Hello Friday. It’s that day again that I come to a coffee shop to rest and receive from the Lord. Sometimes I feel like I do the most talking, but I’m learning to sit and listen to Him. Even if He doesn’t say anything. Because sometimes He doesn’t, and I’m reminded of times in life when He has been silent and I crave to hear His voice again.
How sweet the sound of His voice is after silence.
I remember teaching my piano students years ago what a rest in music was. Some of them wanted to rush the musical rest because it felt weird to be at a piano bench for even a couple of seconds when you weren’t actually doing or hearing anything. But over and over I told them the same thing: “Music is always sweeter after a rest.” I don’t know where I heard it, but I knew it was true. A rest makes the listeners lean in with anticipation to the music coming.
Music is sweeter after a rest.
I’ve come to learn (painfully and slowly) that God’s voice is much the same. His voice is sweeter to us after a time of silence. Not because He changes, but because our posture towards Him changes. We lean in towards Him more. We sit on the edge of our seats in anticipation. We beg for Him to speak and crave connection with His voice. We can suddenly identify with King David when he wrote:
“Answer me, Lord, for Your faithful love is good; in keeping with Your great compassion, turn to me. Don’t hide Your face from Your servant, for I am in distress. Answer me quickly!” Psalm 69:16-17 HCSB
I’m in a season of edge-of-the-seat silence. I can see His smile gracing me often. There are moments almost every day that I see His hand orchestrating the moments and answering my prayers. I know He is present and near…but I can’t hear His voice.
It’s hard to be still in the silence. Even when you’ve walked the wilderness before, it still doesn’t feel natural or right or comfortable. Anyway you cut it, the wilderness seasons feel dry. Dusty. Quiet. Silence isn’t comfortable.
I’m one of those people who is a chronic silence-filler. More than once I’ve felt nervous with silence and therefore felt the need to fill it in with WORDS. Sometimes the words are practically meaningless, which makes matters worse. It’s been a process of growing to understand and learning to live out the truth that sometimes being silent is okay. In fact, being still is a sign of maturity and security.
Have you ever been riding in a car with someone you don’t know very well and an awkward silence descends on the vehicle? In those situations, I tend to go inward freak-out mode and start filling the space with unnecessary conversation. The truth is, the better you know the other person in the silent vehicle, the more at rest you can be in the quiet. You have nothing to prove. Nothing to say that’s earth shattering. Just sitting there doesn’t bother you because you are secure in your own skin and at rest with this other person.
Today is one of those days when I am hypothetically in an enclosed area with a quiet Friend. I know He is fully aware of ALL my flaws and loves me anyway. He knows me better than anyone in the world and somehow I feel the need to fill the silence with pointless words. I can see His Fatherly smile upon me as I chatter away nervously. His face says it all. To just be at rest in His Presence. To just sit and soak in all the things He has told me over and over. Even when He doesn’t speak them right now, I know they are true. His promises never change because HE never changes.
Today in my favorite coffee shop I am reminded that His voice is sweeter after the silence. Until then, I will lean in with anticipation and rest in His Presence. Content to ride along with Him in the quietness. One day soon, His voice will split the silence and the sound will make my heart sing.
The wilderness experiences of life create a special hunger in my soul for Jesus. What about you?
It’s that time of year again…when every store is decorating in red and pink hearts. Chocolate screams at you from every corner and the card section makes your eyes bug out of their sockets with an over-attention to a certain color palette. I have friends who have dubbed Valentine’s Day as “National Singleness Awareness Day” and I can see why.
I noticed this year how many people are moaning about their lack of love. Or their lack of a lover. Or how dejected they feel because they are spending yet ANOTHER Valentine’s Day without a ring on their finger, or a guy period. We talk about “surviving” the day like we are only a whole person with a second half. (Reminder dear friends: God made you to be whole with Him. Until He tells you otherwise, be content and whole with just Him.) And have mercy people! If you aren’t thick skinned, don’t get on social media today! Love is in the air…or in the cloud or something.
Now all of that ranting probably sounded uncompassionate. I’m not trying to be. I just think we as a culture are far too selfish, myself included. I’m not a person unaffected by the voices around me. The truth is, this is my 31st Valentine’s Day and I’ve never had a beau. Not even once. So…I get the initial thought pattern, to feel sorry for yourself on a Hallmark holiday as sweet as this one.
Today I worked half a day in the office and took the rest of the day to go on an early date with my Valentine. Usually I meet with Jesus for a few hours on Friday mornings, but this week I figured it would be appropriate to spend some time with the Lover of my soul on February 14th, even if it was a Thursday.
I’ve been unusually happy this morning. And it’s not because I’m looking forward to dinner with a sweetheart or I know I’ll get chocolate later…I will get neither. My joy comes from realizing the parallel between a day focused on the one who loves you and knowing Who really loves me.
My Valentine doesn’t buy me roses; He paints the sunsets. He doesn’t get me chocolate; He gives me the sweetness of relationships with my family and closest friends. He doesn’t take me to dinner; He invites me to a continual feast of His goodness. He doesn’t plan an outing for me; He compels me to join Him on the adventure of a lifetime! He knows me better than anyone in the world and still loves me.
I’ve spent most of my Valentine’s Days curled up on a couch reading to someone else’s kids. Single people make great babysitters since we have no other plans for today anyway. You know what? I LOVE IT. I love that I am in a season where I can support the marriages around me by giving them a night away from greasy fingers, tugs on the pant legs and wearing spit up on their shirts. Why not use my Valentine’s Days to love someone’s kids?
This is what makes the world go ‘round, folks. People need each other. Not just people in the same stage of life…people in various ages and stages that fit together like a beautiful puzzle. Married people need single people to watch their kids on Valentine’s Day and single people need to borrow married people’s kids when we get “baby-fever”. We need each other for more than that, but that’s just one example.
I keep thinking of Jesus today…more than usual. He can become all-consuming the more you get to know Him. There’s no one like Him. Every other lover pales in comparison. Who else can claim perfection except Jesus? He is so beautiful, y’all. Today I’ve been in awe of His love, mercy and redemption all over again. That He would pick a regular girl like me. That He would love me when I’m unlovable and choose me despite my inadequacies. He keeps whispering His love to me through every gentle breeze and answered prayer. Come to think of it, I’m kinda spoiled…
“Yahweh your God is among you, a warrior who saves. He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will bring you quietness with His love. He will delight in you with shouts of joy.” Zephaniah 3:17 HCSB
Best. Valentine. Ever.
“I’ve made a mess of my life.”
The woman sitting in front of me tried blinking back the tears to no avail. They slid down her cheeks and I could see she was wearing shame like a garment.
I’ve heard this statement a hundred times in prison. This time, I heard differently.
I could see into her hopeless heart. Craving meaning when her life was a train wreck. Crying out for purpose in the craziness she had created with her own hands. This woman was older than my mama and carried a story that no human should ever bear. Raised in a Christian home, knowing the right things to say at the right time, and yet still…she was here. She had walked a path that ended her locked up behind rows of barbed wire and concrete walls for longer than she wanted to admit.
“I’m not supposed to be here. I should be dead. Why would God waste His time on me?”
Her shame and guilt were palpable. I could see it in her shaking hands, sweaty brow and the salty tears streaming down her face. She felt like damaged goods. Hopeless. Unwanted.
What she didn’t realize is that two thousand years ago, the God of Creation saw this moment and chose a cross so He could rescue her from herself.
I reached out to grab her hand. “You wanna know? You wanna really know why you’re in here?” My question seemed to startle her a little, like I was about to give her a verbal pounding about all the ways she had blown it. For the first time in our conversation, her eyes met mine and her face softened. I hope she saw Love there…because that’s what I felt inside. Compassion.
She stared at be blankly, so I took that as a yes.
“It’s called MERCY. Jesus didn’t want to leave you out there in your sin. It’s His MERCY that brought you here so you could know that He loves you and wants to walk with you. He can use your brokenness for His good. He can redeem the years the locusts have eaten.”
The tears came faster now, more like sobs welling up from inside her deepest gut. “Your story doesn’t scare Him. Your past doesn’t define you. He loved you so much that He didn’t want to leave you to destroy yourself out there. This is His mercy.” I recounted the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to her…how God’s mercy is what drove them from the Garden so they wouldn’t live in sin, separated from God forever. His mercy and compassion put them out of the Garden so they could one day partake of redemption.
Then He sent Jesus to be the payment for the sins we couldn’t clean off ourselves. He did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. That’s mercy and grace.
There are moments in life when you can actually see the light bulb go on inside someone’s else and this was one of those moments.
“It was mercy….” She whispered. I could see it welling up in her…the gratitude. She was connecting the dots, that the God of the Universe, the One who she had known about since a little child, had never stopped pursuing her wandering heart. He kept chasing her. Kept calling her name. Relentless love.
Her voice stopped quivering. “It was MERCY,” she said louder, “It WAS mercy!” She looked me straight in the eyes, “He. Is. So. Merciful,” she said. I nodded and smiled. She dropped my hand, wiped the tears from her face with her sleeve and lifted her hands in the air. “It was MERCY that brought me here! Mercy! Amen! What a good word! It was Mercy! Oh, thank you Jesus. It was mercy.”
Suddenly, she went into worship mode…seeing Mercy will do that to you. There she was with tears coming down her face, hands lifted up, praising God for His mercy.
Now I was the one with tears sliding down my cheeks. I wanted to take my shoes off, because THIS was holy ground.
Mercy is beautiful, friends.
She got it. She understood that the perhaps the most merciful thing God could do for her would be to bring her to the end of herself and to a place where she had to look at Him and no one else. Years of toxic relationships and emotional let-downs made His unconditional love stand out like a beacon of hope in a desperate world.
When is the last time you got a good look at mercy? To sit in awe of what God has rescued you from?
In prison last month, I saw Mercy reach down and rescue a woman who thought she was worthless. I saw Him hold her face in His hands and whisper the truth to her trembling heart: that He couldn’t stand living without her, so He died on a cross two thousand years ago so that He could redeem her. So they could forever be together. She was in awe of that kind of love…and she could hardly fathom she was worth that much to Him.
So are you.
It’s called Mercy.
“I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust ate, the young locust, the destroying locust—my great army that I sent against you. You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied. You will praise the name of Yahweh your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. My people will never again be put to shame. You will know that I am present in Israel and that I am Yahweh your God, and there is no other. My people will never again be put to shame.” Joel 2:25-27 HCSB
“Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born, I sanctified you…” (Jeremiah 1:5, NKJV)
When I was a little girl and up into my teens, I spent a lot of time struggling through how to life out my God-given femininity. It’s not that I wanted to be a boy necessarily…but I just struggled with being a girly-girl.
Some of this was because I was the only girl in my family (at the time). My playmates were my brothers and their friends. I loved climbing trees, playing Cowboys and Indians, and jumping ramps with my bike. I got dirty and played hard. I liked fishing with worms and target shooting with bows and arrows. One time I even remember rubbing dandelions and mulberries all over my face with my brothers and their friends like Indian war paint. Unfortunately, that wasn’t one of our best ideas…especially since it was right before Wednesday Awana classes.
But there was this other side of me…this princess side. I loved to dress up and have tea parties. I loved singing and playing with dolls and wearing high-heels. I liked jewelry and flowers and pretty things. I loved reading books about princesses and looking at pictures of far off places with fine china and ball gowns. I loved being beautiful.
I was forever caught between the two worlds…of hard play in the dirt with my bros and dainty tea time with my dress up outfits.
Becoming a teen didn’t simplify the problem either. I mean, let’s face it, there’s not a whole lot of easy stuff in your teen years. It’s pretty much rough to the core stuff. Figuring out who you are and what you believe are challenging issues to face. So, I came to this crossroads in my teen years…what was I going to do with my femininity? Don’t get me wrong, I never hated God for making me a girl…it’s just that I didn’t embrace it. I was more into surviving instead of thriving.
I remember being sixteen years old and looking in the mirror one morning and asking myself, “Faith, why did God make you a girl?” It wasn’t a rebellious question. It was honest. I knew if I could understand why God chose to make me feminine, then a whole lot of dots would connect for me. What did God want of me? Since He made me a girl, how should I respond to that? What did it mean to be a girl? To be feminine?
Let’s be honest girls, we all have this little thing inside of us that wants to be beautiful. To be loved. To twirl our dresses in front of our Daddy and to hear Him say how pretty we are. It’s in us. We long for affirmation. We are drawn to beautiful things. Don’t you think there’s a reason?
Psalm 90:17, “and let the beauty of the Lord our God be upon us…”
1 Chronicles 16:29, “Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name…worship Him in the beauty of holiness.”
Psalm 27:4, “One thing have I desired of the Lord, that will I seek after; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in His temple.”
We are drawn to beauty because we were made to crave JESUS. We were created to be drawn to the beauty of the Lord. We want to reflect that beauty. To be like Him.
These questions drove me to the Word of God….and what I found in the pages of Scripture have forever changed my life. I camped out at Psalm 139, reading it over and over. Trying to internalize its message. What I discovered was Purpose, and Meaning, and Value.
“You formed my inward parts; you covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Marvelous are thy works, and that my soul knows right well.” (Psalm 139:13-14) God made me beautiful.
Here’s some wonderful Bible trivia: If you ever want a fascinating study, look up who God calls beautiful or “fair” in Scripture. Since He wrote the Bible through His Spirit, you can bank on these gals being beautiful! I’ve found ten mentions in the whole Bible. Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, Abigail, Bathsheba, Tamar (Absolam’s sister), Tamar (Absolam’s daughter), Vashti, Esther, and Job’s second set of daughters. Check it out! It’s an amazing study. I especially love Job 42:15. Wow, what a thing for God to say of you!
Beauty is important. Femininity is important. They are who you are made to be. You see, what you believe about yourself will shape your purpose in life. We all need purpose to thrive. I love the verse in Jeremiah where God speaks truth to a young, quivering heart. A teenager at the time, Jeremiah was having an identity crisis too. He wasn’t sure if God really knew who He was choosing…then God says, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you; before you were born, I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5, NKJV) At the beginning of time, God chose Jeremiah ON PURPOSE. He hand -picked Jeremiah before He made him in the womb. Seriously. Stop and chew on that for a minute.
I used to think that being feminine meant wearing white gloves and letting the servants pour your coffee. I used to believe that femininity was the same as weakness. But what I found was the opposite…being a Godly woman in the world we live in takes a powerful kind of strength. In fact, I think being truly feminine, as God would have us be, takes MORE strength than being a normal gal. (Going with the flow is always easier, right?!) Femininity loves being a girl! Femininity is accepting the design that God has engraved on our very being…and it starts in the heart.
So, there I was at 16 years old, realizing that since God made me girl…that must mean my femininity was the best way He could show up in my life for His glory. That changes everything, friend. Everything. He made me a girl ON PURPOSE and chose me to be a reflection of His beauty. He made me 100% feminine and colorful and beautiful and womanly. Now it was my turn to be asked a question, “What are you going to do with your femininity?”
I remember the lightbulb turning on that year for me. Instead of just dealing with myself, I began EMBRACING my femininity. I suddenly wanted to look like a girl. When boys or guys tried to hurl insults like “you throw like a girl” or “you fight like a girl”, I could grin and say to them “you bet I do!” I meant it. No, it didn’t happen overnight, but it did happen. Slowly, God replaced my feelings of insecurity and frustration with joy and love for the girl He had made me. Don’t get me wrong, femininity doesn’t mean I can’t go target practice with my brothers, play in mud puddles with my younger siblings, or ride four wheelers…it means my attitude is different…and that changes how I look and respond to life situations. I’m a girl, and I’m glad.
I wonder, have you ever questioned what in the world you were made for? Or maybe why God made you a girl? It’s ok to ask God questions. He’s God and can handle your problems, frustrations, and even anger. Ask Him to show you His purpose for your life. Embrace your femininity.
Quote this to yourself and remember that God is speaking these words right to you…” Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were born, I sanctified you.” Breathe it, sister. Insert your name in there. He makes NO mistakes. You were created beautiful on purpose! Thank Him for making you feminine!
God’s purposes are bigger than ours and sometimes He has a sense of humor. I run into dozens of girls like you every year who tell me they struggle with being a girl. You just want to do fun things like the boys do and it’s frustrating. I hear your voices and I smile. I’ve been there. My heart melts when I meet you and you ask me, “why did God make me a girl?”
It’s in moments like that, I want to hug you big and say to your wondering heart…” Sister, can I tell you” …
He made you a girl so you could be soft hearted like He is.
He made you a girl so you could put bandages on banged up knees and hug people with broken hearts like He does.
He made you a girl because He wanted someone beautiful to reflect His beauty.
He made you a girl so you could be all the things that a man can’t be…like a mom and a big sister and an aunt. He wanted someone who could have a gentle heart towards children, like He does.
He made you a girl because He wanted a warrioress that could be tough in battle and tender with the elderly.
He made you a girl because He loves you and He wanted the best for you.
He wanted a princess…a daughter. So, He made you. You are precious to Him, sweet girl! You are the daughter of the King. Embrace it for all you are and live in it unashamedly. You are beautiful and loved and treasured…. because He made you a girl.
(Originally published for the Polished Cornerstones blog on September 20, 2015.)
For the last five years, I’ve had a yearly motto. At the end of each year, I review what God has taught me. I haven’t learned fully each theme, but I always walk away different, changed and challenged by His call.
Last year was Come To His Table.
2017 was Be Brave.
This year, it’s Be a Door Holder.
Two of the people I have come to admire lately are Louie Giglio and his wife, Shelley. They are both so passionate about Jesus and living fully for His glory. They are also down-to-earth and humble…which doesn’t happen much when you have upwards of 302k followers. Y’all, humility is key to solid leadership…but that’s a topic for another day. I’ve watched them live their lives out (from a distance obviously, they aren’t my next-door neighbors) and have learned from their hearts to be present for those in their corner and then watch God expand their ministry all over the world.
Which brings me to my subject at hand: Being a door holder. In his Instagram bio, Louie says one thing… “Happy to be a door holder.” That’s it. I can’t tell you how many minutes I spent trying to nail down my Instagram bio. Seriously. I wanted to cram in everything that I loved and what I did and so I labored over those 100 characters far too long. Then this guy who could say way more than I ever could, says six words.
Happy to be a door holder. Six powerful words. The cool thing is Louie’s bio doesn’t point to him, it points to the Jesus he serves. Louie is just holding the door for people to get to Jesus. And he’s happy to do it. He just keeps pointing to this God who is powerful, redeeming, and full of mercy. He is holy and gracious and loving.
I can picture Louie Giglio like that… standing at the door of God’s house and motioning people to come in. If you’ve ever heard him speak, you know that his words do just that. They motion people to come to Jesus.
Literally the whole point of my life isn’t to make a name for myself. It’s not even to build a legacy. I was created to point to a living God who loves and lives to rescue and redeem.
I’m one of those weird young people who thinks about what I want people to write on my epitaph one day. I know, call me strange. I have one friend who says I have an “old soul”. She meant it as a compliment, so I took it as such. Anyhow…I think about death and heaven a lot for a thirty-year-old. Not in a morbid way, but life is short and death is certain, so I think about it often. What would I want written on my tombstone?
How about: “Just a road sign pointing to Jesus”?
I realize I’ve written about this before, but this time it’s being woven into the fabric of who I am. God keep reminding me that everything is about HIM, I’m just a tool in His hand. I’m to create hunger in people for Jesus, but not steal His thunder. I’m literally just a road sign…pointing to the Real Attraction.
I want to live 2019 that way…pointing to Jesus, and if I get to the end of the year and no one I talked to remembers my name, but they remember HIS…it will be a good year.
This year, I want to learn to be a Door Holder.
“For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” Psalm 84:10 ESV
Over the past year, my theme has been “Come to His Table”. For twelve solid months I’ve reflected on this concept. I’ve dug into His Word and God has opened my eyes to places where He is working and shown me what it is like to invite others to Him. He’s been so faithful and patient to illuminate His heart for the hurting and broken.
So now at the end of 2018, I’ve done some serious reflection about what I’ve learned about His Table. I feel like I’ve spent a year sitting at a Table for two…Jesus and I. We’ve had a lot of conversations. We’ve talked around the world. We have walked a scary and strange road together. Jesus has opened my eyes to new concepts and readjusted my thought-patterns a thousand times. He has listened to my heart and dried my tears. He has comforted my fearful soul and challenged me to dream bigger. His Table has been a place of loving correction and exciting conversation. It has been a place that I long to go.
I’ve found peace at His Table. There have been times when I’ve felt so discombobulated and knew I needed His Table desperately. It’s been those times where I’ve RAN THERE and found exactly what I was looking for. This year I’ve learned the importance of His Table, so I’ve made time for Him more often. I’m learning how critical it is for me to get to His Table often and regularly, so I make it a priority.
I’ve learned a thousand things at His Table and ABOUT His Table… but here are seven of the biggest things I’ve learned in 2018:
This year has been powerful. In fact, I look over the past year and know that I am a radically different woman than the one who started 2018. Challenging, stretching and with tons of opportunities to lean into Jesus because I was hopeless on my own…but it was a year I wouldn’t trade for the world. Maybe every year is supposed to be that way.
I’m grateful for this theme — Come to His Table — it’s shown me a side of God’s character that is amazing. Many of the truths I’ve learned at His Table these last twelve months have been woven into the fabric of my being as I learn to apply them and see a little more of Who Jesus is. He is beautiful, friends. So beautiful.
This is one of my favorite times of year. I’ve spent most of my growing up years in the North with snowy, white Christmases and lots of sledding and hot cocoa. I’ve also had several Southern winters (shout out to my favorite Arkansans!) where snow is rare and when it comes, the whole world shuts down.
This season is my favorite for a bunch of reasons, but sometimes it’s fun to make a list (I love lists!) of my favorite things. Even writing them here brings a smile to my face…
Christmas is a time to remember JESUS, the ultimate Gift. A God who loved us so much that He humbled Himself and moved into our neighborhood. He chose to be with us. He wrapped Himself in human skin and spoke our language. Creator of the universe became a Baby so we would understand LOVE and REDEMPTION.
Tonight I sit and wonder at His faithfulness and kindness. He gives good gifts.
(photo credits: Charity F. Walker, Life Through The Lens Photography)
“The thrill of Hope, a weary world rejoices” the all-too familiar carol lilting out on the radio. I say “all-too familiar” because sometimes familiarity breeds contempt. I often miss the big picture with things that are right under my nose or staring me directly in the eyes. Yesterday, those words seem to hang in the air.
Anticipation. Waiting. Being in the limbo.
These are feelings I’ve seemed to connect with a lot lately. In this moment, with those words dancing in my head, I started wondering. The Thrill of Hope. Is there thrill in the hope of something to come? Or have I ceased to allow anticipation to ride on the same thread that I experience wondering and waiting? Have I made the unknown so scary in my mind that I don’t consider the fact that it could bring JOY?
I’ve told more than one friend that my default setting is definitely FEAR. If it’s potentially exciting…I get scared. If it’s potentially hard…I get nauseous. If I’m unsure of the outcome, I’m fearful. Jesus is working hard to recalibrate and change my default setting…but it’s a process of renewing my mind and TRUSTING Him.
Anticipation. I wonder what the emotions were for young Mary as she waited on the birth of her Son and Savior? Was there any fear? Excitement? Worry? Curiosity? How about anticipation?
There is wonder in waiting.
Yesterday I read Psalm 37 and the words of truth resonated in my heart: “Trust in the Lord and do what is good; dwell in the land and live securely. Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you your heart’s desires. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him, and He will act, making your righteousness shine like the dawn, and your justice like the noonday. Be silent before the Lord and wait expectantly for Him; do not be agitated by the one who prospers in his way, by the man who carries out evil plans.” (verses 3-7, HCSB)
The word EXPECTANTLY hit me between the eyes. There can be hope in Anticipation. It can be a good thing. To look full into the face of change with hope and joyful anticipation. Maybe I’m the only one who looks at change as a bad thing…but I tend to fear change instead of welcoming it with open arms as I would a good friend. Let’s face it, change is sent by God to mold us into His image. Why wouldn’t I want to give Change a hand shake and a seat at my table? Embracing change is a sign of maturity. Apparently, I’m not there yet.
If I’m honest, I live like the verse reads very differently: “Be scared-to-death before the Lord and wait in freak-out mode for Him” because that’s what I do. I seem to often think negative. As if Jesus is out to ruin my life. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Yesterday I sat at a coffee shop table and argued with God for a while. I just couldn’t calm my fearful soul. Then in a moment, Jesus gave me a word picture: I saw the eyes of a child during this time of year. The wonder. The lights, the decorations, the wrapped presents under the tree, the special Christmas cookies and the music. I’ve never once seen a child who is afraid of what is beneath the wrapping paper…they are excited and full of hope. They can’t wait to see what’s inside. The wonder and expectation.
I realize I’m looking at this all wrong. I can see myself sitting and Jesus stands in front of me with a wrapped gift extended in His pierced hands. It’s beautiful and sparkly and I see the look of complete delight on His face. He is thrilled to give this to me. Then I see my face: frightened beyond all definition and my hands are trembling as a take it from His hands. Something just doesn’t set well.
This word picture stuns me. Am I really responding to Jesus like this? As if He doesn’t know what I need. The things I’m fearing? The change I’m afraid of? He knows. He understands me better than I understand myself. He has my good and His glory in mind. This wrapped gift is full of unknown possibilities for me. The good and the bad wrapped together, but it’s a change that I need to receive with hopeful expectation.
What if I received this unknown gift with wonder in my eyes? Knowing full-well that He does all things well and will walk this road with me…unwrapping this gift along the way. I want to be a child again, jumping up and down with glee at the thought of what He has in store for me.
Yes, there is wonder in the waiting. We serve a God of mystery, and with each paper-covered present, we have the opportunity to unwrap part of His character that we may otherwise not know. That sounds exciting to me!
Today I decided that I want to wait expectantly for Jesus. The thrill of hope. He has great plans for me. He gives good gifts. I want to have wonder in the waiting.
Thessalonians 5:18, “In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.”
Gratefulness. Praise. Thanksgiving. We have all heard it over and over again. We’ve read books about it. We’ve heard sermons on it. We’ve told our friends and they’ve told us. We know that God wants us to praise Him and be grateful on a daily basis. Yet somehow, in the crazy lives we live, we forget. Often. At least I do.
About six years ago, I read a book that put this gratefulness thing into a whole new perspective for me. The book is called “One thousand Gifts” by Ann Voskamp. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the connection between my gratefulness (or lack of it) and my heart’s joy level. I’ve lived it’s truth, so I knew it wasn’t a made-up correlation. When I am grateful, I am naturally joyful. Somehow focusing on the gifts God has given me turns my attitude to joy.
So I decided to take the challenge. I chose to write down 1,000 gifts.
I started a beautiful notebook….and I kept it laying on the counter as I went about my day. I took it in my purse when I was gone. It went with me on vacation. That journal was with me constantly. I found (as I had learned through Scripture and Ann’s book) that being thankful made me joyful. It made me mindful of all the little things and made me laugh and smile at the simplest gifts. I saw it as a spiritual exercise. A forming of a habit that would bring glory and praise to Jesus.
My first entires were all happy ones.
The inviting smell of peppermint mocha… Old family photographs- wrinkled and worn…Candle flames, dancing in the shadows…American flags flapping in the breeze…Church bells that ring twice a day… Spring flowers blooming….empty laundry baskets.
All of a sudden I treasured the smile of a stranger. I loved the first daffodil that bloomed…the rainbow that arched across the sky…the sunset…the eyelashes on a baby…a stack of old books. I went from grumbling about the mud on the floor to thanking God for it. I was smiling more. I was laughing often. I was breathing thanks a hundred times a day. I was LOOKING for His graces in all the normal, but beautiful everyday things. My heart praised Him often.
This was a turning point for me. Something happened as I chronicled Gods fathomless love for me. My heart was changing. Life was shifting. Through this shift, I began thanking God for the less pleasant things. The G key that sticks on the piano…Sloppy muddy driveways… A broken furnace… Sickness in our home… Broken glass… Ramen noodles smashed into the floor… Spilled beads everywhere.
The good and the bad together. He says to praise Him for all things. ALL. Garden gloves… Dead cell phone batteries… Long afternoons of reading… Empty laundry baskets… Homemade pies… Oily work clothes from my brothers… Cold sleet outside… Being snowed in… Fresh strawberries… Old quilts.
Sometimes I would get so excited about seeing gifts of God that I would grab anything I could find and scribble my thanks on it. Then I would take it home and transfer it to my journal. I had stacks of random receipts, small scraps of paper and McDonalds napkins all with things I was grateful for. Sometimes we would even write our blessings on little sticky notes and cover the refrigerator with them. My journal hit 1,000 gifts…but then I couldn’t stop! My heart became fuller…because my focus was on Him. His goodness. His grace. His love for me.
But sometimes in life, our focus can shift. It happens that way for me. A few years ago, I was in one of those ruts where gratefulness was really not a part of my daily routine. Enter my youngest sister…again. She has a way of pricking my conscience so innocently. Her honest tenderness to the Holy Spirit has convicted me more than once. So I was playing the piano, practicing some music for Sunday worship and she came up to me with that thoughtful look in her eyes. I knew something big was coming…but I didn’t know what. It was time for a wake up call.
“Are you ever afraid to raise your hands?” She asked me. I was a little confused. She didn’t give me any background to her line of questioning. After a minute of questioning she kind of sighed in her seven-year-old way and said, “I am afraid to raise my hands and praise the Lord in church. Are you ever afraid like that? I think about people watching me.” Wow. Ok. Not ready for that one from a little girl. Now it was my turn to sigh.
I had to admit…yes, I am afraid sometimes to praise the Lord out loud or in the open. I fear man more than God sometimes. I assured her that I feel those same things and that God is jealous for our praise. He wants us to glorify Him…to think of Him more than what other people are thinking of us. We talked for a minute about the Bible and how God says to lift our hands in praise and sing songs to Him….but I kept thinking about me. I needed to thank Him more. To praise Him bigger. To love Him more than anything.
But what came next knocked the wind out of me. I could see this seven-year-old in front of me processing this in her little way. She is brilliant and sensitive to the Lord…I could see it all clicking. She almost looked sad…like she had done something wrong. She told me how she had wanted to raise her hands during worship, but she was too scared. I echoed that thought. I’ve been there…just not at seven. “You know,” she said, “this Sunday, I am NOT going to let the rocks take my place!” Her eyes were serious. Determined. Then she started singing to explain. “Before the rocks cry out, I just want to praise you, just want to praise you, for all you have done.”
Suddenly, I felt like I was standing on Holy ground. God was here. I held back to tears. This moment was so sacred. My heart was full…and sad. I was the one the rocks were replacing! I was neglecting to thank Him. To praise His name. To tell others. To chronicle His love to me. I had forgotten the most important thing…Him. She ran away with a bounce in her step. I sat there heavy.
That was my neon sign from heaven! I went to the Lord…repenting of my ungratefulness and asking Him to create in me a clean heart. I started counting blessings again. Thanking Him. Looking for Him everywhere I went.
What about you? Are you worshipping Him? Thanking Him? Praising Him? Lets make His glory a daily part of our lives. There are lots of ways we can do that…maybe through sharing about Jesus with a friend, through worshipping Him in song, through praising Hin in prayer or through writing your blessings down. Let’s have hearts of gratefulness to our Father!
“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before His presence with singing…Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful into Him and bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations.” Psalm 100:1-2, 4-5
Caregiving wasn’t ever something I asked for or signed up for or chose. Each time I took care of a lady, the opportunity just fell into my lap because they were women I loved. Jesus would whisper His famous question to my heart and I would know: this was for me. He would ask me- “Faith, do you trust Me?” That’s always my signal that He’s about to lead me somewhere that is good, but will scare my socks off.
Each caregiving experience is totally different from another. Each person has taught me many things and changed who I am dramatically. They have trained me to lean into Jesus in deeper ways and challenged me to open my heart again, even if it means the end of the road is loss. Both of my long-term caregiving opportunities have molded me into the person I am today and (as painful as they were for me to learn to love fully and then let go) I wouldn’t trade either of them for a world of ease. I treasure those days of learning and growing and crying and hearing the whisper of God- “I will hold you.”
Tonight, I sit and reflect about my second caregiving experience…with 98-year-old “Grandma N”. My sister and I took turns staying with Grandma each night and learned to love her like part of our family. She was hilarious, quick-witted, and thoughtful. She made me laugh every time I was with her. Even on her worse days, she never lost her sense of humor.
We had a routine at night of old-time shows and tv, popcorn and loud conversations (because she rarely had her hearing aids in). We learned to calm her fears about random things. Dementia does strange things to your mind, and we slowly learned to navigate the challenges of communicating with her in a way that she felt safe and stable.
Grandma taught me a lot about being still. Just being. Being present in the lives of those you love, but not always moving. My life has always been fairly active and loud and full-to-the-brim. Life with Grandma was a shuffle-pace at best. On really bad days, it meant sitting in a chair and being willing to just listen to her breath as she went in and out of sleep. I read a lot of books during those nine months. She taught me to sit still and value the silence and the presence of someone else you love…just being in the room. She loved having us there. Just having us there made her happy. She told us that repeatedly.
About a year before she went to heaven, I penned these words in my journal:
Today…she was slumped over in a chair, sleeping fitfully. I tried to wake her…but she didn’t stir easily. When she did wake up, she could hardly stay awake for more than two or three minutes and her speech didn’t make a lot of sense. Her eyes were glassy. Her body twitched. Her breaths came heavy and labored.
I haven’t ever seen the Angel of Death, but I seemed to smell him tonight. It was as if he was waiting at the side of that chair or hovering over the area. I’m not saying I felt creepy. I just felt fragile. Like I was helpless and couldn’t do a thing for this dying lady I love.
Life is fragile. Life is a vapor. We aren’t guaranteed tomorrow. Death is really just a breath away.
I watched her struggle to keep her eyelids open. To straighten herself in the chair. To carry on a real conversation. But she couldn’t. She was tired and her body was shutting down.
It’s difficult to explain what I felt like in that moment. To be so full of life and energy and still unable to help someone.
And then as I got up to leave, she stirred. Her nearly hundred-year-old body jarring awake for just a few moments. And then it came…the seven words that never failed to roll off her tongue every time someone visits. “Don’t need to be in a hurry.” I almost started at it this time. She was dying. But the habit of slowing down was ingrained in the fiber of her very being.
Hurry. That’s what keeps me from enjoying life almost every day of my life. And here’s this lady…dying and reminding me at the same time to take a minute. To breathe. To slow down my pace a bit. To not hurry.
Yes, Grandma taught me to value stillness. To sit and listen. To BE and treasure the presence of those I love more than the going and doing. She taught me to not hurry. To be patient. To be okay with waiting and pausing to watch a sunset or eat an ice cream on the front porch. She even taught me that in a pinch, instant coffee will do. One can’t be too picky, when you’re in a pinch.
Patience is lost in our culture. In Grandma’s era, people valued relationship more than status…she wasted no time in telling me such. She knew the truth about what was and is really important in this life, and she made a point to teach me the value of slowing down and enjoying life with those around me.
Grandma went to be with Jesus on August 20th, 2018 and I miss her. Tonight I breathe thanks for a life well-lived. She taught me by example to live aware of each moment. To not rush and to treasure the times we have with our family and friends. I sit and ponder this season of Hope we are entering and pray that God will keep my eyes wide open to the opportunities I have to BE with those I love. With Christmas gatherings around every corner, I want to be fully present and willing to listen and be with my people.
Sitting here on this December night, I hear Grandma’s voice ringing in my ears again: “Don’t need to be in a hurry.” Aahh. The wisdom of a 98-year-old woman sinks into my soul. Hurry is overrated. Let’s just BE AVAILABLE and BE PRESENT and BE LOVE…I think Jesus would agree with Grandma. We don’t need to be in a hurry.