Loneliness and Darkness and how to Find Light

We have a nighttime wanderer at our house, a little traveler who visits others while they sleep.

My son has always slept in his own room and in his own bed, but after we moved into a new house something shifted in him.  He doesn’t want to be alone at night.

And he absolutely, positively does NOT want to sleep in his own bed in his own room.

We’ve set up a little futon for him as a consolation.  At first,  he insisted that his “little bed” (as he calls  it) remain in the upstairs hallway.  That was close enough to family traffic to keep his little heart happy.

I’ve been slowly trying to move him into his room, though, because school starting means his sisters are up  and moving and loud really early in the morning.  He’d sleep better (and longer!) in his own bedroom.

So, I’ve managed to get his “little bed” into his bedroom, but he wants it as close to the door as possible.

Then, after we’ve all snoozed for a few hours, he drags his blanket behind him and finds another place to sleep.

He climbs into bed with a sister.  He curls up and falls back to sleep under their bedroom window.  He tucks himself in  on a trundle bed.

We tell him each night that he needs to sleep in his own bed and he nods in agreement, but around 3 or 4 a.m. I suppose his heart’s desire overcomes all that.  In the morning, we find out whose room he decided to share for the night.

My girls never really  experienced that need.  All three of them shared a room until a few months ago so when they were  preschoolers, they didn’t have to sleep by themselves.

Being alone, after all, is hard.

I have sympathy for my little guy.  He loves his family.  He knows he feels more secure if he is near someone else.  So, he pursues that with determination, relentlessly returning night after night to  the same pattern, dragging his Star Wars blanket behind him.

Maybe we all need that assurance once in a while, that we’re not alone, that we’re safe, that we’re loved, especially in the dark times.

And Scripture does that for us.  The Psalmist gives us this beautiful reminder:

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you (Psalm 139:11-12 ESV).

Night and day are the same to our God.  Darkness, light:  Makes no difference.  Even the darkness is not dark to Him.

That means that even in our loneliest, scariest, darkest, most anxious moments, whether we’re lying in our beds or standing in our kitchens or driving in our cars or sitting at a desk, God brings the Light of His Presence right where we are.

No darkness is too dark for  Him to cut through.

Even if we feel forgotten, unloved, overlooked, or abandoned, we’re promised that God doesn’t ever fall asleep on the job.  Psalm 121 says:

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

He never turns His head away or gets distracted.  He’s not so busy solving the crises of the world to  hear us and see us when we call to Him.

So, call to Him.

In his devotional, Morning and Evening, Charles Spurgeon wrote:

You may fear that the Lord has passed you by, but it is not so: he who counts the stars, and calls them by their names, is in no danger of forgetting his own children. He knows your case as thoroughly as if you were the only creature he ever made, or the only saint he ever loved. Approach him and be at peace.

In the night, in the times you can’t see, in the places where you feel lonely, in the moments when you’re so exhausted and overwhelmed that you just feel hopelessly lost, call to Him.

Drag your blanket behind you if you need to, and seek Him out.  It’s His very presence that you need to be your safe place, your refuge and hiding place, the security you need to help you sleep in peace and rest without fear.

Here’s the good news:  He is closer than you may think or feel.

Angela Thomas wrote:

When you are hurting, your head says that God is far away, but Jesus says, in fact, that God is closer than ever (A Beautiful Offering)

The Darkest Time is the Perfect Time to Sing

Just a few days before the Great American Solar Eclipse arrived with all of its accompanying hoopla and rejoicing, my husband asked me this:

“Would it be crazy if we drove to South Carolina to  see the full eclipse instead of just the partial we’ll get here in Virginia?”

Yeah.  That’d be crazy alright, traveling about 7 hours one way on a busy weekend with four kids in a minivan.

Crazy!

But it’d also  by fun.  This season we’re in with four kids who are growing far too  fast, with two of our daughters in middle school this year,  that’s the time to do wild and crazy things.

That’s the time to  make family memories.

So, we started making plans.: texting family in South Carolina, deciding when to drive and how far.

I bought our travel snacks and packed up our clothes and eclipse glasses.

We crammed ourselves into the minivan on Sunday evening after finishing all our activities for the day, alternatively singing along with our CD or listening to our audio book as we traveled.

We drove there and back in a rapid fire turn around of two days,  making it  just in time to  see the eclipse and then traveling the long way back  home so my husband could go  to work the next day.

And it was worth it.

Before our trip, I’d thought seeing the 86% coverage in Virginia would be “close enough.”

I’m so glad I was wrong.

We didn’t even begin to  notice so many of the effects  of the eclipse until the sun was about 95% covered down there in good old South Carolina.

That’s when the shadows became crisply distinct and sharp.  Colors looked like we were seeing them through a camera filter.

Rippling shadows from the sun’s rays danced across the pavement in what we called “Sun snakes.”

Then the world dimmed and a chorus of wildlife roared into  activity.  Crickets, frogs, cicadas–all the singing creatures of the night snapped awake and sang.

They cut through the darkness with their music.

Moments later, the moon slipped right out of the sun’s path once again and normal resumed.

Back to  normal  light and normal shadows and normal colors.

And back to silence among the trees.

No more bullfrogs chanting nocturnal mating calls in the middle  of a  Monday afternoon.  No more crickets chirping in chorus for three odd minutes.

Song over.  For now.

Until later that night,  of course, when these wild musicians would sing once again.

Maybe at some point I’ll forget some of the eclipse effects, like precisely how the shadows looked or exactly how the light altered.

But I’ll remember the singing in the dark.

That’s the example we need, after all, when the world grows dim and darkness presses in on us, how Jesus can give us a song to sing.

And we can lift up our voices to heaven in wild and raucous praise even when we can’t see the sun.

The Psalmist wrote:

By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me– a prayer to the God of my life (Psalm 42:8 NIV).

God’s song is with us and within us, perhaps especially in the night.

Maybe it was that God-song that Paul and Silas were crooning aloud at midnight as they sat shackled together in the prison (Acts 16).

Other prisoners listened to this surprising “joyful noise.”

Singing in the dark,  what an oddity!  No wonder others took notice.

Who can make  a joyful noise when they’re chained down?  Who can join in a round of praise hymns when uncertainty looms and anxiety threatens?

Paul and Silas did just that.

Their worship shook the jail and loosed the prisoners’ chains, including their own.

But instead of hightailing it out of the prison, they willingly remained until God completed the work he was doing.

Beth Moore writes:

How encouraging to recognize that Paul did not discover the strength to leave his circumstances: he discovered the strength to stay” (Living Beyond Yourself).

When we’re feeling chained and imprisoned, when we’re surrounded by darkness, when hope is hard, we might feel  that’s the time to  be silent.

Maybe,  though, the darkest time is the perfect time to sing.

It doesn’t have to be loud and brave,  bold or confident.  It doesn’t need perfect pitch.

It could start out shaky and quiet and grow from there as the worship moves our own heart and cuts through the dark we face.

Our song of praise may not change our circumstances, but it may strengthen us to stay where we are until God leads us on out of  there  and into the light again.

Finding peace when it’s hard to see

Here’s my primary job at the zoo as a mom.

Sure, I help break up fights over who will hold the map.

I plan our itinerary so we don’t bounce from the lions on the one end of the zoo, to the goats on the other end of the zoo, back to the giraffes way back where the lions are.  No, we take an orderly path.

I make sure no little hands slip into the fences and no children wander off in search of wild animals.

I decline to pay for every souvenir, snack, and photo booth that we see.

I take pictures of children giggling at the baby monkeys.

But mostly I do this—I point so that my youngest child at the time can actually find the animal in the tank or grass or exhibit or whatever.

I’ve been doing this for years for all four children at one time or another.

See the lizard? 

No.

See, right there.  Look where I’m pointing.  See?

No.

See that leaf?  The big one right there?  Look under that.  See the lizard?

No.

Every so often, we struggle to find the tiger or the bear, but mostly it’s these camouflaging reptiles and miniature frogs that have us standing at the cage for more than five minutes squinting our eyes, pointing our fingers, and eventually giving up.

But when I started taking my son to the zoo back when he was just learning to talk, I discovered he has super-sight.

He could spot a hidden reptile or amphibian the moment he walked up to the glass.

Snake. Lizard. Frog.  He pointed and said the name like this was the easiest exercise on the planet.

Hiding under foliage?  Didn’t matter.

Blending in with the pebbles?  Not a problem.

Hanging from a tree at the top of the cage?  Couldn’t fool him.

He sees what is hard to see and notices what is hard to notice.

I need vision like that.  I need spiritual super-sight.

Sometimes I’m searching through my circumstances and situations for the peace God promises.

Still, I can’t see it, not through the murky glass, not with my limited vision.

I need God to give me eyes that see His peace, even when it’s hidden, even when I don’t have answers, even when trouble looms, even when the waiting lingers and the uncertainty remains, even when I need the impossible.

Sheila Walsh writes:

In the last major conversation Jesus had with His closest friends, He spoke about peace–but not as we might have expected Him to (5 Minutes With Jesus).

We’d expect perhaps to find peace in the moments of calm or peace in the seasons of blessing.

We have peace when we’re at rest or peace when our relationships are happy and healthy, no one’s mad at us, we’re financially stable and physically well.

Isn’t that when peace comes?

Yet, Jesus told the disciples,

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace (John 16:33a ESV).

What things had He said to them?  Had He been talking about heaven, miracles, salvation, grace?

Not at all.

In John 15 and 16, Jesus tells his dearest friends about sorrow and His imminent death, about persecution and martyrdom, and how the world will hate them and harm them.

Then He gives them hope.

Then He promises them peace.

We seek peace in answered prayers, resolved situations, the end of conflicts or the arrival of provision.

We seek it in chocolate, bubble baths, getaways, and running away.

But peace isn’t found there.  Peace is found in Jesus Himself right where are in the middle of the pain, before the answers and the fixes and the resolution.

He told the disciples “in me you may have peace.”

PEACE ISN’T FOUND IN A POSITION OR A PROVISION; IT’S FOUND IN A PERSON.

Jesus is constant, unchanging.

He is faithful.

He is able.

He is compassionate and abundant in His love.

We can rest in Him, deeply rest.  We can entrust our lives to Him, every care and concern, every worry that keeps our thoughts churning at night as the clock ticks down hour after hour.

Jesus finished the promise to the disciples that night:

“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b ESV).

This is our courage.  Our reason to ‘take heart’ and have hope!  He has already overcome our every enemy and our every battle.

So, we look to Him and we ask for His vision right here when peace seems hidden and hope hard to see, when we’re staring at circumstances and not seeing the light for all the darkness.

Lord, help me see you!  Help me not lose sight of who you are.

Originally published March 11, 2016

Green pastures don’t happen by chance

My son would like his Batman house back.

We’ve been packing in waves here in preparation for our move.

Several  months ago, I started putting books and toys into boxes that we wanted to keep, but didn’t need right away, and then we hauled all of that to a storage facility for safe-keeping.

Then, the weekend before we listed our house for sale, we made another storage blitz and that’s when we packed up his Batman playhouse.

This was no problem until the day he pulled down his superhero toys and  he had Batman and Robin and Green Lantern and Superman…..but no superhero lair to put them in.

I’ve tried to explain the process of moving to him and he understands bits and pieces of it, but when you’re three and you know you have a Batman house but your mom can’t pull it out for you to play with, that’s fairly tragic.

There’s one thing he knows for sure, though.

His Batman house will be at the new house for him, and he is holding onto that promise.

If we drive by the new house or stop in for an inspection, he reminds me, “My Batman house is at the new house.”  Right, mom?  Then I can play with it.”

Yes, baby, it will be there.  Not yet, but soon.

This moving is a journey of preparation, stages and stages of letting go and moving on.

It will all  be fresh and new and exciting, but it’s also an adjustment at times .

After all, he’s only known this one little house for his whole little life and he’s happy right here.

And he’s innocently unaware of most of the change on the horizon, just happily accepting the boxes stacking up and the repairs we’ve made.  Mostly, he simply trusts us and keeps holding on to the hope and the promise that he’ll be playing with his Batman house again soon.

And I admire that about him.

I take it to heart as a girl who chafes against change and holds onto the old and familiar with all her might.  I love how he sets his heart on hope, focuses his vision on the good, and trusts those who love him enough to lead him.

That should be me.

That should be us, trusting our Shepherd, the God who loves us so.

Not worrying over the journey or fretting over the unknown, but enjoying the beautiful unfolding of His perfect plans for us.

In Psalm 23, it says,

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.

I love to think about those green pastures and still waters, but I’ve never considered before how the shepherd prepares nourishment, rest, provision, and blessing for his sheep.

He doesn’t just meander along, stumbling upon some green grass periodically.

Oh, here’s a little place to rest.  Who knows when we’ll find such a place again!  Enjoy, sheep!

Instead, Phillip Keller, the author of A Shepard Looks at Psalm 23, writes:

Green pastures don’t happen by chance. They are a product of tremendous labor, time, and skill in land use. They were the result of clearing rough rocky land, of tearing out brush and roots and stumps, of deep plowing and careful soil preparation, of seeding and planting special grains and legume, or irrigating with water and husbanding with care the crops and forage that would feed the sheep.

The Shepherd plans and prepares the future for His sheep.

Max Lucado puts it this way:

“Hence, when David says, ‘He makes me to lie down in green pastures,’ he is saying, ‘My Shepherd makes me lie down in his finished work” (Safe in the Shepherd’s Arms).

Wherever we find ourselves,  God has prepared us for what we face….and prepared for us hope….and prepared for us calling….and prepared for us rest.  

He prepares these green pastures and He prepares “a table before me in the presence  of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5) because He knows there are times of rest and times of opposition.

He prepares good  works for us to do here on earth (Ephesians 2:10) and is even now preparing our eternal home (John 14:3).

Scripture says:

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Deut. 31:8 ESV

God does both.  He goes before us, preparing the way for us and preparing us for the way.

And He walks alongside us, never abandoning us along the way, always leading us to our home in Him where we can find rest in the work He’s finished.

 

 

In My Alarm I Cried for Help

My daughter announced that she hates ‘drills.’

All kinds of drills, she says.

Fire drills, tornado drills, lock-down drills, bus evacuation drills.

 

My oldest daughter chimes in about ‘lock-down drills,’ and how her teacher last year was so funny but the one thing she is super serious about is anyone who dares to giggle, laugh or even squeak out a hint of noise during a lock-down drill.

“She’ll send you to the principal,” my daughter lowers her voice for added drama.

These older girls of mine try to reassure the youngest sister that drills are essential and meant to help and not really a big deal.

But the baby girl is testing out fear here.  I can see it on her face and I hear it in the way she keeps bringing these drills up.  When she gets home from school.  Over dinner.  In the minivan.  As she climbs into my lap for bedtime prayers.

“The drills…the drills….the drills…”

She’s been talking about these drills all week.

Clearly, they are on her mind.  And we older and wiser ones keep jumping in with confidence that everything is fine so she needn’t be afraid, but she’s just not convinced.

The fear is kind of leaking out of her heart and into our conversations.

Oh, I don’t blame the drills, of course.   I let her tell me about them all over again and then I look right into her two blue eyes and I even brush away her wild bangs so she can’t miss this reassurance:

Those drills are there to keep you safe.  So that if anything ever happens, you’re not too scared to do the right thing.  We drill now so we don’t have to be afraid later.

She nods knowingly, but I’m her mom and I know we’ll probably have this conversation again in a month when the alarm goes off at school and all the kids file outside for yet another fire drill. So we pray about it, every time it comes up, I pray peace for her.

It’d be nice, it’d be great, it’d be heaven really if we didn’t need drills, if we didn’t have to practice for fire or intruders or tornadoes or a world of harm and hurt.

But we live here, on a broken earth with sin and natural disasters and trouble.

And how we react in the crisis makes a difference.

I know this because haven’t I been alarmed and sent into a dizzying whirlpool of fear at the slightest provocation?

A phone call.

An email.

A Facebook post, for goodness’ sake.

Maybe you, too?  The doctor’s report, the bill in the mail, the late night call, the hurtful remark, the broken car (again), the sobbing friend?

Trouble storms into our lives and how we react in the crisis matters.

We’re tempted to freak out and run around like a wild woman with her hands flailing hysterically in the air.

We’re in crisis mode.  Making phone calls.  Feeling hopeless.  Crying desperately.  Feeling helpless.  Rallying the troops and sending out an SOS signal and doing anything possible to keep from drowning.

I’ll be honest, sometimes it doesn’t even take a crisis, it just takes one tiny bump into my plans for the day for me to settle into a funk of frantic activity and aggravated grumpiness.

The Psalmist said it just right:

In my alarm I said,
    “I am cut off from your sight!”
Yet you heard my cry for mercy
    when I called to you for help (Psalm 31:22 NIV).

In our alarm, when the bad news comes and we haven’t had time for faith to kick in, we snap to the judgment that God has abandoned us.

He can’t see us.

We’re cut off from Him, alone, dependent on our own strength to get us out of this mess.

Our natural reaction to an alarm is haste and hysteria, foolishness and fear.

It’s unnatural to choose peace under pressure.

but THE HOLY SPIRIT OFFERS US JUST SUCH UNNATURAL, SUPERNATURAL PEACE.

When everything settled and the crisis passed, the Psalmist recognized the truth: “Yet you heard my cry….”

In the haste of the moment, he had rushed into fear.  But then he saw what was true, God had indeed heard His cry for help.

What about us?

Over time, after alarm and alarm and alarm have passed and the dust settles and we see Jesus right there with us, surely we’d know by now what to do in case of crisis:

Cry to God for help.

Trust Him to hear your call.

Rest in the assurance of His presence.

CHOOSE PEACE.

Not flaky peace, vague peace, warm-and-fuzzy-feeling peace, or the peace of blindness to our circumstances.

The peace that is the confident assurance of Christ’s presence right where we are.

Originally published 9/30/2015

Return, O My Soul, To Your Rest

psalm-116-7

My daughter and I settled  onto the bus for our overnight trip to New York City.

We each pulled out our books and book lights and enjoyed some reading time as we pulled away from the parking lot and headed out onto the road for our grand adventure.

About an hour into the trip, I pulled out my blanket and little travel pillow and asked my daughter to do the same.  We were, after all, supposed to be sleeping on this bus and we were certainly going to need that sleep since we were hitting the streets of New York City by 6 a.m.

Only, she hadn’t brought her pillow.  She’d left it back at the house.

Oops!

So, I handed mine over (because I love her and I’m her mom) and tried to sleep without it.

Now, I do not sleep in moving vehicles, and this night the odds were particularly against me.

I was in a completely, wonderfully comfortable bus for daytime travel.   Nevertheless, I was still mostly upright, with highway noise for my soundtrack, surrounded by 50 people, and without a pillow.

We shuffled this way and that through the night.  None of us on the bus slept more than an hour or two , and even that was in fits and starts.

At 3:40 that morning, the bus lights flicked on to full strength and we pulled into the New Jersey rest stop where we were scheduled to start the day.  Everyone filed out to use the bathrooms, change our clothes, brush our teeth, and buy coffee (or tea!) from the 24-hour Starbucks.

From then on, it was go, go, go.  Drive around the city.  Eat breakfast at the diner.  Walk through Central Park.  Stroll through the Museum of Art.  Subway back to our bus for lunch and the ride to the hotel.  Quick showers and changes.  Back onto the bus for the ride to the Lincoln Center for a ballet performance.

We had the best time!

Finally, we settled back at the hotel around midnight after being awake for about 35 hours of the last 36 hours.

A bed never felt so good.  The pillows were luxury and the sheets were heaven.

Normally, I hate sleeping away from home and restlessly fidget all night long.

Not that night.  I slept the deep sleep of the truly exhausted.

That same weekend, I read this verse from the Psalmist:

Return, O my soul, to your rest;
    for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you (Psalm 116:7 ESV).

Return to rest.

Right there when I was pushed to the max physically, I needed to know that rest doesn’t entirely depend on circumstances.

Some seasons are stressful and full of huge crises or petty daily annoyances.  Life demands so much of us–sleepless nights while we rock the baby, or work the job, or care for the loved one, or nurse the sick, or more.

Our hearts can be tumbled into pits of anxiety with one phone call, one nasty email, one ridiculous Facebook post, one bank statement or unexpected bill.

Maybe we’re running at full-speed because of blessing and not burden.   We’re packing for the big move or working hard on the big project.

Rest can seem elusive until we remember the truth:

Our rest isn’t in peaceful circumstances or ideal conditions; our rest is in Jesus.

He doesn’t just bring us peace; He is our Peace.

Like the dove that Noah sent out from the ark, we can seek rest in so many places in the big wide world but never find it.  The dove searched throughout the earth for a dry place to set down and only found water, water, and more water.

The bird only found rest when it returned to Noah.

The same is true for us, as well.

Charles Spurgeon wrote:

Noah’s dove found no rest outside the ark, so she returned to it.  In a similar way, my soul has learned today, more fully than ever, that there is no satisfaction to be found in earthly things–only God can give rest to my spirit…they cannot fulfill the desires of my immortal spirit” (Morning and Evening, January 29th).

We may search and search, looking for rest and finding only stormy seas.

Ultimately, we truly find rest by returning not just to the ark, but to our Master.  We return to Jesus.

Like the dove,  we can’t face the night on our own, flapping our wings in the darkness until we’re exhausted.  On our own strength, we’ll drown.

When night looms, when we’re deeply tired, when we realize that nothing else satisfies, we stop trying so hard on our own and release control into His hands.  That is the rest our weary souls need—trusting Jesus because He is so trustworthy.

For a while you fall, but then you skate

jeremiah 17

Last year, my little girl made it about 15 minutes on the ice skating rink before she gave up.

Her sisters kept getting better.  They started out along the wall, too, but then they let go and made progress.

But she seemed stuck .

This ice skating business was no fun.

Falling.  Falling.  Falling again.

Clinging to the side for dear life and trying desperately to stay out of everyone else’s way.

Making one s-l-o-w loop around the rink and developing blisters on her feet without much progress to show for the pain.

No fun. At all.

So she gave up.  She sat with me while her older sisters skated and then we packed up and went home.

But this year, we tried again.  She slipped on the skates, stepped out on the ice and shuffled along the wall just like before.  Only this time, she didn’t give up.

The difference wasn’t how she started; it was how she finished.

I glanced up occasionally to check her progress, but mostly I chased around my three year-old son and didn’t see the exact moment it happened, that moment she let go of the wall.

At some point, though, she skated right out into the middle of the ice, brave soul.

But in order to get to the skating part, she had to get past the falling part.

I take this to heart, because failure and falling and weakness can keep me on the sidelines.

I’d rather stick to what I know I can do, invest in guaranteed successes, and live this safe and comfortable life without change or risk.

That’s a life, though, that doesn’t rely on faith.  That’s just relying on my own strength, living on my own abilities without any room for trusting God or relying on His mercy and His strength.

Still, I fear the falling and the failing.

After all, falling is not just painful; it’s embarrassing.  Others zoom by like this is the easiest thing in the world to them and they probably feel pity for those of us hugging the ice.

I found myself snapping in frustration at every annoyance yesterday and it took me all day to realize why.  My emotions were just oozing out all over the place because I’m in a place of weakness.

I’m doing things that I don’t know how to do.  I’m making mistakes and then trying again.  I’m uncertain, fearful, and doubtful of success.

And that makes me cranky.

In Craving Connection, Angela Nazworth wrote:

Falling isn’t the problem.  Being so afraid to fall that you make yourself hard is the problem (p. 16).

Yes.  This.

I can choose in this season to pray through my weakness and seek His help in my need.

Or I can grow hard and I can quit.  I can refuse to bend or step out on any ice at all.

What made the difference for my daughter?  What made her choose this time to take the risk?

Maybe it was just being a little older and a bit more mature.

But there was something else.

She found a friend.  Another little girl out there skating on the ice was also seven and also in second grade and also took ballet and also liked playing Minecraft.

The friend let go of the wall, so Catherine let go of the wall, too.

Weakness so often makes us want to hide away, but the encouragement and prayers of a friend might be the very thing we need to give us:

courage in the fearful moments.

comfort when we’ve fallen (again).

and a helping hand so we’ll get back up and try anew.

Sure, sometimes our friends disappoint us and sometimes we even knock them over because we start counting on them to bear all of our weight and that’s just too much.

Jeremiah wrote:

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.

8 They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 27:7-8 NIV).

Our confidence isn’t in our friends; they are a help and an encouragement, but they are not our only hope.

Our confidence is not in our own wobbly selves.

Our confidence is in HIM, that He’ll catch us and He’ll help us.   He’ll redeem our failures.  He’ll give us new mercy.  He’ll forgive us and shower us with grace and love us through it all.

When we are God-confident, we don’t fear heat and we have no worries even in years of drought. In all seasons—seasons of weakness and seasons of strength—He helps us be fruitful.

 

I Have Wrestled with the Light

john-1-5

I have wrestled with light against darkness this year and I have won.

But it was a hard-earned victory, so while I have conquered, I am weary.

Maybe you have fought this fight, too?

I was full of expectant hope when I plugged in our pre-lit tree. I wanted the easy victory.  Put the tree together, plug it in, and enjoy the beauty.

Now at first I didn’t want this pre-lit tree because of the risk and the danger of one day plugging it in and seeing only darkness.  I wanted the old-fashioned kind of artificial tree where you wrap the lights yourself.

When we went tree shopping several years ago, though, pre-lit was the only option at the store.  And so far, we had decorated with ease.

But this year I saw my prophecy fulfilled, a pre-lit tree full of lights that didn’t work.

It was a struggle, intense and long and not without its share of scars, but I overcame the darkness, pulling out the old and dead, even cutting it away at times, all so I could bring in the new, the fresh and the full-of-light.

Having conquered the tree, I moved onto other decorations the next day:  The garland outside, with lights wound around it still from last year–only half of those lights turned on, too.

And the garland inside that I drape over the mirrors—no lights working there either.

These decorations are tried and tested in our home.  They are exactly measured to the spaces they fill and most years I can simply lift them into place and plug them in.

Voila.  Christmas beauty.

Not this year.

So I had to decide. Fight the fight?  Hunt relentlessly for the bulb I need to replace to get this light strand shining again?

Or concede defeat from the beginning, untangle the dead lights from the garland and replace it with a new strand?

For years, I chose the hunt.

But usually I ended a thirty minute wrestling match with the light strand with my hands cut to pieces, broken fingernails galore, and absolutely drained of Christmas cheer plus this:  a still-broken string of lights because I never found the offending bulb.

Now, I choose to protect my joy and replace the lights instead.  For about $5, I am a happier mom at Christmas time.

That’s how it went this year, having to unwind and undo just so I could rewind and redo.

I fought an epic battle.  I twisted and tossed. I wrangled and wrestled.

Finally, I won.

I have light and I am pleased.  My kids ooh and aahh.

I realize this: LIGHT IS WORTH FIGHTING FOR.

And how we have had to fight this year.  

Have you?

I have attended the funerals.

I have prayed for those who lost their children.

I have listened to the bitter hurt of mourning and sadness.

I have sat by hospital beds and carried meals and prayed for dear friends with cancer.

I have reminded myself over and over of this: first things first–in the crushing busyness of the schedule, I choose Christ before all, and this is hard and it is yet another fight.

And right there in the midst of all that darkness, I look for His Light.

Because this is what God promises.

John tells us:

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5 ESV).

Later in his life, John writes it again:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5 ESV).

EVEN IN THE PITCHEST BLACK OF THE DARKEST NIGHT ONE SHINY BULB CAN SPLIT THROUGH THAT DARKNESS WITH FIERCE DETERMINATION.

EVEN IN THE PITCHEST BLACK OF YOUR DARKEST NIGHT, GOD CAN SPLIT THROUGH THAT DARKNESS BECAUSE LIGHT IS WHO HE IS.

He is light, and in seasons of desperate darkness, what we need is Him.

In the dark, maybe we feel the strangling hold of fear. Maybe we feel disappointed and discouraged.  Maybe deeply saddened and hopeless.

But the Psalmist reminds us:

“To you the night shines as bright as day.  Darkness and light are the same to you”  Psalm 139:12

God is not afraid, not of this darkness, not of the unseen or the unknown, not of the long night or the battle and the struggle.

Darkness and light: it’s all the same to Him, because He Himself is the light we need.

He shines through.

This Christmas, may we insist on seeing the Light.

May we open our eyes wide and ask for His presence, His light to shine, His glory to be seen.

 

 

Bible Verses on Overcoming Fear and Worry

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  • Exodus 14:13
    And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again (ESV)
  • Deuteronomy 31:
    Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”
  • Joshua 1:9
    Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened,and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
  • Nehemiah 4:14
    After I looked things over, I stood up and said to the nobles, the officials and the rest of the people, “Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.”
  • Psalm 23:4
    Even though I walk through the darkest valley,I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
  • Psalm 27:1
    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 34:4
    “I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.”
  • Psalm 56:3
    When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.
  • Psalm 56:4
    In God, whose word I praise— in God I trust and am not afraid.  What can mere mortals do to me?
  • Psalm 91:4-6
    He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. You will not fear the terror of night, nor the arrow that flies by day, nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness, nor the plague that destroys at midday.
  • Psalm 112:7
    He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the Lord.
  • Isaiah 35:4Say to those with fearful hearts,
    “Be strong, and do not fear,
    for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
    He is coming to save you.”
  • Isaiah 41:10
    So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
  • Isaiah 41:13
    “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I am the one who helps you.”
  • Isaiah 44:8
    Fear not, nor be afraid;
    have I not told you from of old and declared it?
    And you are my witnesses!
    Is there a God besides me?
    There is no Rock; I know not any.”
  • Isaiah 51:12
    “I, I am he who comforts you;
    who are you that you are afraid of man who dies,
    of the son of man who is made like grass,
  • Jeremiah 1:8
    Do not be afraid of them,
    for I am with you to deliver you,
    declares the Lord.”
  • Zephaniah 3:17
    For the LORD your God is living among you.
    He is a mighty savior.
    He will take delight in you with gladness.
    With his love, he will calm all your fears.[a]
    He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
  • Matthew 6:34
    Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
  • Matthew 10:31
     Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
  • Mark 5:36
    But overhearing what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe.” (ESV)
  • Luke 1:74-75
    We have been rescued from our enemies
    so we can serve God without fear,
    in holiness and righteousness
    for as long as we live.
  • Luke 12:32
    “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
  • John 6:19-20
    They had rowed three or four miles when suddenly they saw Jesus walking on the water toward the boat. They were terrified, 20 but he called out to them,“Don’t be afraid. I am here!”
  • John 14:27
    Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.
  • Acts 18:9
    And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent,
  • Romans 8:38
    And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,[a] neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.
  • 2 Timothy 1:7
     for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
  • Hebrews 13:6
     So we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
  • 1 John 4:18
    There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.

Struggling with fear, anxiety, and crushing worry?

Me too.anywhere-faith

I wrote in Anywhere Faith a reminder that I need myself some days:

“What happens in our Christian walk will always be with God. Even when we stand on the precipice of the unknown, feeling the knots in our stomach, fretting at night rather than sleeping, wondering what will happen next, we can hand that situation over to God and remember that He is with us. Jesus said it to the disciples when they called out in fear on the lake, ‘Don’t be afraid,’ he said. ‘Take courage. I am here!’ (Matthew 14:27 NLT).

Take courage, because He’s here, right here with you, present with you, never abandoning you, not sending you out all by your lonesome self. He knows the risks. He knows what makes your heart quake. He knows exactly what’s going to happen when you obey His call, and He promises to be with you no matter what.” (Anywhere Faith).

 

How to Do the Thing You Don’t Want to Do

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This week, I’m having to do some things I don’t want to do.

Life is like that sometimes.

Eventually, you have to just go to the dentist or get the flu shots for your kids.  No more procrastinating.

You need to make that phone call…have that tough conversation…ask someone for help.

When we’re obeying God and following Him “Anywhere” He calls us to go, it’s sometimes exhilarating. Other days, obedience can be difficult, messy, frightening and overwhelming.

This week, as I do some of the hard things, I consider how Queen Esther did what she didn’t want to do.

When her cousin, Mordecai, asked her to speak to the pagan King about preventing the genocide of the Jewish people, she wrote back to him:

All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days (Esther 4:11).

Still, instead of hiding away in fear, putting off the task, or running away from God (all of which I’m tempted to do at times), Esther chose the hard obedience.

Here’s what we can learn from her:

Pray and ask others to pray

Esther asked the Jews in Persia to fast and pray for her before she finally went before the king.

Her story isn’t one of a lone heroine rising to face an enemy. She … depended on the intercession of her people.  #AnywhereFaith

I pray some specific things when I know God is asking me to do something I don’t want to do:

Please:

  • grant me favor (Proverbs 3:4)
  • give me courage (Isaiah 54:4)
  • bless the work of my hands (Psalm 90:17)
  • make me competent to do things I can’t possibly do on my own or in my own strength (2 Corinthians 3:5-6)

Like Esther, I also sometimes make myself vulnerable and share my request with someone else. Just knowing I’m not alone helps me move forward.

Just do it!

Esther set a deadline—fast and pray for three days and then she’d go before the king (Esther 4:16).

Deadlines can work for us, too. We can pray and think about it forever, but in the end, it’s time to just get the job done.

After the three-day fast ended, Esther walked into the throne room uninvited and faced the king on behalf of her people.

Leave the results in God’s hands

One of the hardest parts of my calling is asking.  I send out proposals and ask publishers if they’re interested.  I ask businesses about book signings.  I ask for input on my book from others. I  ask people to join my launch team.  I ask radio stations if I can come on the air.

I have to ask.  It’s part of being an author, but it’s the hardest part for me because I fear rejection. What if others say, “no?”

I’m learning, though, to leave the results up to God.

Esther made a famous declaration when she finally decided to go before the king, saying, “If I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16).

These are words of submission to God’s big plan.

Whatever happens, no matter what the outcome, I’ve done what God wants me to do and He’s in control.

Sometimes I ask myself, “What’s the worst thing that could happen here?” And then I remember that any “worst thing” I face is still in God’s hands.

Success doesn’t depend on me, nor was it up to Esther to change public policy or the heart of the king.

Ultimately, we can walk in obedience and trust God with the outcome.  Even if the worst happens, He will carry us through.

Celebrate

When Esther obeyed, God saved her people.  As a result, the Jews celebrated, and they are still celebrating the Feast of Purim with “feasting and gladness” to this day! (Esther 9:22 ESV).

In a much smaller way, I celebrate even the smallest acts of obedience, too.

When I’ve made the phone call I didn’t want to make, talked to the person I was afraid to talk to, stood up for something when I was afraid to speak, or submitted a proposal when I feared rejection, I usually treat myself.

It’s not big or expensive. For me, it might be a a hot cup of tea or a piece of dark chocolate, maybe a morning off from normal work in order to rest and read.

Maybe your treat is a Starbucks coffee or a new book.

It’s not about going big; it’s about rejoicing over obedience and celebrating what God has done in us!

Want to learn more about Esther’s fears and how God helps us go “Anywhere” with Him, even when we’re terrified?  My new book, Anywhere Faith, is available now.anywhere-faith