Choosing to sing …

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There’s in infamous picture in some photo album in the basement. Siblings and cousins bunched together on the stairs. We were singing, having fun, enjoying ourselves. The moment was captured for posterity. The rest of them all graciously closed their mouths – they look like they’re smiling. My mouth’s wide open, you can practically see my tonsils. I just carried right on singing.

I’m not sure I have that same enthusiasm for worship. (That felt like a moment when I hit the heresy button.) But it’s true. I sometimes worship, full heart and voice. But recently, it’s been held back, somewhat reserved. I’ve felt like I’ve needed some sort of reason to sing and nothing felt like it was a good enough.

And that’s my problem. I don’t need some sort of purpose to sing. I’ve already got more reasons to rejoice than I can ever name. I’m loved – by my God, by my family, my learners. I’m warm – the house is almost too hot, the arena was heated, the heater in the car works, there’s enough warm clothes in the closet to do me for awhile. I’m fed – the pantry, freezer and fridge are all stocked. I’m safe – I sleep with great security. I’m gainfully employed – the job provides me with an opportunity to use my skills and God provides for every need.

And the reasons continue to pour out. I’m chosen – my Heavenly Father calls me by name. I’m forgiven – my sins covered by the precious blood of Christ. I’m redeemed – I am not seen as guilty, the price for my sin has been paid. I’m challenged – to live a life worthy of the calling God has placed on my life. My future is secure – the hope of heaven awaits.

I should never stop singing. I should never run out of gratitude. Complaining and a disgruntled attitude have no place here. There’s more to sing about than I can truly understand.

I cry out to God Most High, to God, who fulfills his purpose for me. My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast:  I will sing and make music.  Psalm 57:2, 7 (NIV)

I call out to High God, the God who holds me together. I’m ready, God, so ready, ready from head to toe, Ready to sing, ready to raise a tune… Psalm 57:2, 7 (MSG)

Hillsong Worship What a Beautiful Name

Each tear …

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There was a service today. A memorial for one who lived life full. Who loved travel and adventure. Who had a crazy sense of humour and deep and abiding passion for God and His people. Her arms were always open and hugs were just part of spending time with her. She love worship and her flags waved often as the words were lifted before the throne.

Her life was celebrated. Tears. Laughter. Joy. Pain. Precious words and memories shared.

I couldn’t help it. The tears leaked out. Those she loved and who loved her are left behind to ache.

Another service is on the horizon. Another who has entered Jesus’ presence. This goodbye has been long. What was once a vibrant mind and body was slowly stolen by Alzheimers. Where joy and vibrancy used to dwell, silence slowly took over. Where eyes once twinkled over a snarky comment or a great joke a gradual dullness invaded. Her home going is the last goodbye, one that has been coming for a while. I anticipate another round of tears. It simply cannot be helped.

I sometimes feel that my tears are a waste. The tear ducts work well. That’s been duly noted on multiple occasions. But the demonstration of that emotion seems like something I would love to be able to control a bit more effectively. However, that doesn’t seem to be God’s intention for me and my tears.

Psalm 56 has been one on which I’ve felt hung up. What, God, do you have for me in that Psalm? David’s a little vengeful at times. He’s plenty accusatory. He reminds himself on multiple occasions that God’s worthy of his trust and that He is the One who is in charge. And then today, on this day when my eyes feel swollen and tired, the Psalm hits home.

Record my lament; list my tears on your scroll – are they not in your record? Psalm 56:8 (NIV)

You’ve kept track of my every toss and turn through the sleepless nights, Each tear entered in your ledger, each ache written in your book. Psalm 56:8 (MSG)

The aches are part of this life. As much as I do not wish to experience them, they are part of what living is all about. Yes, there are joys – moments of sheer delight. But pain and its accompanying hurts and griefs is a distinctive part of the journey too. God’s love is demonstrated again to me in the ways that He pays attention to the tears that I cry. They are not in vain. They are not purposeless. Instead, they remind me that my God rejoices with me but He also aches with me too. This is the God who pays more attention to me than I can ever understand. Each tear is entered in His ledger…

Lessons from Jesus and a storm

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Too often I look at the life of Jesus and lie to myself. I tell myself, Jesus can’t possibly understand the storm I’m in because He just didn’t face things like I do. That’s a total delusion. Jesus dealt with all kinds of storms. The disciples fought with each other. One of those close twelve betrayed Him. The teachers of the law hated Him and plotted to kill Him. They eventually succeeded. His family doubted Him and the ones He grew up with rejected Him because they’d known Him as a child and where He was from. Storms were just as much a part of Jesus life as they are mine.

Before the storm surprised the disciples, the all-knowing One in their midst knew about it. He knew it was on the way and He got into the boat. He didn’t try to get around it. He didn’t attempt to escape it. He didn’t cut it off at the pass before it arrived to ensure the disciples got a easy voyage. The One with the power to stop the storm let the storm come.

The One with the power to stop the storm let the storm come.

The disciples were obedient. They followed Him. Men who had fished on this lake all their lives were reduced to fear at the severity of the wind and the waves. Had they known what was coming their way, I’d guess they would have opted out. But they followed. Their master got into the boat and so did they.

In the middle of the storm, when all was reduced to chaos around Him, Jesus slept. The waves crashing on the boat, the wind howling – none of these things kept Him up. He was able to find perfect rest in the midst of the circumstances.

I think of my life and the storms that swamp my boat. I hear the waves, I see the storm and the anxiety of my heart causes my palms to sweat, my mind to race, and my heart to pound. Instead of sleep, I’m awake – wide awake. Worry wins! Fear plays the trump card and I’m down for the count, discouraged and downtrodden.

But Jesus is able to sleep in the middle of the storm. His confidence in His Maker did not change the storm, but it definitely impacted His perspective.

Jesus, I worry. I am often afraid. I let my circumstances stress and strain me. I convince myself that You can’t have been in them, I must have missed Your guidance and direction. But this boat story proves that’s not true. You knew about the storm and You waded in, proving that You are in charge regardless of what happens. You bravely waded in, reminding me that there is blessing in obedience. You waded in showing me that You will not shield me from or prevent storms but You will walk with me in them and through them. When doubt’s waves ride high, I pray for eyes that look to Yours. You can be trusted, You are faithful and true. Your peace is there for me. I may not see it, I may not feel it, I may not know it, but that doesn’t mean Your peace isn’t there. Open my eyes again to the peace You have for me. May I sleep the rest of one who knows You. May I sleep knowing that You are with me in every moment. I choose to rest in the arms of the One who knows me best. The One who has never let me go. The One who is the Lover of my soul.

Bebo Norman’s God of My Everything

To learn

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As someone who is in the business of teaching, I think I have a handle on what learning looks like. There’s an attentive gaze, book open, pen poised and ready to write. The notebook is open, a fresh page at the ready, words waiting to be transferred from head to paper.

But some learning looks like none of those things. Paper is not enough. Written words not good evidence of having acquired the lesson. It’s fairly commonplace to say something and mostly mean it. It’s a further test to say something and actually follow through on it. It’s even more significant if it’s said, put into action, and then followed through on consistently.

Learn to do what is right … Isaiah 1:17a (NIV)

This is way more than the Nike slogan of “Just do it.” This is a constant acquiring of knowledge. However, it’s also about the intention of the knowledge. It’s not about being puffed up and full of facts. It’s not about knowing what the right thing is. It’s about learning what is right and then following through on it. It’s knowing and applying the right thing. This is knowledge that shapes and guides. This is knowledge that instructs its learner and corrects. This is knowledge that causes action and results on behalf of someone or a situation where all is not right. This is knowledge with the intention of making a difference.

So, what am I learning? What do I know?

I know that I am on a journey of obedience. I have much to learn. I desire to be attentive to the Spirit of God. That I will learn what is right and then do the things that He is asking me to do. Obedience to His voice and His promptings, this is a longing of my heart.

Stumbling Feet?

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I stumble often. I tip and turn. I lose my footing. I get lost in the shuffle, the list of things to be done, the guilt bag that’s waiting to be tackled. And it’s not just the stuff around me that causes me to stumble. I am often the cause of my own stumbling too. I forget to look where I am going. Easily distracted, I keep moving without attending to significant details.

And it’s not just my feet that stumble. My soul does too. At times it’s distracted, my spiritual gaze darting all over the place. It’s sometimes bogged down in the reality of circumstance, heart ache and grief. There are times when it has felt broken.

There is always a reason for my soul to be stumbling. My eyes are often avoiding the One who would have me fix my gaze on Him. Too often, I try to “fix” it on my own thinking my “solution” will be better than His. Frequently, I am caught up in the doing and then I am in the place of busy rather than of presence.

If I would just take His advice and place my attention on Him, my soul would calm. His presence would satisfy. His peace would still my soul. Instead of stumbling, my feet and my soul would find purchase.

He’s never intended me to stumble through life. He’s never desired me to be overcome by circumstance. My good Father made me to be sure-footed, sure-souled in Him. That’s His love pouring through, that He would take this feeble individual and equip, encourage, sustain and restore. He yearns for me to be in His presence. I can’t get there on my own. Instead, my God is the One who draws near to me in the middle of my stumbling and falling. He picks me up, sets me on my feet again, dusts me off and welcomes me into His presence. If He was waiting for me to get it all together and be perfect, I’d never make it. Instead, He extends grace, forgiveness, mercy and hope and so I choose to enter in with joy and hope.

A certain lifeline

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We’ve just come through Advent. I should be all pumped full of Emmanuel, God with us. That part of my heart, mind and life should be overflowing.

But it’s January. The days are short. The skies dark. The snow hasn’t stopped. Indoor recess (all day) happened again. My Emmanuel tank hit empty.

It’s not that I don’t know He’s with me. I do. It’s not that I have my eyes closed. I endeavour to be watching and looking for where I see Him showing up.

Sometimes circumstances win. Honestly, I let them win. I let them determine my attitude and my demeanour. I let them dictate my God attentiveness or lack thereof. I choose to allow my God-with-me tank to be depleted.

But my God is faithful. He reminds me in the least subtle of ways that He is with me.

God is at their side; with God’s help they make it. This, Jacob, is what happens to God-seekers, God-questers. Psalm 24:5, 6 (MSG)

He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Saviour. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob. Psalm 24:5, 6 (NIV)

And just like that, my Emmanuel tank fills up again. Regardless of circumstance, my God is the One who is with me. I don’t just need Emmanuel reminders at Christmas. I need it all year long, especially in January.

Surrenders, not resolutions

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I am the worst New Year’s resolution person I know. I’m horrible at making resolutions. I don’t even know where to start. Then, keep that resolution – that’s an even more insurmountable task. Invariably, I forget about the resolution I’ve made. Or I give up on it. I’m a total resolution quitter.

So, when Jesus woke me up with a song this morning, I wasn’t surprised. Songs of the Morning are a blessing that comes frequently. But the song He left today, that was hard to miss. The tune and lyrics deeply implanted themselves into my spirit this morning.

I surrender all, I surrender all, All to thee my blessed Saviour, I surrender all.

Instead of resolutions, I feel challenged to think about the surrenders that need to occur in my life.

Typically, resolutions help people (clearly not me) make strides in their lives. Workouts are resumed or at least started. Diets are undertaken. Bank books reconciled more often. Paper filed more regularly. These are all good things but are definitely in the self-help section of life.

Surrenders. That has a totally different connotation. The image of a white flag flying. The give up, I quit, I said “uncle” seems to carry an attitude of self-defeat and hopelessness. And surrendering usually happens under some sort of duress. Someone demanded that I give up and give in. Because that feeling of quitting and giving up so often resonates in my soul, I have sung I Surrender All with a begrudging spirit. My mouth sang the words but my head and my heart didn’t really agree.

Instead of surrender being something that happens grudgingly or under compulsion, I sense Jesus asking me to open my hands and to trust Him. The surrenders He is asking of me are not about an exercise in power or persuasion, but a testament of love and devotion. He knows my life. He knows its complexities. He knows the aches and pains that are a part of it. He knows the moments of joy and pleasure. He knows it all. He knows the parts around which I’ve clenched my fists, firmly believing that I know better than He does. Sometimes, He’s let me hold onto that piece of life until its crumbled into dust and, at the last, I’ve admitted that I bungled it all and He did know better. Other times, He’s gently pried my fingers back giving me glimpses into what He has planned. The times that are best are when I hold my life with open hands welcoming and allowing His hands to shape and form each part as we journey together.

I have much to surrender.

My time – I spend my time all sorts of ways. Some of it productive, some of it completely lazy. However, each moment is precious and a gift. I have been given much.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11

My plans – I make all kinds of plans. Events to attend. Trips to take. To do lists for all sorts of parts of my life. The plans always work best when they have been prayed over and committed to the One who orders my steps. Walking in step with Him is the best plan I can make.

But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. Psalm 33:11 

My hopes – My life does not look the way I once imagined it would. I have choices about how I view it. I can live upward looking with my eyes fixed on Jesus, the ultimate Hope Giver. Or I can wallow with downcast eyes drowning in rivers of doubt and discouragement. I choose to pin my hopes on the One who is my Good Father. The One who has stood with me in every single part of life. He has never forsaken me. He is Faithful and True.

When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. Psalm 56: 4

I choose to start 2017 with open hands and surrenders. I don’t know what journey Jesus has for me this year. I choose to walk holding tightly to His hand. His way is best.

Passion’s White Flag

“I Surrender All” Music and Lyrics by Judson Wheeler Van DeVenter and Winfield Scott Weeden Public Domain

It’s not about December …

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December and I have a complicated relationship. I enjoy the season. I love the anticipation of Advent. I like green – it’s one of my favourite colours. The snow gently falling outside my window – the most graceful of any confetti.

But it’s December. A time for families to gather. Concerts. Recitals. Hockey games. Services. Holiday parties. These, too, are all great in their own right. But sometimes it just hurts my heart. Loneliness creeps in and Satan twists all of the blessings that constantly surround me into accusations of my perceived worth and single marital status.

Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught … Psalm 55:1-2 (NIV)

Open your ears, God, to my prayer; don’t pretend you don’t hear me knocking. Come close and whisper your answer. I really need you. Psalm 55:1-2 (MSG)

Why is it that December highlights my single-ness unlike any other month of the year? My marital status hasn’t suddenly changed or morphed into something else. It hasn’t gone away. I am happy, satisfied, enjoying my full life. But just like so many previous Decembers, I forgot to take the thoughts captive. I forgot to pivot away from the lies that bombard me. I chose to wallow for a bit. I chose to define happily-ever-after like a Hallmark movie rather than a God-oriented life.

I needed my God to come close. I needed His presence. I needed my Emmanuel to remind me that He is with me. Not only with me but pursuing me, standing beside me, listening to my every doubt, rejoicing with me in every momentary victory. And He does that. He comes near.

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And when I am drawn close the heartbeat of my Father, I am reminded that my status is secure. More than the checkboxes on a form of married or single, I can emphatically fill in the box that declares that I am the much loved daughter of the King of Kings. He has claimed me, opening my eyes to acknowledge my need and His all surpassing sufficiency. I am His and He is mine.

Again, He has redeemed another December. I am more grateful than I can say.

Chris Tomlin’s Adore

Chris Tomlin’s He Shall Reign Forevermore

Worthy of my trust

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It’s not a good sign when you cry all through the worship at church. My heart was sore. I felt discouraged, tired, and disappointed. If I hadn’t had a commitment right after church, I would have attended bedside Baptist and never left the comfort of my pjs.

Well, maybe it is a good sign. I needed to meet God. I needed to hear from Him. I needed His strength and encouragement. I needed a place that would not allow me to wallow. I really wanted to wallow.

Hear my prayer, O God; listen to the words of my mouth. Psalm 54:2 (NIV)

Listen, God – I’m desperate. Don’t be too busy to hear me. Psalm 54:2 (MSG)

It is a comfort to my soul that my God is one who listens to me. My place of pain is not ignored by Him. He wants to hear from me. David, the one who was known as a man after God’s own heart, felt like sometimes God didn’t hear him. He begged for God’s attention. He desired open communication with Him.

My God wants me to take my eyes off my circumstances and focus on Him. Not because He wants to diminish my emotions, but because when I look up I gain a better perspective. Rarely is the fantastic view seen at the bottom of the hiking trail. Rather, climbing up to the top reveals the breathtaking landscape. It wasn’t that the hike wasn’t beautiful all on its own, but the spectacular is hard to see in the midst of the work on the way up.

Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me. I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you; I will praise your name, O Lord, for it is good. Psalm 54:4, 6 (NIV)

Oh, look! God’s right here helping! God’s on my side I’m ready now to worship, so ready. I thank you, God – you’re so good. Psalm 54:4, 6 (MSG)

This is the God I trust. The One who comes through and lifts my head so that my praise is earnest, sincere, and honest. He’s always there walking with me. I crave His presence.

Bethel Worship’s Lion and the Lamb

All Sons and Daughters Great are You Lord

Hillsong Cornerstone

Lincoln Brewster Everlasting God

Looking

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I knew they were somewhere. They had to be. I had worn this particular pair of pants with that certain belt just a day or so before. But I had come home in a rush. I had to be somewhere else – NOW! My brain turned the auto pilot function on and the pants and belt were put in a very safe location.

I looked. I checked the closet – nothing. I checked the laundry – not their either. I searched through the drawer – they shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Bags were dug through, items shuffled around and no pants, no black belt could be found.

I should have looked more carefully! It’s amazing how multiple pairs of black pants all look the same when they are close to each other. Turns out, my auto pilot brain had done the right thing and hung the pants where I thought I had. I just needed to get past the skinny pair and the jeans to get to what I was really looking for.

God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Psalm 53:2 (NIV)

God sticks his head out of heaven. He looks around. He’s looking for someone not stupid – one man, even, God-expectant, just one God-ready woman. Psalm 53:2 (MSG)

My God is looking. He’s not looking for a certain pair of pants. He’s looking at His creation – those made in His image and likeness. While I spend far too long looking at the outward appearance, my God is looking at the heart. He wades through the masks, the facades carefully placed on the outside, and He is seeking the truth of my heart.

The truth of my heart is not always a lovely thing. Under personal inspection, I don’t always like what I find there. Jealousy and envy can coat it in a thick green slime. Anger, frustration and bitterness can colour it red, hard and mean. Challenges and new experiences sometimes paint it a yellowish tinge that is nothing like a sunny disposition but decidedly cowardly. My heart can be incredibly fickle, flitting from one extreme to the other, incapable of making the decision that is called for.

It’s not always like that. Sometimes its tender and empathetic. It can be helpful and spirited. At times, it’s encouraging and hopeful. On the best days it’s God-tuned, God-sensitive, carefully listening to and for His voice. Desiring to please Him, not for an atta-girl, but out of a heart longing for obedience demonstrated in love and adoration.

He’s looking at my heart. He desires me to be God-expectant. That’s the spirit He’s looking for. I long to be the tender hearted God seeker that He desires. The child of God who is becoming more and more like the Master – sounding like Him, speaking His words, listening with His heart, moving my hands and feet to where He wants me to be. Tender. Not the tender where my feelings are easily squished and damaged, but the tender that feels His gentle nudges and then obeys.

He’s looking. Not to judge or condemn. He’s looking to find me ready to be moulded and shaped. He’s looking for our relationship to be rich and deep. God-ready. Abundant. Full.

Amanda Cook’s Pieces

Of life and olive oil

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But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever. I will praise you forever for what you have done; in your name I will hope, for your name is good. I will praise you in the presence of your saints. Psalm 52:8-9 (NIV)

And I’m an olive tree, growing green in God’s house. I trusted in the generous mercy of God then and now. I thank you always that you went into action. And I’ll stay right here, your good name my hope, in company with your faithful friends. Psalm 52:8-9 (MSG)

I don’t live in olive tree country! As the snow flew past my window today, the subtlety of autumn has dissipated and we are left with the reality that winter is here. If there’s an olive tree to be found in my part of the world, it’s growing inside.

However, I had the luxury to visit Basilippo – a family run olive orchard in Spain. I became an olive oil snob right then and there. We were taken on a tour of the facility. How the olives are harvested. We toured the processing plant. We were taken through the shipping area. We were pulled into a room where little blue jars of oil were waiting for us. It was time to sample! Such care is taken to ensure that the quality of the oil remains. The oil is photo-sensitive so the opaque jars made sense. As the oil is exposed to light the flavours change and the oil is more prone to spoil. A tasting does not begin with the mouth but rather the nose. A good olive oil smells like green tomatoes or freshly mown grass. This oil did not disappoint. Then the taste – absolutely delicious. I now smell my olive oil every time I go to use it. No green tomato or freshly cut grass smell – out it goes!

My life is a lot like an olive oil.

It all starts with a tree. The right amount of sunlight is needed for the tree to grow. Certain fertilizers work, others only harm the tender plant. The perfect amount of water, the right kind of soil, will help the tree reach maturity. Without the right conditions, if it gets too cold, the tree will be lost. In order for me to grow, some favourable conditions are required. Time with my Lord, a must. Time spent with others, a top priority. My growth rate is impacted when I willfully neglect the opportunities to be refined.

In order to be harvested, the fruit must grow on the tree. It’s not a process that occurs overnight. The growing season is precious. Each moment of sunlight is eagerly anticipated. Each drop of rain is carefully guarded. The learning experiences in my life are like that. The best learns, the ones I can’t get out of my head – those are the ones that seem to take the longest to acquire. Each part of the lesson, forming a unit of understanding, is essential for the next one to be built on. Those lessons are sometimes sunlight – coming easily. Other times, they are acquired in the thunderstorms and downpours of circumstances – some of them are hard to learn.

The tarps are spread out under the tree to catch the fruit. I sometimes have a good memory. I file the lesson away. The moment arrives for its application and I pull it out again for the memory to help guide the process I am in.

The tractor shakes the trunk. But sometimes, the memory bank forgets. Or I file that particular item away so well that there is no way I can ever retrieve it. Then a little more force is required. Those lessons, the ones that take multiple applications and tests to apply, I don’t like very much. I’ve usually dug in my heels, demanding my way, claiming that I know better and understand more. My trunk getting rudely shaken has a way of reminding me that I have much to learn. I have not arrived in any way, shape or form.

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But the end, result, the oil, that’s fantastic. It’s pungent, unmistakeable. The good stuff is not to be missed. When the lesson is applied by my God’s tender hand, when it sticks in my memory bank more than my craw, it’s good! It’s precious! It’s been worth the shaking and jolting, pressing and refining. It’s a beautiful thing.

I may not live in olive country, but I pray for a life that’s a high quality extra virgin olive oil. A life that’s spent in pursuit of the One who loves me best, delighting in His presence.

A new page

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There’s something about opening up a brand new notebook, one without anything written on the pages. The paper is crisp. No wrinkles, smudges or tears. It’s just waiting for words to be added.

My pencil hovers carefully over the first lines, waiting. Knowing that these are the first words that are going to be written in the book, I want to be careful that they are written right – the right slant, the right height, the right formation, just right. Somehow breaking in with those first words is a big deal! (Yes, I obsess much!) Those first written words set the tone, the atmosphere of that particular notebook. I want it to be the right reflection.

Sometimes, I long for a do-over. The scripted text didn’t look right. It didn’t feel right. The words that were recorded didn’t fit. Luckily, with a scribbler there’s the opportunity for that change. Turning the page helps. A fresh page, a new beginning. But sometimes, it seems that the only answer is to tear out the evidence and begin again.

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Psalm 51:10 (NIV)

God, make a fresh start in me, shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life. Psalm 51:10 (MSG)

I’m so grateful my God is the God of new pages in the scribbler of my life. He’s the God of fresh starts. He knows me well. He knows the areas of my life that will provide the most temptation to forget Him. He knows that my memory is short and that I will willingly fill up my scribbler with all sorts of gibberish and nonsense that is not worth it. He knows that the scribbler of my life will get dropped in the mud, tea stained and bent out of shape. He knows I’ll even lose it sometimes.

But, He promises again and again that He will not abandon me. (Matthew 28:20) Instead He picks me up, dusts me off and starts over again. (Isaiah 1:18) He turns the page on the past and continues to move me forward clean page after clean page moulding me into His image and likeness. My God likes new pages, new starts, new beginnings. (Revelation 21:5) He knows the chaos that surrounds me. He knows the chaos I choose to make for myself. He must smile, knowing that, eventually, I will run out of my own steam and come back because He is the only one who can possibly make it right again. He does make it right again. I may have consequences to help me learn from the choices I’ve made but He delights in what is new and He delights in my desire to be with Him. (2 Corinthians 5:17-18)

A new page is waiting in the scribbler of my life. I choose to give the pen to my God. I love the permanent reminders of who He is. The page is all His.

Sometimes I’m like a seagull

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I offered the challenge to my learners. We’d been looking at the depth and extraordinariness of love that is described in I Corinthians 13:4-8a. I wondered aloud with them about how amazing God’s love is for us and all of the qualities it is marked by. The list is astounding – it is patient, kind, it doesn’t envy, boast or is proud, it never fails …

As we reflected, I was pondering my own love and was challenged in my spirit about the ways that my love for others does not line up with God’s love for me. Out of the love God has demonstrated to me, He asks, even requires, that I love others in a lavish way. Just as His love is extravagant, so mine is called to be. As I asked Jesus where my love falls short, the line “It does not envy” hit me right between the eyes.

Far too often, I live with a jealous love. A love that does not revel in the delights of others, but a love that observes and then pouts because that same blessing has not been granted to me. It’s not a quiet, unobtrusive pout either. It’s a full on, ostrich hanging off the lip kind of pout. I envy. I’m jealous. I’m frustrated with God that those same circumstances have not come into my life. While my eyes are completely fixated on my own selfish mine moments, I miss all the of the blessings that He is pouring into my life.

I was also reminded that every time I say “Mine,” I am claiming ownership, staking my possession. God set me to rights again about my feelings of control.

“I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine.” Psalm 50:9-11 (NIV)

“But why would I want your blue-ribbon bull, or more and more goats from your herds? Every creature in the forest is mine, the wild animals on all the mountains. I know every mountain bird by name; the scampering field mice are my friends.” Psalm 50:9-11 (MSG)

My God is completely unlike the seagulls in Finding Nemo. While all they see is an opportunity to claim a meal, my God is reminding me that He is really and truly the One who is the Creator of all things. He formed each unique creature. He gave them all their wonderful quirks and idiosyncrasies. He created each amazing habitat. Nothing was beyond the scope of His imagination.

Every time I stamp my foot, demanding my share, I tell Him it’s not enough. He didn’t live up to my expectations. Since when have my expectations ever stood up to the immensity of who my God is? Instead, He’s placed me in this moment and in this time for a specific purpose. He’s placed the people in my life that He is asking me to rub shoulders with. He has granted me more blessings and provision than I can ever truly understand. He’s asked me to steward those blessings in such a way that His name is lifted high and praised. Because absolutely none of it is mine. It is most certainly all His. My every breath, my every opportunity, every gift, talent and moment is meant to be lived bringing glory to His name.

I pray for open hands. Hands that will loosely hold what I have been given with an eye to ways that it can bless others. I pray for eyes that are open. That I will see the needs and concerns of others. I ask for ears that hear, so that as I see needs, and listen to my God’s generous heart, I will obey as He calls me forward. There is no Mine. There is only His.

All Sons and Daughters Great Are You Lord

Rescue required

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I stood on the edge of the pool. Our instructor had set up the scenario. Although I was a teenager, I was to pretend that I was a toddler. Another guy in the class was to be my “big brother” and he was genuinely a tough football type in real life too. He was meant to push me into the pool and I was going to need to be rescued. I didn’t see it coming. My “big brother” didn’t just give me a gentle shove into the pool – he really went for it. I was launched into the middle of the pool. When I finally surfaced, I felt truly desperate for air. I needed a rescue.

No man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him – the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough … But God will redeem my life from the grave; he will surely take me to himself. Psalm 49: 7, 8, 15 (NIV)

Really! There’s no such thing as self-rescue, pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. The cost of rescue is beyond our means, and even then it doesn’t guarantee … But me? God snatches me from the clutch of death, he reaches down and grabs me. Psalm 49:4, 8, 15 (MSG)

That moment in the pool isn’t the only time I’ve needed a rescue. I have always known that all my attempts at being good have never been quite enough in the sight of my God who is holy, righteous and pure. Not only is He completely just but He is completely full of love, mercy, grace and forgiveness.

My Heavenly Father saw that there was no way on earth that I would ever be able to bridge the gap that separated us. It wasn’t a “mind the gap” kind of gap, it was a Grand Canyon chasm keeping us apart. Me on my side with all of the gunk that is the missing the mark in my life and Him on His with His perfection on full display.

But I know that He looked at me and He loved me. He saw the grossness of my sin and He loved me. He desperately wanted to close the chasm and so He sent the best thing He could. My Father sent His only Son. The One who had always been. My Father knew that the rescue plan required Someone perfect to pay the price.

The price was steep. The debt was a monstrosity. There was no way that I could ever do enough to deal with my debt. I needed a miracle. Someone else would have to pay, Someone who was perfect and spotless. My Jesus was willing to take my place. He suffered. He was abandoned by every friend He had ever known. He was innocent. They twisted His words, pretending Him, the One who spoke truth, to be a liar. He was silent. He didn’t argue or defend. He took it all. Then they beat Him. They tore His flesh, they crowned Him with thorns, they mocked Him and spat on Him. They made Him carry His cross. For me. For my sin. For my shame.

They nailed Him to a cross. The Roman torture chamber in full view of everyone to see. As He agonized for every breath, He wore my sin. It was ugly. My Ransom-payer suffered the ultimate in rejection. Not just the friends He had invested in on earth, but His Father broke the Son’s heart. All for me. All for love. All for grace. All for mercy. All for forgiveness. All because He chose me from the foundations of the world.

He died. My Ransom-payer died and it seemed that hope was gone. He was buried. The grave held his body for three days. The stone was rolled in front. No one was to enter and surely no one could escape. This perfect One was done for, or so it seemed to all who knew Him. The chasm only seemed wider. Surely God’s plan was finished now. When the One sent to rescue is done for, what hope can there possibly be?

But My Jesus didn’t stay dead. On the third day, the day when it seemed there was no possible hope left, the day when the women came to anoint His body, when the grief seemed sharpest and the tears so hot, the tomb stood open, empty, filled with light. Death and despair lost that day and my Ransom-payer trounced every tactic formed against me. He rose again, to give life and hope, to put an end to defeat.

My Jesus, the One who lives has pursued me all my life. He is constantly rescuing me from the sin that so easily entangles my heart and mind. He never stops. Because He is living, there is more hope than I know what to do with. Because He is living, I can live confident in His plan for me. He wants me to live, live fully, life completely surrounded in Him. The One who paid my debt. The One who loves me best. The One who will never let me go.

Hillsong United Cornerstone

The guide worth following

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I was faced with a choice. Both options were good. Both options had possibilities that I needed to consider. Deep in my heart, prayers were uttered. There was no chance I wanted to make this choice with my gut alone. I had to know what my heavenly Father was calling me to.

For this God is our God for ever and ever; he will be our guide even to the end. Psalm 48:14 (NIV)

Our God forever, who guides us till the end of time. Psalm 48:14 (MSG)

I love how My God is present, always. I love how He is always with me. I love how He speaks – through His word, through the wise council of others, directly to my heart. I love how He never leaves me alone, abandoned, forsaken.

Oh, I have sometimes felt like He has left me alone, abandoned, and forsaken. But that is usually some significant flaw on my side of the equation. I haven’t been paying attention to what He has been up to. I have missed out on the presence. I have ignored Him. He hasn’t gone anywhere.

In my travels, I have benefitted richly from the guides who have cross my path. In the overwhelming-ness of the Louvre this past summer, I was so grateful our guide knew what we needed to see, what mattered, what was important. We saw the Mona Lisa – that was obligatory. But, we stopped in front of a whole variety of paintings. Some were in their original condition, some had been retouched, they represented a whole variety of styles and techniques. Our guide was an art history teacher – that was evident in how she taught us. We stopped to consider more than the size of the piece. Instead she drew our eyes to the shapes and forms, the colours, the characters present, the style exemplified and how it was different from what we had seen previously. We received a significant education in how painting technique has changed over time. What was once scandalous and is now commonplace. I should have had a recording device to keep track of all I learned on my tour. The amount of information was almost overwhelming.

My God doesn’t seek to overwhelm my heart. But He is a lot like that art history teacher. He wants me to recognize where I’ve come from, the changes and shifts He’s made to my heart and life. He wants me to see the strokes of the masterpiece that He is making in me, the colours He’s choosing to use as He highlights events and seasons. He chooses to work on the form of my life, shaping it to become more Christlike. He doesn’t intend for me to go through life stuck in one place or with character that is not continuously moulded and shaped by His tender hands.

He won’t stop guiding me either. As long as I am listening for His voice. As long as I am attentive to His spirit, He will continue that process of leading me onward. It’s a for ever and ever to the end of my life. I may be presented with many choices, I am presented with many choices, but my God will always go before me! I have the best guide! The One who is absolutely worth following!

Amanda Cook’s Highest Praise

An inheritance like no other

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I would have chosen something else. As a child, I would look at my hands and wish for hands that looked nothing like mine. I longed for what I perceived to be delicate and dainty. I didn’t think my hands fit that bill. Then there was the way that my two hands didn’t seem to match each other. One hand had more oval nails. The other’s nails were definitely more circular. The circular nails bent back really easy, the oval ones, not so much. One hand had more slender fingers. On the other hand, the fingers were wider. I’d hold them side by side and wonder why I they didn’t seem to belong together. The mismatch seemed obvious.

Until one day I looked a little closer. Somewhere in my head, a lightbulb went off. If I looked closely at the shape of fingers and nails, I should have noticed what was intensely familiar to me. My hands are a direct connection to my parents, each hand reflecting the shape and form I inherited from each of them. I should not have been surprised, but I was. My heavenly Father gave me a constant reminder of love in my hands.

He chose our inheritance for us, the pride of Jacob, whom he loved. Psalm 47:4 (NIV)

I would be a bad inheritance chooser. I would go after the things that would make me happy. The things that would meet very temporal needs. I would be satisfied for a short amount of time and then dissatisfied for even longer. I would look at the inheritance that others would have chosen or received, and I would jealously crave it for myself. I would play every comparison game I possibly could. I should never choose my own inheritance.

God’s plan of an inheritance for me defies my understanding. He chose me. He chose me to receive an inheritance from Him. There has been nothing I could ever do, no act of service, mercy or grace on my part that would ever be enough to earn the inheritance He lavishes on me. He’s chosen me and all I can say is thank you!

Not only does God choose me to receive from Him but He changes my character. Even my “good” deeds aren’t really that good at all. The sin bit – that’s truly ugly. But my gracious Father does not ever expect me to earn off all of the sin with attempts at good. He knows that I would fail horribly and never arrive at a tally where I would have done enough to pay the debt. Instead, because of the shed blood of Jesus, He looks at me and sees that the debt has been fully paid. He sees me restored to full relationship.

On top of that, I am His daughter, His beloved child. I tell all of my learners every year that while I do not have any children of my own, I will always think of them as being a little bit mine because they have been in my class for the school year. I want them to know they are loved. I want them to feel special and honoured. I want them to know that I see their worth, their potential. However, the school year ends and they belong to another teacher the next year. God doesn’t pass me off to someone else next year. Instead, He chooses to adopt me. He chooses me. He moves towards me. He lavishes mercy, love, grace, forgiveness, encouragement, hope, affection and joy on me because I am His chosen daughter. It’s not earned. It’s certainly not deserved. I didn’t do anything to pick this Father. It’s all Him. It’s all an inheritance that defies my understanding.

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The little girl in Max Lucado’s Just the Way You Are is desperate to have something that makes her worthy of the king. She wants to be good at some talent or skill, surely that will make her adoptable. She operates under the notion that being her regular self will never be enough. That isn’t what the king wants for her. He chooses her. He sees her as worthy. He wants to adopt her. He’s not looking for some special skill set to make it happen.

I’m so grateful my Father holds out His hands of mercy and grace extending His inheritance to me. I will never deserve or earn it, but I choose the inheritance my King has for me. It’s better than I will ever fully understand.

Written with help from:  Psalm 47 Commentary

Come, see …

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The sky was overcast and grey. Rain dotted the windshield and the windows. Land where my feet had never walked passed by in a flurry of blur. Farmland was dotted with bales. Other fields had crops that had been swathed or were completely wind tossed, bowed down. But arriving at the river valley was a moment that caught my breath. The land split, the river flowed, I snapped God’s created beauty in an instant.

Come and see the works of the Lord, the desolations he has brought on the earth. Psalm 46:8 (NIV)

Attention, all! See the marvels of God! He plants flowers and trees all over the earth, Psalm 46:8 (MSG)

His beauty in creation, spoken into being, defies my understanding. It’s in the majesty of a tree standing tall.

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It’s in the flowing current of a river.

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It dances delicately as the leaves flutter in the wind.

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It’s in the extravagant carpet of a flower garden.

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It’s in the leaves as they change from vibrant green to the crayon colours of orange, yellow and red.

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It’s in the uniqueness of every snowflake.

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It’s in the face of everyone I see.

His marvels are worth paying attention to!

 

That word

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The word was said. The one that set my teeth on edge. The one that sent chills down my spine making me cringe with discomfort, because I promise you, it did not apply to me. In that moment, my spiritual mentor looked me square in the eye and told me that a year from that moment I would have a different relationship with that word.

I was certain that word applied to other people. I chose to see evidence of it in skin and body shape, clothes and shops, action and appearance. I chose its frame. I chose its meaning. I chose to find myself lacking. I chose pain. Self-inflicted pain, but pain nonetheless.

I don’t know when I chose to believe the lie. I don’t consciously remember choosing. The lie that the word did not apply to me was whispered a thousand times over in a thousand places. Each lied whisper stacked up with the other whispers I had believed and eventually the whispers were the cement block walls surrounding my heart. Causing me to believe that there was no possible way the word applied to me was a victory for the one who comes to steal, kill and destroy (John 10:10) His horrific whispers seemed so convincing, so “truthful,” so repetitive, that I submitted all to willingly.

But the One who truly loves me, the one who comes to bring life, a truly full life (John 10:10) had not forgotten about my need to experience this word. He knew all of the ways it applied to me. He had been calling me back to it over and over again. He knew the battleground was massive. He knew how distorted my perception was. He knew I had lost the true meaning of the word and had believed what culture says about it. He knew that I needed a complete shift of thinking. He loved me enough, He loved me so thoroughly that He was willing to bash down the cement walls around my heart in order to remind me repeatedly that the word originated with Him, He defined it, He embodied it. Because I am made in His image, I therefore wear it too.

Slowly, painfully slowly, I am coming to terms with this word. The learning has been slow. There have been small tip toes forward and giant leaps backwards. I have learned to cringe a little less – not in a fake it ’til you make it kind of way, but in a genuine start to believe that the word was meant for me. I have been awestruck with how completely inaccurate my definition of the word was when it stacks up with God’s definition. Aching awareness has come with genuine gratitude. His great tenderness in the midst of lies and deep seated unbelief has again revealed His Father heart for me.

My definition of the word – all about the physical appearance, the shell that is a body, the alignment of features – beautiful encompassed all of that.

However, my God doesn’t define beautiful that way. “Beauty begins at the Cross.” (Shook, Shook Alpha, p. 16) Love is found at the cross, forgiveness, hope, meaning, eternity too. Because He chose the cross, the object of the most degrading disdain, I am made beautiful in His eyes.

It was never about my outward appearance, it was always about His grandiose generosity to me. Basking in His love, beautiful fits. I choose this word because of Him.

“Listen, O daughter, consider and give ear:  Forget your people and your father’s house. The king is enthralled by your beauty; honour him, for he is your lord.” Psalm 45: 10-11 (NIV)

“Now listen, daughter, don’t miss a word:  forget your country, put your home behind you. Be here – the king is wild for you. Since he’s your lord, adore him.” Psalm 45:10-11 (MSG)

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Amanda Cook’s City of Hope

Shook, C. & Shook Alpha, M. (2016). Beauty Begins:  Making Peace with Your Reflection. Colorado Springs: WaterBrook Press.

 

The story goes on

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We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us what you did in their days, in days long ago. Psalm 44:1 (NIV)

We’ve been hearing about this, God, all our lives. Our fathers told us the stories their fathers told them, Psalm 44:1 (MSG)

You know the story you’re hearing again. The one you’ve heard a thousand times. You only need to hear the first few words and you know exactly where you are headed. Down the convoluted paths of memory lane, the storyteller marches on. You follow, you have no other choice. But you know this story so well you could tell it yourself. It’s familiar, old as time, covered in a layer of dust.

Sometimes the stories in my Bible feel like that. Stories for another time, another generation. They are familiar. You’ve heard them for what seems like thousands of times rehashed in one way or another. Due to their familiarity, they seem to lose a bit of the spark and lustre that drew you to them in the first place. I sometimes wonder, doesn’t God have something new for me?

Then I turn the page. I pray for an open heart. I pray for new eyes to see what I have glossed over in the past. I ask for a mind that is receptive to what Jesus is wanting to say to me through these pages. Without fail, God shows up and reveals Himself again. Something new is waiting to be found.

Frankly, this whole series of Psalms has been that journey for me. I have spent time in the Psalms before. Sometimes I read them and songs pop into my head because so many of them have been set to music. The song can be a distraction and I’ve prayed for the song to end so that I can really focus on what God wants me to hear. For some Psalms, I know He’s wanted me to sing the song. His Father heart for me shows up page after page, Psalm after Psalm.

But it’s not enough for me to know the stories for myself. Every good story is worth passing on – that’s why we tell stories. How will the next generation know of the ways God has showed up in my life if I do not speak of what He has done? How will those who follow me be reminded of God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness if I don’t speak of Him moving that way in my life? If I don’t speak about the ways God has met me in times of doubt and wandering, how will they know that God goes before them and that He does not abandon them? It’s not enough to passively listen to someone else’s stories, God calls me to share my stories too.

So I will fall in line with all the other story tellers I know. I will add my voice because my God has done marvellous things for me – things you definitely should know about!

More than a flashlight

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I thought I had packed everything I needed for the time away at the leadership retreat. Cell phone – check. Pillow and sleeping bag – check. Changes of clothing – check. Running shoes – check. Readiness to be a dorm mom – squiggly checkmark with worries attached. I had not accounted for late nights and and no flashlights. The girls all laughed at me and one of them chimed in, “Ma’am, you’ve got a torch (flashlight) on your mobile.” Of course I did. I hadn’t needed it before that. Until this point, I’d only been out and about during the day. What had seemed like a luxury was now a necessity.

Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell. Psalm 43:3 (NIV)

Give me your lantern and compass, give me a map, so I can find my way to the sacred mountain, to the place of your presence, Psalm 43:3 (MSG)

I’m in desperate need of light in my walk with God too. Left to my own devices, I’m prone to wander into dark places where I was never meant to go. My thoughts wander and their rabbit trails are sometimes plain scary. Doubts and worries sneak in and then take over. Fears stomp their way to the front of the line. Without even realizing it, I’ve allowed all sorts of issues to set up shop in my mind and heart. Discouragement, despair and their good friend depression are gleefully waiting to get their hands on me.

I was not made for living in the dark. I was not made to have a permanent home in the land of despair. It’s amazing the difference a flashlight makes. Somehow the simple change of lighting the path ahead changes the focus and brings hope. It is easier to see the truth when the light is shining on it. It is easier to fight the anxious thoughts when the truth of who I am and who my Father is is illuminated before me. Following someone with the light is hopeful. At least one of us can see the way and alerts the others as to what is ahead of us. My heavenly Father, with His Light ablaze, is waiting for me to fall in step with Him.

The One who knows me best is the only One worth following. My Father does not want me to choose to wander in the dark. He wants to guide me with His truth and light into His presence. He desires that I will engage with Him in meaningful ways so that I will make my home with Him. When I am fixed on Him, the darkness is reminded of its place. My Father tells me the truth of His presence – He is always with me (Joshua 1:5, Hebrews 13:5). He showers me with love – His love is eternal (Jeremiah 31:3). My God is gentle and affectionate – He is kind (Jeremiah 31:3, I Corinthians 13:4). He speaks – He is wanting me to hear His voice (John 10:1-10). My God delights in me – He sings over me (Zephaniah 3:17). He is the giver of life – He wants me to live life fully and richly in Him and for Him (John 10:10b).

I am called to turn on the flashlight of God’s Word. I need that beacon in the darkness to guide my way. I choose to only lose myself in Him.

Amanda Cook’s Closer

A subtle reminder

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It was a gray and overcast day today and my soul had the opportunity to join the dumps. Joy was announced for a friend, and immediately I was faced with the opportunity to lament my circumstances. I was pretty close to choosing the dumps regardless of the fact that it would have affected my entire day.

My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you … Psalm 42:6a (NIV)

When my soul is in the dumps, I rehearse everything I know of you … Psalm 42:6a (MSG)

I have lots of ways of remembering. I have the calendar with anniversaries and birthdays helping me remember when to send out the appropriate greeting. The work calendar is full of reminders and special events. The family calendar notes all of the hockey games auntie is invited to. I have alarms to wake me up in the morning. That reminder is essential. Bells guide me throughout my day. Sign up sheets are all over the place reminding me to take and return items. The To Do list never really ever goes away. I cannot escape attempts to help me remember.

But I am quick to forget that my God has a plan. I am quick to think that He is not working on my behalf. I am quick to forget the ways He continuously intervenes in my life.

Why is it I am better at remembering the demands of my day rather than what my God has done for me? I wonder if it isn’t the tyranny of the urgent. Everything else, all the other reminders in my life, call out for my attention. They seem to be very loud and insistent, like a cow bell at a hockey game. They are hard to forget.

My God speaks disregarding time. In order to really engage with Him, I need to still the monkeys that swirl around in my head. He isn’t looking for a quick check in, a fast catch up. He’s looking for the sit down experience where I carve time out of my schedule to purposefully connect with Him. He isn’t looking for the twelve minute meal. Rather, His goal is a meal of deep engagement, an experience where we linger over the food of His Word, enjoying every morsel. He desires time where I am purposefully captivated by Him. While I am often in a rush, anxious to move on to what is perceived to be more important, He is the God who moves at a schedule that is never hurried. All time is His. His agenda is to never breeze through anything.

My God speaks in a quiet whisper. It seems that the voices that are the loudest are the ones that get the most attention. I react, giving them my attention in order to get the loud voices to quiet down, to still the madness. But as I listen for all that is loud around me, the still, small voice of my massive, majestic God is sometimes buried in a cacophony of sound. I am the one who has lost the tuning of His voice. I am the one who allows all those other things to become more important.

In exactly those moments, I forget. I forget His promises. I forget His abundance. I forget His provision. I forget His presence. I forget.

But, He never stops whispering to my soul. This I know to be true. Even as the dumps threatened to swamp me today, the prayer of my heart was heard by my Father and my focus was drawn to Him. My gaze was called higher to the God who is always faithful and true. I was reminded of His presence. I was reminded of who He is. I was reminded of His care and provision, not just in the global sense, but His care and provision for me.

I might need to set an alarm for a different purpose. It might need to be the daily reminder that I need to fix my gaze on the Father who is always with me.

Lord, I Come Before Your Throne (What a Faithful God)

Amanda Cook’s Never See the End

That word, spoken

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You’ve heard the words, the ones you wished you hadn’t heard. I know I’ve said the words, words I should never have thought let alone said. They’ve oozed out of the corners of my mouth. They’ve caused pain and anguish. I know I’ve apologized for those words and hurts and I have been forgiven. But sometimes, an apology does not seem to be enough. The damage done by my carelessness is deeper than I understand.

I’ve sometimes been the recipient of those words. My heart has been hurt, stained with pain over the opinion others have of me and my life circumstances. I have wondered who will stand up for me. Who will defend me?

I know that you are pleased with me, for my enemy does not triumph over me. In my integrity you uphold me and set me in your presence forever. Psalm 41:11-12 (NIV)

Meanwhile, I’m sure you’re on my side – no victory shouts yet from the enemy camp! You know me inside and out, you hold me together, you never fail to stand me tall in your presence so I can look you in the eye. Psalm 41:11-12 (MSG)

Living the life Jesus calls me to live does not necessarily make me popular. I do not always share the same opinion as those around me. I do not make the same choices that they do. I have no doubt that they question my motives and desires. I am completely unable to change their opinion – that’s something personal and formed without my input.

I need to be careful about who I am living my life for. If I choose to live to please everyone else around me, I know I will never succeed. I can never live up to their expectations of me. I will have boxed myself into many a corner trying to figure out what they want and wish. Attempting to make them happy will be harder than I can imagine. Without even meaning to, I know I will disappoint many.

I choose to live a life devoted to loving and pleasing the God who loves me. My God is the God who is with me. He chooses to delight in me. He’s on my side. He knows who I am for He made me. He knows how I try to follow Him. He knows the times when the following is good. He knows how often He intervenes, rescuing me off the rabbit trails I have wandered onto. While people may give up on me and throw me under the bus of life, my God is the One who does not fail me. He desires for me to be constantly in His presence.

Regardless of what others may think, His opinion is the one that matters more than all the others. Somehow I will find a way to drown out the other voices so that His voice is the loudest one I hear.

Where do I start?

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Many, O Lord my God, are the wonders you have done. The things you planned for us no one can recount to you; were I to speak and tell of them, they would be too many to declare. Psalm 40:5 (NIV)

Nothing and no one comes close to you! I start talking about you, telling what I know and quickly run out of words. Neither numbers nor words account for you. Psalm 40:5 (MSG)

I’m always left a little stumped when someone asks me about how real Jesus is to me. I don’t know where to start. My whole life is wrapped up in one amazing Jesus story after another.

I could start at the beginning with parents who introduced me to Jesus. I could add on about teachers who fed my love for His Word and encouraged me to grow. I have stories to tell from University where the Holy Spirit clearly gave me words to share with classmates. My first job was clear provision from His hand. The list goes on and on and on and I’ve only barely scratched the surface of the events in my life that have revealed that my God is with me.

This fall, I had a milestone birthday. The celebration was a delight but there was one I loved who was absent because she is in Jesus presence. However, a year prior, she had given me a birthday card for that milestone. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I wasn’t quite that age yet. She would have been mortified thinking she had made that kind of mistake. But in March when she entered heaven and I was left to mourn her, that birthday card and the note she enclosed to me became more precious than words could say. I dug it out, and after reading it with tears rolling down my cheeks, added it to the other notes given to me. A year ago, it all felt like a bit of a strange coincidence. This fall, it was a gift from God’s hand. A way that He showed me again that He was with me even as I missed my dear friend.

My God has ways of providing that I cannot understand. He is ever present in my circumstances, more present than I know. I don’t always see where He is moving and guiding. I sometimes miss the bright light moments of His attentiveness, mercy and grace. But there are not enough words to talk to you about my God. Not enough pages in books to record the stories of how He has intervened in my life and the lives of people I love. I stand in awe of what He has done for me and I am forever amazed at the love He lavishes on me!

Bethel Worship Lion and the Lamb

To hope

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There’s nothing quite like a birthday when you’re a child. The gifts are wrapped. The cake’s been baked. The extra icing licked off the beaters. The invitations have been sent, plans for the party have been made. Hope is the sensation that makes the heart race, the eyes that stay awake even though it’s past bedtime. The wishing that tomorrow would just arrive and then it would be the birthday!

But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you. Psalm 39:7 (NIV)

“What am I doing in the meantime, Lord? Hoping, that’s what I’m doing – hoping Psalm 37:9 (MSG)

Birthdays aren’t a permanent hope giver. They offer a temporary experience of joy and delight. Once the cake is eaten, the wrapping paper put in the trash, the friends departed for home, normal takes over again.

David was desperate for hope. He’d been quiet and listened when others aired their grievances. But then he spoke because he just couldn’t contain himself. He was frustrated with his experiences, with the way life was landing around him. He desperately needed hope, something to hold onto that would provide relief from what He was going through.

Hope is defined as a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen, a feeling of trust, to want something to happen or be the case. I like this definition except I know what has happened in the past when I have put my deepest hopes in people. I was often left disappointed. They could not measure up to what I had hoped they would do or be for me. It hurt.

When my hope finds its true home, when it is found in Jesus, it takes on a totally different tone. There is a surety, a certainty that accompanies that step every single time.

I would be lying to you if I said that, at times, I haven’t felt disappointed with God. I have prayed some prayers for years and have wondered if God has forgotten about them. I have given up thinking that His plan is too mysterious and couldn’t possibly understand what my life is like. Sometimes hope has felt like it is too hard, like it has been too much of an ask.

But I have been coming to understand more and more that my hope is often earth focused and lives around the norms and expectations that I see before me. I have equated hope with God answering the prayers that I have prayed. But then I limit His faithfulness to the level of answered prayers. That’s not a true reflection of my God. My God does not limit Himself to my level of hope. He knows me. He knows the future. He asks me to trust Him believing that His faithfulness and goodness, and the myriad of His other character qualities, remain true regardless of circumstance. Without Him going before me, the circumstances of my life would threaten to overwhelm me. I need hope – a hope that is eternal, a hope that is fixed on Jesus, a hope that is with me and in me right now.

Mercy Me’s In You

So close

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I felt so bad. I had left in enough time to get there, I thought. But then the minutes ran away from me and I was on my way later than I intended. It got worse. The last time I had been there, a coffee shop had been in that location. It wasn’t there anymore. ARGH! My friend was one place waiting for me. I was in another and completely late. There was no rescue for this moment except to drive to the correct location, apologize profusely and then engage in community. I knew where I was the whole time. My friend wasn’t sure if I was standing her up.

O Lord, do not forsake me; be not far from me, O my God. Come quickly to help me, O Lord my Saviour. Psalm 38:21-22 (NIV)

Don’t dump me, God; my God, don’t stand me up. Hurry and help me; I want some wide-open space in my life! Psalm 38:21-22 (MSG)

I kind of felt this way with God this fall. I was feeling out of sorts, uncertain as to where I fit. I wasn’t sure where to serve and how to get involved but I knew I wanted to. I prayed. God was mysteriously quiet. Even in the morning, no songs were waking me up. He had faithfully given me a Song of the Morning all summer – the time of year when usually the well of songs seems to run dry. Now when I felt like he should be showing up, I was convinced God was silent. I felt like God was dumping me for a little while.

My spiritual mentor got wind of my wonderings and added some much needed perspective to the situation. I was asked to consider my perception of God’s silence. Was God really being silent? Or, was I missing the message that He had been giving me all along? I had expected God to communicate with me in the ways that He always had before. What if He was changing it up? What if He was doing that to get my attention? What if I was so lost in my expectations and my hopes that I was missing His desires for me? My mentor cautioned me to consider that the times when God is perceived to be silent are really the times when He is there all along, whispering and drawing me close. It just sounds different. It may feel unusual. But He is there – always.

As David explores his life in Psalm 38, he is full of sorrow for the sin he has committed. Each verse oozes with regret as he walks through the consequences of the choices he’s made. He acknowledges that its bad, that others have joined in on the bandwagon of accusation and guilt lobbing. But David does not give up on God. He waits in expectation for God to intervene (v. 15), he longs for a reprieve for all that he’s going through. What he craves most is God’s presence, the sureness that God is with him. Nothing else will be enough.

That’s what my heart craves too – the sureness that God is with me. The certainty that comes with the intimacy of a close relationship. I’m not always the best listener. God often whispers and I have my ears busy expecting Him to shout. I am so grateful that my God is patient. He keeps calling out to me. He whispers constantly. He doesn’t give up if I miss it the first time. He pursues me, desiring to draw me close to His side. He keeps singing over me, reminding me that while I may think that He is far from me, He is closer than the air I breathe. I choose to cling to the God who is close, the One who will never let me go.

A guest or not?

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Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. Psalm 37:1-4 (NIV)

Don’t bother your head with braggarts or wish you could succeed like the wicked. In no time they’ll shrivel like grass clippings and wilt like cut flowers in the sun. Get insurance with God and do a good deed, settle down and stick to your last. Keep company with God, get in on the best. Psalm 37:1-4 (MSG emphasis added)

I have often lived a comparison life. I have looked at what others have and declared myself wanting. I have listened to where others have travelled and deemed myself a country bumpkin. I have observed the accomplishments of others and wanted to hide my scarce list. I have found myself wanting, lacking and insufficient because I have compared.

In those moments when feelings of inadequacy rise up, I have wondered why others succeed and have while I feel like I do not. Listening to my life, when I am honest and I tell it like it is, I am embarrassed that I feel that I do not have. All around me are blessings poured out into my lap! I have health – that is of more worth than I truly understand. My home is warm, furnished and dry. I have a fridge, freezer, and cupboards with food in them. I have a vehicle that works exceptionally well. I have a closet, and even while there are clothes in the laundry, there are other clothes waiting to be worn. I am employed. Not only that, but my job is one that I love and I feel called by God to continue in it. I am able to travel and have had the luxury of exploring the world. I am richly blessed by a community of friends and my church home. I am blessed beyond measure. To think that I am not is to believe a lie. I need to stop bothering my head with braggarts.

When company comes over to my house, it’s always a bit of an adventure. Sleeping quarters are found on the floor of my office or the living room. The bathroom is shared between multiple people. Towels overlap as the hanging space is limited. We hang out in the kitchen over hot cups of tea and a big breakfast. Stories are shared. Laughter shakes the walls and hopefully doesn’t wake up the neighbours. We often stay up way too late catching up on the living that has happened since we last hung out. Company is a good thing. It fills my house and feeds my soul. Keep company with God.

I’m not sure if I keep that type of company with God. I feel His presence. I know His touch. We have been on adventures together. But sometimes in the “to do” list parts of my life, I don’t engage with Him like I would like.

Recently, God’s conversation with me was all about the time I spend hanging out with Him. He was clear, it wasn’t enough. I sometimes treat God like the “special” company. You know that kind that won’t open the cupboard doors and make themselves comfortable. The ones who sit stiffly on the edge of the sofa. I don’t think that’s the kind of company God is thinking of. Rather, He’s the one who snoops in the closet, digs to the back of the cupboard, moves in and puts His feet up on the coffee table. He might just forget a coaster under his mug. He is definitely the make yourself at home, help yourself to seconds or even thirds of dinner, kind of company. He is the guest I want to hang out with because my life is richer and more full from the experience.

I am called to challenge my priorities. I want to be careful about which life I choose. I want a life fixed on God. I want to be so close to Him that I confide in Him without even thinking about it. I want to know His heart. I want my feet to move where He desires them to. I don’t want to think of Him as a guest. I want Him to be a part of the woodwork just like He has always wanted to be. I choose to ignore the braggarts and keep company with God.

Nothing gets lost

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I got to work and wondered if I had them with me. I couldn’t see them hanging out of my bag. As of yet, I hadn’t needed them at all. Every threshold I had crossed so far had been open. But as I looked at my filing cabinet, I wondered if I had left my keys at home. I was prepared to “suffer the consequences” but a rummage through my bag proved I wouldn’t need to. The lanyard with my keys had been there all along.

Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep. O Lord, you preserve both man and beast. How priceless is your unfailing love! Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. Psalm 36: 5-9 (NIV)

God’s love is meteoric, his loyalty astronomic, His purpose titanic, his verdicts oceanic. Yet in his largeness nothing gets lost; Not a man, not a mouse, slips through the cracks. How exquisite your love, O God! How eager we are to run under your wings, To eat our fill at the banquet you spread as you fill our tankards with Eden spring water. You’re a fountain of cascading light, and you open our eyes to light. Psalm 36:5-9 (MSG emphasis added)

I do not understand the size of my God. I see evidence of His majesty and vastness all around me. The sky, the starry host, the mountains, the oceans, each one points to the boundlessness of God. But then I see God’s fingertips in the minute too. The details present in a single flower, each tiny bug, the way my hair parts all on its own, the seemingly insignificant that proves that God is involved in His creation.

In His largeness, nothing gets lost

I know what I am like. The bigger or more significant the project, the more likely I am to misplace something. My head will be swimming with details and I will struggle to see the final outcome, to see the end product all wrapped up. If it’s paper I’m meant to keep track of, I better have some sort of file. If it’s ideas, I hope I’ve written them down somewhere safe, but not so safe that I will never find it again. It’s the reality that I can misplace my keys between my filing cabinet and my desk. I lose things all the time.

But my God is the one who is never overcome by the details. There is nothing so big that He cannot understand. He is omniscient, knowing everything. I am easily overwhelmed. He never is. He is steadfast. I lose my place over and over. He never wanders off. He is never lost. Therefore, even in those moments when I am overwhelmed and only my nose and eyeballs are above water, my God is the One who is holding me up. He is the One walking with me. He is the One holding me close. I may not always feel His presence so tangibly, but that does not mean that He is not there.

And so because my God cares about the details, I pray over my keys often. I may have set them down carelessly, but my God cares about all things great and small and so I choose to trust Him with my keys and my life.

Third Day’s Your Love Oh Lord

More than a taste

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I read the menu carefully. I wondered exactly what I would be getting. I wasn’t totally sure. I have a food policy when I am travelling – choose the dishes you will never be able to get when you’re at home. It’s led to some unusual meals. Most have been incredibly delicious!

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Psalm 34:8 (NIV)

Open your mouth and taste, open your eyes and see – how good God is. Blessed are you who run to him. Psalm 34:8 (MSG)

Being somewhat adventurous with food, opens doors of possibility. It’s prompted many an interesting conversation, “What’s the most unusual food you’ve eaten?”

My experiences and tales of my journey with God are meant to be that intriguing too. It’s essential to know Him. It’s a discipleship requirement to grow in knowledge and relationship with Him. But do I tell the stories of what He has done in my life?

The Bible records the story of God’s intervention in the lives of people. It’s a written record of His interactions with His creation. It demonstrates His desire for communion, His love and discipline. But it can’t stop there. It can’t stay a past tense thing that I read. It can’t be like a history book full of men in costumes and old paintings.

God is constantly working and moving in my life. He’s far from passive. He directs and leads. He sings songs over me waking me up with them most mornings. (He has an interesting taste in music!) It’s reach out and touch-able. All of these moments are of the taste and see variety. It’s an experience that is memorable, not to be missed.

It’s also not just for me. It’s not a secret. It’s not a solo only experience. It’s meant to be shared. It’s meant to be delighted in. I am meant to share my God moments. But it’s not enough to simply hear about the God moments of other people. Until I experienced it for myself, I could not relate to the stories of walking with God that were being shared with me.

It’s like a delightful meal. I can see a picture of good food on Pinterest. The photos may be stunning, the directions straightforward. But if I never make the dish, if I never taste it, I will never know if it is any good. Some pictures are downright deceiving. They show an amazing dish but the real thing looks nothing like it. That’s a let down. And if it doesn’t taste good, then that’s truly disappointing.

My God’s not like a disappointing dish. Rather, there will never be any sort of picture good enough to fully describe Him in all His majesty and glory. I will never be able to engage with Him enough. I will never be satisfied with my level of understanding of who He is, what He does and how He speaks. I’m just scratching the surface of my experience of Him. But I can’t get enough of Him. The tasting and seeing will never end. He continually beckons me in, revealing more of Himself in the process. Every little bit more of Him that I see and experience draws me further in, closer to His heart.

Taste, see, delight, experience – I can’t get enough of my God.

Good Good Father

A love to believe in

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I remember holding each of them for the first time. Tiny bundles wrapped in soft blankets. They slept unaware that their auntie was in awe of God’s creativity. Tiny fingers and toes, downy heads, brows furrowed then relaxed in sleep and it was love at first sight. I didn’t have to think about it. I didn’t have to train my heart and mind to feel that way. It was love unabashed and pure.

May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you. Psalm 33:22 (NIV)

Love us, God, with all you’ve got – that’s what we’re depending on. Psalm 33:22 (MSG)

I have always known that God loves me. I’ve sung the songs and taught the lessons to others too. But I haven’t always believed it to be personally true, truth for me. I had intellectual knowledge, but heart felt belief that it was true – no, that place was filled with heaps of doubt.

I have carried a measuring stick around my whole life and I was the one to set the benchmarks. I never achieved, according to my scale. I always felt like I let myself down. I didn’t measure up, I couldn’t measure up. I would work hard and I would be kind of satisfied with what I accomplished, but it was never enough. And if I was dissatisfied with how I was doing on the scale of my life, then I deemed myself to be unlovable. I was told I was loved by the people in my life and I believed them, but they had to say those words – they couldn’t get rid of me.

But when it came to God, if I couldn’t even meet my own benchmarks, then how on earth was I going to meet His? I chose to see my Heavenly Father and one who loved me conditionally. If I believed that I measured up, then I would get some sort of cosmic pat-on-the-back showing his approval. Notice, it was approval not love. I had decided that I wasn’t worthy of His love and so why would I get to experience that. I chose to believe a lie!

God’s Word is full of evidence of His love. Not just His love for the world, there’s that too. Not just His love for the people who are recorded in the pages of His Word, although there’s heaps of evidence of that as well. But His personal love for me. He is not a God of conditional love. He does not carry around a measuring stick and decide to love based on what I do or don’t do. If His love was conditional, I would never even make it onto the scale of acceptable. He would have absolutely every reason not to love me. My God is the God unconditional love. Love that goes far beyond the boundaries of my understanding.

Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God. John 1:12, 13 (NIV)

He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him. John 14:21b (NIV)

But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 (NIV)

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:37-39 (NIV)

I am loved with the unfailing love of my God. He is the only one worthy of my hope. In His love I can depend.

Corey Voss’ How Great

Rock

Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me. Psalm 31:2, 3 (NIV)

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Some of the rocks are piled in rows. Fences made of available materials. Stacked the right way, they stand, marking the boundaries of a field. Such a wall is built on purpose and not by accident.

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Other rocks are shaped and formed into buildings. They stand, polished smooth by wind and rain. Etchings rubbed off until the words recorded are illegible. Time, erosion and sometimes human neglect causes the building’s purpose to shift and change. Ruins are easily created when what has been perceived to be important is suddenly abandoned.

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Get down on my level and listen, and please – no procrastination! Your granite cave a hiding place, your cliff aerie a place of safety. You’re my cave to hide in, my cliff to climb. Be my safe leader, be my true mountain guide. Psalm 31:2, 3 (MSG)

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I sat down on the edge of this cliff. I am deathly afraid of heights, so it was no small feat for me to get myself out to the edge. I chose to ignore the fear because I wanted the picture, the testament to the fact that I had been here! My friends were not with me and saw me “perching” on the edge. They didn’t know what to make of my choice. They could not see how much rock was between me and the edge. They didn’t know that I was really quite far away from the true edge of the cliff. They were afraid for me. I was confident that I was sitting in a safe location and that all would be well.

I need a Rock of Refuge. I need places where I can feel safe and secure. A cliff’s edge is shaped and changed. The waves bash against those rocks all day long forever carving the surface. My God is not like the cliffs. My God is the same yesterday, today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8) He knows how the waves of my life beat against me. He knows the interesting ways they change the shape of who I am. He knows the way they erode me. But my God is the Rock I can cling to. He is the place of surety. He is with me when the waves pound. He leads and guides. He has never removed the waves from my life. Rather, my God is the One who is with me in the middle of the waves reminding me that He is faithful and true. As I continue to call out to Him, He constantly goes before me leading and guiding.

Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me. Psalm 31:2, 3 (NIV)

Lessons from a Snapdragon

It’s the start to every day. “What can you thank God for today?” I ask my students this question but really I’m choosing to ask myself. I’ve noticed that when I choose to be grateful, my day is completely different. I’m not saying it’s perfect, far from it. But there is a different focus when I emphasize how blessed I am instead of focusing on frustration.

You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give you thanks forever. Psalm 30:11-12 (NIV)

You did it:  you changed wild lament into whirling dance; You ripped off my black mourning band and decked me with wildflowers. I’m about to burst with song; I can’t keep quiet about you. God, my God, I can’t thank you enough. Psalm 30:11-12 (MSG)

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As I was coming home a number of days ago, I noticed this snapdragon by the garage door. I’d driven past it all summer long and completely ignored it. However, on this particular occasion the bright yellow blooms contrasted with the grey of the concrete and I was struck by the resiliency of this plant. There doesn’t seem to be anything worthwhile for this plant in this location. The soil can’t be good – what grows in concrete?! Water only comes when it rains. Nutrients? I’m not sure where it’s getting those either. But this flower blooms brightly, defying the odds. It’s found a way to survive the harsh conditions and bring beauty to a place that is known for its function and not for beauty.

Parts of this year have been filled with grief. In a moment’s notice it comes back, flooding my eyes with tears and making my heart hurt. Missing loved ones never gets simpler or easier to understand. It’s like concrete – hard, seemingly immovable, difficult to deal with.

But along with the hurt and pain of grief come flashes of joy and delight. Time spent enjoying a meal, laughing over shared memories, delighting in friends, choosing to sing in spite of a wondering heart. It’s those bright yellow blooms – you can’t help but smile when you look at them.

… that my heart may sing to you and not be silent. Psalm 30:12a (NIV)

When my heart is bogged down, when complaint is the first word on my lips, my heart seizes and becomes silent. I ignore the wonders of the King. I choose to turn my face away from beauty and focus on the drab and dull. Lingering in this place is dangerous for my soul. I become me centred and selfishness bangs rudely on the door of my heart, barging its way in and staking its territory. I don’t like myself here. I forget the provision and wonder of my Master. I begin to obsess over things that are trivial and self-serving. I miss what He is doing because I am too busy looking at what is best for me.

Instead, I choose to have a heart that constantly sings. I choose to have a heart that is loud, trumpeting the praises of the Most High God. I choose gratitude and thankfulness. I choose to look for hope and flowers blooming in concrete. I choose to be reminded that my God is forever with me – in the wailing of grief and the joy of laughter. I choose to remember that my God is with me and worthy of the worship my heart can lavish on Him.

What can I thank God for today? More than words can even begin to describe.

When seasons sing …

Ascribe to the Lord, O might ones, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness. Psalm 29:1, 2 (NIV)

Bravo, God, bravo! Gods and all angels shout, “Encore!” In awe before the glory, in awe before God’s visible power. Stand at attention! Dress your best to honour him! Psalm 29:1, 2 (MSG)

Creation shouts the praises of the King. It doesn’t surprise me that the Psalmist used nature to announce God’s voice and presence in Psalm 29. He is inescapable as I watch what happens out my windows. His beauty is precise and never fails to amaze me.

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Spring always feels like a bit of a tease. It’s not always entirely sure whether it wants to be warm or if the last grasping vestiges of winter are still hanging on. Knowing which jacket to wear can be a bit of a gamble. The day you insist on the heavy winter downfill, it’s beautiful and warm. The day you’re convinced it will be beautiful, it’s chilly and you’re left wishing for that downfill that’s at home in closet. Spring constantly flirts with us with the promise of summer to come.

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Summer brings its own charms. Warm days. Beautiful skies. Green grass, Flowers blooming. Holidays. Rest, time to re-create. Gardens grow and flourish. Summer’s a beautiful season.

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Fall has its own unique beauty. Leaves change into a myriad of colours. We may not have vibrant reds. But oranges and yellows flashing against the deep green of the spruce and pine are breathtaking. Paths are littered with crunchy leaves and there’s no better sound than hearing feet rustling through the leaves. Fall causes us to settle in again. Routines return. Holidays are now a memory.

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As the moon peered through the barren trees last month, I was reminded that winter is on its way. Winter coats, boots, gloves and toques will soon become part of the regular wardrobe. The days will be short, the nights long. Snow will stay instead of melting away. Hands will be warmed around cups of tea and coffee. The fireplace will blaze and I will be so grateful.

I am not always as appreciative of the seasons changing as I could be. In each one there is deep beauty to be found. Each one’s unique flavour points to the majesty of the King. His creativity is unmatched and each season reflects this with its complexity. My God who is powerful and mighty shows Himself in each season that I am privileged to experience. I do not want to lose sight of this beauty. Rather, I hope I pay attention to what my God is up to. He speaks through His creation and I pray that I will listen.

 

Wait …

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I stood in lines this past summer. Lines to get into venues. Lines to try to leave the same locations. Lines queued up to visit the loo. Queues of people waiting to have their bags checked. Hordes of tourists hoping to see the sights. A hastily snapped, crowd-filled picture providing a moment frozen in time.

Each line was similar. It moved slowly, really slowly. Forward progress was claimed an inch at a time. It didn’t always feel like progress. Queues were barged into by others hoping to get ahead. But with all the people ahead, and the masses streaming in behind, there was no getting ahead. It was a matter of wait, bide your time, and hold on. There was no point in being in a rush.

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. Psalm 27:14 (NIV)

Stay with God! Take heart. Don’t quit. I’ll say it again:  Stay with God. Psalm 27:14 (MSG)

To be honest, I don’t wait well. I’m an anxious waiter. Did I make it in time? Am I late? Surely this is the location where we said we’d meet? What did I miss? I check and double check. It isn’t so much a fear of missing out as it is a desire to be early so that I haven’t left something to chance.

But I am asked to wait!

Waiting can’t be hurried along. Trust me, I’ve tried. Foot tapping, finger thumping, cell phone checking – none of those things make the waiting period hurry up and get finished. Waiting is something to be endured. Something to be sat through. The end of it will come when it is good and ready and not a moment before that.

Biblical waiting takes strength and heart.

When I am in the midst of a wait, I want it to be over. I want to head to the next destination. I want to arrive. However, in the arriving, I will have most likely rushed past the very lesson I was meant to learn. There are lessons of life and heart that can only be learned in the places of uncertainty. Those moments cause me to wonder and question. I look for answers in many places. But my faithful Saviour is always looking for me to point my gaze to Him. He wants me to fix my eyes on Him because that is the only place where true certainty can be found. He wants me to fix my eyes on Him because He is the author and perfecter of my faith. He calls me to a life of perseverance. (Hebrews 12:1, 2)

A life of perseverance is one where there are bumps, hiccups, and even detours in the road. Some of them come with a little bit of advance warning. Others blindside me as they come into view. But as I make my way through each of them, the Lord works with compassion and graciousness on my heart. He builds my character in these periods of waiting in ways that I could not grow if everything moved along easily. He forms me with His strength and endurance in the midst of those experiences. His shaping sometimes hurts. Corners are lopped off. The precious things I have held onto are stripped away. I often question what He is up to. But He has never asked me for my approval. He really isn’t interested in my opinion about his “develop strength and take heart” mission. My God is the One who walks with me on these journeys and asks me to hold onto His hand and keep my eyes on Him.

And wait for the Lord.

I’m not surprised that there is the use of repetition here. If waiting was easy, waiting rooms would have a different air to them. If waiting was easy, there would be no stomach churning fluttering of butterflies. If waiting was easy, there would be no sweaty palms and nervous laughs. But all of the waiting comes back to God. He may not answer in the way that I want Him too but that does not change His goodness. He may not speak as quickly as I would like but that does not change His faithfulness. He may not give me the results I have been pining for but that does not change His sovereignty. My Father’s character is never in doubt. I am meant to wait for Him and stay with Him and continue on the path where He is leading me.

Cageless Birds The Lord is My Light

When God confides …

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One of these days it will happen. We’ll both have time in our schedules and we’ll make plans to sit at a table together. She will come with her stories and I will come with mine. Dinner will be one constant chat between bites and that will not be enough. We’ll continue the conversation in some other location over something hot to drink. Eventually the manager will walk past our table and give the “we close in ten minutes” notice and we’ll reluctantly throw out our trash as we make our way to the door. It will be a slow saunter to vehicles and we might just continue the conversation in the parking lot. I confide in her and she confides in me. We share the dirt and grunge of life along with it’s joys and triumphs. She doesn’t just encourage me (although she does a lot of that), but she also calls me on the bits that don’t measure up. She’s willing to have the tough conversation with me. Because we’ve been down these roads together for a number of years, my bestie is one I trust and so I am willing and able to be vulnerable with her. We’ve chosen to share the good and the bad knowing that we are the better for it.

The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them. Psalm 25:14 (NIV)

God-friendship is for God-worshipers; They are the ones he confides in. Psalm 25:14 (MSG)

According to the dictionary, confide means “to tell someone about a secret or private matter while trusting them not to repeat it to others. It can also mean to entrust something to someone for safekeeping.” I don’t have a lot of people who are my confidantes. If I am willing to confide in you, I have found you to be trustworthy. You have had my back. You have stood up for me when I wasn’t necessarily expecting it. You have been a sounding board with a proven track record. I can count on your wisdom, strength, and support. You are the closest of close friends.

As I was reading through Psalm 25, my eyes ground to a halt at the phrase “The Lord confides.” I couldn’t jump past that point. As I think of God in perfect relationship within the Trinity, I think of them confiding in each other all the time. God the Son shares with God the Father and God the Holy Spirit. The circle of confidence continues and has continued from eternity past and will continue into eternity. It is a perfect relationship of mutual understanding.

But God’s desire to confide extends beyond the Trinity. He desires a relationship of intimacy and trust with His creation. He chooses the God fearing. He desires to walk closely with them, to reveal even more of Himself to them.

God has always desired such a relationship with people. He is the God who walked in the Garden of Eden in the cool of the day. From the way it is worded, God walking with His people was something that He did regularly. It was a part of their day, a routine. So when His people changed the pattern, He went “looking” for Adam and Eve. They attempted to hide from Him but He was declaring His faithfulness and presence in the midst of their disobedience and betrayal. (Genesis 3:8-10) Instead of refusing to spend time with them because they had sinned, this is the God who pursued His creation. He knew exactly where Adam and Eve had hidden themselves. He is all knowing, but He has given His creation a free will. He knows we will often be distracted and wander away from what He desires for us. But my God is the one who will continue to come after me with love and justice, holiness and compassion, grace and forgiveness. He desires for me to engage in authentic relationship with Him.

My bestie and I often have trouble remembering when we first met. We are shocked at the number of years over which our friendship has grown. Because of time, we know each other better now than we used to. My God desires that same kind of vibrant, enduring, growing relationship with me. It isn’t meant to start and stop, or be on and off again. He desires that our relationship would be one of constant development and growth. He and I would become more intricately linked with our lives more deeply intertwined. I don’t always treat our relationship that way. I am far from constant. He always is. I am forgetful. He only forgets my sin. He is ever faithful. I can be hard hearted. He is tender and patient. I frequently love conditionally. His love never ends.

I am in desperate need of a friend like my God. I want to be one He confides in.

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When the King enters

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Inside the castle it was dark. The only light came from windows set high in the walls. The other source of light was the gates that opened up into the garden. Because of the light streaming in, the intricate details of the castle were noticeable. At one point, our guide drew our eyes upward to the second storey. He pointed out that the second storey doors were open and the chandelier had been lit. His next comment explained the extra hustle and bustle of the facility staff. When the chandelier is lit and the upper doors are open, the king and queen are coming for a visit.

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As we stood in the castle that day, maids scurried around dusting and vacuuming with extra enthusiasm. The gardeners were busy working on the fountains. Others were busy manicuring the trees and flowerbeds. All was to be made ready for royalty to descend. The king and queen were on their way and all would be perfect.

I don’t always live my life with that sense of urgency. I often have the gates to my life shut, the lights turned off. I am hoping no one will notice the messes that have accumulated around me. I am not wanting to draw extra attention to myself. If I blend into the background then extra scrutiny will pass over me. I desire Jesus presence in my life, but I do not always want to change, grow and develop the way He desires me to. Too often I want my immaturity to be accepted and allowed. The King’s visit leaves no room for that.

Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle. Lift up your heads, you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is he, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty— he is the King of glory. Psalm 24:7-10 (NIV)

Wake up, you sleepyhead city! Wake up, you sleepyhead people! King-Glory is ready to enter. Who is this King-Glory? God, armed and battle-ready. Wake up, you sleepyhead city! Wake up, you sleepyhead people! King-Glory is ready to enter. Who is this King-Glory? God-of-the-Angel-Armies:  he is King-Glory. Psalm 24:7-10 (MSG)

If an earthly king comes to visit and all must be made right and prepared, how much more so when entering into the presence of the King of Kings? The gates of the city were deemed too low and it was as if the people were wanting to lift the top off the gates to make enough room for the presence of God to enter!

When I worship, I wonder if I sometimes even forget to open the gates. My heart is not always ready to trumpet the praises of the King. My heart is sometimes closed off not really wanting God to work in my life. In those moments, my worship is not really worship at all but a limiting of God and a vain attempt to reduce His influence in my life.

But when I open the gates of my heart, when I cherish the presence of the King, worship is a sweet experience. It is a delight to enter in and announce with a loud voice that my God is the King who reigns over and in all with justice, righteousness and love. He is the One in charge, ruling over all. It does not get better than living in His presence and abiding in Him.

I choose to throw open the gates of my heart, to lift the top off with exuberance. I do not want to be a sleepy, blend in with the crowd worshipper but one who is purposefully engaged in the worship of the Most High. May my heart and life be His well prepared throne room. He is the King of Glory.

Open Up the Heavens

My Lord, my shepherd

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I am not a shepherd. Well, some days I feel like a shepherd. However, my flock are of the human variety between the ages of eight and ten. They have their own interesting and peculiar needs. But I am not a shepherd of actual sheep.

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Psalm 23:1-3 (NIV)

God as my shepherd is a common theme throughout Scripture. Herding sheep was a familiar occupation. David was a shepherd. His ability to make the connection between his occupation and how he saw God moving and acting made complete sense. A shepherd in David’s time was on duty all day every day. The sheep were needy and not the most intelligent creatures God created. It was the shepherd’s job to lead his flock out from their overnight camp. He needed to find the sources of water for the sheep. He ensured that none of the sheep wandered away and he did role call at the end of the day making sure that none had gone astray as they made the journey home at the end of the day. The shepherd would also guard the sheep fold at night because predators are not just busy during the day. In the care of a good shepherd, the sheep were well supplied. They had food, water, rest, and care. They were not in want.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4 (NIV)

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Watching a sheepherding demonstration was eye-opening. The dogs listened very carefully to the commands of the shepherd. Each dog had its own set of commands so that the dogs would be able to work as a team, each doing its own job in order to move the sheep from one location to the next. Without the shepherd giving the commands, the dogs were not helpful and the sheep would move wherever they so chose. Sheep are in need of constant care. They are easily susceptible to predators who threaten them. They are easily exhausted if they are having to run for distances to escape. A shepherd must be constantly vigilant to protect his flock. Sheep are also prone to health problems. They need care especially of their eyes and ears because insects commonly take up residence there. A good shepherd watches and knows his flock intimately in order to keep them in good health. He is not afraid to act on behalf of his sheep in order to ensure their welfare.

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I am very much like a sheep! I am in need of constant care. I don’t like to admit it but it’s true. I attempt to take care of myself. But if I am honest, I need a great deal of help and support. Like sheep, my feet will wander down different pathways in attempts to make the best choices. Sometimes the path of least resistance is the path with the most traps hidden on it. These moments of failure and frustration are a constant reminder that I am a poor guide. I am in constant need of the good guidance that my Father gives to me. When I undertake things on my own ambition and strength, I am almost guaranteed failure.

I am in need of godly protection and comfort. My tender spirit is susceptible to all sorts of influences. I easily believe lies that masquerade as truth. The Liar, Satan is a master at disguising himself as truth. He is only too happy to use repetition to get me to believe the lies he whispers. I have believed him too often. I forget to stack up the lies up against God’s Word. I neglect to refute the lies with truth. And I swallow the lie believing it completely. God knows how vulnerable my spirit is and He uses his rod and staff as the means to call me back. They reveal truth to my soul and then I must go through the process of renouncing the lie and claiming truth. I am in need of constant protection.

Because the presence of God is always with me, I do not need to live in fear. He desires to draw me closer to His side where I can walk in the comfort of His shelter and care. He aches for me to walk in the ways of truth so that my spirit is guarded and protected. Regardless of the circumstances that come across my path, no joy or sorrow can remove me from the certainty of His presence.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23:5, 6 (NIV)

You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head; my cup brims with blessing. Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life. Psalm 23:5, 6 (MSG)

The shepherd ensures there is enough food for the sheep to forage. The shepherd also checks the land ensuring there are no harmful plants which could poison the sheep. Sitting down to a family meal is a treasured event. Today, it is Thanksgiving Sunday and many families will gather to enjoy turkey with all of the trimmings. Blessings abound at a holiday table. Blessings are part of the Shepherds table too. Goodness, love and beauty are part of His table experience. I love how The Message says that beauty and love will chase after me. Chase seems more active than follow. Chase has a purpose – to catch the one ahead. This is not a chase after experience when I am attempting to evade the one who is “it.” Rather, I want to be caught by the beauty and love of Christ, my Shepherd. I want to be surrounded by His presence. I want the delight of who my God is, who my Shepherd is to characterize my life.

I may not totally understand all it means to be a shepherd, but I am so grateful that my God shepherds me!

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Where hope and sorrow collide

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I have spent parts of this year buried under the mountain of sorrow. I have said more goodbyes than I wanted. I have become more closely acquainted with my Kleenex box. I have wondered what God was up to. While I did not doubt His presence, I have wondered how He could be working in the situations which have brought tears to my eyes.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish? My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest. Psalm 22:1, 2 (NIV)

God, God . . . my God! Why did you dump me miles from nowhere? Doubled up with pain, I call to God all the day long. No answer. Nothing. I keep at it all night, tossing and turning. Psalm 22:1, 2 (MSG)

I am not the only one who has wondered. Psalm 22 contains the prophetic words that Jesus uttered as He was on the cross. While I have wondered about and looked for Jesus presence in the midst of my sorrow, Jesus felt and endured the abandonment of having God the Father turn His back on Him. I cannot even fathom how that stung. I cannot understand how much that hurt.

I know the pain of a severed friendship, but God turning his back on Jesus – that was more than friendship. Their relationship has existed from eternity. They were completely one. Jesus the Son was the supreme sacrifice. He left the glory and beauty of heaven to come to earth as a tiny baby. His status changed from all powerful to a completely dependent infant. He was fully God and fully man simultaneously. God clothed in the skin of humanity. He grew in wisdom, stature and favour with God and man (Luke 2:52) And those who needed Him most completely rejected Him because He did not fit their image of a political Messiah. He came to make all things new. To establish a new relationship between God and people. It was an expensive sacrifice. His life paying the penalty of my sin. Sorrow seems to win. Death seems to conquer all.

Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises. In you our ancestors put their trust; they trusted and you delivered them. To you they cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame. Psalm 22:3-5 (NIV)

And you! Are you indifferent, above it all, leaning back on the cushions of Israel’s praise? We know you were there for our parents: they cried for your help and you gave it; they trusted and lived a good life. Psalm 22:3-5 (MSG)

But death does not have the final word. All seems lost. Tears flow. Jesus death seems like the final stroke of ultimate defeat. Thank you Jesus, the story does not end there.

When I am discouraged and feeling abandoned, it is easy to whip the throne out from behind God and accuse Him of not doing His part. He has not come through for me. He may not have responded in the way that I thought He should have. The prayer wasn’t answered how I would like, therefore He is not holding up His end of the bargain.

Then my memory is in desperate need of a refresher course. I crave the stories and lessons from my own life and the lives of others where God has provided. The times where He has shown up in powerful ways. Where the journey has seemed tenuous but God has brought us through. Where it seems as though all was lost, but His presence has been constant. Where He has not answered the way that we would have wished, but He is with us and therefore we can praise Him. We choose to praise Him!

My Jesus, is the risen King of Kings! He spent time in the tomb. He knows how I live in a perpetual state of “Saturday.” Not the despair of Good Friday or the joy of Easter Sunday but the lingering wanderings and wonderings of the day in between. But He rose again! A stone, the power of earth’s rulers and military might were no match for the power of Jesus. He sits today in the seat of power at the Father’s right hand.

Therefore, regardless of my feelings or impressions, I am not abandoned. My God goes before me and so I choose to sing.

Tim Hughes When the Tears Fall

Stars that sing

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I was on the back of a Jeep while on a safari in Kruger National Park. We had stopped for a bit in the absolute middle of nowhere and I tipped my head back. The sky danced. From one end to the other, stars dotted the night’s sky. Some gathered in formations and swirled to and fro. Others were solitary dots of light. I was reminded of how small I am. My God is the commander of the night sky. To think that He created the starry host and He knows each one by name.

Be exalted in your strength, Lordwe will sing and praise your might. Psalm 21:13 (NIV)

Show your strength, God, so no one can miss it. We are out singing the good news! Psalm 21:13 (MSG)

The same hands that formed every star, placing it in the sky in exactly the right place are the hands that formed me. I am amazed at God’s power on display in the night sky or when a storm rends the sky in two. But I am rather critical of His work found in me. I have a list of things I would change. Features I would love to alter. My Father knew that my hands should have no role in shaping my physical form. He has made me in His image. A tangible display of His power and might. One that stares back at me in the mirror.

All of creation sings back praises to God as it reveals who He is. We hear it in the pitter patter of the rain. It is seen in the uniqueness of each snowflake. The carpet of grass covered in the rainbow of fallen leaves speaks to His power. Brilliant sunshine or a cloud filled sky testify to His sovereign hand over it all.

I, too frequently, complain back to God about what He has made. As if I could make it better! Trusting me with that design task would have been a complete and total disaster! My artistic skills and creative spark are supremely limited. God’s creativity knows no bounds. Instead of lamenting the evidence of His design, My heart should be filled with rejoicing. I am made in the image of the King and He makes it all beautiful.

May my feeble voice join with all creation announcing the amazingness of my God.

The words of my heart

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An idea popped into my head. Before I finished reading through the rest of the email, I sent off a query. I should have finished reading the entire email. The message already answered the question I asked. Sometimes I “speak” in haste.

I sat listening to a friend. A question was thrown out to me. A question I had no answer for. No matter what I would have said, it would be the wrong response. There was no good way to wade through the quagmire that the question opened up. I had no words and therefore sat in silence. What do I say to a friend who is hurting? How do I show hope in my words when it feels like none is there? Sometimes words are not enough.

I bent the ear of my spiritual mentor. I had words. I didn’t always like the words I spoke. I didn’t like what they revealed about my heart and mind. But they were the thoughts and emotions I was wading through. I felt that I needed clarity. However, clarity was not what was offered me in return. Instead, I was pointed to the character of my Father. His consistency, grace, mercy, forgiveness, hope and love were all laid out for me to see. Sometimes words bring hope.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer. Psalm 19:14 (NIV)

These are the words in my mouth; these are what I chew on and pray. Accept them when I place them on the morning altar, O God, my Altar-Rock, God, Priest-of-My-Altar. Psalm 19:14 (MSG)

In the past I have read this verse and craved the “right” words to speak to God. I have believed the lie that to approach my Father I needed to have it all together. I have believed the lie that God was not really interested in listening to me. I have believed the lie that I am not important enough to be heard by Him. If I could just say the “right” words, then it would all be okay and God would be pleased with me.

I have held on to the wrong picture of my God. This is the God who wrestled with Jacob  (Genesis 32:22-32). This is the God who heard the laments of His people when they were slaves in Egypt (Exodus 3:7-10). My God is the one who conversed with Job and didn’t hold back (Job 38). My God heard as Jonah cried out in his distress inside the belly of the fish (Jonah 2). The Psalms are full of laments as David and the other writers speak with God with souls laid bare. This is the God who listened as His Son pleaded for the agony of the cross to be lifted from Him (Matthew 26:39, 42).

There are no perfect words. God has never been scared away by the real-ness of those He has created, those He loves. He desires an honest, open, transparent relationship with me. A relationship where I do not try to hide the truth about how I am. I am certain that He wants to see the real me, the me with all the scabs and bruises of hurt feelings, misunderstandings, frustrations, and even anger. He is present in the midst of those moments. He also joins me in the moments of joy, delight, hope, mercy, and forgiveness. I do not want to edit myself before my Father. He desires to be more and more revealed to me. Therefore, I must also pull back the curtains on my heart, continuing to reveal my whole true self in His presence. I cannot scare Him away. He is the God who will not let me go.

I place the words and contemplations of my heart on the altar. They are real. God, fill all of those places – the ones of hurt and pain, the ones of joy and delight. May my walk with You continue to grow and develop into one of intimate delight in You, my Rock and my Redeemer!

His delight

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She is little. A pipsqueak with a desire to be heard and understood. Her language is limited but there are a few words she knows exceptionally well. There is nothing that brings more joy to her heart than to see someone walking their dog. It does not matter the age of the dog. It does not matter the size of the dog. A smile of deep joy alights her face, her chubby finger points and with a voice full of delight she exclaims, “Puppy!” She can hardly contain her joy at seeing any puppy pass by. In fact, her whole body vibrates in delight.

Given the opportunity to pet a puppy, now a bit of hesitation sets in. Frankly, that’s fine. She needs to be careful around all of the puppies that bring her joy! Somehow, simply seeing a puppy, be it a real one, a stuffie, or even a picture fills her with joy. Who knew an animal could bring such delight.

He reached down from on high and took hold of me; he drew me out of deep waters. He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me. They confronted me in the day of my disaster, but the LORD was my support. He brought me out into a spacious place; he rescued me because he delighted in me. Psalm 18:16-19 (NIV emphasis mine)

But me he caught—reached all the way from sky to sea; he pulled me out
Of that ocean of hate, that enemy chaos, the void in which I was drowning.
They hit me when I was down, but God stuck by me.
He stood me up on a wide-open field;
    I stood there saved—surprised to be loved! Psalm 18:16-19 (MSG emphasis mine)

My Heavenly Father delights in me. As I was reading Psalm 18, it literally jumped off the page at me. My Father delights in me. I sometimes question God’s delight in me. I come to the relationship full of doubt and disbelief. How can God love me? How can He look at me and not see things that need to be fixed or changed? Instead of delight, I often look at my life and see a to do list. Get better at this, finish that, attempt this, check off this item. All of these things help to sell myself short. I don’t believe that I am worth delighting in. The lie sprang up right from my fingertips. I don’t believe that I am worth delighting in.

God’s truth declares that I am made uniquely (Psalm 139). I am made in His image and likeness (Genesis 1:27). I am loved and noticed by the One who made me. And the God who pays attention to me is specific (Matthew 6:25-34). It isn’t just broad strokes of knowledge like one has with an acquaintance, rather this is intimate understanding and affection. Jesus even asks “Are you not much more valuable than they” comparing my worth to the birds of the air. (Matthew 6:26b) He declares me deeply valuable!

The Psalmist David was clearly in a bad place. His need for rescue screamed from every fibre of his being. In the middle of his desperation, he commented about God’s rescue of him. God didn’t rescue David because David was a mighty warrior with a list of military accolades a mile long. David was not rescued because he was the future king. David was not rescued because Saul was on his tail. David was not rescued because of his giving, his elaborate prayers or any other good things he had done. David was rescued because God delighted in him.

 My Father chooses to delight in me. I can never earn His delight. I will certainly never do anything to deserve His attention. No good deed, act of service, gift given, word spoken will ever be enough. The Father chooses to look on me in delight and affection. When He sees me in the middle of whatever quagmire I have found myself in, when I am at the end of my rope, He continues to remind me that He walks with me. His rescue operation may look nothing like what I wish for. But, I am never abandoned. The God who is my rescuer will continue to reach into my messes and rescue me because He delights in me.

Just as the little one delights in every puppy she sees with a smile on her face, my Father delights in me with a smile on His. I choose to turn my gaze to His and smile back in delight.

Mighty to Save

Of apples and a ring

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I had a disquieted spirit. God and I had been not quite right. Rather God had been fine – His sureness had never been in question. But I was filled with doubts. Things were not fine in my world and I was wondering what He was up to. Was I missing something? Had some message from Him not gotten through to my head and heart? I wondered if I would know God’s presence. I did not doubt that He was with me. But I was looking for something tangible. Some “able to hold in my hand” evidence of Him with me.

I looked for Him all over the place. In cathedrals and monasteries. In castle keeps and crowds. In quiet moments and hillsides. It wasn’t that I thought He was missing, rather I was straining to see where I would find him. How would this God of the heavens and earth show Himself personally to me? I prayed that I would know it when the time came.

I should have known my Father would be specific. I should have known that the One who counts the hairs on my head would be intimately personal. I should have known that He would speak to the deep places of who I am.

I was wandering through a gift shop looking for something that would be truly unique and nothing seemed to even spark my interest. Until I turned the corner, there I found what I had hoped for. The ring that caught my eye had a stone in one of my favourite colours. The piece of silver was truly unique airy and curved. Something I had never nor have ever again seen before. By now my heart was beating fast. I happened to glance up at the name of the jeweller and we shared the same first name. I looked again. She used a lowercase first letter of her name and I have frequently signed off notes to friends with a lowercase first letter too. Goosebumps ran up and down my arms. The God whom I had silently accused of being far off had showed Himself present and faithful yet again.

Keep me as the apple of your eye; Psalm 17:8a (NIV)

Keep your eye on me; Psalm 17:8a (MSG)

To be the apple of someone’s eye is to be incredibly precious to that person. The eye is so guarded. Eyelashes, eyebrows, the bones underneath, the eyelid, even tears, all serve the purpose of protecting the eye and that precious sense of sight. The eyelid blinks frequently offering another layer of protection. My ring is of great value to me. Yet, its value has far more to do with the God moments attached to it than the ring itself. If my God, the Creator and Namer of the starry host cares so much to reveal His presence to me in a ring, then I am deeply valued and loved by Him.

The delicacy of my relationship with God cannot be overemphasized. At times, there is a vibrancy in our interactions that defies my understanding. Other times, I am not sure if I have moved to a new address or if God has. Sometimes I perceive Him to be silent. Other times, He is so busy speaking to me that I can hardly keep track of it all. Regardless of the circumstances, I am convinced that God sees value in me. He sees the emotions, the desires, the hopes and longings and He continues to weave my life together in a way that reveals His presence and His commitment to our growing relationship.

Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings Psalm 17:8 (NIV) 

Keep your eye on me; hide me under your cool wing feathers Psalm 17:8 (MSG)

Before Me

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Within moments of landing on foreign soil, God began to use a variety of people to say the same message repeatedly. “You are meant to return to this place for a longer time.”

While this happened a number of years ago, I can hear the words still ringing in my ears. If they had been said by one person, I would have shrugged my shoulders and wondered if it was really God speaking to me. However, God wasn’t that subtle or that quiet about it. A principal at a school said it. A pastor in a different city on the other side of the country repeated it. A colleague said it again at a conference. Yet another pastor in a fourth different city said it again. It was impossible to miss. It felt like God wrote it on a billboard in billboard size letters. In that moment, I fully agreed. I would return. I would do what was asked of me. I would obey.

Fast forward to the day I was meant to leave home. I had said goodbye to my students. I had turned over my computer and my keys. The school bag was empty. The bags for the journey were locked and loaded. If I had been allowed a choice, my parents would have driven me to the airport and straight through departures and right back home. I was scared. Internally I was freaking out! How could God really be asking this of me? This was a bigger obey than I was capable of.

I have set the Lord always before me. Psalm 16:8a (NIV)

Day and night I’ll stick with God; Psalm 16:8 (MSG)

 I chose obedience. It was scary. I was headed to a place I had been before but I was not with anyone I knew well. This was an adventure not of my own design but rather of His. And God showed up! In deeply personal ways, God showed up!

Prior to heading through security I ran into a colleague from a previous job. We had worked closely together. We had shared an office! Over the course of a number of summers we had grown to have a friendship. She was headed overseas and so was I. We were both travelling alone and somewhat nervous about the experience. The first leg of our trip was made on the same flight. We didn’t sit together, but I knew someone on the plane! God showed up!

While I was waiting on the other side of security, I noticed a group of students waiting to board at the same gate I was. One of the women, who seemed to be in charge of the group, looked very familiar. She was more than familiar. She was a former teacher of mine. I had last seen her when I was a junior high student. But her smile of recognition and her warm greeting were a balm for my concerned and anxious heart. God showed up again!

As I waited in a foreign airport to catch my next flight, I wondered how God would show up here! The people I had known on my initial flight had all arrived at their intended destination. I was the only one moving on. I couldn’t know anyone in this part of the world, could I? I doubted God’s ability to show His presence here! And God reminded me of His presence in the midst of my doubts. A parent of one of my students walked through the airport right in front of me. Not a single word was exchanged, but it was as if God was putting his exclamation mark on my journey! “I am with you! See it! I am in front of you! I have a plan for this experience. I will use whatever means necessary to grab your attention to show you that I am with you and know what I am up to! Worry and anxiety are not meant to be part of this! I am with you!”

Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Psalm 16:8b (NIV) 

I’ve got a good thing going and I’m not letting go. Psalm 16:8b (MSG) 

I needed those moments. I held on to them tightly. I was so grateful for the tangible evidence that my God was going before me. The obedience journey of that part of my life was one in which I learned so much. Lessons about flexibility and learning to let go. Lessons about forgiving and loving people. Lessons about family and investing in others. Lessons about His faithfulness. Lessons about my priorities and His plan.

Left to my own devices, I would have driven straight through departures and returned home. I would have missed His tangible reminders displaying that He is always before me. I would have missed His provision. I would have missed His surety and steadfastness. I would have missed the adventure He had for me. I’m so grateful I put myself in His hands.

 

Boundary Lines

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For five months I lived behind walls. I was living overseas in a country where security concerns are high on the list of priorities. Houses are not surrounded by fences but rather by walls or palisades. The gates are intense and the razor wire on top of the walls is intimidating. The walls, the wire, the house alarms, each one was installed with the intention of keeping the occupants safe and secure.

I didn’t really feel safe and secure. The opposite was true. I often felt fearful, wondering what every little noise was. Was there something lurking in the dark? Did I need to be on high alert? I had to train myself to sleep, to relax, to be at peace. Fully engaging with Jesus was the only hope I had.

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance. Psalm 16:6 (NIV)

 You set me up with a house and yard. And then you made me your heir! Psalm 16:6 (MSG)

The walls were good. They did their job but I didn’t see them as a blessing. At times I felt hemmed in, confined to a life I didn’t really understand but was living. I remember arriving back in my home country and going for a walk and thinking that I really shouldn’t go for a walk because I might not be safe. With a jolt, I discovered that the walls I had lived behind had put up walls in my thinking. After giving myself a mental pep talk about the safety blessings of home, I stepped out for my walk confident that going out was part of my normal life and I would be fine.

I think about the lines that define my life. The line of faith and a relationship with Christ, a career, a place of worship and community, family and my role within it, experiences and fun. Each one channels my energy and time. But without each aspect adding its influence into my life, I would be a different person, heading off in a different direction. These lines shape my experiences and influence my decisions. I want to maintain the lines so that the person I become is truly shaped into the person Christ wants me to be.

Sometimes the lines that form the boundaries of my life get all catty-wampus. I forget to maintain the lines. I let other things get in the way. I choose to make other priorities that are actually detrimental rather than good. Sometimes holes get punched through allowing things into the inside of me that have absolutely no business being there.

I then need to apply some maintenance moments to my life. Rebuilding the line takes work and effort. Weeding out the infiltrators that have established camp can be hard work. But the end result brings renewal and refreshment. When it’s all put to rights there’s a deep cleansing breath bringing release.

The lines really point me to my inheritance. It’s a delightful inheritance. With Christ as the ultimate reward, there is nothing worth pursuing more. Heaven is beautiful, but my relationship with Christ is about more than an insurance policy for my eternity. It’s about a relationship, a friendship where we talk with each other and I continue to be formed into the image of Christ. It’s about discipleship. “… the call of discipleship is to become Christian, to become Christlike, to become imitators of Christ in a fallen world where true imitation of Christ is radically counter-cultural and deeply counterintuitive.” (Zahnd, 2013) The boundary lines focus my eyes and attention on developing into the disciple I am called to be. The lines of discipleship will take my life into uncharted waters. They will have me engaging with my culture in ways that sometimes feel uncertain even uncomfortable. They will cause me to listen to what Jesus is saying and how He is shaping and forming my character. They will cause my feet to move in obedience to the One who loves me more deeply than I could ever imagine.

The lines were never meant to be a wall to keep me separate. They are a reminder of who I am and whose I am. They are a call to live wholly devoted to Christ, obeying as He calls me forward to walk with Him.

Zahnd, B. (2013). Radical Forgiveness: God’s Call to Unconditional Love. Lake Mary, Florida: Passio Charisma Media/Charisma House Book Group.

Chris Tomlin’s Boundary Lines

My RSVP

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I stood in the lobby of the fanciest hotel I had ever been in and felt rather overwhelmed. I was a tourist, dressed as a tourist, definitely not decked out in my finest. In my jaded perception, everyone else that I was travelling with was more prepared for the opulence and elegance. I felt like a ruffian whose attempts to pick her jaw up off the floor were taking much too long. There had to be some mistake, granted it was a very beautiful mistake, but I felt under-qualified to stay in that particular hotel.

But, there was a reservation in my name. A room was prepared for me. I was meant to take up residence there, granted it was temporary. But, I was meant to make myself at home.

Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? Who may live on your holy hill? Psalm 15:1 (NIV)

God, who gets invited to dinner at your place? How do we get on your guest list? Psalm 15:1 (MSG)

I often come before God with the same doubts and niggles weighing in from all sides. The God who throws open His arms of love for me, beckons me to come into His presence, to draw near to His side. Instead of running in and clamouring into His lap, I sometimes hesitate to darken the door. In those moments, I perceive my God to be the judge and jury instead of the Father who desires intimate relationship with me. Oh, He is just. But His mercy knows no bounds. Both exist together in perfect harmony and as a result, I am welcome, brought in close and reminded that I am cherished. I am deeply loved. My name is on the guest list. The RSVP has been returned confirming my welcomed attendance. It is a matter of choice – will I enter in?

Having my name on His guest list will undoubtedly causes some changes in my life and character. I desire to please the One who has made me in His image. I desire to be known as His daughter with my words and actions declaring my allegiance and devotion to Him. So I will choose to

“Walk straight, act right, tell the truth. Don’t hurt your friend, don’t blame your neighbour; despise the despicable. Keep your word even when it costs you, make an honest living, never take a bribe. You’ll never get blacklisted if you live like this.” Psalm 15:2-5 (MSG)

It’s not always easy to live like this. It will cost some friendships. Decisions made will be questioned and not necessarily understood. Fitting in may become something of a distant memory.

But it was never about my personal comfort. When I seek His face and pursue the life He calls me to, joy is found in His presence. When I abandon the darkened corners and run with abandon towards my Father, He greets me with warmth and affection. Love pours from His being. He’s been longing for me to come. I wasn’t meant to get lost in the opulence of our surroundings. I was meant to be completely surrendered to and lost in the lavishness of His love.

Corey Voss’ How Great

How long?

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How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart? How long will my enemy triumph over me? Psalm 13:1-2

We all have a “how long” question for God. I have met questioners wondering about jobs – how long until I have a job again? Other questioners have wondered about home – how long until I feel safe and I can move home again? Many question about their health or the health of someone they love – how long until my loved one is well? Others are in the thickness of grief – how long will it take for me to get used to this new emptiness in my life? Others are in a place of anticipation – how long until this baby arrives?

I have wrestled with God over a “how long” question for most of my life. It was the kind of question that caused my faith to waver, my heart to doubt and my identity to be hijacked. My “how long” has centred around my marital status – how long until I get married? And the question burned into the heart of who I was. Every bridal shower was an exercise in stiff upper lip. Every wedding invitation with my name and a plus one felt like a stab to my heart. Every wedding was salt in the wound stinging with intense ferocity. It seemed that I went to a lot of weddings. At each one, I pasted a smile on my face and asked the question “How long until its my turn?” “Why haven’t I met the person for me?”

Look on me and answer, O Lord my God. Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death; my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,” and my foes will rejoice when I fall. Psalm 13:3-4

Those questions became so deeply a part of my personhood that it rocked my relationship with God. My prayers felt like they hit the ceiling. It seemed that spending time in God’s Word was an exercise in futility. I had become an expert in the stiff upper lip and the everything is fine facade. But inside I was torn to shreds and absolutely nothing was right.

Then a pastor dared to ask me the question that began to turn my life on its head, “Might it be an unanswered prayer that has left you feeling disappointed with God?” True to form I burst into tears. This was absolutely the case with me. I had become to be defined by my “how long” question and because God had not answered to my satisfaction therefore it was His fault. I did not doubt that He existed, but I was deeply disappointed in Him. He hadn’t lived up to my ideas of His provision and therefore He was grossly inadequate. I lived in the place of the overcome and all those married around me seemed to live lives full of rejoicing and happiness.

But I trust in your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in your salvation, I will sing to the Lord, for he has been good to me. Psalm 13:5-6.

I don’t know exactly when it all changed for me. I don’t know exactly what words were shared with me that changed my perspective. I haven’t stopped asking “how long” questions because they are all around me and they affect those I love in deep and profound ways. In fact, I ask along with them. But somewhere along the journey that is my relationship with Christ, my “how long” question was gradually replaced and has even felt like it has been deleted.

And no, I’m not married. My single status hasn’t changed at all. But my attitude towards my single-ness has changed. For too long in my life, I attached my identity and my worth to the label of single or married. In my mind, single was an absolute failure. Married was the benchmark.

Instead, my faithful Father has been revealing Himself in the middle of my journey. It is not about being single or married at all. For me it has been about my identity. Yes I am single. But more importantly, I am a beloved, beautiful daughter of Christ. One who has had her sin washed away by the precious blood of Christ shed on the cross for me. One who is loved with a deep and abiding love. One who has been forgiven much and is called to live a life of deep devotion to Jesus. One who has discovered that obedience to my Lord is more important than anything else. One who knows with certainty that Jesus speaks to me and desires for me to listen and engage in conversation with Him. One who knows that nothing else is as important as the relationship I have with my heavenly Father. I have learned to trust that the Lover of my soul has known me intimately all along. His love is unfailing and therefore my heart can rejoice exactly where it is.

For me, that means my heart rejoices in the midst of my singleness. And I choose to sing. I choose to find the joy. I choose to see the blessings that my life offers me. I choose to be grateful for the experiences that continue to be poured into my life. No matter what, my God is so good to me. His goodness will never end.

At some point, I am sure another “how long” will surface in my life, but I choose to fix my eyes on the Father who walks with me. He knows my “how long” better than I ever will and He will never leave my side.

How Long – Al Gordon

How Long Oh Lord (Psalm 13) – Brian Doerksen

When my life is like popcorn

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Making popcorn at my house is actually a deadly activity. It’s to your advantage to wear some protective footwear! Eye protection’s not a bad idea either. My popcorn popper does pop, but it pops in a rather random fashion. While holding the popper at an angle, most of the popcorn lands in the bowl. But, a surprising amount of it sprays all over my counters and floor. The unpopped kernels are actually the worst because they become unbelievably hot and stepping on such a kernel hurts! There is also a lot of popping that occurs even after I have unplugged the popper. Popcorn sometimes pops right out of the bowl.

My life is often messy like this. The kernels of my life, the activities that occupy my time and energy, all beg for attention. They sometimes shout at me insisting that they are the most urgent activity and therefore most in need of me to drop everything, put on the safety glasses and attend to them first.

It’s in those moments that I wonder how my time has slipped away. I seemed to have time to tackle everything but discover that I’m now backed into a tight corner trying to get it all done. My need to control events and life rears it’s head.

In those moments I’m desperately in need of this reminder.

The Lord is in his holy temple the Lord is on his heavenly throne. He observes the sons of men; his eyes examine them. Psalm 11:4 (NIV)

But God hasn’t moved to the mountains; his holy address hasn’t changed. He’s in charge, as always, his eyes taking everything in, Psalm 11:4 (MSG)

I’ve done things to help my popcorn popper work better. I only pop a 1/3 cup of kernels. I hold the popper at an angle attempting to help the popped corn land directly in the bowl. I let the popper cool down in between popping more popcorn. These attempts to control the situation reveal that my ability is definitely limited. (I agree, it might just be my popcorn popper, but I’ve tried!)

No matter how much I try to control the events that occur around me, God is truly the only one in charge. If I am unable to control a popcorn popper, how can I hope to control my life and all that occurs in and around it. I may attempt to set myself up for success, but when I surrender to the hands, wisdom and ways of my God, a deep sense of peace pervades my soul and my attention is finally fixed in the right direction. His eyes see all. His eyes know when I am filled with joy or when my heart is heavy. Because He sees it all, He knows each emotion that flits through my spirit. More than anything, He longs for me to bring it all before Him. Leaving the random bits and pieces before His throne is the best choice I can make because

… the Lord is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face. Psalm 11:7 (NIV)

God’s business is putting things right; he loves getting the lines straight, Setting us straight. Once we’re standing tall, we can look him straight in the eye. Psalm 11:7 (MSG)

My messy life will not necessarily be straightened out as quickly as I might wish for it to be. But my God who sees has the best plan. He’s only too happy for me to give Him the popcorn of my life.

Kick the Can

 

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As a little girl, a highlight of the summer was attending a family gathering where I would see many of my cousins. Invariably we would play some version of Kick the Can or Hide and Seek. One of us would be “it” and the rest of us would scatter to the winds of whosever farm we were on. I felt like I never knew the best places to hide. The “it” would often find me rather quickly and I would come out from where I had hidden and have to stand in the circle, close to the can hoping to be rescued. Sometimes another cousin would dash from their spot and kick the can as far out of the circle as possible. We were then rescued back into the game. New spots to hide were found. We lived in the hope that the “its” back would be turned and we would not be spotted.

Sometimes I play Kick the Can with God. I choose a spot to hide. I don’t want to be found by Him, I don’t want to be known by Him. I think that if I hide long enough He will forget about whatever it is that I don’t want remembered.

But my God is the God who finds me. To be honest, it is a figment of my imagination that I can hide from Him in the first place. If He has had His eye on me since He formed me (Psalm 139:13), then why do I think it is possible to hide from Him?

My God is also the God who pursues me. He has loved me and will always love me with an everlasting love that defies my understanding. (Jeremiah 31:3b) He desires the intimacy of close fellowship and relationship. He has promised to be a husband to the husbandless. (Isaiah 54:5) He is the Father who comes running, ignoring the disgrace in His rush. He is the One who tucks His robe into His belt, hastening to welcome the lost one home before someone else can call down judgement. And His welcome is lavish, no expense is spared. The celebration is in the finding, the pursuing, the affection, the joy of being known and found and returned. (Luke 15:20b)

My God is never lost. I often am. He calls my name in the sweetest and most affectionate of ways. It is tender and endearing. A whisper that can be heard in the midst of a crowd. And my eyes dart here and there attempting to make contact with the eyes of the One who has known where I am all along.

Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:10 (NIV)

God’s a safe-house for the battered, a sanctuary during bad times. The moment you arrive, you relax; you’re never sorry you knocked. Psalm 9:9-10 (MSG)

I often find myself down rabbit trails I was never meant to wander onto. Places where discouragement and despair set their traps baited and waiting for my anxious feet to step in. In those moments, I have the opportunity to choose to hear the voice of my Father calling to me. I can take Him at His word and find the rescue of my soul. Or I can turn a deaf ear to Him and continue to wander, fruitlessly dragging the traps with me.

My God is the God who never forsakes me. Regardless of my choices, His love continues to win the day. Oh, it doesn’t mean that there will not be consequences of choice I have made. He is fully love and fully just at the same time and I wouldn’t want anything else. To forsake means to abandon, to renounce, to give up. If I was in charge, there would be so many moments where I would wash my hands of the situation, throwing them up in despair thinking “She will never learn so we give up on her.” My God does not do this. His hands gently wash the gunk out of my wounds, apply the healing salve of His forgiveness and love, and then we continue on the journey together.

My God is the God I can trust. He is the God who wants to be found and known. His promises are true. He is always with me. He is always desiring for me to fall even more in love with Him. I may choose to hide from time to time but true joy and delight are never found in the places where I hide. Rather, when I choose to climb into the lap of my Saviour, resting my head against His chest and feeling His heart beat for me, that is when I am reminded that being found and known by Him is the safest place to be.

Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you. Psalm 9:10 (NIV)

When a flower points to heaven

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Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! Psalm 8:9 (NIV)

God, brilliant Lord, your name echoes around the world. Psalm 8:9 (MSG)

Giverny, the home of Monet, boasts one of the most prolific gardens I have had the pleasure of seeing.

My ability to paint is very slim. Frankly, my artistic skills when it comes to pencil or pen are sadly lacking. I had a friend who told me that because I am musical, I am also therefore skilled in drawing. That was a well intentioned thought, but definitely not a true statement.

So, knowing that Monet planted his gardens in order to have prompts for his paintings means that the creative genius of the man was spectacular.

And as I wandered through the gardens, I was reminded again that God, the Creator of all things, has a taste for the unusual and unique that defies my understanding. My camera clicked away as flowers came into view. While some of the flowers were similar in style and shape, their unique colouring and combinations were a delight to my eyes. If my eyes are filled with smiles of delight, then, my Father’s face is wreathed in smiles of joy! His creativity, His power, His design is manifest in each one. And each flower reminds me that the Creator of the universe not only looks on the flowers and smiles, He does the same thing with me!

Oh what delight, found in each flower! What a brilliant Lord!

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Do you hear me?

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The news greeted me as an accompaniment to my breakfast. The plane is delayed. There’s a problem with it. Our day of travel home is ruined. Grunts and groans rose around me. Knowing myself, my natural response would have been to join the moaning and declare the day to be lost.

I was faced with a choice. Join the ranks of complaining or continue to seek God’s face in the day He had made.

The desire to attempt to control the situation rose up in me. However, what could I accomplish? I am no master of airlines. I cannot control the mechanics of an aircraft. I have no power to straighten out these circumstances. And I know myself and the kind of traveller I am. I like airports – they get me places. I hate airports – they are the place of hurry up and wait, continuous clock checking, a controlled level of panic fills the air constantly. Realizing that anxiety was close at hand, I prayed.

Listen, God! Please, pay attention! Can you make sense of these ramblings, my groans and cries? Psalm 5:1 (MSG)

Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my sighing. Psalm 5:1 (NIV)

The hiccups continued. My prayer for peace for my heart and a reminder of God’s presence with me did not make the bumps in my day any smoother. The security clearance questions were intense. Delays beset me all around. Baggage was claimed in the dark due to a power cut in a terminal. Planes could not taxi in to gates, therefore boarding was delayed. Bumper to bumper traffic includes airplanes taxiing to take off from airports too. At each moment, each bump on the way, as anxiety threatened to steal over the banks of my heart, the prayer rose higher – God, there is nothing I can do about this, fill me with your peace.

I frequently doubt God’s ability to hear me. His word states over and over that He hears and listens to all who call on Him. (Psalm 145:18, 19) But sometimes, it feels like I am throwing my concerns at His feet and His attention is fixed elsewhere and I am forgotten. That is the temptation of my heart to think that God is too busy to care about me. But that lie is refuted with the knowledge that God is the One who created. His power defies logic and understanding. He formed the galaxies and the starry host and He knows them so well that He knows the numbers of stars and has named them all (Psalm 147:4, 5) And He didn’t stop creating there. This is the God who created me, who formed me uniquely in a wonderful and beautiful way (Psalm 139). This is the God who adds and subtracts even as He knows the intimacies of my life because He knows the number of hairs on my head (Matthew 10:30) This God of power and majesty cares for the vast expanse of the heavens and desires to be in conversation with me. And He wants to know it all. The good, the blessings that have fallen into my lap, that cause a smile to light up my face. The sad, what breaks my heart, causes anxiety, plain old hurts. The laments, the cave existence that seems to never go away. He wants to know how it is with me and He is never scared off by what I have to say. It’s a lie to say that God can’t hear me. This is the God who listens more deeply than I could imagine to the cries of my heart.

But you’ll welcome us with open arms when we run for cover to you. Psalm 5:11 (MSG)

But let all who take refuge in you be glad; let them ever sing for joy. Psalm 5:11a (NIV)

In the third airport of the trip home, I was told that they had sent on the plane without me. It was late and I would never have made it through customs, gotten my bag within a logical amount of time. However, I was frazzled, had been awake more hours than I would like, and my ability to think clearly was not there. “God, you are walking with me and you have your hand on all of this,” was my prayer. A gate agent has never been a more encouraging sight. And blessing fell in my lap. It was the refuge my tired brain and body craved, a sign of God’s listening to my life and heart. There was a hotel room in my name, a shuttle to transport me there, and a boarding pass for the next morning’s flight.

God had been listening all along. He had been the place of refuge all day. He had been the covering my soul craved and was desperate for. His peace had permeated all of the corners of my heart and mind. I again had tangible evidence of His listening ear and the shelter that only He can provide.

In search of sleep …

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I woke up from my usual summer dream. Without even checking, I figured it must be around August 1. It was my annual back to school dream. Each one is unique but without fail, I wake up anxious and frustrated. This time, I was teaching Grade 1 (definitely not my specialty!). I was teaching in someone else’s cluttered, full from top to bottom classroom. I was expected to use hands on materials teaching something that I did not understand. Waking up was a relief, a respite from what I had just encountered.

Returning from a trip across multiple time zones recently, sleep has been precious. Sleeping on airplanes isn’t restful. Waking up at 2:00 a.m., then 3:00 a.m., then 5:00 a.m. isn’t either. I always think the transition should be easier than it is.

And then I was reminded:

But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head. I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.  Psalm 3:3, 5

I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. Psalm 4:8

A peaceful night’s sleep is not something that I produce of my own making. Regardless of the bed, the pillow or the blanket, I am unable to manufacture rest. True rest, the kind that penetrates a soul is only found in the shelter of the God who knows me best.

He is a shield. One who protects in the face of danger. The only One who can cause my heart to feel secure and sure. It’s more than a large piece of metal. Sometimes, I attempt to shield myself, to put myself in control and try to cause a certain outcome to occur. It’s in those moments that I am reminded of my futility, my complete inability to hold it all together. If God is my shield, I am not spared calamity or pain, but I have a faithful Father walking and surrounding me with His presence. There is a security in His embrace.

He is the sustainer. Each breath. Each sunrise. Every sunset. Every precious memory. Each moment I would rather forget. Without Him, none of these exist. Any attempt where I try to do life apart from Him, emerges with feelings of frustration. He holds, He equips, He provides, He has hands that are large enough for all of it. He has never left me forsaken but sustains through every single step.

In Him, I can dwell. The word dwell can mean to live or stay as a permanent resident; reside, or to live or continue in a given condition or state like dwelling in an emotion, or to linger on a particular thought or idea. However, this particular definition captured me:  a period in a cycle in the operation of a machine or engine during which a given part remains motionless.

At times my life feels like a machine that is constantly humming. There are things to be done, places to go, lists to check off, obligations to meet. There is no “off” button, it’s simply go. But there are cycles, even seasons, where the “go” button needs to be put into neutral. Where, for the health of the machine, it needs to stop and be motionless. The same is true for my life. For the health of my life and even more so my soul, I am called to times of dwelling, times of motionless-ness. But I wonder if I am choosing the “go” over the “dwell.” How many of the things that I am filling my time with are essential, important, necessary? OR are all of those things a push to please myself, to make myself look good, to appear needed? How would my experience change if I chose to do what Jesus is calling me to? What would it really look like to dwell in Him?

As my summer winds down and the busy season of my work life gears up, sleep will easily be lost as the to do list clambers to take over. In spite of the busy, I choose to dwell. I choose to be sustained. I choose to be shielded. My Heavenly Father does those things best.