The power of a word …

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The words arrived in the quietest way. Tiptoeing in from the dark recesses of my mind. “Nobody loves you. You’ll never have a love like that.” They weren’t loud. It was just a whisper. Words, a dagger to my soul.

I’d just finished watching a movie where love had triumphed. A deep sigh of longing had wrung itself from my lungs. And the whispered words found their target – my heart. Vulnerable. Wishing. Unsteady.

I almost gave in and swallowed those words as truth. They seemed believable.

But then I was struck again by truth. These words were not truth.

They were the clever ruse of the one who has sought to always destroy my soul. They were his weapon of choice to go after the part of me that will always be somewhat tender. He’s gone after me in this area of my life for all of my life. His words, weapons that have torn my soul to shreds. He’s craftily used others to fuel the lie as their words have hit the tender spot, lancing open the wound again and again. I’ve swallowed the words whole so often. Believing that comments on repeat about my looks and my marital status were a self-fulfilling prophecy that had no choice but to continue. The evil one always hits the spot that is tender. His aim is accurate and sure. And when the words sound like truth, feel like the truth you’re living, and are on repeat, they are easily believed – hook, line and sinker.

But on this particular night, as the lies were getting ready for round two and three and four, I caught them before they could be swallowed in belief. Instead of surrendering to the lie, I spoke truth out loud, Sword of the Spirit in hand, Belt of Truth on my waist, Shield of Faith firmly grasped, Helmet of Salvation covering my head. (Ephesians 6:10-20)

I am single. I do not have a husband. But I am not alone. The truth of God’s Word states that “[Jesus is] with you always to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) No matter where the journey of life takes me, I am with my God and He is with me. Therefore, I cannot be alone. It may appear that I am alone. But I am not. I am surrounded by His presence – before me, behind me, above me, below me.

I am loved. The insidious voice of the enemy says that I am not loved. That is a lie. Even as that lie whispered its evil intent, I started to make a list of those who loved me. Parents, siblings, nephews, a niece, cousins, friends, colleagues. I used their names. I needed the concrete evidence that love exists in my world.

At the beginning of the list, is my God who loves me. He loved me before I loved Him. He is the one who has been pursuing, leading and guiding my life even before I knew it. His love is deeper and wider than I will understand. It drove Him to send His Son to the cross. He, the God of heaven, yearned for a relationship with me so much that His Son bore my sins in His body, paying my penalty that I could be right with Him. (I John 4:7-21) Love does not get deeper, bigger and more profound than that.

The hidden message in both lies was a question of my worth, my value. If no one loves you, if you’ll never have that kind of a significant relationship – where and what is the value in your life. Worth and mattering, that one always gets me. But, the truth of God’s Word reminds me I am known to my Father in Heaven. He knows when I sit and when I rise. He knows the words that come out of my mouth. He knows when I lie down to sleep. He knows that no matter where I go in this world, I cannot escape His presence. He is the one who knit me together and made me exactly the way I am. His hand has been on my whole life – it’s impossible to miss. He knows exactly how many days I have been given and He has a plan and purpose for them. Nothing, not one circumstance of my life, has been a surprise to Him. He is using every bit of it for His purpose and His glory. (Psalm 139, Jeremiah 29:11, Romans 8:28-39) My worth is not attached to people. My worth and being is found in the One who made me and has called me for His purpose. (Philippians 1:6)

The whispered words were marched firmly to the door and were forbidden to enter. The voice of the Shepherd was clear. I am His. He is mine. I am chosen. I belong. I am loved. My worth is found in Him. His Voice, steady and sure, is the one I am attuning my ears to. He knows my name. He knows the path. His words are life – a life more abundant than I can understand or imagine. (John 10:1-18)

 

Hillsong Worship – Who You Say I Am

Passion – God You’re So Good

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An end

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They gathered in front of me for one last morning devotions. Twenty-eight faces. Some ready for the day of lasts. Many unsure what the day would hold. Others completely unprepared. Emotions laid bare on faces. It was our last morning together.

We ended like we had started.

 

The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me:  Your love O Lord endures forever – do not abandon the works of your hands. Psalm 138:8 (NIV, 1984)

 

The text had been our devotion on the first day of school. The ten months had passed in the blink of an eye. As we sat down for the last day, it was only fitting to end as we had begun.

The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me. God has a plan for every life. It was by design and purpose that each of those learners had been placed into my room for the school year. We learned together. We cried together. We grew in character together. None of it was a chance occurrence. There was purpose in every moment. We looked for God’s direction. We sought His hand. We felt His peace surround us. Some days were great. Others could be described as the exact opposite. But all of it had a purpose – to grow every person in the room, adult and child alike, to become more Christlike. To be more like Him. Sometimes His purpose is clear and it is easy to spot and therefore easy to apply and follow. Other times, God’s purpose seems hidden, buried deep under layers of life, easily missed. But, regardless of experience and circumstance, God has a purpose for every life.

The application:  Keep looking and listening. God’s purpose for each life is unfolding. Keep in step with Him. As He continues to reveal His purpose a step at a time, walk in His way. I know He has good plans that He will carry to completion.

Your love O Lord endures forever. We have sung, over and over again, about the love God has for us. It is vast – deeper, wider, higher than we can ever understand. It knows no limit. It cannot be outrun, out-muscled, out-sinned. It goes on and on and on. God’s love never gives up. His stamina defies human logic. It’s a love that passes the test of time. It will not flicker and fade. Rather, it is steadfast and true, a constant presence. This love is collective. He loves the world so deeply He sent His Son to die for its redemption. It’s personal and specific. He loves me. He knows the number of hairs on my head. He knows what has made me laugh. What has made me cry. What has caused my heart to delight. What has broken it in two. He has walked, and continues to walk, each moment of life with me. In love.

The application:  Bask in the love God has for you. Notice His love and affection. Ask Him to open your eyes to His love. I sometimes forget. I need reminding that God loves me. Remember the moments where God showed up and showered you with love and affection. His presence is there. In love.

Do not abandon the works of your hands. We built things this year – LEGO projects, Science experiments that failed (on purpose). We wrote this year – paragraph plans, paragraphs, articles, stories, poetry. We read – books that made us laugh, others that were really serious. We were creative this year – art projects, gifts made, music classes. The works of our hands were many. The stack of work the learners took home was bigger than they thought it would be. At times, some of them were ready to give up. The work had moments of easiness but, more often than not, the brains were stretched to try something new. God’s work of forming and shaping is similar. When we allow Him to, He works on our lives with purpose and direction shaping and forming us to be the image bearers of His name. Sometimes we do not let Him work. We resist, throwing up our hands in an attempt at self-preservation. He is working on us and in us even in those moments. It’s much less comfortable and fun but He is at work. God’s perseverance defies understanding. He does not get tired and weary. He will go with us right to the end. He has promised to never leave us or forsake us. What grace and mercy to know that God is with us. Now and always.

The challenge:  Let God do the forming and shaping that He desires. While it will not always be comfortable or even fun, His end desire and purpose is beautiful Christ-like character. The result of God’s work – better than could ever be anticipated.

We ended as we began. A God of purpose, love and continuity has been our focus. He goes before, behind, above and below. He knows each summer with all its plans and hopes and dreams. He will continue with us whether we are all together or not. Twenty-eight faces. Image bearers of Christ. What a challenge and blessing to have been their teacher.

Wait …

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A flash of lightning was spotted in the distance. The soccer pitches were cleared. All players and spectators needing to report inside. A short while later, the wind kicked up. What had been a calm evening of watching a soccer match suddenly changed. Chairs and gear were packed up and the stairs leaving the pitch were suddenly clogged with players, coaches, and fans.

In that moment, my impatience reared its head. Those walking in front of me were in no rush. Their steps leisurely at best. Behind them, people backed up waiting for them to get a move on. A spot opened and my teacher walking pace kicked in. I just had to get past them.

I’m not sure what the prize was. I got to the bottom of the steps faster. I got to my car before rain drops spattered my windshield. But a reward? There really wasn’t one. My impatience, that was on full display.

 

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)

 

God’s been doing a waiting work in my soul in the last while. He keeps saying wait. It’s on repeat – over and over again. I keep wondering for what. Why am I waiting? What is the purpose of this experience? Is there some sort of change that I’m meant to be experiencing? Is there some lesson that I’ve missed so far that I’m meant to be gaining? But, in the middle of all of my questions, the word wait is at the forefront of my mind.

WAIT.

It’s in these moments of waiting that my patience or rather lack thereof has manifested itself. I do things. I move. I am given a task and I want it to get done. I don’t want to miss the deadline. I want it checked off the to do list of work, home or life.

Waiting feels so passive. I’m not accomplishing in the waiting. In my mind, for something to have purpose, something must be done to accomplish it. But this waiting period, doesn’t have a to do list attached to it. It’s a sit and be still. There’s an air of anticipation with it. But what is being anticipated? I have absolutely no idea.

According to David, waiting takes strength and courage. Clearly, he felt uncomfortable in the middle of the waiting periods that he encountered. The strength to stay in the wait, that’s more strength than I realized I needed. I’m certain I haven’t acquired that strength yet. Take heart – I’ve wanted to bail out of this waiting thing for a while now. I want to get on with it. God, just give me the assignment and I’ll make it happen. Oh, my can-do spirit is sometimes so not helpful. Courage would not be needed if waiting was simple and easily done. Take heart – I know there’s a purpose to all of this. I don’t know what it is. I know my patience is being stretched in ways it hasn’t before. I know I’m not finished growing in that particular Fruit of the Spirit.

I wait. I am looking forward to finding out what the waiting was for. It has a purpose, of that I am sure. I know it will be good because it will come from my Father’s hand and He is good beyond measure.

Wait.

A different kind of Mother’s Day

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It’s my toes, well the pinky toes, that are the most obvious link between us. (That seems like the strangest line I’ve ever written.) But if you were to look down at my feet you’d find that my pinky toes don’t point up to the sky but off to the side as if they missed the memo about where they were meant to be looking. They’re also the most obvious physical link to my grandmother.

There’s other connections as well.

The woman was competitive. Even in her 90’s there was no game that she didn’t play to win. She was known to play 6 games of Yahtzee at once. At once! I struggle to play one game of Yahtzee at time, but 6 for her was no big deal. The best way to spend time with her and have a good conversation was at the table in her house, cards in hand, chatting away with a little trash talk mixed in for good measure. And lucky, she always seemed to have all the luck. She didn’t mind reminding you about that either!

The woman loved Jesus. She faithfully read her Bible. As her eyesight failed, others read for her. As her hearing left her, we all read it slowly and louder than we thought we should. She never stopped wanting to learn about her Lord. Faithful church attendance was an essential part of her life. If she could be at church, she was. Part of her walk with God was to read the Daily Bread. Those Devotionals were an important part of her day. More than just routine, each time we sat down to read it, there was a connection with family and her Heavenly Father.

She was an ardent Blue Jays fan. I’m not really into baseball. There’s other sports that I’m much more passionate about, but my grandmother passed on the love of sports to me, too. She had her favourite players. She knew about things like strikes, outs and balls. Home runs made her smile. I can only imagine what she would have thought had she been able to actually go to a game.

She loved her garden and had an eye for beauty. Flowers were her joy and delight. The more the better. The more vibrant the colours the more fantastic. It was only right if her house was in the middle of a bower.

She loved her family! There were lots of us. 11 children. Spouses. 36 grandchildren. Great grandchildren. Great-great grandchildren. She saw 5 generations unfold before her eyes.

This year she celebrated a Mother’s Day none of us anticipated. She celebrated with Jesus. 96 years were given to her on earth and they were full. Work, a husband, children, moving, a Centennial project, a child buried in infancy, grandchildren, more moves, games, laughter, tears, the death of a spouse, two grandchildren and two sons-in-law, health, sickness – these were all part of that journey.

On Mother’s Day she was more home than ever before. She saw Jesus’ face. Her journey on earth finished – her ardent desire for more than a year.

No one saw it coming. The night before, she read the Daily Bread and played Chinese Checkers with family. All seemed fine. At some point in the night, she was ushered into the presence of Glory. She is exactly where she wants to be. We mourn. She does not. We grieve. She rejoices. We don’t wish her back. There’s just a hole there now that’s Grandma shaped. We will celebrate her. A life well lived. A woman at home with her Saviour – the best kind of Mother’s Day she could ever have imagined.

Yearn

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To have an intense feeling of longing for something, typically something that one has lost or been separated from.

There’s a picture of me as a little one. Head a mass of brown curls. Standing next to the dryer. Needing to have a nap but not there yet. Little hand reaching in to wind tiny fingers around an ear. Puppy had needed to go through the spin cycle and the whirr of the drier. No doubt my mother had timed it perfectly so that we would be reunited and then I would have the nap that the lack of had widened my eyes and reddened my cheeks. I yearned. My favourite stuffie and I had been separated and nothing was right in the world until we were together again.

 

How lovely is your dwelling place, Lord Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the Lord; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young – a place near your altar, Lord Almighty, my King and my God. Psalm 84:1-3 (NIV, emphasis mine)

What a beautiful home, God-of-the-Angel-Armies! I’ve always longed to live in a place like this, Always dreamed of a room in your house, where I could sing for joy to God-alive! Birds find nooks and crannies in your house, sparrows and swallows make nests there. They lay their eggs and raise their young, singing their songs in the place where we worship. God-of-the-Angel-Armies! King! God! Psalm 84:1-3 (MSG, emphasis mine)

 

The writer of the Psalm has it right. An intense longing to be in the house of God. It’s more than just his mind engaged in this longing. His soul yearns. The deepest part of him, the core of who he is, yearns to be in God’s presence. His longing is so intense he faints to be in God’s presence. I’m not quite sure how fainting shows devotion, but he’s been reduced to weakness in order to experience God’s presence.

I’m not sure I yearn for God’s presence. Oh, there are times I’m beating on the walls begging for God to show up in some way in my life. Those moments of desperation are deeply etched in my memory and journals. And He has. He has shown Himself faithful as He has spoken to me. So yes, at times my soul absolutely yearns.

But there are other times when I’m totally “meh” about God being with me or me with Him. And that “meh” feeling isn’t really a great one. It’s that take it or leave it kind of thing. There’s no longing. I live life like nothing is missing. Those times of disillusionment and frustration reveal that the “meh” isn’t so good and isn’t nearly as non-committal as I would like to think it is.

Turns out, when my soul is in a state of yearning for God I look for Him. I pursue Him. I find Him. Those times are rewarding and reminders for all of the other times that while I might think that He is far removed from me, He has been walking with me the entire time. He’s been holding my hand, guiding me along.

Everything is so much better when I yearn for my God.

 

Definition

Shane and Shane’s Yearn

The Story Behind the Song

If I could remember …

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I suffer from the disease of forgetfulness.

Oh, I have a memory. It works well. But sometimes it works selectively.

I sometimes remember slights that have happened long ago. Those memories colour my present, even taint it. I have believed lies based on those experiences. Those lies have distorted my thinking. Those memories have had power that I did not even understand.

I remember good things. Things that filled my bucket. Things that blessed my soul. I have smiled and laughed as I have remembered. Those memories I hold close. They are dear.

I remember sadnesses. It took one song at an event this past Christmas for the tears to stream down my face in grief. I would love one more conversation. I crave the sage advice brought by the experience of years. I miss the friendship. I cherish all the moments that mentored my soul and spirit. But …

But I forget really well too. A lot of my forgetfulness has to do with the provision of God in my life. Over this past year, the times of silence, where I felt like He had withdrawn any sort of presence in my life were at the forefront of my mind and heart. God was silent. He must be far away. He must be displeased with me. He must be tired of the doldrums I found myself in. Gracious, I wanted to move on. I was sure He did too. But I felt stuck. I felt abandoned. I felt apathetic. Did any of it really matter? Really?

I’m so grateful that God’s moving in my life is not dependent on my memory. I’d be so sunk if it was. But it’s not. Instead, God keeps moving, keeps speaking, keeps lavishing love on me especially when I recognize absolutely none of it. Thank goodness! In the middle of my doldrums, when I was truly desperate for a touch from Him, He showed up. He wasn’t subtle either. My pencil scribbled as fast as it could. The tears ran down my cheeks as I sat completely alone. I was overwhelmed by the presence of my God. I was undone by His love for me. I had forgotten. Or maybe, I had chosen not to remember how good my Father is. Instead of berating me for my short memory, my Father wrapped His arms of love around me and spoke to the deep places of my soul. Instead of being frustrated with me, He comforted and encouraged. Instead of accusing, His calm assuaged my spirit. I was brought back in. I found solace. It became well.

I know the time will come when I forget again. I will feel like an outsider. I will be convinced of a lie. But in addition to God’s Word that shows me how amazingly loving my God is, I have the reminders I’ve written down. I’ll need to read them. I’ll need those tangible reminders. My God is the One who draws near.

 

Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all His benefits – Psalm 103:2 (NIV)

 

Hillsong United’s So Will I

Matt Redman’s It is Well With My Soul

Unanswered prayers …

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I’ve read the Gethsemane prayers of Jesus many times. I’ve never read them through the lens of unanswered prayer. I have focused on the reality. Jesus prayed. God’s will was done. Full stop. That seems like answered prayer.

But Jesus first prayer wasn’t “Your will be done.” That came second. The first prayer was a request for a reprieve. A break. A lifting of the burden. That first prayer wasn’t answered. That one hung suspended. Vulnerable. Open. Pain-filled. Agony coming.

I think I have always prayed with an assumption in mind. Jesus will answer the prayer with a “Yes.” I will be given the answer I want. It will be favourable. God will agree with my request. I’ve looked at God as some magnificent machine giving me exactly what I want. In the timeframe that would be most optimal for me.

That would be praying a lie. God’s timing will never be mine. God’s ways are not my ways. His thoughts are above my understanding. (Isaiah 55:8, 9) He does not answer prayers with “Yes” as His only answer.

In fact, if I look at my life, there continue to be prayers that remain unanswered. I’ve prayed. “Yes” has not been the answer that I have been given. I’ve attributed God’s lack of a “Yes” as a frustration. He must be silent. At times, the lack of a response that I’ve wanted has felt like a personal affront. God must be dissatisfied with me.

Those ideas would be more lies that I have easily believed.

The truth is God speaks. He has in the past. He will in the future. His Word is testament to a God who communicates.

The truth is God loves. His love does not mean that He is giving me everything I want. A good parent does not do that. His love means that He is deeply invested in me, His daughter. While He is a God of justice, He is equally a God of love.

The truth is God is relational. His deepest desire is for me to be with Him. He wants me to bring all of my requests to Him. Small things that even seem slightly ridiculous. Big things that are the mountains of my experience. He wants me to talk to Him about all of it.

Jesus first prayer was unanswered. But His second prayer demonstrated a heart submitted to the Father’s authority. A heart that was obedient beyond my comprehension. “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” I don’t think I pray this part of the Gethsemane prayer enough. Truth be told, getting my own way doesn’t really fulfill me. Doing my own thing doesn’t make me happy. Being in charge has all sorts of headaches and hiccups associated with it. “Yet not as I will, but as you will.” If I pray this prayer, I remind myself that my good Father knows what He is doing. He has a plan that is beyond my understanding. His timing will be absolutely perfect. He has put me in the place where I am to walk with me, to fulfill the calling that He has placed on my life. I am being called to a life fully submitted to His plan, His way. His time. It will look nothing like I envisioned. It will take twists and turns that are not anticipated. I will not be alone.

Far better than getting a “Yes” to every prayer I pray is to know the “with” of the God who is “with” me.

 

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! “Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counsellor?” “Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen. Romans 11:33-36 (NIV)