

I love the photo above. It was taken roughly a year ago in March of 2017 during one of the two weekends of winter we had last year in Middle Tennessee.

Despite having been taken at the end of the winter that really wasn’t, I still enjoy the hope portrayed by this image. In part, it reminds me of  winters of the soul I have endured.

Yet even in the gloomiest and most frigid seasons in my life – actually, even if my entire life was spent in the icy clutches of physical pain and emotional distress – there is something growing beneath the surface.

Hope.

Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.
(Romans 12:12)

No matter how much other reading I have done the last couple of weeks, the Lord keeps bringing me back to Romans 5 and the idea of rejoicing in suffering.

So today, I did just that.

It’s a beautiful spring day and I took a walk with my Father and my two dogs. Normally at such times, I will offer up prayers of supplication. And for the first 5 or 6 minutes, I did. But the verse kept playing like a broken record in my mind (for you young ‘uns, that’s roughly the equivalent of an mp3 file which didn’t download correctly).

So I stopped my requests and simply rejoiced.

As the occasional pounding behind my left eye grew more regular, I rejoiced that migraines have slowed me down enough to pay attention to what is important in life.

With each step, an ache set up in my left foot and my shoe seemed to tighten as it swelled, so I rejoiced that I can still walk anyway.

In fact, I was able to praise my Father from the heart and mean it for all my little grievances.

Not only because each ache and pain reminds me of the intense joy I will feel once this old body has finally worn down and been traded in for something better. But also because my God is using the time right now for His glory.

…and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings…
(Romans 5:2b-3a)

Today, He had me back up a little and remember that my rejoicing is based in His glory.

His, not mine.

It is because of my physical issues that I am able to meet weekly with one of my part-time daughters, a teen who suffers from chronic migraine and has need of help in her home schooling.

Because of my suffering, I am available when another part-time daughter, also a teen, needs to talk due to family crisis. Or to help her mom when she’s trying to juggle her own reactions to the crisis, plus be a mom, plus keep her job, plus…

And you know what? I can rejoice because God does not need my efforts to provide financially for my family. He is fully capable of taking care of our needs, and He has never let us down.

So today, I took a couple of hours and laid down my guilt over the smallness of my financial contribution, the anxiety over rising tuition and a 20-year-old home in which everything is deciding to break, my frustration over the difficulties in parenting teens, and my weariness with pain.

I laid them all before the Throne of Grace and worshiped.

Because my God is good.

Because He has blessed me with these difficulties so I will never forget my need of Him.

Because my Lord Yeshua (Jesus) suffered pain on my behalf and overcame.

Because He can do amazing things and He doesn’t need me to do them.

And yet, He has given me the privilege of being a part of it all.

The man declares, I am weary, O God; I am weary, O God, and worn out…
…Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
(Proverbs 30:1, 5)

 

All That Glitters…

For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.
(Luke 12:34)

Ah, Christmastime…

As I think back on the last 16 years of Christmas celebrations as a parent, I could fill a good many pages with items ardently desired by my children on December 1 and summarily forgotten by March 1 – or significantly earlier.

 

Take this rather gaudy tree topper, for example: 20171218_135503.jpg

When my middle daughter was 5 or 6, we were shopping for seasonal decor (which, by the way, is not precisely one of my strengths). She saw this garishly bedecked woman-thing and her eyes were dazzled with all the golden glitter. She and her sister made a fervent appeal to place this sparkly woman (who, to me, seems to bear no resemblance whatsoever to any of the angelic messengers described in the Bible) atop our tree. Since the thing was inexpensive and their mom is rather, shall we say, thrifty… the girls got their wish.

This year, the old tree topper was pulled from a box in a forgotten corner of our attic. A good portion of her glitter now dusts the furniture and floors, some of the fake flowers have gone missing, and her plastic hair has lost much of its original shimmer.

In many ways, she is a reminder of how like children we humans really are concerning spiritual matters.

Far too often, our heads are turned by whatever bedazzles our eyes at the moment. Our obsession with all that is fleeting is perhaps particularly obvious during the gigantic marketing extravaganza of December, but it is no less firmly in place year-round.

This Christmas, I am challenged by my perceptions of what makes up a good Christmas. Is it food, family, health, and comfort? Or is it the Christ?

In my circles, this December has brought with it a tidal wave of hurt, strife, difficulty, and loss for many who are dear to me. Marriages are foundering, families do their best to ignore empty seats, bitter feuds are barely contained. All around me, there is conflict and both physical and emotional pain. There is suffering. There is sorrow.

Yet even still, there is Christmas. Despite what we may be told or how we may feel, the gift of Christmas goes far beyond even the boon of family, friends, health, and prosperity. It is for rich and poor alike, for the happy and the sorrowful, for the healthy and the maimed.

The gift of Christmas is salvation from sin and the presence of the Almighty God forever and ever, and it remains a limitless treasure and an unending well of joy no matter what curveballs life may throw our way.

And it is not just for December. The gift of Christmas is eternal. The Lord really did come to bind up the broken-hearted, to set free those who are shackled by sin, and to comfort those who mourn. What’s more, He does this regardless of our circumstances.

He, Himself, is the Gift. He is the prize. He is the goal. And He is good – so, so good.

This Christmas, I am praying for all of the redeemed to catch hold of the breathtaking expanse of treasure we have in Him, no matter what else may happen.

I am praying for my Lord to find and rescue friends and loved ones who have wandered far and wide chasing after shiny trinkets, which when caught, are nothing more than gilded garbage.

I am praying that the disillusioned will see past the facade of our adversary’s cleverly enticing deceptions to the trap within, and for them to seek and find the life-giving Well of Living Water instead.

Finally, I am praying for all of God’s people to remember that Christmas does not consist in who we are with nor in what we give or get, but in what we already have in Christ.

May that reality give weight to our joy, defining every interaction we have with others and outshining any glitter-coated bauble so the world will know our hope is not in this world.

It is in the Glory of the Lord of Hosts.

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.
(Isaiah 61:1-3)

My friends, as much as I love reading all your thoughts here on the  blogosphere, I must take a bit of a break. It is time for me to spend some time focusing on my Lord and seeking His will for me in the new year. I may be around if time allows, but if not, I will see you next year. Merry Christmas!

 

 

 

 

Uneclipsed

Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

A mere 40 miles to the north or northeast of my house lies the path of totality for the solar eclipse this coming Monday afternoon. Being a bit of a natural phenomenon junkie, it might seem strange that I am not planning on packing up my crew and hitting the road to get inside that swath of real estate in which I could view the first total eclipse to happen in Tennessee in my lifetime.

But I am not.

While I confess that I would dearly, dearly love to see the sun in total eclipse, I also have a healthy respect for Nashville traffic. I know without a doubt that Nashville will have no shortage of traffic on eclipse day.

Just yesterday, I did have some hearty laughs with my friends who are making the trek. We imagined ourselves all stranded on one of the interstates in a gridlock of cars, the pre-eclipse August sun baking its way into our patience, and her spending more time looking to be certain that her youngest two children’s eyes were properly covered by the protective lenses than actually seeing the big event itself.

We laughed ourselves even sillier as we imagined putting their 6 kids and my 3 to work on a couple of preposterous inventions we came up with to protect the eyes of small children who had not been able to acquire the NASA-approved filtered lenses, hawking them on the sides of packed-out streets and parks in hopes of redeeming the hours lost to traveling north – or even find some way to turn the thing around should we be caught in a traffic jam a mile or two south of the path of totality and miss the thing entirely.

To be fair, I had been up since 4 that morning and they had just returned from a long road trip. But it was certainly funny at the time…. though you probably had to be there.

Anyway, all this eclipse talk and planning got me thinking about God. I admit that I did think of Joel 2:31 (The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes), but even beyond that, my mind strayed to the types of things that eclipse God’s glory in my own life.

Pain. That’s one for sure.

By His grace, I have been able to find purpose, hope, and even joy in the middle of chronic migraine and other assorted physical delights. Yet I have to admit that at times, weeks of relentless pain can seem to cast a pall over all of life, even seeming to grow so large as to hide the radiance of the Almighty in my days.

Then, of course, there is family strife – which is just another type of pain. Difficult circumstances. Riots and wars. Woe.

But not only hardship – sometimes the temptations and comforts of life in America can can loom large and I find myself quite suddenly walking in their shadow instead of walking in the Light.

Yet in each instance, whether trial or ease, I find that His glory has never actually changed. It only seems to be so because for that fateful instant, I have taken my eyes off Him. I have either allowed some promised pleasure or some dreadful difficulty snare my attention and come between me and my King.

How I wish that these spiritual eclipses were as infrequent as the solar variety! Even still, I take heart in knowing that they, too, are really nothing more than natural phenomena – simply a part of the process of sanctification as my Lord patiently allows me to see the transient nature of whatever it is that I have allowed to dominate my mind.

Whether it is pain or pleasure, I am thankful that the shadow always passes, revealing once more the steady and unfading Glory of the Lord.

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.
Psalms 19:1

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Not That This Isn’t Fun…

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.
Galatians 6:9-10

Life is tough. There’s just no way around it.

As I tap these words out, I am on the 23rd consecutive day of a headache (save a few hours’ break here and there) that has ranged in intensity from just annoying to someone please choke me out.

Still, even with the headache, I am incredibly grateful for the gift f this time: time to pause and breathe after the whirlwind of nonstop parenting and educating chaos that is homeschool; time to get my bearings and figure out if I have what it takes to make it as an author; time to come up with Plan B if I don’t.

Even still, life is tough. Not having the kids around 24/7 does not diminish their presence in my mind. They each have junk to wade through, and wading through modern teen junk is a sticky business. However, raising them, I am forced to think back to when I was a teenager <shudder> and remind myself that it could be much worse.

Yet thinking back also reminds me of the microcosm that is their worldview right now; a fact which was brought very clearly to the forefront in a conversation with my 16-year-old yesterday.  I mentioned a question he had asked me recently, and he replied, “That wasn’t recently. That was my sophomore year.”

I credit God alone that I held my tongue, but all I could think was, “Dearest son, do you mean waaaaaay back 2 1/2 months ago to your sophomore year?”

Oddly enough, in my mind, May still qualifies as “recently.”

And those are the small, nagging, daily problems: the relentlessness of pain, the thorniness of relationships… There are much bigger problems afoot. Loved ones with dementia, the burden on their caretakers, unsaved friends and family members who are literally destroying themselves from the inside out. Disease. Heartbreak. Cruelty. Suffering.

Then, too, there is the constant ache for friends who are suffering their own dilemmas and trials. Beyond that, my brothers and sisters in Christ around the world are being tortured, imprisoned, brutalized, cast out, and killed for proclaiming faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord.

And the illogic. Don’t even get me started about the utter rejection of absolute truth, logic, or reason. I agree fully with Malcom Muggeridge when he said, “We have educated ourselves into imbecility.”

No doubt. We’ve reasoned ourselves right past rationality and into a highly amorphous state of emotionalism. As another friend pointed out, we’ve gone from hieroglyphics straight through the high works of prose and poetry all the way back to emojis.

We have embraced separation of God and… well, everything and flung our liberty in His face with wild abandon only to find that in reality, we have merely come full circle. We’ve followed our hearts only to find that the triumphant footsteps we have been walking in are our own.

What a weary business modern life has become!

I have to wonder if this future was in the mind of the Lord when He had His last, private discourse with the Twelve … or rather, the Eleven. Judas had already departed and was bartering the Messiah’s life for a small sack of silver.

At any rate, I have been reading John 15-16 repeatedly for the last several days and noted that Jesus emphasized the need for the disciples to remain, to obey, and to love. Remain in Me… if you keep my commands, you will remain in Me… love one another, but above all else remain in Me, for apart from Me, you can do nothing. 

I paraphrase, but read John 15 a few times. He repeats the word “abide” ten times in the first ten verses alone. (“Abide,” by the way, means to remain or continue). Emphasis is put on loving God, loving each other, and keeping His commands – and once He has reiterated his reiteration, He warns them of trouble.

The latter part of chapter 15 and much of 16 speaks much of persecution and sorrow, but also of joy. Living for Truth is tough, much tougher than going along with the societal current. Naturally, it is easy to become weary and discouraged.

But any careful reader of the Word will know that persecution and rejection were always part of the package. The Lord Himself warns them multiple times, even right up to moments before He is taken into custody… and through them, He warns us.

But please note that He first assures them of His love and their need to remain in it.

There is hope, but it is not here on this earth. Our hope is in remaining steadfast through the birthpains of life in the tangled mess of sorrow, joy, anguish, grief, suffering, and peace that is our lot, because someday it will all be worth it.

There is trial, but there is beauty even in the trial.

Even so, come Lord Jesus!

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“I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away…

…When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.
John 16:1, 21-22