20 years together… happily!

Today we celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary!  It is sweet to pause in the quiet and let my heart sift back through “snap shots” and “video clips” of treasured moments on that clear October day.  … The huge maple tree bursting with golden yellow leaves that canopied our wedding photos at the arboretum.  The whispers just between the two of us, lost in our own bubble of joy.  The words of truth and encouragement in our ceremony.  The sweet hugs and smiles from so many loved ones.  And stealing away in our rented Buick Park Avenue sedan to dinner and dessert for two in our fancy hotel room!

 

To this day, there is no warmer, cozier, more surrounded place than curled up in each other’s arms.  Sharing whispers just between the two of us.  The memories of our special day – and so many moments in the two decades since – are truly happy!  And we are grateful to feel abundantly blessed with the gift of our marriage!

But, did we walk down that aisle, blissfully believing in “happily ever after?”  Married at age 30, we both had lived through enough “blood, sweat and tears” to understand that life is hard.  There are no guarantees.  The enemy of our souls is always working to undermine and destroy the beautiful picture marriage holds of Christ’s love for His own.  As frail humans, our promises to one another are only as powerful as our commitment to them, and ever dependent on the One who gives us the ability to keep them.

Knowing the dangers, we have fiercely guarded our marriage from the start.  We look to the Lord again and again for wisdom and guidance as we encounter new seasons of life side by side.  How are we able to look back over 20 years and stretch an over-arching banner that simply yet poignantly says “happily married?”  And where can we best commit our hearts, going forward, to position ourselves to draw the same conclusion if the Lord grants us another 20 years together?

These are some of the questions presented in Kevin A. Thompson’s new book, “Happily: 8 Commitments of Couples Who Laugh, Love & Last.”  I was grateful to receive of copy of this book just a few weeks before this milestone anniversary, and to share much of its wisdom with my husband as we reflect and rejoice together.

 

In his years of experience counseling couples, Kevin Thompson has concluded there are a few basic longings for marriage – that it will be fun (inspire joy), that it will be a place where genuine love is expressed, and that it will endure.  He has written a previous book “Friends, Partners, and Lovers” that describes what a happy couple can do to build their friendship, partnership, and intimacy.  In this second book, he delves deeper into how those commitments should be carried out.

Kevin lists various verbs that are associated with a good marriage: love, care, listen, learn, forgive, trust, encourage, submit, cheer, embrace, and so on.  He believes that the powerful adverb “happily” makes all the difference in how those verbs are lived out and the impact each will have on the strength of a marriage.

As a basis for his challenge to married couples, Kevin walks his readers through the Beatitudes from Matthew 5.  These are the principles the Lord Jesus taught when He walked this earth.  Heart postures that lead to God-honoring attitudes and actions are applicable in so many facets of life.  Kevin suggests one of the greatest places to enjoy the fruit of Godly choices is in our marriage relationships.  Blessed (happy!) are those who choose God’s way.

Rather than pride, humility.

Rather than avoiding pain and failure, confronting it and processing through it.

Rather than apathy or aggression, meekness (strength with vulnerability).

Rather than self-centered perspective, reaching for a higher goal (glorifying God).

Rather than selfishness, compassion and mercy.

Rather than hypocrisy, truth and honesty.

Rather than division and strife, pursuit of peace.

Rather than giving up too easily, working through challenges to grow stronger.

I believe this book will touch each couple personally and uniquely.  I also believe it is a book worth revisiting at each new milestone or when walking through different experiences.  Reading it for the first time, these are the few quotes that really stand out to me:

Marriage at its best is meek.  When someone acts in a meek manner, they quickly act on behalf of another but are never self-serving… they are a person restrained by love and grace.” (p76)

“Love restrains us.  It keeps us from using our strength as a disservice to our spouse.  Our strength is best used for the benefit of our spouse, not for their detriment.  Meekness keeps our strength under control.”  (p82)

“Mercy requires toughness to restrain any desire for revenge … and tenderness to have empathy and compassion for another person.  The best marriages are defined by both toughness and tenderness.  … When thinking of the qualities that lead to a lasting relationship, few people would ever consider mercy.  Yet anyone who has ever experienced a truly meaningful relationship can reflect on and realize the influence mercy had on their union.”  (p125)

“More than anything, marriage is an avenue through which a couple can know God and express Him to others. … Marriage is about a joint pursuit of the heart of God.”  (p100-101)

In conclusion, Kevin makes the point that through the whole of Scripture, God reveals a pattern of working from the inside out – in human hearts and in relationships.  He draws a very interesting and helpful correlation between the Lord Jesus’ teachings in the Beatitudes with our best choices in marriage.  He concedes that these choices are neither easy nor natural – but that they can lead us to a different way of life – a little bit of heaven on earth!

I am so thankful for this fresh look at the Beatitudes and the very practical applications to marriage presented in “Happily.”  Kevin’s insights encourage me (causing me to be grateful for the ways the Lord has already guided, grown and preserved our marriage through these principles), but also challenge me to look more closely for ways I may have slipped from God’s standards.  Do I love like He does – faithfully, sacrificially, tenderly, kindly, and intentionally?

As my husband and I celebrate 20 years together and trust the Lord for the future, there is no better way to refocus my heart than to ponder our Savior’s teachings and apply them to our marriage.  I firmly believe that these commitments will not only honor God, but will bless our marriage with deepening love, infectious joy, and a relationship that will endure!

20th happily

“A good marriage is built through a thousand small acts.

As a husband and wife lay down their lives for one another, the marriage thrives.”

– Kevin A. Thompson –

. . .

Blessed (happy!) are the poor in spirit (humble),

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

– Matthew 5:3-10 –

. . .

“HAPPILY: 8 Commitments of Couples Who Laugh, Love & Last”

by Kevin A. Thompson is published by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, Grand Rapids, Michigan.

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breaking open to new life

It was just a walk on a random afternoon, to get some fresh air and a little exercise.  But I quickly realized how much I needed that space to wrestle out some burdens that had my shoulders tensed up around my ears and lines deepening in my forehead, threatening to stay that way!

Despite reminding myself as often as possible to LOOK UP, I realized that my vision had been downcast for too long.  I was chasing my own head and the walls were closing in.  Too many circumstances outside of my control (aren’t they all?  when will I learn this??), too many challenges with no light at the end of the tunnel.  My heart was heavy and my body felt stiff and achy.

But just a few paces into this unplanned walk, I felt gratefulness rising.  Thankful for the nudge to step away – from that head space and the literal space of “real life” – to air it all out for a while!

My iphone streamed downloaded songs while I walked along.  Various lyrics caught my ear, especially Johnny Diaz’s song, Breathe :

breathe, just breathe

come and rest at My feet

and be, just be

chaos calls but all you really need

is to take it in, fill your lungs

the peace of God that overcomes

just breathe

let your weary spirit rest

lay down what’s good and find what’s best

just breathe

I began to look UP and around… and notice the beauty of God’s creation.  I had walked the same path so many times and looked at the same flowers and trees, but there were new discoveries.  On that October day, with my northern-girl-self still expecting falling leaves, bare branches, and the arrival of dormancy, I was stunned and delighted to find the opposite!

The plumbago hedges were bursting with clusters of periwinkle flowers.  The pine trees were covered with the bright green needles of new growth.  Another delicate shrub was loaded with beautiful yellow buds and petals.  The fuchsia bougainvillea seemed more vibrant than ever before.  But the sweetest sight of all was the red bud tree in full leaf, in that same tender, bright green!

 fall growth collage

Just a few weeks before, those red bud trees looked exactly as I expected during autumn – bare branches with open seed pods, some still dangling from the tree, but most strewn about the ground.  I was so captivated by those pods!  I eagerly collected them to add to our fall décor.  A closer look at them, as I cleaned off the dust and dirt from the ground, only heightened my wonder!

Before the pods opened, they were thin, flat, dark brown slivers, with an outer shell that looked charred.  Nondescript.  Unattractive.  Almost ugly – in shape and in color.  But as the pods opened to sew their seeds, the two long strips of each pod curled in opposite directions, revealing a beautiful inside shell in varying shades and swirls of caramel and brown, like the richest, most interesting wood tone one could imagine.  And their shape was permanently altered, standing firm in their perfectly turned curls!

 fall pods trio

Those seed pods touched my heart.  It was in the breaking open, in the giving away of their insides, on the way to being discarded, that their true beauty was revealed!  The process sewed seeds for new growth and changed those pods forever.

It was in His breaking open, giving His own life, disregarded and discarded by the very ones He created and came to save, that our Savior’s truest depth of love and beauty was revealed.  He is forever now the God-Man, the Lamb freshly slain, bearing the marks of that sacrifice – for us.  He is forever changed.  And so are we.  Because of His death, we now have new life!  A life that will never die!  We are being transformed into His image – with a love and a beauty that we will never fully comprehend.

Although my son got his greatest pleasure from crunching those seed pod curls under his feet on our walks, I was grateful to have discovered them and preserved them!  As I catch sight of them around the house, they remind me to be grateful for my Savior… and not to fear the breaking, the spilling out, or the process of being transformed.  True beauty in His eyes will be the result!

 fall curls trio

Just a few weeks later, I stood beneath the same red bud tree and looked up into the sea of brand new, bright green leaves.  New life.  A new growing season had already begun!  Even after seven years in south FL, it still takes me by surprise that this is a blooming season here!  A time of thriving!  It is so unexpected.  It brings a deep, widening smile to my heart.

Months of deep soul wrestling, those burdens that have my shoulders tensed up and lines trenching into my forehead, have taken me through a season that has felt a bit like autumn or even winter.  Bare, falling away, dormancy –  a sense of grieving without fully being able to identify the loss.  What an encouragement to realize that this season could surprise me with new growth!  Seeds sown in brokenness can turn barely surviving into thriving!

When my heart breaks, my cries spill out in desperate prayer, even then… especially then, what new life, new growth might He be birthing?  I don’t know.  But I trust Him.  And it thrills my heart to know that it is the One and only Master Craftsman at work behind the scenes!  I really can’t wait to see what He has been working on all along.  For I know with confidence I will be awe-struck to see it all unfold.

renewed day by day

It was just a walk on a random day to get some fresh air and a little exercise.  But my Savior met me there, touched my heart, and shifted my focus.  I came home with a spring in my step, a lighter (and bigger!) heart, and a sweet smile… the JOY of the grateful and blessed!

 * * *

Psalm 84:5-7 ~ What JOY for those whose strength comes from the LORD… when they walk through the valley of weeping, it will become a place of refreshing springs… the autumn rains will clothe it with blessings… they will continue to grow stronger.

James 1:2-4 ~ Consider it pure JOY, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance… let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking nothing.

2 Corinthians 4:16 ~ For this reason we do not lose heart.  Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.

James 1:12 ~ Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of LIFE that the LORD has promised to those who love Him.

Proverbs 12:25 ~ Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up.

 

 

 

out of the ordinary

In my one and only photography class in college (to fill an elective spot with something fun!), I heard more than once, “true artistry is creating something extraordinary from something quite ordinary.”

I had to smile as I listened to Christie Purifoy and Mary Jo Baker say basically the same thing in their “Out of the Ordinary” podcast this week.  How sweet to realize that little moments which could easily be overlooked, and may even grow tiresome on some levels, can become treasured glimpses of extraordinary in our very routine, ordinary days.

They asked us, as their listeners, to ponder where unexpected EXTRAORDINARY might be found in our own day to day?  [what a gift to see His hand creating amazing GRACE out of the ordinary in their lives… and begin to recognize His touch in our own!]

* * *

When I pause to think about it, two things come to mind … one from my own childhood home and one small but lingering thing my kids have kept alive, even though they are now big kids, starting to contemplate life decisions like cars and colleges and part-time jobs!

My little piece of extraordinary gives away where I was raised … Pennsylvania!  As far back as I can remember, my mom has placed little electric candles in each of the windows of our home.  They are set on timers to come on at dusk and stay lit until we are all deeply asleep, sometime after midnight.

I hold treasured memories of climbing into bed each night, hearing the house settle to a lovely quiet, seeing and feeling the soft glow of those little candles, cast across our darkened rooms.  Even now, when I travel home for a visit, I fight sleep as long as possible, soaking in that glow.  The word that comes to mind is “surrounded.”  In that safe and happy place, loved and provided for by those who know and love me best.

IMG_5968

Although the candles are present all through the year, the sight of them often takes my heart back to the holidays.  I suppose we appreciated their light all the more during the darkest parts of the year.  But it was also during those festive times that drifting off to sleep was accompanied by wafts of fresh cookies baking or a crackling fire, and the sound of Christmas music.  There was no greater time in our year to feel “surrounded” than when we purposely chose to gather with loved ones, to celebrate, and to express gratefulness.

When we moved from Pennsylvania to Savannah, GA, over a decade ago, we continued the tradition, placing our own electric candles in every possible window.  Neighbors were perplexed, since they had only seen such a thing at Christmastime.  We persisted anyway.  And I still loved the gift of falling asleep under the soft glow in a quiet house  (at any time of the year!), feeling surrounded by our own growing family in the home God had provided for us.

When friends would come to visit for the first time, we would often tell them to look for the house with candle lights in the windows!  We were from Pennsylvania, after all, and those roots run deep!  It was so nice to hear how many of them viewed that unique touch as something warm and welcoming.

IMG_5972

Now that we live in south FL, our home doesn’t have windows that are suited for electric candles.  It was a sad realization for me.  The rest of my family does not seem to miss them.  But I do.  So as a feeble second choice, I have a night light plugged in next to my side of the bed.

It is not quite the same as light beautifully reflected on the glass panes of a window, but I appreciate the soft glow all the same!  Maybe one day, the Lord will lead us back to the northern hills where I can light candles in our windows again!

* * *

My kids are much more practical and not so easily touched by aesthetics.  (I tease them that they cannot be my children!)  Their holdout traditions have much more to do with food!

Dad’s famous pancakes!  Mom’s chocolate chip banana bread!  Or Miss Barbara’s unmatched recipe for pound cake (with NO icing!) that my son insists on every year for his birthday.  Yep!  My kids’ favorite traditions are definitely about what tastes good!

When they were small and we were planning to be out and about for the day – park, zoo, beach, even errands – I would pack each of them a Ziplock snack bag with their water bottle.  I would grab whatever dry goods were in the pantry – pretzels, goldfish, cereal, teddy grahams, and maybe a few M&Ms for something sweet – and create our own snack mix.  I would stash their munchies in a tucked-away place and bring them out when absolutely necessary to settle the restless natives!

It always made me laugh when my parents were visiting and my Dad would whisper his request that I make an extra one for him!  To this day, when we travel, I will catch my kids making themselves a snack bag for the road!

IMG_5971

* * *

How truly beautiful to realize that whether it is an aesthetic touch or something yummy for our tummies, it is the little things that linger and remain meaningful.  Those easily overlooked, ordinary things, that mamas do to let their children know that they are loved and provided for, are really quite extraordinary!

How important, as well, to be reminded to look for the ways our heavenly Father loves and provides for us each day!  There is no other who knows and loves us best!  But to busy humans, many of His touches and foresight can seem small or be easily overlooked.

It is so encouraging to know, if we train our eyes to see, we will discover the truly EXTRAORDINARY artistry He is creating every day… right in the middle of what seems rather ordinary!

* * *

Psalm 77:13  O God, your deeds are extraordinary!

Isaiah 29:14  I will again do an amazing thing for My people – an absolutely extraordinary deed.

Zechariah 4:10  Whoever despises the day of small things will rejoice…

I Corinthians 1:27  God has chosen the simple things to confound the wise.

Luke 16:10  Whoever is faithful with little things will also be faithful with much.

out of the ordinary

#outoftheordinarypodcast

#christiepurifoy  #lisajobaker

#littlethingsthatareextraordinary

#Hemakeseverythingbeautiful

#trueartistry

#receivingHisbestgiftswithJOY

 

unexpected beauty

Her smile lit up the room.  She was smart, articulate, and passionate.  Her love for the Lord and His truth oozed out of her.  When she would chime into our weekly Bible study discussion group, everyone’s eyes were trained on her and their pens quick to jot down her latest string of words.  They were always poignant and timely.  Easy phrases that broke through the tangled mess of thoughts and brought it all down to a solid truth of God we could sink our teeth into.  Her story was sweet as well – newly married and joyfully moving into a newly renovated house with a dream view.  She was radiant and exciting, polished and elegant, with a little feisty mixed in to keep things interesting.

I will never forget the day she allowed herself to be vulnerable in the safety of that little group.  Between pauses to collect herself, fighting raw emotions brimming, she shared truly painful pieces of her back story, some wounds sliced and gaping open afresh that very week.  Her bright eyes glistened with tears as she described the burden she felt for the very ones who pierced her heart – longing for them to know the Savior at any cost.  Yielding to God’s perfect plan to reach them, even if she would be hurt in the process.  Her pain was palpable.  Our hearts broke with hers.

The group surrounded her with the very truth she had poured into all of us.  Without discussion, our conversation for that week’s passage was put aside so we could lay hands on her and just pray, crying out to God to hold and heal His daughter and draw the hearts of her loved ones to Himself.  Not surprisingly, we ran late that day, closing our little gathering well past our usual time.  There were hugs and tears and apologies for ugly crying, making a mess of any makeup we had applied that day.

BUT there was nothing ugly about it.  I will never forget the true beauty of that day!  One heart broken open to invite the rest of us in.  One life, real and raw and still smarting from fresh wounds, yet willing to rest in the One who had given His own life to redeem ours.  A trust so real, so deep that it leads her to willingly endure pain, so others can know the Savior.

How amazing to encourage her that every time she makes the choice to reach out again – to the very ones who continually cause her pain – she loves like Christ does!  Knowing the cost, knowing the rejection, He chose to love anyway, to give anyway.  She chooses again and again to love like He does, to risk her own heart to show them a love like His!  It is not natural.  It is not human.  It is His heart reaching through hers.  It isn’t pretty.  Not even close.  But it is incredibly beautiful!

She might have been about 4 years old.  Our sweet daughter who lived in a happy bubble and moved to the beat of her own drum.  We were gathered with a small circle of believers to remember the Lord Jesus on a Sunday morning.  At the end of our time together, one of the men asked if he could play a new song he had heard that deeply touched his heart.  He quickly set up a CD player and started the audio for “I Can Only Imagine,” by MercyMe.

Each of us seemed to get lost in our own thoughts as the lyrics played.  In the blink of an eye, our sweet girl slid out of her chair and started dancing in the middle of our circle.  Her eyes were closed, her lips in the sweetest smile, her arms raised and her little pink dress twirling and swooping along with the music.

My husband and I shot each other a glance of panic.  Coming from very conservative backgrounds, this sort of thing just did not happen, and we feared she would disturb the others.  But we were also afraid of causing a bigger scene in trying to stop her.  In truth, I now believe that His Spirit restrained us.  We just watched and adored along with her.

At the end of our morning, one of the elders approached us.  We took a deep breath, not sure what he would say.  With a big smile, he simply said, “THANK YOU for not stopping her.  That was the purest form of worship I have ever seen!  The spontaneous and genuine response of a child’s heart to the thought of seeing Jesus!”

It might have been unusual, awkward, nerve wracking!!  But it was stunningly beautiful, and we will never forget it!

How interesting that the most beautiful moments are NOT scripted, are usually unexpected, unplanned, and often horribly inconvenient.  But thank the Lord, most of us have an innate ability to recognize their value and allow time to stand still while we drink in their authenticity.  Sadly, it has been a few years since I have thought about either occasion… until recently, when I was reading Christine Hoover’s new book, “Searching for Spring: How God makes all things beautiful in time.”

Life is hard.  And complicated.  And painful.  But can it also be beautiful?

Tracing threads through the whole of scripture, drawing observations from current events, history and the arts, as well as her own personal experiences, Christine challenges our definition of beauty.  Maybe the way we characterize beauty is not always accurate or complete.  She encourages her readers to redefine beauty, to look for deeper, truer beauty in the most unlikely seasons of life.

Where do we see the hand of the Creator at work?  The unmistakable touches of His design that reassure us He is still there, that hope is not lost?  What is He creating and redeeming and recreating all around us and IN us – especially when circumstances don’t change and His answer to our prayers is not to fix what we think needs to be fixed – that draws our hearts to know Him more intimately?

Is it possible to reach a point where we recognize the Lord’s kindness in leaving some circumstances unchanged, because of the beautiful work He is doing in our hearts in the midst of those challenges?  Can it really move us to gratefulness?  Is it possible to treasure those dark places where faith is birthed, where we receive courage and strength so freely from Him (because our arms are raised and open in desperation)?  Can the depths of despair actually lead us to HOPE rising, with a surge that cannot be denied?

Standing over the heating vent, watching through her window for signs of spring, Christine says, “Yes!”  …  That “yes” may start as a whisper, but grows in strength as His Spirit moves our hearts to dare to believe what we cannot see, but trust in because His Word has promised it!

When we walk through the darkest of valleys, can we have courage to believe in and watch for the beauty God is creating?  Can we dare to imagine that what He is doing IN us during those seasons can nurture creativity FROM us?  Again, Christine confidently says, “Yes!”

Building on a fresh appreciation of true beauty, Christine redefines creativity as well.  She describes how our Master/Potter ignites something within us to create beauty in response to His, a pure beauty that (1) reflects His heart, (2) is an outpouring of worship to Him, and (3) becomes an avenue to love and serve others and cause them to wonder at our Creator!  There is a purity in that kind of creative process that is not tainted with self-ambition.  The focus of anything we produce should only, ever, always be our great God and Savior!

As Christine’s thoughts reach the anticipated climax of spring arriving, she rests in a bolder place of expectation… of the promised beauty we can’t possibly comprehend that still awaits us in the here and now, but ultimately in our secure ever-after in glory with our Savior.

If I am honest. I have been in a long season that feels a lot like an unending winter.  But Christine has reached through these pages to help me see a truer, fuller picture of the beautiful masterpiece my Savior is orchestrating.  She has encouraged my heart to shift my prayers from rescue to altered vision.  I don’t want to miss anything He longs to show me in this place, anything He is creating in me here, or anything He will lead me to create from this journey!

May any season I walk through cause me to wonder at my Creator, to watch expectantly for the pure beauty He fashions… and inspire me to reach out to others in a way that causes them to be lost in wonder of Him as well!

If you are struggling to make sense of a long hard season, “Searching for Spring” by Christine Hoover (published by Baker Books, 2018) may help you treasure that very season and trust more confidently in the One who offers to walk through it with you… and to create true beauty from it… in you and with you!

He makes all things beautiful

photo credit: David C. Hamilton Photography

 

* trusting JESUS in any season

* watching for the beauty He promises

* pausing to drink in its authenticity

* creating to express and ignite wonder of Him

Read more here…

Ephesians 2:10 ~ For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Psalm 139:14 ~ I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.

Isaiah 61:3 ~ He will bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.  They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of His splendor.

Ezekiel 16:14 ~ “You are perfectly beautiful because of My splendor with which I have clothed you,” declares the Sovereign LORD.

Psalm 45:1 ~ Beautiful words stir my heart.  I will recite a lovely poem about the King, for my tongue is like the pen of a skillful poet.

 

 

 

be still

It was the same beach.  The same cove. The same rocks and ocean and sky.  But somehow it all looked different than it had one year before.  In the 12 months since I walked the same path, that coastline weathered everything from gentle rains, to dry, sunny days, to raging hurricane winds and pounding waves.

On that particular day, the sand was littered with seaweed from a recent storm.  The debris was dark, messy, tangled, smelly even.

But it didn’t take long for my attention to be drawn away.  Captivated by the sun sparkling like a sea of diamonds on the water, and wooed by the lapping cadence of gentle waves, I lifted my eyes from the rubble to the horizon.

It was the first day of school and this walk on the beach has become my favorite tradition.  Taking a necessary pause before busy days and weeks take over.  An intentional deep breath to bathe this new year in prayer, to ask for the Lord’s special and unique favor over each of our kids and their teachers – and ourselves as their parents!

Just a few hours before, it was brutal to answer the call of our 5 AM alarms, to coax sleepy bodies out of their beds and see them off to the bus.  But a mixture of anxiousness and excitement propelled all of us forward, curious to step into a new year, bursting with fresh possibilities!

As I sat with the kids at the breakfast table, my gaze fell on the open One Year Bible and Daily Light texts in front of me.  It was so encouraging to share these words with them:

The LORD says, I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.  I will advise you and watch over you. ~ Good planning and hard work lead to success.  ~  The LORD’s plans stand firm forever.  His intentions can never be shaken.  ~ This work has been done with the help of our God. 

– Psalm 32:8, Proverbs 21:5, Psalm 33:11, Nehemiah 6:16 –

That last verse really touched me since our last name means, “with the help of God.”  COLAIUTA is an Americanized version of an Italian name “con l’auito di Dio.”  I was so thankful to be reminded that I was sending my kids off in the very best hands … HIS!

I have vivid memories of this same walk a year ago.  Long stretches of it were in silence, whispering quiet gratefulness for a beautiful day, a quiet beach, and time to think and pray.  As I asked the Lord for His hand upon the year ahead, I sensed an answer settling across my heart.  It was not audible, but it was clear and it was real.  I distinctly remember receiving it with seriousness, but not any fear.

There will be mountains to climb this year … … … … but I will be with you every step of the way.

Wow.  What could He mean, I wondered!?  And just as quickly as the question formed in my mind, His Spirit seemed to calm my heart and remind me that I didn’t need to know the details.  I could simply trust Him.  For He would be with me (us) and that was all I needed to know.

As I reflected on the year that has passed since that day, I could only give PRAISE to the One who has been faithful to those words.  He prepared my heart so that when struggles came, I could find my rock-solid place in His promises and look to Him for help.  We have faced a variety of challenges in the past year.  Some of those situations still feel like mountains!  I have thought a few times, “mountains are beautiful from a distance, or from the top, but rarely do we see the full picture in the middle of the climb.”  We can be so easily overcome by what’s dark, messy, tangled.

As I walked along that same beach and had the chance to look back over 12 months, I could see more clearly how He had walked us through each day, each trial – and how He had graciously granted times of JOY in the midst of those struggles!  I felt a surge of new confidence that any days ahead would be the same!

As I continued to walk, offering thanksgiving for the Lord’s faithfulness over the past year, and His promises given that very morning with which to step bravely into the new one, I wondered if He had anything new to reveal to my heart?

God’s Word encourages us to boldly ASK Him what we do not know.  And so I walked, and prayed, and asked Him what banner He might want me to stretch over this new season.  These are the thoughts that came…

Slow down.

Be still.

Treasure what is right in front of you without rushing past.

Your kids are growing older, both in high school now.  Your time with them is fleeting.  It’s ok to let go more than ever before and leave space for Me to work in their hearts.

Trust Me with the trials, some of which are still ongoing from last year, some will be new challenges ahead.

Embrace where I have placed you.

In love and faithfulness, simply seek My face and love and serve your family.

Since January, I have felt His “word” for me this year is “tucked away.”  He has been drawing my heart to more and more time alone with Him, to simply get lost in Who He is and trust that whatever emerges from that place is good and right.  So it was not surprising that the final thought that drifted across my heart was this:

It may already be August, but your “tucked away” year has only just begun.  Don’t be in a hurry to leave this season.  Be still and treasure (and guard!) this time.

My mind drifted back to our verses at the breakfast table and a sacrifice of PRAISE spilled freely from my heart:

You are the One who watches over us.

You are the One who lifts our heads, who draws our eyes from the dark, messy, tangled debris of any recent storm to the horizon and to HOPE rising, fresh each day with the sun – and it is dazzling!

You are the One who guides us, who blesses good planning and hard work with success.

Your plans are never shaken.

Your help is what sees us to any finish line.

We can only offer PRAISE and THANKSGIVING from deeply grateful hearts!

be still 1

The LORD is my strength and shield

I trust in Him with all my heart

He helps me and my heart is filled with JOY

I burst out in songs of thanksgiving

The LORD gives His people strength

He is a safe fortress for His anointed

The LORD blesses His people with PEACE

– Psalm 28:7-8, 29:11 –

 

 

 

someday you will see

“You don’t know what I am doing right now, but one day you will.”

In many challenging times over many years, I have “stumbled” across this verse just when I needed reminding that Almighty God sees and knows a much bigger picture than I will ever understand!

It is a picture He has designed.  He knows each nuance intimately.  Every orchestrated movement is precise and perfectly timed.  His revealing of each new layer of His plan to my heart is perfectly planned as well.  And I’ll just be honest here… it is often a much longer wait than I, in my naivety, would prefer!

I find myself right back there… again.

I am waiting.  I am praying.  I have longings.  My heart is heavy with burdens for loved ones I see struggling – sometimes severely.

My mind races ahead and I think I am so clever to come up with some really wonderful solutions.  But He says, “be still.”

We have deep soul wrestling, my Lord and I.  He is so gracious to receive my rants, my tears, my questions, my premature excitement about the latest, greatest plan I have dreamt up.  And He faithfully asks me again and again, “are you willing to just trust Me?”

And so, in this place of grappling which are nudges from Him and which are impatient, flesh-fueled impulses to fix and resolve – and in a season of great uncertainty and mounting questions with few answers – I opened my First 5 app* (from Proverbs 31 Ministries) to read the passage and comments for the day – from John 13.

It is a well-known passage where the Lord Jesus stoops to wash His disciples’ feet.

Tucked away in an upper room together, Jesus’ closest followers are enjoying final hours with Him before He will fulfill the Father’s plan of redemption and ultimately leave them to return to the Father’s side as their risen, glorified Lord.

Jesus spends a lot of their time together teaching them as much as He can – as much as He knows they are able to receive from Him.  But in the tender moments recorded in John 13, He pauses those spoken lessons simply to serve them, to teach them how to care for one another as He cares for each of them.

They call Him Master and Teacher, yet He girds Himself with a towel and stoops to wash their feet.  One by one, He takes their feet in His hands and washes away the dirt and debris from the dusty roads, enabling them to experience His personal care and feel His touch, to meet His gaze and exchange thoughts without words – thoughts meant intimately for each of them, directly from His heart.  They have worked hard by His side, ministering to others, watching His steps and following close behind.  Now He stoops to renew and refresh them, individually and personally.

The Lord Jesus comes to Peter and he can barely contain himself.  “NO, Lord!  Why are You doing this?!”  It seems as if Peter has his own grand ideas and is outraged that the One he knows to be the true Messiah should take on such a task.  I wonder if he even feels honorable in refusing to let this scene continue.  In his own judgment of the situation, he misses the beauty of these intimate encounters.

And right there in the middle of this passage, where I had completely forgotten it originated, were those exact same words I have pondered so often, “You don’t know what I am doing now, but one day you will.”  Yes, much as I have always thought, the Lord Jesus was thinking and acting upon a much bigger picture than Peter could realize.  But finding those words in the middle of this scene shifted my perspective!

A new train of thought began to roll across my heart…

Those heavy burdens, those severe struggles, those painful moments, those swirling questions…  Those are the times when I am tempted to think the Lord is off somewhere else, busy attending to the plan I can’t see just yet, and asking for me to trust Him with the right time to circle back to me and fill me in.

“You don’t know what I am doing right now, but one day you will.”

But seeing these words in the setting of John 13, I hear His gentle voice to my heart, flipping the script.  Could the Holy Spirit be tuning my heart to see that it is in those times that the Lord Jesus is actually stooping closer than ever – to tenderly and intimately care for me?  For my loved ones?  That He is removing the dirt and debris of the journey?  That He is renewing and refreshing and preparing me for what lies ahead?

When the days and weeks seem long and hard, do I tuck further away with Him to let Him touch me, cleanse me, teach me… and ask me again to simply trust Him?

Do I trust the work He is doing in the hearts of my loved ones in their own struggles?  Am I willing to understand that what He is accomplishing through their own wrestling is truly precious and tender and intimate between each of them and the Savior?  A tremendous gift from Him that I would never want them to miss?

Do I believe that He is big enough, strong enough and tender enough to walk me and those around me through any and every circumstance, joyous or painful?  Am I willing to rest – really rest in the knowing that His Father’s plan is my Father’s plan too – and it is exactly purposeful and right on time – but that He never asks me to do the waiting alone?  Do I look for the ways that He stoops to serve me and care for me… especially when I couldn’t possibly understand what He is doing?

There may be many steps along the way that don’t make sense to me, that are difficult, confusing, painful, grueling even.  But it is all part of the journey that draws me ever closer to the Savior, in step with Him as He fulfills the Father’s plans.  At any cost, He trusted the Father.  He obeyed.  He rejoiced to see the plan completed.

And so will we.

One day… it will all make sense.  One day the current struggles will be past.  One day the tears will flow as we see with clearer vision exactly what He has been working on all along.  One day we will know with certainty the ways He has been tenderly caring for us in the midst of the trial.  One day we will see the love with which He has been drawing our hearts to know and trust Him more.  One day we will acknowledge the grace with which He has welcomed us to have a part in fulfilling the Father’s plan – right along side of Him!

One day we will say with full assurance – as for God, His way is perfect!

There are many things we do not understand now.

But one day we will.

And in the space between – the place of not-knowing – this is where He comes closest, to personally care for us!  He will hold us, and carry us, until it all makes sense…. and beyond.

This is our Savior – He “encircles us, instructs us, keeps us as the apple of His eye… as an eagle stirs up its nest, hovers over its young, spreading out its wings, taking them up, carrying them on its wings, so the Lord alone leads us.”  Deuteronomy 32:10-12

And so for now, I thank Him that He is faithful to stoop, to love, to care, and to teach.  Right now, while the answers may still be a long way off and some days, life is just hard, I will ask Him for eyes and a heart to see the ways He is ministering to me and my loved ones and adore Him in return.

For now, I will continue to say with Job, “yet will I trust Him!”

I may not know what He is doing right now – but someday I will see!

Read more here:   John 13:1-17 – Psalm 18:30 – Job 13:15

you will know alternate

* The First 5 app from Proverbs 31 Ministries is FREE!  (intended to ground the first 5 minutes of your day in scriptural truth!)  Download it to enjoy a daily Bible study complete with scripture readings, devotional comments, and application questions to ponder.  Through the app, you can also join in dialogue with other readers… and hear news about other resources and events available through Proverbs 31 Ministries.

oh yes, He cares!

An inexplicable nudge lurches her into motion.  She decides not to wait for Him any longer and rushes to meet Him in the road.  She skips the usual greetings and pleasantries and blurts out the swirlings in her chest.  He doesn’t stop her.  He knows that her heart is heavy and the wrestling has been fierce.

This is the Martha, who previously placed a 1:1 conversation with the Savior second to “necessary” tasks.  But now, in her desperate need, it is the only thing on her mind.  She was never afraid to ask the hard questions.  But on this day, there are no questions, just raw outpouring of her heart – her insistence that His presence could have made a difference, but it seems too late.  Her brother Lazarus is already dead.  Four days ago – dead.

She scrambles for hope to hold onto and trust glimmers in the confidence that the resurrection is a reality she looks forward to.   She dares to stretch beyond what she can see and know, looks to Jesus and says, “even now, whatever You ask, the Father will give You.”  She can’t even imagine what that might be, does she even dare to hope?

Although clearly on His way to them with His own purposes in mind, Jesus lets time stand still to meet Martha where she is – and to have this 1:1 conversation that is long overdue.  He challenges her thinking and realigns her hope:

* The truth of resurrection is not a theology or an idea but a Person.

* Eternal life is not an eventual gift but a reality that includes today.

* More than any reunion of a treasured earthly tie, He wants her to cling to Him.

* He wants her to understand that anything or anyone of true eternal value is never lost when safe in the Father’s care.

Mary hears He is near and rushes out to meet Him too.  He can see she is broken with grief.  He knows that these two sisters are very different, and He comes along side of each one uniquely and intimately.

He doesn’t linger over conversation with Mary.  Although she has treasured many 1:1 dialogues with Him, He knows there are no words for the sorrow that has engulfed her.  He simply says, “take Me to him.”

He does not explain or discuss or correct.  He simply chooses to be present.  He knows He is about to make all things new again, but He affectively says:

Let Me just be in this place with you right now.

Let Me come close to you in this time of mourning.

Let Me just grieve with you.

And then, I will make it all OK again.

Then I will reveal more of Myself to you.

Then I will make all things new.

If you believe, you will see the glory of God!

This is our Savior.  Our Lord Jesus created us.  He is the One who loves us enough that He gave everything to redeem us.  Every moment of ours is important to Him.

He knows us intimately… and He longs for us to know Him intimately too.  He will take any opportunity just to be present – but also to help us see Him in fresh, new ways – ways that reveal His glory!

It thrills His heart to see us run to Him.  He will always meet us.  He will always know exactly what we need, when we need it, and provide it abundantly.

His care is tender.

His words refocus our thinking with eternally unchanging truth.

His power breathes life.

His presence speaks peace.

When we encounter others in times of struggle or grief, we can extend the love and care of Jesus to them!  We can follow His example and simply choose to be present.  To listen.  To grieve with them.  And then, as His Spirit gives us the words, we can speak life and peace and truth that steadies and points them back to the Savior who loves them and will walk them through their time of trial.

We can remind them (and ourselves!) that He cares, O yes, Jesus cares!

Read more here – John 11:1-45 – Psalm 55:22 – Proverbs 12:25 – Isaiah 43:19 – 1 Peter 5:7 – Philippians 4:6-7 – Revelation 21:5

path of life

Does Jesus Care?   (Frank E. Graeff – 1901)

Does Jesus care when my heart is pained

too deeply for mirth or song,

As the burdens press and the cares distress,

and the way grows weary and long?

 

Oh yes He cares, I know He cares

His heart is touched with my grief;

When the days are weary and the long nights dreary

I know my Savior cares

 

Does Jesus care when my way is dark

with a nameless dread and fear?

As the daylight fades into deep night shades,

does He care enough to be near?

 

Does Jesus care when I’ve tried and failed

to resist some temptation strong?

When for my deep grief there is no relief,

though my tears flow all night long?

 

Does Jesus care when I’ve said goodbye

to the dearest on earth to me,

And my sad heart aches till it nearly breaks –

is it aught to Him? Does He see?