Peace and the heart of Christmas

This Christmas, we are celebrating with not just one, but two new kittens in our family.

Every  morning I check to see what they got into during the night.  Which ornament, which light strand, which bit of garland, which wise man have  they pulled down or knocked down.

I have stopped one kitten from climbing up the middle of our Christmas tree on several occasions and rescued this same kitten when his claws got stuck to the garland and lights strung over a door.  He was hanging from them like a mountain climber repelling off a mountain.

Wrapping paper is their favorite closely followed by empty boxes and ornament hooks that they’ve detached from the ornaments they’ve knocked to the ground.

Oh, Christmas is a wonder of excitement to these two little guys and they are certainly keeping me on my toes.

They are also prodding my heart about something:

The purpose of Christmas, the very heart of God’s heart in sending His Son, is peace.  It is RECONCILIATION.

We adopted our new kittens from the Humane Society.  They apparently had been dropped off at the shelter together.  They spent time in a cage together there before spending the next several weeks of their lives on display at a pet store in a different cage—still together.

We kept going to the pet store for supplies for our other animals and seeing these two playful kittens.  Why weren’t they getting adopted?

Finally, we decided we needed to be their family only to learn as we signed our name to the adoption papers that others had been interested in taking one of the kittens, but never both of them.  Until us.

That was what the Humane Society had been looking for the whole time, a family who wanted to keep the kittens together since they’d never been apart.

And we see this at work in these little guys.  The very first week we brought them home, they were getting bolder, adventuring into new places around our house.

Then we heard the crying.  It was the saddest, quickest succession of meows we had ever heard, not  a hurt cry, but a deeply sad cry.  One lone kitten walked by, meowing as he searched from room to room for the other kitten.

Even now, after almost four months with us, if one kitten can’t find the other kitten, we hear the crying and we watch the searching.

I’ve been meditating this Christmas season on God’s heart for Christmas, the lengths He went through to reach us and bring us back to Him.  His divine plan initiated in the Garden of Eden was this:  the moment we chose sin, He made provision for grace.  He began preparing the world for its Savior, Jesus Christ, to bring reconciliation.

Then the appointed time came, after waiting and waiting, after anticipation and heartbreak, after God’s faithfulness despite His people’s unfaithfulness.

Jesus was born, a tiny helpless baby born to a poor,  seemingly insignificant couple in the lowest of circumstances—surrounded by animals, hay, and the scent of a barn.

The angels rang out the Good News:

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14 NASB)

The prophet Isaiah had promised that He would be the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6).

Peace.

Jesus brought peace, and Jesus is still bringing that yet-to-be-attained peace.  

He brought us peace with God.  Paul says Jesus was God’s gift of reconciliation to the world:

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation ( 2 Corinthians 5:18-29 NLT)

We were divided from God, cut off from His presence.  Sin disrupted our relationship with Him, but grace bridged the gap.   Through Jesus, we can be at peace with God.

So He sends us to bring that peace to others:

Paul tells us that God brought us peace, so we now bring peace.  We are ambassadors to the world, carrying the message and ministry of reconciliation so that others can be made right with God.

And He commissions us as peacemakers:

Jesus’s heart is for peace:  Peace between us and God, peace between us and others.  He says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9 NASB).

Peace is the heart of our Prince of Peace.
Is it mine? 

Peace is the fruit I bear when the Spirit is at work within me. 
Am I bearing this fruit?

Peace-making is a sure sign that I am His Child.
Can others see His heart for peace in me?

There was evening and there was morning

My son is holding me to a very strict Christmas decorating regimen this year and I  am not meeting his deadlines.

But, he’s five and excited, so I don’t fret too much.  I want the house decorated,  too, and I understand all the anticipation and expectation.

Normally, I am a weekend-after Thanksgiving decorator when it comes  to Christmas.

But this year,  some family traveling changed our routine a bit.  I wasn’t even home to start decking the halls until Sunday afternoon and by then I was already behind my son’s schedule.

Why in the world was our tree not up the moment Thanksgiving ended?  That’s what he wanted to  know.

Perhaps he expected little Christmas decorating elves to apply themselves to the task while we were away.  In fact, that’d be a sweet surprise for me,  too!

Alas, no elves strung the lights or hung the stockings and garland.  So, that meant working away bit by bit, light strand by light strand with one consistent periodic interruption from my taskmaster 5-year-old:   “Are the lights up yet?  Where are the lights?  When will the lights be done?”

What  my son doesn’t fully understand is this is all a process: The cleaning up of Thanksgiving decorations, the unpacking of Christmas decorations, putting the tree up and pulling out the ladder to decorate outside, checking light strands and replacing burnt out bulbs, untangling garland, finding extension cords and plugging everything in.

It’s not a snap my fingers and voila kind of  thing.  It’s working away, little by little, with patience until there is light and beauty and Christmas.

And this is the way, isn’t it?  Most  of the time we just want the light and we want the light now.  We tire easily of delays, of waiting, of tension or difficulty.

Giving up on hope feels easier than continuing to look for redemption.

Here’s the truth built  into the very structure of creation, though, and this is what we fight against, but this is what is nevertheless true:

First there is evening.  Then there is morning.

First there is the waiting.  Then there is the sunrise.

First there is dark.  Then there is light.

First there is the resting in the Lord.  Then there is His miraculous provision of sun, of light, of hope fulfilled, of redemption and of His glory.

Genesis 1 peals out  this reminder like  a relentless echo, every single day of creation ends in the same way:

“And there was evening and there was morning” (Genesis 1:5 NASB).

Every day, God’s acts of creation ended the same:   Evening.  Morning.

Never the other way around.  Never the light first, the glory first, the joy first,  the fulfillment first.  Always the investment of walking and waiting through the dark of night until  God delivers with the morning dawn.

And He does deliver.  So, we have that  consistent assurance in creation itself that yes, this is darkness right now and it is hard to have faith, yes it looks  bleak, it’s heartbreaking and difficult,  yes you are weary and maybe frightened to your very core or overwhelmed because you simply cannot see….

But this:  “There was morning.”

There  will be morning.

Eugene Peterson describes this as “victory of God’s light.”

He said:

God’s day is not complete  until light shines again, penetrating the darkness and dispersing the shadows.  The creative action of God is light, which encloses and limits a temporary darkness…The shadows are there–night descends upon life–and there is that which seems to defy God, to disturb his order and his purpose: sickness, death,  trouble, and sorrow. But it does not have the last word:  ‘And there  was morning, one day.’ (Every Step an Arrival)

We have the promise also that even when we feel blind and abandoned in the dark places, God sees through.  Before we can ever see Him, He sees us—He always sees us.

The Psalmist said:

“Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You” (Psalm 139:12 NASB)

I read this explanation  in Barnes’s notes on the Bible:

” things appear dark to us–disappointment, bereavement, trouble, care, losses; but all is light to God.”

It’s all light to Him.

So, maybe I can hold on through the process.  Maybe I can cling a little harder to hope.  Maybe I can wait a little longer before giving up,  before despairing, before looking for an easier way.

Because this isn’t dark to Him.  And because at the end of this, at the end of all of this evening….there will be morning.  There will be light again.

This is where we are

 

I’ve been sending kids to preschool now for nine years.  That’s four kids, three girls and one boy, all with different personalities and obviously different birth order.

I’ll tell you what’s the same .

Being the line leader is a big deal.

A really big deal.

I haven’t ever given birth to a child who apparently finds the end of the line satisfactory.

It’s not just line-leading that my kids love.  It’s also often been about prime seating spots around classroom tables or for morning circle time.

One of my daughters refused to  wear her jacket well into November during her preschool days.  We had a big to-do each morning as we headed out the door to preschool.  I insisted that it  was too cold to go jacket-less; she broke down into hysterics over wearing a jacket.  It took me several weeks to  root out the cause—hanging up her jacket in the morning slowed her down and meant someone else usually sat next to  her best friend at calendar time.  She’d rather freeze or come down with pneumonia rather than give up a place next to  her buddy.

And then there was another daughter who declined to take dance classes for three months because one little girl  always insisted on sitting on the triangle spot instead of taking turns.  After all, sitting on the circle was unsatisfactory.

Prime place, favorite positions, the perfect spot–we want to be where we want to be.

And then, sometimes,  God puts us down in a place we don’t want to be and it’s a stretch to our souls.  Maybe we  feel we could snap with the tension and the pull of the longing versus the reality.

Over there is where we want to be, but this is where we are, and that is hard.

It’s when prayers are  answered with a “no” or the hoped-for doors close in front of us or the one thing we hoped would never ever happen does happen.  It’s loss and grief and brokenness with deep disappointment underneath it  all.

What then?

Today, I re-read Psalm 23 and I remember what my Good Shepherd does:

He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake (Psalm 23:2-3 NASB).

The  Lord my Shepherd guides and leads me, but He isn’t always leading me where it’s cozy or comfy or always convenient.  Instead, He’s leading me in these paths of righteousness “for His name’s sake.”

He’s not working for my pleasure; He’s working for His glory, always for the glory of  His name.  And that means I might end up munching on some  lush grass and drinking down some  cool water. Or I could be walking on paths of righteousness  that are rockier than I’d like them to be or steep or shaded and deep in the valley.

I  have to trust Him, believe deeply and with full assurance that this path He has me on is for His glory and He will lead me where I need to go. He will restore me and refresh me with the meadows and the calm streams when I need them the most.

He will not abandon me.

But I also read this in Jennifer Rothschild’s study, Psalm 23:

I can be wrong even on the right path (p. 99).

It’s not just  trudging along that path of righteousness, begrudging, unhappy,  complaining,  maybe even bitter that makes me right with the Lord.   That may be obedience, but it’s not the obedience God desires—the yielded heart, the trust, the love.

My attitude matters.

Jennifer Rothschild says it this way:

We don’t control the path.  All we control is  our attitude and actions on the path.

So I grieve a little and Jesus understands.  He has compassion for me in the middle of the brokenness.  He is gracious and gentle as I lay down what I hoped for and what I prayed for.

I give it over to Him and I try to follow my Shepherd on this path of righteousness, this hard and rocky path, with a yielded and trusting heart instead of a begrudging or fearful one.

Because He is my Good Shepherd.  And He will  work out even the hardest seasons for the glory of His name.  And it  will be good.  And He will  refresh and renew.  That is who He is and this is what He does.

Giving up or Hanging on to Hope

Giving up can be a curious thing.  I mostly gave up, but not completely, not all the way.

I was talking myself out of hoping and was preaching to my own heart about being realistic and practical.

But at the same time, I couldn’t stop the impulse to search and check and try just one more time.

Our cat escaped from our house on October 31st.  It’s a mystery how he accomplished this feat.  He had once been a master of slipping out the backdoor, but he was younger then.  Now he is over 16 years old and he’s lost all his speed.

My kids and I talked it all through.  Did anyone leave the door open?  Who was the last person to  see him for sure and certain?  Did anyone glimpse him nosing around the door?

We couldn’t figure it out.  No one saw him near the door.  No one remembered the door being left open.  And, we reminded ourselves, he is old and slow.

So, I searched inside and outside for our cat.

I fretted and worried, waking in the night to flick on porch lights and see if he’s returned.  But my inside searches also continued in case he decided at some point  to hide away for a nap and didn’t wake up.   I checked the same closets three and four times and then walked out into the woods behind our house searching for a flash of orange fur.

I worried about not finding him and also worried about my kids finding him if he wasn’t alive.  I worried about what in the world he thought he was doing outside all by himself in the woods somewhere when it’s raining and it’s November and he has almost no teeth left and has a thyroid condition and, by the way, he’s an old cat so what are the chances he’s surviving this?

My kids cried before they went to school in the morning because he didn’t come home in the night.  Then they cried when they get off the bus because he didn’t make it home during the day either.

It was a 48-hour worry fest, the kind that lingers in your stomach so even when you’re not thinking about it, you’re feeling the sickness of it.

Then the phone rang while I was making dinner Friday night.  She was driving down the main road outside of our neighborhood and saw a cat sitting by the side of the road.

She called me,  turned her car around for a better look, and said, “Heather, this is your cat.”

I grabbed my keys.  Pulled dinner off the stove.  Told my kids I was heading out to find our cat and left.

Sure enough, there he was–our Oliver,  hanging out by the side of the road.  After a chase through brambles and woods and around a small creek (he apparently didn’t want to be caught), I held my cat, my old man cat with missing teeth and a thyroid condition—the one I thought couldn’t survive and I had almost given up on.

He’s a survivor, though, this fellow.  He’s a fighting, hanging-on kind of cat.

Maybe, too often, I’m not a fighting, hanging-on kind of woman of faith.

I can so easily get talked out of hoping, too easily convinced that what’s unlikely is actually impossible.

I’m more likely to make exit strategies than to throw down an anchor of hope in the middle of any shaky situation.

But as I ugly cry in my car that night after seeing my cat safely at home again, I feel the clear reminder:

God decides what is impossible or possible.

I read that phrase in my Bible Study Fellowship lesson earlier this year and it’s stuck with me.

Who am I to survey a situation and decide that giving up is the best plan?  That it’s a hopeless mess and too far gone for God to redeem, restore, revive, refresh,  renew or resurrect?

I read this in Isaiah and I linger over the vivid picture of how He brings life in the most unlikely places:

The wilderness and the dry land will be glad;
the desert will rejoice and blossom like a wildflower.
 It will blossom abundantly
and will also rejoice with joy and singing. (Isaiah 35:1-2 CSB). 

A dessert full of wildflowers, blooming with grand and unexpected abundance–that is God’s intention, that’s part of His promise for ultimate redemption.

And He can do this.  He will do this.

In the meantime, for those of us who fear and tremble with all the uncertainty of life in the here-and-now, Isaiah also says this:

Strengthen the weak hands,
steady the shaking knees!
Say to the cowardly:
Be strong; do not fear! (Isaiah 35:3-4 CSB). 

Take heart because God can do impossible things.

Bible Verses about “The Lord is My…”

  • Exodus 15:2 ESV
    The Lord is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation; this is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him.
  • Exodus 17:15 ESV
    And Moses built an altar and called the name of it, The Lord Is My Banner,
  • 2  Samuel 22:2 ESV
    He said, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
  • Psalm 16:5 ESV
    The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.
  • Psalm 18:2 ESV
    The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
  • Psalm 23:1 ESV
    The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
  • Psalm 27:1 ESV
    The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
  • Psalm 28:7 ESV
    The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
  • Psalm 118:14 ESV
    The Lord is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.
  • Psalm 119:57 ESV
    The Lord is my portion;
        I promise to keep your words.
  • Lamentations 3:24 ESV
    The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.”
  • Zechariah 13:9 ESV
    And I will put this third into the fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God.’
  • Hebrews 13:6 ESV
     So we can confidently say,
    The Lord is my helper;
        I will not fear;
    what can man do to me?”

Praying it Out on a Hard Day

Worry hits me like a sharp, shallow breathing,  right in the middle  of the Wal-Mart.

There I am, just picking the cereal for the week and mentally running through what we already have at home in the pantry, when I realize my breaths are kind of shallow, kind of pained deep in my stomach.

Maybe it’s not even worry; it’s more just thought after thought piling on over time.

Thinking about the to-do-list items, an upcoming  event, soccer and dance, rehearsals, families around me in need, relationships and friendships and peace, work craziness, and ministry decisions.

I  feel “off.”  Unsettled.  Worn down.  Tangled up.

As I push my cart around the store, I take some deep breaths and pray some quick prayers.

Dear Jesus, for my children….

Dear Jesus, for my own brokenness and sin….

Dear Jesus, for those around me….

Send peace . Be our peace, Lord.

I also chide myself.  How foolish, like a tiny child, stressing over things not worth stressing over, thinking and mulling over decisions that will  just come and work out and happen.

It all piles on in one day, though, my own problems to  sort through and a host of others for people I care about:

A family in need, a friend who is grieving, another awaiting medical test results,.

This is a hard day.  A hard day that is making me tenderhearted.

All that sorrow tumbles me into  a sweet place of just crying with Jesus.  I think maybe He weeps, too, just as He did when He stood outside of Lazarus’s tomb and saw how hard it is for all of us, how scared we are, how we mourn.

For a little while, I feel guilty for letting the smallest things in my own life land on my wimpy shoulders  like heavy burdens.

I think, “Count your blessings!  Buck up!  Get over it already!”

And, maybe that’s a little right. Maybe my perspective is off and I needed a little spirit-check, that what has me personally weighed down is foolishness compared to the deep concerns of others.

But I read this also, right in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus says:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? ( Matthew 6:25 ESV)

We’re no different than the crowd of people surrounding him on a mountainside that day.

We feel anxious over the daily things that pound at us.  The food we eat.  The clothes we wear.  The bodies we walk around in. The tiniest mundane details of our everyday life.

Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t be anxious about your cancer diagnosis or don’t be anxious about a divorce or a foreclosure.”

He said don’t worry about any of it.  Don’t worry about lunch and dinner and your outfit for the day and your body type.

And he was so gracious about it.   He didn’t tell  the crowd to get over petty concerns because He was actually going to–you know–be persecuted and die for them because they were, after  all, heading for  eternal  damnation.

Hannah Anderson writes:

“Jesus understood …that small things can unsettle us more than large things; so when He called  the people of Galilee to leave their anxiety–when He calls us to  do the same–He does so in context of very mundane, very ordinary concerns…  At the same time, He doesn’t shame us for worrying about them.  He doesn’t tell us just how to be grateful, to remember how much better we have it than other people…..Instead, He asks if our worry is actually accomplishing anything” (Humble Roots).

It’s not, of course.  Worry isn’t accomplishing  anything for anybody.

But it is a prompting to prayer.  It’s the catalyst that stops me from just standing nearby as a helpless bystander and instead rolling up my sleeves to get in the fight.

I can’t fix this.  Not any of it.  But I can pray.

I can pray it out.  Pray it like that’s our only hope because that’s exactly who Jesus is:  He’s our Hope and our Strength and our Peace and He is who we need when we’re worrying over our children and He is who we need when our friends are facing down death and despair.

So  as I stand there in the middle of the Wal-Mart and then in my minivan and then in my home, I begin to pray it out to Jesus.

Originally published 10/2017

Clearing out the Dust in a Weary Soul

My son thinks dirt makes the best souvenir.

He grabs handfuls of it whenever he sees a pile of sand:  At the school   As we leave the beach.  Near the playground.

Sometimes I’m so busy hauling all of our supplies that I don’t notice right away.   He starts to  climb up into the minivan and that’s when I see it,  his small clamped fist holding his treasured dirt.

He has scooped up a clump of sand in a final effort to keep some of the fun going.  So,  it’s time to leave the beach or the park or the school or the zoo or wherever?  No problem.  He’ll just take some soil with him as a memento.

Earth.

Soil.

Dirt.

Dust really.   Just dust.

I don’t get it.  I’ve had kids carry home rocks and flowers and leaves.  I’ve even had daughters ask to transport tadpoles home in a pail of water.

But a handful of dirt is no treasure, so I nudge his fingers open and we brush the dirt to the pavement and then I let him enter the minivan.

Of course, some dust clings to  his skin.   And his  sneakers.  And anywhere else dirt can settle.  But, we’re as brushed off as he can get.

Why hold onto this, I wonder?  Why does he want fistfuls of dirt?

I  read in Psalm 119 and let this question dig deeper. David writes:

My soul clings to the dust;
give me life according to your word!  (Psalm 119:25 ESV). 

Have I been clinging to the dust?

That’s what I  wrote and underlined in my prayer journal a few months ago  and I keep circling back to what that must be like.

What would clinging  to the dust look like?

My commentary gives one meaning:  it’s being “laid low” (The Bible Knowledge Commentary), like as soon as you try to reach up or look up, you’re knocked down again,  face to the earth.

It’s like the mourning David may have experienced, how you put on the sackcloth and you covered yourself in ashes and sat in the dust. It’s sorrow you can’t shake, you’re imprisoned by the grief or the woe.

Unshakeable sadness: That’s clinging to the dust.

But also I consider how dust clogs up our soul and suffocates us.  Have I felt so pressed down into the dirt that it was hard to breathe?  Like what I really needed was the Spirit of Christ to breathe His life-giving breath into me,  clearing out cobwebs and grime and piles of sorrow or sin that have kept me breathless for too long.

And have I been clinging to this?   Clinging to earthly concerns.  Earthly worries.  All the trappings  of the circumstances around me.  Have they clogged up my spirit in piles of dust and I don’t know how to  let go?

Or have I clung to what’s earthly and missed out on reaching for what is heavenly and eternal?   Maybe by refusing to let go, I’ve been clinging to dust and not holding on to what  has real value.

Do I want a fistful of dust?

Or do I cling to something greater?

The Psalmist continued in this passage:

I cling to your decrees (Psalm 119:31 CSB).

Joshua had similarly instructed Israel:

to love the Lord your God, and to walk in all his ways and to keep his commandments and to cling to him and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Cling to the Lord.  Cling to the Word.

I love  how the Psalmist turns his revelation, this recognition that he’s been holding on, laid low by the dust, into a prayer and a plea.

Give me life according to your word!

Another commentary I read says:

More life is the cure for all our ailments. Only the Lord can give it. He can bestow it, bestow it at once, and do it according to his word…

Life, Lord!  Give me life!  New, fresh, strengthened life!

I want to cling to you with everything in me, cling to your decrees, cling to your Word.  Help me to rise up out of the dust, to open my closed fists and let the grime fall away.  The worries.  The earthly pursuits.  The grief.  The unshakable sorrow.

And help me grasp hold of life in you and in your presence.

Hope is worth fighting for

There’s an abandoned house in my neighborhood and I pass it every time I drive out and I drive in, or when I  walk  my normal exercise route.

It took me a while to notice.  Mostly the grass is the telltale sign.  It’s not just uncut for a week or two.  The grass reaches to my knees before someone runs through it with a lawnmower, mostly for mercy I think.

There are other hints.  The lack of cars coming in and out.  The missing mailbox.  The tiles on the front porch that are stacked up and never, ever move.

It’s surrounded by the cutest bunch of houses all down the lane with well-tended gardens.  They have gazebos and bird feeders, wind chimes, and color-coordinated flower beds,  porch swings, garden flags and pinwheels.   Every house around it looks loved and still this one sits, not just empty—abandoned.  That’s how I think of it:   Abandoned.  I’m not sure if that’s a technical truth;  it’s just got the aura of ‘left behind” around it.

A friend told me the house’s sad story, of the family who lived there and of their sorrow.  Perhaps it is all just too much to return to  this place of memory?  Perhaps it is too hard to let it go?

I have entertained myself with big plans about this house: Of the person who might one day fall in love with it and move in.  Or maybe one day I’ll even buy it and rent it out to my young adult children. Or what if….?  Or  maybe….?

There is potential here!

There is still hope!

Maybe that’s the reminder I need in this season as I pray over some requests in situations that  seem too far gone.  It’s all over  now.  A hopeless mess. Doomed.  Broken beyond repair.

I realize as I look at this lost little house that it would take serious work to restore it.  You’d have to  wage a great battle against aggressive vines that are threatening to overtake the whole  side.  And you’d have to cut through the knee-high grass and paint over the cracking trim.  You’d have to  clear out the overgrown flower beds and plant new life.

That’s when it  hits me:  Hope takes effort and hope is worth fighting for.

We hope, but if hope is just  this passive emotion, just  this feeling  that we may or  we may not have and it can flit away in an instant,  then what’s the point of hoping?

Instead, Scripture says:

“We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure….” (Hebrews 6:19a CSB).

This unshakeable, strong anchor that keeps us from being swept away and overcome is the hope we have in Christ, that He came, that He saved us, that He intercedes for us now and is preparing a place for us in heaven.

So, we hope because of who He is:  Jesus redeems.  He restores.  He revives.  He resurrects.  He renews.

We might have to fight to hold on to hope, though.  It might take effort to maintain hopefulness in circumstances that seem hopeless, but still “we put our hope in the Lord” because “He is our help and our shield.” (Psalm 33:20 CSB emphasis mine).

We put our hope in Him.  We renew that hope  and tend that hope and rebuild that hope  when it’s close to crumbling.

It’s not that we hope for a specific answer or particular deliverance.  We hope in the Lord–in His character, in His ability,  in His mercy.  We know He is able and that we can trust Him to do what is right, best, compassionate, loving and perfect.

I can place needs,  worries, fears,  conflict, disappointment, dreams all in His hands.  Because He will do this:

Redeem.

Restore.

Revive.

Resurrect.

Renew.

Yes, I can hope in Him.

That means pulling  out the plow and breaking up some hard, stony ground.   It means yanking away that overgrown vine and mowing down that too-tall  grass.  It means tending the garden and replanting with new life.  It means pulling  out the paint brush and the hammer and the nails and all the tools I can grab to rebuild hope in the places I’ve let it crumble into hopelessness.

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you believe so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Romans 15:13 CSB).

What matters more than age

My son says he is “five-ish.”

He’s actually four and his birthday  is in October, so it’s not that his birthday is coming soon.

He’s simply feeling five, so  this is his new token answer.

“How old are you?”

“I’m five-ish.  I actually look five.  Actually.”

It’s because of a little playground encounter a few weeks ago  with two little boys who became his insta-best-playground  buddies.  They climbed all over the pirate ship together, took turns on the zip line, and then spun in the tire.

Finally, they exchanged names and ages.

That’s when my son realized these other guys were five and they were shorter than he was.  So, therefore, he must look five, or at least “five-ish.”

Maybe it’s the  fact that my baby is trying to age himself or the fact that my girls all finished off another  school year and are off to bigger, higher grade levels, like finishing up middle school of all things–maybe it’s me nearing 40 and feeling all the weight of what that means and how that  looks on me….

Whatever the reason, age is on my mind.

I’ve been thinking how age is inevitable.   Growing older just happens, even if we’d rather it didn’t.

Maturity, on the other hand, is not guaranteed.

In her book Unseen, Sara Hagerty says it this way

We’ll mature without effort into  wrinkles  and gray hair, but our hearts won’t mature deep  into God by default.

But what is this maturing, this  growing up  in Jesus?

It doesn’t come by default, so then it must take discipline.  Yes.  Spiritual disciplines.  Digging into  prayer and digging into His Word and serving and listening to the Lord and worshiping.   Yes and yes and yes and again.

It’s not all so  concrete and straightforward, though.  It  isn’t just about studying and reading and knowing what God’s  Word says.

There’s the discipline of repentance and humility.  It’s stumbling our way through living out faith.  It’s getting it  wrong, humbly confessing that and asking Jesus to  renew, revive, refresh and redeem.

There’s the discipline of weakness, maybe that’s the hardest for me.  When I  am feeling most  dependent on Jesus because I’m not strong enough or capable enough on my own,  I  have to lean.  Leaning can feel like so much brokenness and that’s hard, but it’s also sweet because that is exactly when I know Jesus more.

Failing, messing up, making mistakes, feeling frazzled and overwhelmed:  It’s all my weakness on display, but  I cannot pull away from the hard season, from the difficult or the wearying or the unknown or even what I just haven’t mastered yet.

Christianity isn’t about being perfect; it’s about being transformed.

Then there are the quiet seasons, when life seems to just roll  along day after day, seemingly stagnant, same-old, same-old.

Restless.  I can be so restless.

I want to see big results.  Big change.  Big impact.

Then I read the reminder in Isaiah of how to grow in the discipline of waiting:

but those who trust in the LORD will renew their strength; they will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not become weary, they will walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31 CSB).

I love  this verse in all of the nuances in each translation.

“Those who TRUST in the Lord”  (CSB).

The NIV says “Those who HOPE” and the ESV says “those who WAIT.”

We trust Him.  We hope.  We wait.

The discipline of waiting tucks itself into seasons of quiet and of hiddenness and of not knowing.  It’s about lingering for direction and looking forward to  seeing God at work, but not seeing that work just yet.

When we trust and we hope in Jesus even in the discipline of waiting, we can soar and we can run,  but oh friend,  we can also walk.

Somehow that walking seems  like the greatest feat to me.  Soaring can be exhilarating, running shows great power,  endurance and strength.

But walking takes unique courage.  Walking takes persevering hope.   We’re not seeing leaps of progress, but  we will  not give up.  We aren’t quitting and setting up camp in a land of complacency or dormancy.

We’re being steady,  daily, consistent, steadfast, and faithful.

When the soaring is done and the running is finished and we’re feeling  bone-tired, still  we walk with the Lord today.   Then the next day, we get up and we walk with Him again, and we will not faint nor fail.

I remember that it takes discipline to repent humbly, to fail graciously,  and to wait patiently.   That means I can buck less against what feels uncomfortable or hard and instead embrace what God is doing in me right here and now.   I’m not just arbitrarily aging; I’m maturing in Christ.  Lord, be at work in me.

How could I forget?

I am a postcard hunter.

My kids tease me about this and when I head into the gift shop at the art museum, they whine about my postcard search.  I show them what I’ve collected–one postcard for each of us, specially matched to our own interests.  Like the  Egyptian mummy cat for  my daughter who loves cats and the African giraffe sculpture for my son (giraffes are his favorite).

On our trip to Wisconsin, I search for four days for postcards only to finally track down a nearly hidden rack of them in the Minneapolis airport.

I’m pleased.  My kids are indifferent at best.  Postcards.  They don’t get the point or the value.

But for one  thing, I’m the one with the money and few souvenirs are as inexpensive as a postcard.

Plus, I have  a long history  of postcard memories.  I have some from my sixth  grade class trip to  Amish country in Pennsylvania and from the time I flew to visit my grandparents in Texas when I was  12.

I can flip through the postcards and remember  trips to  amusement parks and caverns and historical  sites and  museums. Those  help  me remember where I’ve been.

And I have  the collection of postcards others sent  to me.  Those  help me remember the people I’ve loved.

I have postcards  from  my dad, sent as he traveled with the military bands when I was a girl, and postcards from my grandmother on her trip to St. Petersburg, and even postcards from my great-grandmother  on her  travels in the 1950s.   They all  passed away so long ago,  and yet here in my collection I have their handwritten notes and a connection to their travels.

Maybe my kids don’t  really get postcards because they think  they’ll  remember.

But I know how often we forget.

How forgetful I can be.  Life pushes me faster and faster, rushing through this day and the next, and even those moments you most expect to remember blur into the fog of it all.

Memory isn’t passive, not the way we expect it to be.  No, remembrance is an active discipline, a choosing not to forget despite our humanness, our busyness, our moving on.

We think we’ll remember the miracles, the accounts of how God delivered us, the times He carried us right out of the pit, the stand-still encounters with God when it seemed like He cut through all the noise of this world and the cacophony of our own emotions and He spoke to us, God to person, one clear voice cutting through it all with a message we’ll never forget.

Yet, we forget it after all.

Psalm 78 shows how fickle remembrance can be.  Israel strayed from God.   He disciplined them.  Then:

They remembered that God was their rock,
the Most High God, their Redeemer  (verse 35 CBS).  

So,  they repented and returned.  He extended  grace and they followed closely for  a while,  until:

They did not remember his power shown
on the day he redeemed them from the foe (verse 42). 

They remembered and then they didn’t.

Asaph the Psalmist relays all the details of God’s miraculous provision,  the plagues in Egypt manna and water,  wilderness direction, victories  in the Promised  Land.

Still, they forgot all  that God had done. .

Could this be me?

Could forgetfulness  in my own heart lead not just  to apathy,  but to  waywardness?   And not just that, but to worry?  If  I forget what God has  done, I also forget all  that God  can do.

And He is faithful. He is so  faithful.  He is generous and gracious.  He is compassionate.  It’s not just that He provided, but HOW He provided that  I want to treasure and honor.

It’s been a year almost since we moved into our new home and people still  ask me, “How do you like your new house?”

I  tell  them the same thing all the time.  How I  drive into our neighborhood and round this one curve in the drive back to our home.  As I  do, I  see our house come into view and I breathe a  prayer of thanks.

It has been a year.  I am still thankful.  I keep breathing out that prayer of thanks because I do not want to forget.

And when I need new help  and new provision, , when there is trouble, when I am struggling, I remember the goodness of the Lord and how I celebrate every time I drive into this neighborhood.

We think we’ll  remember,  but how often we forget.

So we choose to remember.  We choose to  collect these postcards  of faith.  We choose to  commit over and over again to  gratitude and praise.  We choose to  give testimony to ourselves and to others:  Come hear what God has done.   Come know who our God is.