ponder anew

Leaning against a large boulder near the water’s edge, he pulled me in close.  I sunk into his full embrace.  The breeze tossed my hair across his face, but he didn’t move.  The gentle lapping of the surf was so soothing.  The little sandpipers flitting from rock to rock around us were fun to watch.  But for us it was precious stillness.  Peace.  REST.

I had a flashback to late afternoons on the bayside beach in Ocean City, NJ.  The sun sinking, the shadows stretching across the sand.  Mom and Dad happily extending their hours of fishing.  And me… sleepy from a full day of sun and sand and surf.  Those were the best times to curl up on a blanket and doze off in the breeze.  A kid-sized power nap!  Utter REST.

That moment with him by the rocks felt just like that.

It was his only chance to breathe, and REST, in the middle of a hard-fought season.  A wearying stretch of time, in every sense of the word, for both of us!  In just a few days, he would close the door of his office of seven years for the last time, having put in long hours and late nights in these final days to finish well, with integrity and honor.

A new chapter was just around the corner.  A new job opportunity.  A fresh start.  The long prayed-for chance to shift gears, to embrace a new challenge.

We exhaled that day on the beach, lingering in that embrace.  We breathed in peace and whispered back gratefulness!  A long-anticipated day was a threshold away and we were soaking in this pause before stepping boldly forward.

“I want to remember this day,” I said softly.  He held me a little tighter and nodded.

. . .

A study about King David this week drew my attention to his habit of praise.  In victory or in defeat, the words from David’s heart seemed to start and end in praise – to the LORD, the Almighty, the One who had always been with him, the One who had chosen him, the One who defended and provided and guided and orchestrated so many details for David.

Sing praises to GOD and to His Name!

His Name is the LORD – rejoice in His presence!

The GOD of Israel gives power and strength to His people.

Psalm 68:4, 35

. . .

I will sing of the tender mercies of the LORD forever!  …

for the LORD has said, “I will love him and be kind to him forever;

My covenant with him will never end… I will never stop loving him, nor let My promise to him fail.”

Psalm 89:1, 28, 33

As I finished the questions for our group discussion, I simply jotted down the title to an all-time favorite hymn: “Praise to the LORD, the Almighty!”

My mind drifted to our moment of quiet gratefulness at the beach.  And to a second flashback, much more recent than childhood fishing days.

Just days before our wedding, we visited the arboretum where our professional photography would take place.  We wandered the grounds, looking for favorite spots.  My mom, with camera in hand, was eager to snap a few pictures, capturing our excitement (and even a little silliness) while no one else was around.

One of my favorite pictures from that day was almost identical to our moment by the rocks at the beach.  He was leaning against a stone wall and pulled me in close.  In the chill of that October day in Pennsylvania, it was so cozy to lean in against him, surrounded by his warm, strong embrace.

I felt safe.  In a place of utter peace and REST.  Our long-anticipated wedding day was a threshold away and we were soaking in the pause before stepping boldly forward.

We breathed in happiness and whispered back gratefulness.

Our wedding day was quiet, deeply meaningful, yet bursting with JOY.

We exited the chapel as our guests sang “Praise to the LORD, the Almighty!”  Twenty years later, our theme is the same!  But so precious to realize how these words ring truer and deeper today than they did then:

Praise to the LORD, the Almighty, the King of creation!

O my soul, praise Him, for He is thy health and salvation!

All ye who hear, now to His temple draw near,

Praise Him in glad adoration.

Praise to the LORD who o’er all things so wondrously reigneth,

Shelters thee under His wings, yea, so gently sustaineth!

Hast thou not seen how thy desires e’er have been

Granted in what He ordaineth?

Praise to the LORD, who doth prosper thy work and defend thee,

Surely His goodness and mercy here daily attend thee.

Ponder anew what the Almighty can do,

If with His love He befriend thee.

Praise to the LORD, O let all that is in me adore Him!

All that has life and breath, come now with praises before Him.

Let the Amen sound from His people again,

Gladly for aye, we adore Him.

[Joachim Neander, 1650-1680, Tr. by Catherine Winkworth, 1829-1878]

. . .

As we turn the page into this new chapter, we REST in the LORD’s faithful and gracious hand in and through it all.  We praise Him!  We thank Him!  May all that is in us adore Him!

Twenty years later, what a gift to “ponder anew all the Almighty can do, when with His love He befriends us!”

We look forward again (and still) to all He has planned for us … together.

Leaning on our Rock, both of us surrounded by HIS embrace, there is no place of greater REST and peace. 

in His arms

He will say to Me, “You are my Father, my GOD, and the Rock of my salvation.”  Psalm 89:26

. . .

#HeisourRock  #Hisembrace  #RESTandPEACE  #letallthatisinmeadoreHIM  #ponderanew  #whattheAlmightycando  #withHisloveHebefriendsus  #catchingourbreath  #newchapter  #lookingforward  #HOPEandJOY  #together  #happyheartsmonth  #sweetFebruary  #liftourPRAISEtoGOD

 

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purposely placed

Wow.  How perfect!  I smiled at the exactness of the Father’s plan in placing this new release from Revell Books in my hands.

After months of questions and wrestling homesickness and prayers for direction, it became abundantly clear that the answer I hoped for wasn’t coming.  Because the LORD had already given His direction… seven years ago!

It wasn’t time to move back “home.”

It was long past time for me to embrace where He had already placed us!  To make the conscious choice to call this place HOME.

So, there I stood at the mailbox, having ripped into the package right then and there.  Staring at this new title… “Love Where You Live: How to Live Sent in the Place You Call Home” by Shauna Pilgreen.

Ummm… yes!  Please help me!  If we really heard Him correctly seven years ago and this is the home He has called us to for the foreseeable future, I need any insight I can get that will warm my heart to this place.  [No offense intended, dear south FL, I just never really wanted to live this far from the northern hills.  Please understand!]

And I was curious to hear her thoughts about “living sent.”  This is a new concept for me, and I was eager to learn more!

img_7587

*  *  *

Well, here’s the long and short of it…

I dove into this book with selfish intentions – to help my own heart find a happier place!  And I’ve turned the last page realizing that the real takeaway is not about me at all.

It is about lifting my eyes to see everyone else who is also living in this place, and longing for them to know JESUS.  It is about finding any and every possible way to make genuine connections that help me share the love and truth of who GOD is and the good news He offers!

I am not stuck here.  I have been purposely placed here. 

Choose to stay, she implores.  Consciously decide to settle in, get to know my city, walk the streets next to others who live and work and play and worship here.  Get to know them.  Listen to their stories.  Welcome them into my own.

Remember He sees me here, she reminds.  Far from anything familiar or comfortable, JESUS sees me!  He sees each one around me too.  He wants to use me to help others know that they are seen and noticed and loved beyond belief!  [Maybe He has placed me far from “home” on purpose, so my deep longing for connection and “family” will urge me to reach out – and welcome others in!]

Look for JESUS here, she says.  See others through His eyes.  Extend His love and grace and kindness, no matter what.  There are people here who need JESUS – desperately.  And He chose to send me here.  How has He created and molded me in such a way to be able to reach those who need Him?  Do I trust Him enough to be brave – to just be the “me” He has been growing and trust it helps them get to know Him?

Trust the challenges, she urges.   They are often the very way He lifts our eyes to find Him and His purposes… and they also give us stories to share and experiences through which to connect with others.  Let others see my need of Him – and the ways He makes Himself real to me again and again as He meets those needs.

Start small, she advises, but start!  There is a LOT of work to do.  A LOT of needs.  Ask Him to lead me to one person who needs His love and His truth today.  Don’t underestimate the kindness of a smile, a helping hand, a reliable resource, an encouraging word, faithful support.

Live sent, she echoes again and again.  Purposely placed.  Embrace each new day, asking Him to show me what new path to explore, or which well-worn routine to retrace, trusting that each encounter is working toward a greater story.

*  *  *

We are all part of a greater story, graciously unfolding since the beginning of time.  A story of Creator GOD who loves us and longs to be reunited with us in a deepening, intensely personal relationship.  He sent His Son to be our Savior.  He sends His redeemed children to share His love and His truth so others can come to know and love Him too.

This morning, as I take a long walk along the same sidewalks I have covered many times over seven years, as I wander out later today to run errands at the same businesses and interact with the same sweet people I see each week, maybe I will see it all differently.

Maybe this time I will pause to ask Him, “why was I purposely placed exactly here, exactly now?  What have You given me to share with them?  What next chapter in their story might I have the joy of watching as it unfolds?”

I kinda can’t wait!

live sent 2

What a shift! … from heartsick and longing for another place to genuinely excited to be part of a greater story.

His story!

Right here!

*  *  *

If your heart is aching for a shift, a fresh sense of wonder about the place you have called home for decades or just days, you may find the help and hope you need from  “Love Where You Live: How to Live Sent in the Place You Call Home,” by Shauna Pilgreen, published by Revell Books.

*  *  *

#lovewhereyoulive  #choosetostay  #notstuck  #purposelyplaced  #Iamsendingyou  #LOVEasIhavelovedyou  #trustingJESUS  #othersneedJESUS  #lookforHimhere  #Heseesmehere  #Hehasapurposeformehere  #HOMEiswhereHeleadsme  #startsmall  #trustthechallenges  #livesent  #shaunapilgreen  #RevellReads  #bookreview

 

 

 

 

emerging… slowly

The dawning of a new day, a new year…

December was a slow shifting into a season of rejoicing in His coming, of savoring treasured moments and fresh glimpses of our Savior.  I was thankful for the pace He prompted, allowing me to enter January much less exhausted than other years.

Could it be that my “tucked away” year positioned my heart closer to His and further from anything “usual?”  Yes, please!  May my “usual” grow closer and closer to the heart of GOD and may “tucked away” be more than just a year or a season, but a sweet retreat … often.

I sense a turning of the page as we enter this new year.  My early morning walks remind me to LOOK UP.  The rising sun draws my heart, nudging it to long for His thoughts about the months ahead.

As early sun rays stretched further and further through the tree branches one morning, a new word echoed… E M E R G I N G.

Is He preparing me to step bravely from this “tucked away” place with Him?  What might that look like?  What new assignments might He have for me?  If I’m honest, I’ve gotten quite comfortable in my little bubble with Him.  Stepping out seems a bit daunting and uncertain.

He knows I have questions, so He says, “ask Me.”

“Call to Me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things that you do not know.”  Jeremiah 33:3

Turning the page can be both thrilling and unnerving.  Sadly, change can undo me – in a heartbeat!  And these verses in Daily Light flashed me back to the last change I didn’t weather well – our move to south FL seven years ago.  It was a very difficult transition – the swirl of emotions, the fog of uncertainty, the challenge of everything unfamiliar.  But in the midst of the struggle to find solid ground in our new home, these same Words steadied me:

“Come to Me, all who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me…”  Matthew 11:28-29

I was in a gentle yoke with Him!  He offered to carry the lion-share of the weight.  But also, in that place, I would be close enough to hear His voice, watch His movements, learn His ways.  He would patiently wait for me, but we would only be able to move forward when I was brave enough to take the next step.  To trust Him enough to settle in and ask Him where to get to work – to see His plans start to unfold.

Seven years later, I can say that SO much work has been done!  Most of it has been in my own heart.  The hunger for His Word has grown, as necessary as breathing.  The longing to know His heart has deepened, and I ask Him to still me again and again so I can hear His voice – in true, 2-way dialogue.  It is precious!

But just as I begin to find surer footing next to His, our little world is “on the move” again.

This time we are not updating our mailing address.  But change is happening!  My husband is starting a new job, braving a new schedule.  My high-schoolers are spreading their wings and becoming more independent.  My roles are shifting and more than ever before, I am asking Him – “what are Your plans for this new chapter?  For them?  For me?”

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11

As each of them finds their own new way, could He have something in mind just for me?  I am still a wife and a mom.  Some things will stay the same – be faithful, be available, speak His truth, pray earnestly, serve in love.  But my days may begin to look very different.  I can’t begin to imagine it, really…

Knowing He is the One orchestrating all things brings great comfort and confidence.  But the unknown can still throw me.  Even as my heart skips a beat with eager anticipation, I can just as easily shrink back, second guess, cling to the known and familiar.

And so, He reminds me again… “come to Me, be yoked with Me… let Me teach you… I am gentle… My yoke is easy, the burden I give you is light… you will find rest for your soul.”

Stepping out of this “tucked away” place, He is still with me.  I choose His yoke – again – intentionally choosing nearness to Him.  The lessons will continue, so I will keep learning.  And He is so gentle.  The burdens He calls me to bear will be easy and light when He shows me how to manage them.  The new opportunities will be more exciting than anxious when all of Him infuses all of me to meet them.  Even stepping out, it will still be at His pace.  My soul will continue to find rest and stillness by His side.

*  *  *

slow emerging

All of this dawning on that stunning morning, a new day in a new year…

light breaking through the trees, sending a soft blush into the sky, the ducks silently gliding across the pond, and my favorite little turtles lifting their heads just above the surface of the water to welcome the sun…

and this word of encouragement from His heart to mine… “emerging can be slow, just like the slow shifting into My season last month, just like those little turtles… bravely stretching toward the light, emerging from their shells.  Take My hand, I never ask you to do this alone.  Just like a turtle’s shell, your Shelter will always go with you, always surround you… rest in My love for it is true and unchanging.  I will teach you and show you the way.”

“Show me the right path, O LORD, point out the road for me to follow.  Lead me by Your truth and teach me.  For You are the GOD of my salvation.  All day long I put my hope in You.”  Psalm 25:4-5

#newday  #newyear  #newword  #tuckedaway  #emerging  #chooseMe  #learnfromMe  #Mywayisgentle  #Iwillshowyoutheway  #trustingJESUS  #Hewillalwaysbewithme  #couragetostepout  #likeaturtle  #emergingcanbeslow

 

 

 

join the song

It’s that time again – when what could very well feel like a “have to” turns into a most treasured “get to”.

IMG_6233

As I work on the Christmas Program for our church, I have the privilege of holding this story, these verses, these lyrics for a few months, of seeing our slide show images take shape on the computer screen, of lingering over fresh threads through a timeless, priceless story!

Our church family is a small but faithful body of believers who meet in whatever room the local Christian school can offer us.  There is no stage.  There are no lights.  But we are honored to present this story – His story! – in as grand a fashion as possible (… and yet sweet and simple too).  For He is worthy!!

More than once, I have needed to push back from the desk, overcome with utter gratitude for the GIFT of our Savior!  GOD’s eternal plan of redemption, His love story unfolding through the whole of Scripture.  It is deeply touching and powerful!

And this line in “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” … it gets me every time: “when PEACE shall over all the earth, its ancient splendors fling, and all the world gives back the song which now the angels sing!”

Yes, LORD, may it be so!  The Father delights in our delight in the birth of His Son, His promise fulfilled!  May all the world join the song the angels sing!

. . .

But, an even deeper longing of the Father’s heart is that each heart will join a song the angels can’t sing!

“No one could learn the song, except those who had been redeemed from the earth.”  Revelation 14:3

Oh, that each heart would prepare room to receive the Savior, personally and individually!  That the receiving would be accompanied with such JOY that those hearts would burst into song, joining the rejoicing of all of heaven, but adding a theme only the redeemed ones truly know!

The angels watch in wonder and rejoice in a grand chorus of praise to GOD when each and every sinner repents and turns to JESUS for salvation!  But the angels will never fully know what it is like to be turned from darkness to light, from bondage, destruction and death to life everlasting, from despair to confident hope and joy!

Yes, we are invited to join the song of the redeemed!  To trust JESUS as our own personal Savior and raise our voices even louder than the angels – from a rescued heart that cannot be silent!

You love Him … you trust Him; and you rejoice with a glorious, inexpressible joy.”  I Peter 1:8

. . .

Sadly, there are times when we lose our song.  When we feel silenced.  We are journeying home to heaven, but in the not yet, in this sin-marred scene, battling our own sin-nature, the impact of it all can feel quite crushing.

Sorrow, loss, struggle, pain – it is all very real.  It seems to rob our joy and steal our song.

But GOD.

What amazingly precious words!  I believe it was no mistake that He brought these tender thoughts from George Matheson (the author of the hymn “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go”) across my path.  Could it be that instead of losing our song in times of sorrow and struggle, we are learning yet another new song?

“Certain songs can only be learned in the valley.  No music school can teach them, for no theory can cause them to be perfectly sung.  Their music is found in the heart.  They are songs remembered through personal experience, revealing their burdens through the shadows of the past, and soaring on the wings of yesterday.  In this verse, John tells us that even in Heaven there will be a song that will only be sung by those “who had been redeemed from the earth.”  It is undoubtedly a song of triumph – a hymn of victory to the Christ who set us free… In this life you are receiving a music lesson from your Father.  You are being trained to sing in a choir that you can’t see yet, and there will be parts in the chorus that only you can sing.  Your Father is training you for a part the angels cannot sing, and His conservatory is the school of sorrows.  In the darkest night He is composing your song.  In the valley He is tuning your voice.  In the storm clouds He is deepening your range.  In the rain showers He is sweetening your melody.  In the cold He is giving your notes expression.  And as you pass at times from hope to fear, He is perfecting the message of your lyrics.”

“Is the midnight closing ‘round you?

Are the shadows dark and long?

Ask Him to come close beside you,

And He’ll give you a new, sweet song.

He’ll give it and sing it with you;

And when weakness slows you down,

He’ll take up the broken cadence,

And blend it with His own.

And many a Heavenly singer

Among the sons of light,

Will say of His sweetest music,

“I learned it in the night.”

And many a lonely anthem,

That fills the Father’s home,

Sobbed out its first rehearsal

In the shade of a darkened room.”

– George Matheson* –

This isn’t the song the angels sing.  This isn’t even the song of the redeemed that the angels can’t sing.  This is a song that only we, uniquely and individually, can sing!

In the quiet moments of this season when nothing feels like a festive holiday, when the struggles and sorrows you have walked through, or are still walking through, engulf you like a flood, what new lyrics is He giving you in that tender place?  How is the Savior coming close in fresh new ways to do for you what you cannot possibly do for yourself?  What new part of His heart is touching your heart?

You may not feel the ability to squeak out a note.  But can you take courage?  Trust His process?  (Can I?! … speaking to my own heart!!!)  As Christy Nockels** would say, can you believe stronger than you can sing right now? That there is a song being formed on your lips.  That it is powerful.  That it is breathtakingly beautiful.  That you are being given something priceless – a song to offer to Him that no one else can sing?

The Father delights in your song!  From its sobbed first rehearsal to the full voice of confidence and praise.  He is taking you by the hand, and step by step is leading you to your place in His choir – one that no one else can fill.

The symphony of praise will not be complete without your part.  He will give you the notes, the words to tell your piece of His story, the heart and the courage… and the JOY of joining the song!

join the song

photo credit: @elizabethjanesnyder, Eagle River, Alaska

* Streams in the Desert, Zondervan 2016

** The Glorious in the Mundane Podcast #26, August 30, 2017

 

 

dark valley or beautiful meadow?

With raw emotions brimming, I braved my usual pleasantries to “check out” with the office staff and made a bee-line for my car.   Barely closing the door and oblivious to any on-lookers in the parking lot, I let the tears flow freely.  There might have been sobs.  Somewhere in the midst of fears and frustrations that threatened to swallow me, I mouthed the words I couldn’t even speak in that moment: “yet will I trust Him.”

It was a meltdown that had been building for a while.  I could explain that my track record with the dentist has been dire.  In a sense, it was the “last straw” – in a seemingly endless string of 6-month check-ups, every one of them ending in the bad news that yet another procedure was required (insert big, unexpected bills and the agony of hours-long drilling and weeks of recovery).  I was so weary of it all and was tempted to boycott the dentist for the foreseeable future!

But this was more than just a rough visit to the dentist.  A few days later, at the end of an unusually packed day, we tidied up the kitchen and were about to head upstairs to find our pillows when I glanced at the calendar.  And realized that I had completely forgotten an orthodontist appointment for my son!  The sweet office assistant had even been faithful to call me the day before to remind me!  With a personal call – not one of those “reply Y or N” texts!  And I still missed it.  It never even entered my mind.

How did this happen??!?  This was so out of character for me.  Again, I fought raw emotions.  Again, I had to take a deep breath and find my footing.  Over something so simple and forgivable!  My brain scrambled to chastise and bolster me in one fell swoop, “get a grip, lady!”  My sweet husband simply held me, and tried his tender best to tell me, “Babe, I think you just need to go to bed!” (He was right … overtired and overwhelmed, the best choice is usually much needed sleep and better perspective in the morning!)

But to me it was another sign that all was not OK.  I was not OK.  These circumstances should not push me over the edge, but they did.  Even in the fresh morning light, I struggled to make sense of what, exactly, had left me in such a state.  From the breakfast table, I noticed an abandoned book sitting on the kitchen desk, quickly followed by the gnawing thought that I had committed to write a review for it.

“Grace in the Valley” by Heath Adamson.

There I sat, facing the fact that several weeks had passed since I finished reading the book and I still couldn’t bring myself to write about it… why was I resisting?

Because it hit too close to home.

There it is.  The hard truth.  I am in a valley.  It may not be the deepest, darkest valley I have ever walked through, but it is most definitely a valley.  It is shrouded in fog.  Many days feel heavy with difficulty.  Uncertainty.  Too many questions.  Honest longing to know GOD’s heart better, sense His direction with clearer vision.

But sometimes weeks go by and I find myself still in the same place.  It is hard to fight the fear that I will never find my way out.  That this is my new normal.

I was so excited to read this book, desperate for GRACE that redeems this dark valley.  The writer’s word pictures drew me in and I was sure I wouldn’t be able to put it down, that I would devour it in a single day.  But the raw cord it struck in me caused me to set it aside again and again.  I had to coax myself to turn another page and be willing to receive its message.

“Grace in the Valley” presents a fresh look at a beloved passage – Psalm 23.  Heath’s main premise is that, with careful reflection and a transformed heart, we can begin to realize that the dark valley and the blooming meadow are one and the same place!

What?!  There were times my own anguish wanted to raise its voice and speak directly to the author, “my dear man, have you been in a valley like this?  how could you possibly suggest that it is a blooming meadow?  that this is where the riches of grace, GOD’s grace are found?”

I’ve asked the LORD to soften my heart and work on those tender spots that respond so sensitively.  I repent of my angst and confess that absolutely, yes, this dear man must have walked through a valley just like mine, probably several of them, and probably darker than mine, to be able to speak of it with such confidence and clarity!

The LORD used “Grace in the Valley” to flip my script in three ways:

First, this place that feels dark and barren, desolate and unyielding, is actually ripe for discovery – of the heart of GOD, of deep truth and surprisingly abundant provision, of new growth!

Obscured by the fog, this is when we strain to really see!

When we’ve run out of our own ideas and resources, we reach for and experience what GOD is truly (and only!) capable of!

We begin to realize that our perception of ourselves or our circumstances can be vastly different from GOD’s view and purposes.  “There are conversations going on in heaven that we are unaware of.” (p 42)

When we are desperate, we cry out, arms and eyes open to receive.  “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it with good things” (Psalm 81:10) – with powerful testimony of the myriad ways He meets us in times of need.

Through the struggles, He strengthens our faith and grows our spiritual muscles!  He puts those hard lessons to work in new, surprising ways!  Sometimes He completely recreates us, sharpening, emerging or redefining our identity.

Second, this place where I feel abandoned, vulnerable, and terribly lonely, is actually where I will recognize and treasure His Presence… that never leaves me.

To whom else can we turn?  When we have no one else, no where else to turn, we cry out to the only One who will always hear, always answer, the One who has no limitations in His ability to meet our every need.  When we cry out, we discover that He is there.  He has always been right there with us!

“GOD is fully aware of everything and more interested in you than you can fathom.” (p68) ~ “GOD never leaves us, and He finishes what He starts, but He also goes before us (Deuteronomy 31:8).  It is GOD who goes before and cultivates every single spiritual valley and creates a place just for you.  The green pasture and the valley of the shadow of death are the same place.  To feast in the green pasture is also to feast in the valley.”  (p76)

His Presence is what leads us to rest.  Rest speaks more of our confidence in GOD, and our security in His embrace, than looked-for reassurance from more favorable circumstances.  “Rest is not a byproduct of your season changing.  Rest is not given in exchange for a different life.  Rest is a place you come to in GOD.”  (p85)

Finally, this place where I can’t get comfortable, that stretches me in painful ways, that strains my eyes and reconstructs my heart, where I want to push against what feels like shackles and plead for rescue, may actually be a place I don’t want to be in a hurry to leave.

Among other poignant Biblical, personal and historical accounts, Heath tells the story of a father’s tireless efforts, against all logical hope, to find and rescue his young son from the rubble of an earthquake.  When the two are reunited at last, the young boy declares, “I told the other kids not to worry.  I told them if you were alive, you’d save us.  Because you promised, “No matter what, I’ll always be there for you.” … He knew his dad was searching for him.  He was not afraid his father would forget him.  We too can wait, knowing… the Father will not stop until He brings [us] out.” (p 50-51)

We can trust that our Father will go to any length to rescue us, to breathe new life into us.  Unlike an earthly father, our Savior sees and knows all things.  He knows the exact and eternally significant purposes He is orchestrating through our circumstances.  We can wait for His timing, knowing He will never forget us, that He will work tirelessly to meet us right where we are, and bring us to a safe and spacious place.

We will rightly rejoice in His hand reaching to bring us out of a given season of difficulty.  But we will never want to leave the treasures we discovered in that place – the closeness to Him, the sharpened vision and perspective, the awareness of His endless storehouse of protection, provision and blessing!

. . .

The valleys we walk through may never, initially, seem like places of rich and gracious favor of GOD.  My personal season of uncertainty may stretch further than I think possible… and ask more of me than I feel capable of enduring.

I may live the rest of my days with a painful and wearisome track record at the dentist!  But for the moment, the Father gave me a truly gracious, sweet spot in my dental story.  He provided unexpected financial support and led me to a new dental office, where a talented and gentle soul tenderly and skillfully attended to my needs.  In the middle of that procedure, still tense from years of agony under the drill, I sensed the LORD whisper to my heart, “Ask Me to help you.”  At that very moment, I felt a calm wash over my whole body and I was able to relax for the first time in decades – just letting Him walk me through it.

May I learn to trust the Father.

May I allow Him to strain my eyes and reconstruct my heart, calling fresh areas into bloom.

May He help me see the beauty of this valley, where all else dims and fails … where I reach for Him and find He is always with me, and where I discover His rich and truly gracious treasures that have been here all along! 

dark valley bloom

The LORD is my Shepherd, I have everything I need.

He lets me rest in green meadows.

He leads me beside peaceful streams.

He renews my strength.

He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to His Name.

Even when I walk through the darkest valley,

I will not be afraid, for You are close beside me.

Your rod and Your staff protect and comfort me.

You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies.

You welcome me as a guest, anointing my head with oil.

My cup overflows with blessings.

Surely Your goodness and unfailing love

will pursue me all the days of my life,

and I will live in the house of the LORD forever.

Psalm 23 (NLT)

If you find yourself in a valley, you may find a welcomed, fresh perspective about the ways the LORD longs to reveal Himself to you in that place from “Grace in the Valley” by Heath Adamson, published by Baker Books.

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.

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.