When All Creation Cries…

Rain

(FreeImages.com/SimonSmith)

I awake this morning to more news of suffering and tragedy. The air is heavy with humidity, and I wonder if it isn’t the tears of this world, groaning because of the depths of such suffering and such evil. Hearts are heavy, and as much as we couldn’t exist without God’s grace and long-suffering, we hold our breath in collective question and ask, “How long, Oh Lord?”

Tears pour down, and I grieve for the mommies who want to hold their precious babes one more time. …for husbands and wives who wish they could love one more time… for children who wish they had a parent to kiss their tears away… There are no simple words for anguish so deep.

Within this heavy, collective breath, I see Him, like it was yesterday, hanging there on the cross, and saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” He was perfectly sinless; they were perfectly evil. Why does He say, “They know not what they do?”

Perhaps, the answer is this: if we all really saw and understood the heart of God and His purpose and plans for our life… if we saw what He desires for us and tasted of His goodness and His life… if we really and truly understood… if eyes weren’t blinded by lies, evil, and suffering… if people didn’t turn away from their true Source of comfort, peace, and love and turn inward, trying to cover the searing pain and questions…

Then, we would know that the answer to this world’s agony is not enacting more laws. It’s turning to the One who doesn’t just turn a deaf ear to our suffering, but He took on our suffering and became one of us. He not only suffered along with us, but He suffered for us. He carried agony that we will never experience.

That is why the cross is a picture of “Unfathomable evil intersected with unfathomable grace at the cross.”

When The Hard Questions Abound…

Tea party

(FreeImages.com/PontusEdenberg)

Two close friends and I sat, cross-legged on the floor, drinking tea… comfortable enough to ask some hard questions. The questions went like this: “If God is both good and Sovereign, why do we see such evil in this world?” It’s a question that lingers in a lot our minds when we see the depths of evil that shatter our innocence and the sweet idyllism of youth.

These friends and I have come to know our God personally, and we know Him enough to know that He is good. We have seen His power, and we know He isn’t weak. So, why evil?

While sipping the comfort of the tea and gazing at the love-filled eyes of these dear friends/sisters, it struck me!  We look at this so wrong so often.

There are two parts to the answer: one is that God has chosen to give us free will. I see this over and over again. Love gives the freedom to choose. Anything forced or manipulated is not true love. With the ability to choose means that evil will exist.

The fact that we see both good and evil in this world demonstrates that there are two forces at work in this world: the force of evil and the force of good. I believe intrinsically we all know this, and our sub-conscious reflects this in movies and books.

What struck me though while listening to this discussion is we wonder why there is evil if God is all-powerful and all-good when in reality we should wonder why there is any good in this world except there be a good God?

The fact that there are examples of sacrificial love, faith, hope, true joy, true peace, generosity, and selflessness indicates that there is present a God who is good — Whose influence permeates this world from falling beyond hope and from yielding completely to the baser elements of evil.

God is Sovereign and God in His sovereignty chooses to allow free will.  Why?  I believe it’s because “wills” are important to Him.  God wants us to exert our wills to respond to Him.  He wants us to exert our wills to surrender to His loving and all-wise guidance.  God woos us for this purpose.

We should not be shocked there is evil in this world — rather we should be amazed that there is good, life, and how many times we are protected and bad things don’t happen.  A world left to itself would only portray death.  It would be a base world where only the strongest, smartest, and most charming survive.  It would be a world where selfishness dominates — where people are only as valuable as they are useful or “usable.”

God though doesn’t operate that way.  He loves the unlovely.  He forgives the “unforgivable.”  He redeems the “useless.”  He takes the ugly and makes it beautiful.

In the end, evil finally will be obliterated.  God’s justice will prevail, and the baser elements, the suffering, the anguish, the pain, the evil will be removed.  Why?

Because love always triumphs over evil, and truth always trumps the lie.  The day is coming!

The time we have now is a gift — a gift to respond to a God who is love, truth, and just!  The choice is ours!

I choose Him.  What about you?

Sufficiency

nature 1

I awoke this morning and began my day my favorite way: a Bible in my lap, my journal, two devotional books, a pen, and a study book.

I kept it simple this morning: read from the two devotional books, glanced at the study book and closed it back up, read a chapter in II Corinthians, prayed, listened for what God wanted to teach me, and then journaled some thoughts.

These are the simple but profound truths, I believe, He wanted me to hear from Him today  (Journal Entry):

I prayed to surrender myself to God for the start of the day.  Felt the Lord challenging me, “Are you surrendering yourself to me?  Then why are you holding onto your cares?”  (I was stressing over some concerns for my day — wondering how I was going to accomplish everything I need to do today.)

The theme of my life in 2015 seemed to be surrender — learning the profound and beautiful truths of surrendering to God — what that looks like and how it happens.

I try to start my days with a simple prayer, telling God that I surrender myself to Him, to be used by Him, and to be empowered by His Presence as I go about my day.

God, though, this morning was challenging me that when I am worrying, stressing, fearing, I am not surrendered.

To surrender is to let go.

How do I let go of those things that worry me?  The question is, “Why do you feel you need to hold onto those things?”  If you are holding onto something, you are in essence believing that you have to protect that thing, that you can’t trust those things with anyone else — even more importantly, with God.

To surrender is to trust in the all-sufficiency of Christ.

A thought that stood out to me in my one devotional this morning was the idea of contentment and how that relates to trusting in Christ’s sufficiency.

Here’s what I journaled:

At the heart of a lack of contentment [and fear] is not understanding or believing in the sufficiency of God — His provision, protection, presence, power, and peace.

That’s it, isn’t it?!!

Contentment comes from a personal belief in the sufficiency of God — that He is the Great “I Am”!  He revealed Himself to the Israelites as the “I Am,” meaning, “Everything they needed, He is and will provide.”

God directed me to read from the following passage in Scripture:

2 Corinthians 12:9-10

And He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore most gladly I will rather boast in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

I feel this was God’s personal encouragement to me, following a heart cry for Him to deliver us from some present trials.  I knew the lie was coming that God wasn’t powerful enough, didn’t care enough, or my faith wasn’t enough.

Instead, God led me to the truth in this Scripture.  God spoke the following thoughts to my heart:

As I was reading II Cor. 12:9-10, I felt God was showing me that in the areas He answered my requests with a “no” — in regards to my own weaknesses and some personal challenges we are facing — that He was telling me it’s so that in our weaknesses we come to rely on His sufficiency, and we experience the intimacy of the personal reality of it.

Let me restate that…

In our weaknesses, we come to rely on His sufficiency, and we experience the intimacy of the personal reality of it.

Doesn’t that change the entire way we view our struggles, weaknesses, and trials?  It doesn’t minimize our challenges, sorrows, and suffering, but it does give us the hope — that as our bodies grow weaker, our spiritual lives can grow stronger; as our circumstances grow more challenging, our spiritual lives can find greater vitality and fullness; and as earthly sorrows threaten to crush us, the immeasurable glories of the reality of the eternal can produce within us the peace and joy that passes all understanding.

The immeasurable glories of the reality of the eternal God can produce within us the peace and joy that passes all understanding!

Is God Good Enough?

The Good Book

(http://www.freeimages.com/photo/the-good-book-1316380)

The lie always begins with the question, “Is God good enough?”  That’s what Satan was tempting Eve with, questioning God’s goodness.

Genesis 3:1-4

The Temptation and Fall of Man

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

That’s what Satan tried to tempt Jesus with in the wilderness — to question Jesus’ authority and to question whether God, the Father, was a good God who would provide and rescue.

Matthew 4:1-11

Satan Tempts Jesus

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And when He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterward He was hungry. Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” [If…]

But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”[a]

Then the devil took Him up into the holy city, set Him on the pinnacle of the temple, and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written:

‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’

and, [If… again and this is implying a testing of God’s provision… “Will God really provide for your needs?”]

‘In their hands they shall bear you up,
Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’[b]

Jesus said to him, “It is written again, ‘You shall not tempt the Lord your God.’”[c]

Again, the devil took Him up on an exceedingly high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to Him, “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”

10 Then Jesus said to him, “Away with you,[d] Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and Him only you shall serve.’”[e]

11 Then the devil left Him, and behold, angels came and ministered to Him.

That’s what Satan does with us every day.  He tries to get us to question God’s goodness in the face of so much evil, sadness, suffering.

The enemy wants us to doubt God’s goodness — that He is good enough… to provide fully for us, to protect us from evil, to be with us in the midst of painful circumstances, to use everything for good, to not abandon us…

We often want our independence, but when the consequences come, we want to blame God for not rescuing us from the problems we ourselves have created.

The question is, “Who is holding onto the reins of your life — your past, present, and future?”  Is it really God?  Or is God on the “side-lines” of your life, the One to Whom you refer at times, to whom you turn only when you are desperate?

The real question is not whether God is good enough.  The question is in whom do we believe and on whom do we rely?  Ourselves?  Another?  Circumstances?

Perhaps we aren’t experiencing God’s goodness because we are living independently of it.

Perhaps, we are relying on our own “goodness” or the goodness of the rest of humanity to protect, direct, and influence us.

Maybe that’s why we sense that something is missing…

When Life Seems To Be In The “Hold Pattern”

The clock on the mall.

According to my digital camera (which has never lied to me in the past), this picture was actually taken at 10:33 p.m. - NOT at 7:48, as the clock would have you believe. In fact, I can say with 100% confidence that it was ...

(http://www.everystockphoto.com/photo.php?imageId=73594&searchId=05531b19bb846b18c09f979eeb429ad3&npos=28)

Maybe, you clicked on my blog because life right now seems to be at a stand-still for you.  Your dreams don’t seem to be coming true.

If you are like some of my friends, you are suffering through chemotherapy, waiting for your husband to get a job before you get kicked out of your house in a week or few, you are longing for a baby to hold in your arms and heart, you are wondering when the guy you love will finally awaken to the fact that you can be something other than his best friend, you are wondering when your spouse will finally be awakened spiritually and will be able to share in all the blessings of knowing Jesus personally, you are clinging to hope that your rebellious child will finally surrender their life to God, you’re wondering when all the physical pain will finally end or if the doctor will finally discover something to truly help…  I hear all of those cries…  I know how hard simply waiting can be — perhaps it’s one of the hardest things we have to do at times.

Perhaps, waiting is so hard because waiting requires us to surrender and to trust.

Waiting means we have to let go of our own plans, our own timing, and we have to submit to and wait on a Higher Power.

When we grow anxious in our waiting, we have to camp ourselves — our minds and hearts on the truth of Who God is and of who we are in God. 

God is Jehovah Jireh — our Provider!

God is Jehovah-Shalom — our Peace!

God is Jehovah-Rophe — the God Who heals!

God is Jehovah-Tsidekenu — our Righteousness!

God is Elohim — the Sovereign One!

God is Adonai — Lord and Master!

God is Jehovah-Shammah — the God Who Is Present!

God is Jehovah-Tsebaoth — the Lord of hosts!

God is El-Shaddai — our Abundancy!  God is the One who abundantly supplies all of our needs.

In the blog, https://graceinthemoment.wordpress.com/2015/06/19/when-waiting-seems-to-be-the-only-action-occuring, it is mentioned that God’s timing is just as important as His answer or His specific will.

So often when we are waiting on some future dream or hope or relief, we seem to think that our present is just an “empty” time that needs to be filled, endured.  We think we are just “passing time.”

God though is concerned about your now.  Your now is not outside of His Presence or care.

I love the following quotes from Discerning The Voice Of God by Priscilla Shirer:

God has invited you to join Him in His plans.  The purposes of God not only include specific plans but also very specific timing.  He orchestrates both events in your life and their timing.

The timing of the call was just as important as the call itself… I would have tried to rush ahead of God instead of waiting for His timing before I was emotionally or spiritually equipped for the demands I currently face.

God will use the appropriate means to reveal His will in His timing. 

Much of the heartache and frustration I have encountered in discerning God’s voice came because I wanted it before God was ready to give it.  I wasn’t willing to trust God’s timing in revealing His plans for me.  I tried to place my time constraints on God.

His timing is best.

Knowing too much too soon can be detrimental.

When we feel rushed and hurried to make a decision not rooted in a deep confidence of inner peace, God probably has not spoken.  Nowhere in Scripture does God tell anyone to rush into making a decision.  On the contrary, He patiently and persistently gives us clarity before requiring obedience.  If you feel an overwhelming urge to act spontaneously, pull in the reins.

I love that quote!  “God has invited you to join Him in His plans.” 

When life seems to be in a “hold pattern,” it’s not because God is keeping you from something good or that He is unaware of your plight.  It means that God is doing something good in you while you wait, if you surrender to Him.

Discerning the Voice of God also says, “Our shepherd leads, He doesn’t drive.  One difference between the Enemy’s voice and the Shepherd’s is that Jesus doesn’t coerce us with fear or intimidation.  He gently encourages and woos.”

John 10:2-4

But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.

To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.

And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.

In John 10:2-4, it says that Jesus, our Shepherd, calls us by name and leads us.  He shows us the way we are to go.

  • God invites us to be a part of His will.
  • He leads us and guides us in His will.
  • His Presence accompanies His will.

There is protection and provision for the sheep that follow their Shepherd.

There is joy and peace when we traverse the paths that our Heavenly Shepherd has for us.

Dear friend, no matter your circumstances today and when things seem hopeless right now, believe the truth.  The truth will anchor your soul and keep you secure in the midst of the tumult.

One final excellent quote from Elisabeth Elliot:

My acceptance of His timing was a rigorous exercise in trust.  I was tempted to charge the Lord with negligence and inattention, like the disciples in the boat in a storm.  They toiled frantically until the situation became impossible and then instead of asking for Jesus’ help, they yelled, “Master, don’t you care that we are drowning?” They weren’t perishing, they were panicking.  It was not too late.  Jesus got up and merely spoke to the wind and sea.

“They weren’t perishing, they were panicking.”

Today, when you feel the drudgery of the monotony, the worries for tomorrow, the pain of today, hang on to the truth.  God is not too late for His will. 

His will is always accomplished in the perfection of His timing.

Finding Unconditional Love And Acceptance

Take <a href="http://flickr.com/photos/wolfgangstaudt/2362299926/sizes/l/">  here  </a>  a large view!

The<b> Arena of Nîmes</b> is a Roman amphitheater found in the French city of Nîmes. Built in 27 B.C., ...

(http://www.everystockphoto.com/photo.php?imageId=2739391&searchId=6cad826248cd3f4e93da71e7b49928e3&npos=48)

It has been taught by some of the greatest minds in counseling that the three greatest needs that humans have are to be accepted/loved, to belong, and to feel safe.

As infants, we enter this world seeking to have these needs met.

The struggle to meet these in-bred needs manifests itself in cries for attention and in beautiful smiles when attention is given.

Business journals and articles recognize this need and how it impacts the working environment.  (See attached link from Forbes: http://www.forbes.com/sites/christinecomaford/2013/03/13/the-3-things-all-humans-crave-and-how-to-motivate-anyone-anytime-anywhere.)

Even within loving families, we can still struggle to find our own sense of purpose and destiny, to feel loved no matter what we do and who we are.

So much of life is spent searching for this feeling of complete and utter acceptance — to be completely accepted and loved just the way we are — for who we are, where we are, what we are.

When we haven’t experienced this kind of love, we will be endlessly trying to please others.

We will base our feelings of worth on how successful we are in business, finance, relationships, physical attractiveness, religious activities, moral “standing”, and educational achievements.

Our calendars will be indicative of this need to prove ourselves by a ridiculously overloaded schedule that leaves us and our families exhausted, frazzled, and certainly not “abiding” in the Lord.  (See my earlier blog: https://graceinthemoment.wordpress.com/2015/05/18/being-or-doing.)

We will be known by close acquaintances for our inability to relax and rest.  We will forever be doing — always seeking for something…  We will struggle to fully understand our own calling/destiny.

The struggle comes when we look in the wrong places.

After encountering much hurt in our attempts to find this acceptance in the wrong places, it is easy to become afraid to reach out any more towards experiencing true love.  We begin to build “walls” around our hearts to keep ourselves “protected” from those and that which could hurt us more.

What we don’t know is that we have only “walled” ourselves within our selves, and the only thing we have left is our own abilities to cope.  Then enter tragedies, the challenges of life, imperfect people who are insensitive, false representations of God, religious abuse, and suffering.  We begin to crumble.  Outwardly, we may put on “happy faces.”  We may even strive harder to out-perform, out-serve, out-maneuver everyone around us.  We will even say all the right words because our “worth is based on how others perceive us, including fellow “Christians”.  We can live a very “godly” life, doing all the right things.  We can even think the right things and therefore think we believe the right things.

What we believe though is always what we live.

If we are still struggling, still anxious, still concerned more about pleasing others than about resting in God, still devastated when others reject us or think we are less-than-perfect, then we haven’t yet experienced what it means to truly be loved, accepted, and walking in our life purpose.

This does not mean we aren’t truly being loved.  It means that we aren’t personally experiencing it.  Perhaps, because we aren’t allowing ourselves to because we are afraid to entrust our hearts to anyone, including God.

Perhaps a painful situation from the past, left us feeling (in our heart of hearts) that God really wasn’t there for us, really isn’t a good God.

You can say that God is a good God, but do you really accept it?  Do you live it?

When we decide that God is not a good God, we rob ourselves of the opportunity to see how He will transform even life’s worst circumstances into something beautiful.  

Diamonds are formed from extreme heat and pressure.  It is through this process of “suffering” that a diamond is transformed into something beautiful.

Gold is also purified by heating it so that the impurities are burned away.

The process is never easy, but the outcome is always far surpassing in beauty and magnificence.

When we surrender ourselves into the hand of the One Who loves us and desires to bring us into our “destinies,” we reflect the brilliance of His own character!

God always uses the painful circumstances in our lives for something good.  When we are in the middle of the circumstance, we may not be able to see the good.  By faith though, we trust and know that good will come.

When we are finally able to accept that He is a good God, then we will be able to trust Him enough to receive His love. 

Once we begin to experience the perfection of His love, we will know what it means to be loved perfectly, to belong unconditionally, and to thrive fully in the capacity for which we were designed.

We must first trust God to release the little girl and little boy within us to run to Abba-

Broken Honesty

IMG_9145

Crazy!  I know.  It’s 5:06 a.m., and here I sit blogging.  There was a lot on my mind, and my adrenaline was pumping so I figured, why not?  It’s been awhile.  So many changes and big things and little things have happened since I last wrote about my life.  So, here’s the long and short of it…

It all starts in February — well actually in January…  In February, my husband and I attended a conference.  At the conference, the Lord did a huge work in my life to bring needed-revival to my heart.  I felt more alive than I had in a very long time!

During that conference, I told my husband I had this odd feeling that we were going to get pregnant.  (Didn’t realize I already was at the time.)  Now, I knew the timing of everything, and I knew it would be even more of a miracle than pregnancy normally is.  So, I forgot about that… for awhile.

In February, we also celebrated a big birthday for me!  I’ll keep you guessing on what age that might be.  🙂  Definitely older than 21…!  I also had a large group of ladies for a visit to celebrate the special occasion.  The morning of the party, I took a pregnancy test because I knew that something was off…  With wonder, I gazed at the two lines that appeared in the window of the pregnancy test and realized that I was indeed pregnant!  And pregnant with my fifth!!!!

Among my conservative homeschooling buddies, a family of five is not big at all — might even be considered small.  But, among the rest of my friends and acquaintances…  five is a LOT!

The next four months would find me battling the fun of pregnancy woes and discomforts and all-out sickness.  Plus, during the entire month of April, my family battled a re-occurring bout of the stomach bug.  Someone or some of us were vomiting every week.  You talk about piles of laundry and disgusting bathroom messes!

Then in April, I was diagnosed with Subchorionic Hematoma.  I was put on a form of bed-rest.  I was not allowed to do laundry, grocery shopping, lifting anything considered heavy, vacuuming, cooking anything beyond simple meals, weeding, washing my floors, etc…  During that time, my husband also had to work crazy hours.  Did I mention he was also sent away on a business trip while I was on bed-rest and the kids were vomiting?  Crazy?!!! You betcha!

In the midst of all the craziness, God was still so good!!!!  My parents helped with transporting kids to and from school, my mom went on a field trip with my one son, a friend came and brought groceries and also cleaned my house, my precious husband came home late at night to do laundry and trash, and some friends brought meals over the next few weeks of bed-rest.  Talk about feeling loved and blessed!

By week 14, I finally got the all-clear sign to resume most of my normal activities.  I still had the hematoma, but it was half the original size.

A few weeks later, I am enjoying seeing my house resume a somewhat normal state.  I still struggle to keep up since the dirt piles up and in as fast as I sweep and carry it out.  My husband appreciates having me “back” again, and I am thankful to at least remove my responsibilities off his busy schedule.

Oh, yeah, and I am up now because my husband was never able to come home last night as he had so much work to do at the office he had to work through the night.  Oh, and did I mention that the lovely meal I made for dinner this weekend I forgot to put in the fridge last night after letting it cool down?  Ugh.  The stuff of life…

So, you might wonder why I am telling you all of this.  Why would I share all my dirty and depressing stuff with you?  After-all, you have your own dirty and depressing details at times.

I share this with you because, friends, I get it.  I know what it is like at times to see an ugly house, to be ugly, and to have ugly kids.  Because life sometimes does stink.  There, I admitted it.  I say this not to glory in the ugliness, but to admit and therefore begin the process of transformation.

You, see.  Sometimes, we are so busy pretending to be strong and perfect and beautiful that we really aren’t so muchWe put on the happy faces and say the “right” wordsWe urge others to do so.  We shy away from the ugly, uncomfortable, sinful, and suffering.  We surround ourselves with everything bright, beautiful, fragrant, pleasant, godly, “perfect.”

The question is, “Why is that?”

This is what struck me.  Do we shy from the broken people and things in life because we are so broken ourselves we can’t handle anyone else’s brokenness?

I think of Jesus.  He especially visited the broken people.  He sought out the sinful, the suffering, and the sad.  In fact, the perhaps surprising thing is they seemed to be His priority — not the religious and beautiful and elite. 

  1. Matthew 9:13

But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Mark 2:17

When Jesus heard it, he saith unto them, They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.

Luke 5:32

I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.
 
“Whole” people are able to deal with broken people.  Broken people may have friends that are broken, but they can’t handle much of the others’ brokenness.  Broken people want to share their brokenness, but they don’t want to share yours.
 
As Christians, this is where it gets really important to grasp it.  So often, in our churches, we find it awkward to deal with the drug-addicted individual, the affair-ridden marriage, the unwed teenage mother, the unruly children, the exhausted young mother who might need to vent that morning, the broken people.
 
In fact, how many of us have either heard or said to someone else that they need to just be a good testimony and not say anything negative?  How many times do people ask how you are doing but get that glazed look and quickly lose interest if you begin to share anything beyond the chipper “Fine or Great!”?
 
We put on our happy faces, but the fact is so many people are hurting.  I have friends whose parents are battling terminal cancer, who are going for tests because they too might have cancer, whose children are sickly, who are fighting sleep-deprivation with a newborn and screaming toddlers and who wonder if they will keep their sanity for the next few minutes.  You see, that is life.
 
Life is ugly and smelly and depressing at times.  It is full of sin and sadness and suffering.
 
And yes, thankfully, it is also full of beauty, grace, and light that filters in through those cracks of brokenness!
 
In order to see the beauty and light and to experience the grace, we must first recognize the ugliness and our own brokenness.  You see, we are broken.  You and I?  We are all broken!  We all struggle with the ugly.  So, why do we pretend to be so strong?  Why do we think we can just hold it all together and put on that pretty facade? 
 
The truth is our strength is limited, and it will let us down.  The truth is our kids, our spouses, our friends will let us down.  The truth is sickness and suffering will come.  The truth is most of us will face death eventually. 
 
But, friends, that isn’t the end!!!  That is what Jesus came to show.  He came to reveal to us our own brokenness so we could get “fixed.”  He came to show us our own blind darkness so we could see true light.  He came to show us the ugliness so we could find His beauty.
 
We are broken, but we can be healed!  When true healing occurs, we can then have something genuine to offer to all those other broken people.
 
Christians, of all people, should not shy from the ugly and broken because we should have something of true substance to offer!  We should have the Solution that goes beyond a temporary, outward transformation to an inner reformation.  Jesus came to not offer empty platitudes but to bring a total transformation, complete redemption!
 
Dear young mommies, it’s okay to acknowledge your weakness today.  It’s okay to have a good cry.  You don’t have to be strong.  You just need to look to Him Who is Strong!
 
Dear friends, whose parents are fighting terminal cancer, it’s okay to admit you are scared and worried and concerned and exhausted because you have a God who does care and who will comfort you!
 
Dear parents, who have no idea if your rebellious teenager will ever repent and turn to the Lord, it’s okay to be concerned and to cry buckets because your God does hear your heart’s cries!  And, He cares for your children even more than you do!
 
Dear expectant mom, who is extremely miserable and can’t wait for the new baby to be born, it is okay to admit you are tired and miserable and can’t wait to hold your new baby because your Heavenly Father can’t wait to see your joy too when you hold this new blessing from Him!  He knows, girls, and He cares.
 
Dear single, it’s okay to admit you are lonely because you have a God who promises to be a “husband” to those without.  He will love you like no other, and He never forsakes you.  No never!
 
To all of you fellow broken people, it is okay to admit that you are struggling, that your kids aren’t perfect, that some days are plain rough.  You have a God Who is big enough to handle any and all of life’s conundrums and to not just handle them but to transform them, to bring beauty from ashes and light to shine into the cracks of our brokenness!

Silent Homage

The other weekend, I attended a funeral of a man who was a very dear father, husband, and friend to many.  Everyone who knew him respected him as a man who was wise, gentle, kind, and led his family with loving leadership.  As I followed the funeral procession for this godly man, my heart was touched by the tradition of allowing a funeral procession to pass while traffic waits.  I thought it was special to see the respectful acknowledgment that society gives to the ending of an earthly life.  It was a silent homage.  The internment was also respectful quietness, except for a short but nice “message.”

As I drove through the cemetery, I beheld the beauty.  Barren branches hung above brown grass of winter.  Shadows stretched from stately tombstones.  Clouds blew overhead.  Nearby, life moved along.  People went about their day, shopping, eating, playing, working…  Here, in the cemetery, I was one of the few who had not driven away yet, contemplating the stillness.

This earthly life of mine too shall end.  Transient.  Evanescent.  I paused.  Saw beauty even here at a cemetery.  Felt the sun’s warmth, as its rays broke through the clouds.  Eyes looked up, following rays.  Pondered that this life isn’t my final destination.  The season was winter, and the grass was brown.  The trees were barren.  Yet, unseen to the naked eye were stirrings of life beneath the hard soil.    Spring is coming, and with it will be new life.

The body of a godly man had entered a season of “rest”.  Yet, for such a Christian man, death is only the passageway from this earthly life to a fuller Heavenly life.  Here, we think we know life.  We breathe air, and it is life.  We touch the velvet petal of a flower, and there is life.  We hear the trickling of rain on the roof, and there is life.  We smell the pungent odor of wet soil, and there is life.  We taste the tangy nectar of a Clementine, and there is life.  We see life here.  Yet, what we see here, what we experience is perhaps more a shadow.  C.S. Lewis once called this the “Shadowlands”.  I am inclined to believe he was quite right in his analysis.

One of my favorite books, One Thousand Gifts, says the following: “All beauty is only reflection.  And whether I am conscious of it or not, any created thing of which I am amazed, it is the glimpse of His face to which I bow down.  Do I have eyes to see it’s Him and not the thing?  Satan came in the scales that gleamed, a thing of beauty, and he lured the first woman and she was deceived.  Beauty, the disguise, can slide dangerous.  True, authentic Beauty requires of us, lays claim to us, and it is this, the knees bent, the body offered in obedience. …Do I have eyes to see His face in all things so I’m not merely dazzled by the trinket, glitzy bauble dangling for the ogling, till it flakes and breaks and I strain for more to lie prostrate before?”  The book says in just a few pages before, “How I want to see the weight of glory break my thick scales, the weight of glory smash the chains of desperate materialism, split the numbing shell of deadening entertainment, bust up the ice of catatonic hearts.  I want to see God, who pulls on the coat of my skin and doesn’t leave me alone in this withering body of mortality…”  And again, “What is this that I feel sitting here, coursing through me relentless, hot, ardent?  I have to see God beauty.  Because isn’t my internal circuitry wired to see out something worthy of worship?  Every moment I live, I live bowed to something.  And if I don’t see God, I’ll bow down before something else .. nature is not God but God revealing the weight of Himself, all His glory, through the looking glass of nature. .. How we behold determines if we hold joy.  Behold glory and be held by God.  How we look determines how we live … if we live … Faith is in the gaze of the soul.  Faith is the seeing soul’s eyes upon a saving God … Faith is the seeing of eyes that find the gauze to heaven torn through; that slow to witness the silent weight, feel the gold glory bar heavy in palm…”  Still more, “The only place we have to come before we die is the place of seeing God.”  Pages before: “Dusk and all the arching dome and the field and the great-bellied moon, it all heaves, heavy with the glory.  I heave to breathe: The whole earth is full of His glory.  Sky, land, and sea, heavy and saturated with God.”

Perhaps, this explains more the connection between the “shadows” and the reality: “Isn’t this the crux of the gospel?  The good news that all those living in the land of the shadow of death have been birthed into new life, that the transfiguration of a suffering world has already begun.  That suffering nourishes grace, and pain and joy are arteries of the same heart — and mourning and dancing are movements in His unfinished symphony of beauty.  Can I believe the gospel, that God is patiently transfiguring all the notes of my life into the song of His Son? …Jesus, at the Last Supper, showed us to transfigure all things — take the pain that is given, give thanks for it, and transform it into a joy that fulfills all emptiness. … All is grace only because all can transfigure.”  Another quote from the same source, “Out of the darkness of the cross, the world transfigures into new life … It is dark suffering’s umbilical cord that alone can untether new life.”

I have left the cemetery with its reminders of death and life.  I write upon another page of my own life.  Fingers still.  Thoughts quiet.  I ponder.  I worship before the Creator of Life.

I Want To Be A Palm Tree

I was recently reading in my devotions from this passage of Scripture: “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.  Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.  They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing.”  I loved what Our Daily Bread said in reference to this: “Palms are symbols of towering beauty and cedars of unbending strength.  These are the characteristics of those who have been ‘planted in the house of the Lord.’  Their roots go down into the soil of God’s unquenchable love … rooted and grounded in Christ, drinking in His love and faithfulness.

Palm trees are an interesting analogy, considering what they endure and how they are designed.  Palm trees grow in tropical climates, along sea shores.  They grow in these areas because they are designed to resist/endure fierce tropical storms, such as hurricanes.  The flexibility of their trunks allow them to bend with fierce winds without snapping and braking off.  Their root systems are unique in that they don’t swell and thus push up sidewalks.  Their roots are also quite extensive and cover the area below ground that the plant covers above ground.

Palm trees were designed to endure difficulties.  Their lives are not immune from challenges.  They are prepared for them.  It’s so easy to desire the peaceful, joyful life.  Sounds nice!  We all want the comfortable home, well-behaved children, beautiful body, healthy body, well-running vehicles, nice yards, pleasant neighbors, nice job with a good paycheck, supportive friends, gourmet meals, fashionable clothes, intelligent children, etc…  We want it all!

Plants that endure few hardships develop shallow root systems.  When a drought hits, they are unprepared and shrivel.  When a storm hits, without the roots or flexibility of a palm tree, they snap and crash.

We can seek peace and joy in our homes.  We can try to create as pleasant of an environment as possible, and this is all good.  Yet, we also need to be prepared to endure trials.  They will come at some point.  How deep are our roots?  From where do we draw our strength?  Do we draw it from something deeper than ourselves?  From something deeper than mere circumstances or pleasing environments? 

I love the analogy that my roots are to be pulling my nourishment from God’s grace and love!  I am not going to do this perfectly, but my goal/my desire/my “roots” should be headed or growing in that direction.

The characteristic of flexibility is also quite interesting.  I need to be flexible in dealing with my children, giving in areas where I can minister to their hearts/their needs. It’s easy to just say “No” to their desires.  Sometimes, I have to when their desires are wrong or dangerous.  The times when I can say “Yes” though, do I?

Today, I had that opportunity (in a small way).  I really don’t like messes, but I remembered how gracious my mom was and how much I enjoyed messy activities such as transforming the living room into a tent.  As I watched my children struggle to make a tent, I offered to make them a better one.  I grabbed a stack of sheets, rubber-bands, and pulled a bunch of chairs.  I then showed them how to make a tent with little sheet dividers for walls.  I allowed them to make beds, “sofas”, and put a little table in their tent house.  I chose to overlook the mess and to appreciate the enjoyment my children would receive.  I heard lots of “thank you’s” and that this was their best tent ever.  I even finished our school today in the tent by doing all of our read-aloud in the tent.  And, I gave them snacks to eat in their tent — even though it would mean crumbs on my rug and blankets.

I am able to demonstrate flexibility in simple areas when I am “rooted” in love — when I recall all that God has done for me!  I think I should plant a whole hedge of palm trees to remind me of these important lessons.