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.

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.

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).

Four playgrounds in five days because we have hope

Four playgrounds in five days.

Last week, the forecast finally felt like spring.  Spring!  Sunshine, warmth,  sun,  blue skies and more sun.  I could almost feel  my vitamin D levels rising.

I packed some snacks, sunscreen and a Batman hat for my son and we visited playgrounds all week.  Anytime we could go, we went.  We walked to the playground in our neighborhood, we stopped in at the playground in our hometown, then  we picked up my daughters from school  and drove directly to a playground half an hour away just to enjoy it.

We even headed for the beach on Friday and we found a playground there, too.

I’ve always been such a task-oriented person; playing hookie from the to-do list so we can visit another park isn’t normal for me.

But it feels like this spring has been a long time coming and I am ready for it.

Anytime the wait feels long and the winter feels interminable, spring is the most welcome gift.

That’s how I feel:  Struck with wonder at the gift and deeply grateful.  I’m spilling over with praise and gratitude that our good God gives such gifts to those who wait with expectant hope.

That little taste of spring has me wanting more.  I’m insatiable now.  I’ve carried paperwork, writing, and even sewing out to the porch so I can work outdoors instead of inside.   I’ll take a walk  in the morning and will want to walk a few miles in the evening, too.

My son feels it, also.  We leave one playground and he’s ready to  move onto another one.  We are loving it.

I’ve  been reading Psalm 71 and the subtitle for this Psalm stops me right from the beginning:

Forsake Me Not When My Strength Is Spent

It’s a prayer for the weary and a request not to be left alone, or abandoned, or forsaken.  It’s holding out for God’s strength amid utter weakness.

It’s a cry for hope. from someone stuck in the middle of that winter that seems to never end.

This Psalm is for the poured out and the emptied, for those who have hung in there with determination and are ready to collapse into Jesus’s arms.

And this is the reminder the Psalm gives us:

God is faithful.

The Psalmist prays:

Be to me a rock of refuge,
    to which I may continually come (Psalm  71:3). 

He asks for God to be an inexhaustible source  of safety and strength.

I don’t just come today.  I come tomorrow, too.  I  come running to Him day after day, time after time.  This disappointment, this struggle, that mistake, that frustration, that delay, that season of waiting—where does it send us?

To our Rock of refuge.  We come and we come continually, because we cannot get enough of Him.  We’re desperate for His presence and we’re lost without His help.

Here’s the hope we have:

You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
    will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
    you will bring me up again.
 You will increase my greatness
    and comfort me again (Psalm 71: 20-21, emphasis mine).

He will revive us, lift us up, and comfort us anew.  He has done it before, and He will do it again.

We know His faithfulness, His  steadfast character.  We see the testimony of God’s goodness in the past…in OUR past.

That’s why we praise.  Not only do we  run to our Refuge continually and trust Him to save us again, we keep the praises coming, too.

My praise is continually of you…

 My mouth is filled with your praise,
    and with your glory all the day.  (Psalm 71 :6, 8 ESV) .

We continually come.

God continually rescues.

We continually praise

and we continually hope.

But I will hope continually
    and will praise you yet more and more (Psalm 71: 14 ESV). 

This is what I’m feeling as I’m driven to playground after playground, taking walk after walk, dragging all of my inside work to a porch so I don’t miss a minute of sun.

I’m giving thanks, because again and again He does this, taking us through the winter, through all the cold and the wearying darkness, through the toil and the waiting, through the hard.

Thank you, Lord, for the warmth. I can’t get enough.  Thank you for the sun.  I don’t want to miss a minute of it.

Thank you for the scent of lilies in the breeze.  Thank you for mornings at a playground, picnics in the park and an afternoon at the beach.  Thank you for evening sunshine.

Thank you, Lord, for  being faithful.  Thank you for being our continual refuge.

Thank you that because of your faithfulness, we can have hope, not just for a moment, but in all seasons and at  all times.

Holding onto hope in hopeless places

Our new house has stairs and that means I’ve been practicing a new and heretofore undeveloped skill—yelling up those stairs to my kids.

My voice lacks the resonant quality needed to get their attention most of the time.  After all, I’m competing with earbuds, closed doors, radios, their own conversations, iTunes, and the like.  So, they don’t always hear me.

There are other culprits also.  Like the distance from the front of the minivan to the back of the minivan and all the ambient noise in said minivan while I’m trying to talk.

Or there’s simply my son’s natural talkativeness.  He can’t hear me very well when he’s trying to tell me a story at the same time.

Whatever the culprit, I spend a lot of time as a mom just trying to be heard.

All of this has been nudging my heart a little with a question:  What gets in the way of me hearing God?

Busyness, distraction, noise, inattentiveness, me not taking time to listen—all of them are to blame at times.

But there’s something else, too.  Sometimes heavy-heartedness, sadness, and discouragement throw us into a pit of darkness, and it’s so hard to hear God’s voice in that place.

There are times God speaks hope to his people and  even though hope is truly what we need, we can miss His message.

This is where Israel was in the beginning of Exodus.  Slavery trampled on more than their physical freedom.  Over time, it had beaten them into hopelessness.

That’s when God sent Moses with these words:

I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel….
I have remembered my covenant….
I will bring you  out from under the burdens of the Egyptians….
I will  deliver you from slavery.
I will redeem you…
I will take you to be my people, and I will be your God…
I will bring you  into the land that I swore to give to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (Exodus 6:2-9).

The promises are stunning. The assurances are powerful.  These are the grandest, greatest, most extravagant declarations of God’s abiding love for His people and His determination to rescue them.

But they didn’t throw a block party when they heard Moses’s news, nor did they pack their bags and start planning for departure.

Instead, Exodus says:

“they did not listen to Moses, because of their broken spirit and harsh slavery” (Exodus 6:9 ESV).

They didn’t listen.

They didn’t listen because they couldn’t listen.  Their perspective had been damaged over time. God seemed distant and unreal, unhelpful and uncaring and words didn’t penetrate through  that wall of hurt and bitterness.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been in places where hope is hard.

David had been there, too.  He wrote:

Look to the right and see; For there is no one who regards me; There is no escape for me; No one cares for my soul (Psalm 142:4 NASB).

What he needed was to know that someone cared for his soul.

Just like Israel, David felt abandoned, alone, and hopeless with no chance of rescue.  But there in the middle of that place of pain, he recalled the promise and the truth:

The righteous will surround me,
    for you (God) will deal bountifully with me. (Psalm 142:7b NASB). 

God’s people would  be there for him and God would come through for him.  That’s what David knew.

That’s what we need to  know, too, when we feel forgotten or abandoned, alone, or without hope.

God’s people  are there for us.  God will come  through. 

But we’re not just receivers of that message;  we’re messengers of hope to others.

How can we share about God’s love and keep sharing? Remind others of God’s promises and keep reminding them?  Speak truth in love and keep on speaking  that truth even when we’re ready to give up?

Some of us right now are loving  someone who is traveling through hard spaces: the valley, the wilderness, the pit, and that’s a messy kind of ministry.

We can be poured out and depleted when caring for the hurting. It requires deep compassion, supernatural patience, and near-constant trips into God’s presence for  our own renewal and refreshing.  Otherwise, we’ll be crushed underneath someone else’s burden.

Only the Holy Spirit can do that deep healing work in any of us.  Only the Holy Spirit can open blinded eyes and deaf ears.

So the pressure is off of us to make others hear or understand or change their minds.

Here’s what we can do: We be present with them in the pain.  We stick with them in prayer.  We keep holding onto hope, and we trust God do the greater work that He alone can do.

 

 

 

 

 

He is the endurance and encouragement we need

“Mom, I see the flowers we planted!”

We planted bulbs in November and by the very next day, my son started looking for signs of life, little green sprouts pushing up through the soil.  He’s been on the alert since then.

But I know how this works.  Those crocuses and tulips aren’t going to push their little green noses up through the dirt until about February.

He helped me dig each of the holes down and the dropped each bulb into its new earthy home.

He pushed the dirt over the seeds and he stepped down and we high-fived when it was all done.

So, now he wants results.  He wants to see the fruit of our labors.  Let’s have some flowers already!  Let’s see the growth now!

Maybe he’s like most of us, wanting things fast, impressive, instant, and now.

But James wrote in his epistle:

Be patient, therefore, brothers, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient about it, until it receives the early and the late rains. You also, be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand….Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful (James 5:7-8, 11).

The farmer is in this for the long-haul.  He isn’t in it for instant results or some overnight turnaround.

He knows what the plants need first.  They need early rains and they need late rains, all before the precious fruit of the earth is carried in at harvest.

We need this.  We’re not overnight bloomers.  We’re ripening fruit, needing the early rains, needing the late rains, needing Jesus to be at work all before we can be pulled off the vine.

Sometimes perhaps we just give up too soon.  Sometimes we just get too frustrated, too  discouraged, too shaken up by our plans tumbled into disarray.

Things break. Conflict occurs. People disappoint. I disappoint. I forget.  I mess up. I lose my temper. I make the wrong decision and I forget grace. The schedule suffocates. The expectations of others weigh heavy.

Whatever the form of brokenness we face, it is broken, and here we are with the same-old, same-old choice.

Give up on the fruit.

Or this:

Be patient.

Establish our heart.

Remain steadfast.

This speaks peace to me.  This says that even when the fruit delays, even when the ground seems interminably hard, even when the winter lasts and the rains don’t come, even then my heart is rooted deep down in Jesus.

So, the unexpected doesn’t distort my perspective.

I am at peace.

The interruptions and the disruptions don’t toss me into fear.

I am at peace.

The conflict doesn’t knot me up in a tangled mess.

I am at peace.

We have patience.  We shake off the mess and get back up and try again because that’s what it takes to be steadfast; that’s what it means to endure.

When James said, “Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast,” he reminds us that the blessing isn’t for those who ran fast, grew tired, and then gave up.

The blessing is for those who remain. 

God blesses steadfastnessthe stick-to-it, never-giving-up, endurance of day-after-day obedience and faithfulness and growth.

here’s the good news: we don’t do this alone.

James finishes that passage with the reminder we need that God “is compassionate and merciful ”

He helps us.  He loves us.  He doesn’t expect us to conquer and hold fast all on our own.

This is what Romans says:

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus,  that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 15:5-6 ESV).

He is the God of endurance and encouragement.

What we need on those days when we just want to crawl under the covers and give up, on the days we’re overwhelmed by the mess we’re in or the mistakes we’ve made, on the days when we think it’s just not going to  get better and we’ll never see any fruit…what we need is Him.

He is the endurance and encouragement we need to obey and then obey and then obey again, one step of faithfulness after another step of faithfulness in a long line of faithfulness over time.

Take heart.  Be encouraged.  The fruit will come.  The life will break through the frozen dirt and there will be beauty and harvest if we remain, endure, have hope, and do not give up.

Please join me over at (in)courage today!

WILL YOU JOIN ME?

Today I’m posting in an amazing community for women called ‘(in)courage’  to remind us of this:

Here at the start of a new year, may our prayers be simple and true: “Your will this year, not mine, Lord. Your will, not mine.”

Then, we open our hands to God, allowing Him to exchange His best plans for our faulty ones. We hold lightly to our own hopes, goals, plans, resolutions, and dreams for the year, and we hold tightly to the God who loves us so much He chose the cross.

I’m thrilled and honored to be sharing this message with the (in)courage community and I hope you’ll take a few minutes to click this link and join me over there today.  It would be a true joy to ‘see some familiar faces!’

You can click here to read the whole post over on the (in)courage page.  I’d be truly blessed if you’d leave me a comment on their site!  I’ll be popping in throughout the day to reply.

If you love the (in)courage site as much as I do, you can also sign up here to receive free daily encouragement from the writers of (in)courage, right in your inbox!

While I’d love for you to visit me over at (in)courage today, I ask for your prayers above all. May God be glorified and His people be encouraged by this message of hope in His faithfulness!

Thanks so much for the prayers and the help in sharing this message with others!

Bible Verses For Those Who Mourn

  • Psalm 23:4 ESV
    Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
        I will fear no evil,
    for you are with me;
        your rod and your staff,
        they comfort me.
  • Psalm 30:5 ESV
    For his anger is but for a moment,
        and his favor is for a lifetime.
    Weeping may tarry for the night,
        but joy comes with the morning.
  • Psalm 34:18 ESV
    The Lord is near to the brokenhearted
        and saves the crushed in spirit.
  • Psalm 46:1-2 ESV
    God is our refuge and strength,
        a very present[b] help in trouble.
    Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
        though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea
  • Psalm 73:26 ESV
    My flesh and my heart may fail,
        but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
  • Psalm 119:50 ESV
    This is my comfort in my affliction,
        that your promise gives me life.
  • Psalm 147:3 ESV
    He heals the brokenhearted
        and binds up their wounds.
  • Isaiah 53:4 ESV
    Surely he has borne our griefs
        and carried our sorrows;
    yet we esteemed him stricken,
        smitten by God, and afflicted.
  • Lamentations 3:31-33 ESV
    For the Lord will not
        cast off forever,
    32 but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion
        according to the abundance of his steadfast love;
    33 for he does not afflict from his heart
        or grieve the children of men.
  • Matthew 5:4 ESV
    Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
  • 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 ESV
    Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 ESV
    But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.
  • Revelation 21:4 ESV
    He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Rules About Pumpkins and How God is Enough

We have this long-standing family rule. My husband tells my daughters every year at the pumpkin patch before we scramble onto the tractor for the hayride out to the fields:

“You have to pick a pumpkin you can carry….yourself.…as in Mom and Dad aren’t carrying your pumpkin for you.”

They nod their little blond heads in understanding, but when my kids hop off the back of that hay-covered wagon, their eyes scan the fields for the site of the perfect pumpkin.

And perfect typically means more than just deep orange (not green) and no rot (if they could find one without dirt on it, that’s a bonus).

Perfect usually means “big,” too.

Sometimes, like this year, one unique child will search for half an hour in that field only to pick the tiniest of all miniature orange pumpkins.

Inevitably, though, another child combines rolling, scooting, dragging, and bent-knee carrying complete with huffing, puffing, grunting and groaning to transfer her chosen pumpkin onto the tractor.

Or they’ll blink large, beautiful blue eyes in my direction and ask, “Mommy, can you help me carry this?,” hoping that somehow Mom missed hearing Dad’s speech this year.

Bigger is better.  That’s what they think sometimes.

I need more, more than I can truly carry, more than enough, more than can fit, more than is comfortable…..

As our kids grow,  their chosen pumpkins often grow, too.

Perhaps it’s time to amend the rule because “what you can carry” seems like a dare to choose the largest pumpkin they can maneuver out of the field and onto the tractor.

I take this dare at times, too.

Because I feel needy at times, that’s why.

In need of energy, of supply, of vision, of joy, of inspiration, of affection, of deliverance, of encouragement, of peace….and yes, of even more and more than that.

Scripture promises us this—The Lord is our Chelqi—-our Portion.  It’s one of His names, part of His character, the implicit promise dependent not on what He does or has done, but on who He is at the very core of His being.

That’s what it says in Lamentations 3:24:

“The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
“Therefore I have hope in Him”  (NASB)

and Psalm 73:26:

My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever (NASB)

and again in Psalm 16:5:

The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and my cup;
You support my lot (NASB).

He is our Portion.  He is Enough.  He is exactly what we need, how much we need, at the exact moment we need Him.

We needn’t try to fill our arms with more than we can carry, fearful that He’ll give us what we need today, but not tomorrow.

In the wilderness outside of Egypt, God rained down supernatural manna for the Israelites six days a week, enough for each day with extra to set aside for the Sabbath once a week.  And He told them this: Gather enough for today.

Just for today.  Trust me for tomorrow.  I’ll provide again.

Some of them tried to stockpile and store, thinking their own personal planning and feelings of security trumped God’s instruction.

But He meant it…daily bread.  This much, and no more, is perfect.  Trying to live off yesterday’s harvest leaves us with rotten manna, worm-filled bread, starvation for sure.

So, tomorrow and every single day we return for fresh filling and fresh provision, a perpetual looking to the Lord our Portion for all that we need.

And He is ALL we need.  We trust that He isn’t stingy or absent or moody and inclined to provide one day, but not the next.

We don’t gorge ourselves in the fields of life, choosing other methods of filling our void and our emptiness, lumbering back to the tractor with our arms filled with everything that looks so perfect, but never fully satisfies.

He is enough.  His provision is perfect in our seasons of fatigue and sorrow and desperate need .

Charles Spurgeon said it this way:

It is not “The Lord is partly my portion,”nor “The Lord is in my portion”; but he himself makes up the sum total of my soul’s inheritance.  Within the circumference of that circle lies all that we possess or desire.  The Lord is my portion.  Not his grace merely, nor his love, nor his covenant, but Jehovah himself.”

Oh yes, sometimes I think what I need is rest.  I need peace, Lord bring me peace.  God, give me joy.  Father, provide for this need.

But it’s not that He gives me a portion; He is my portion.

It is God Himself that I need, all that I need, everything that I need, and He is enough for me.

Originally posted September 27, 2013

Living in a Neighborhood 101

Living in a neighborhood is new for us.

My kids have lived  their whole lives in a house on a busy street where cars sped around corners and it wasn’t safe to get your mail out of your mailbox,  much less bike ride or walk to  a friend’s house.   We had neighbors on one side of our yard, but an empty, wooded lot on the other side.

There was no communal place to play.  No sidewalks.   If my kids wanted to see friends, I arranged a play date and drove them back and forth.

When I wanted to  take a walk, I drove into town, unloaded the stroller, walked my son down Main Street and back, climbed back  into the minivan to drive home.

Now, though, we’re slipping into something new: Neighborhood life.

Friendly dogs pop over to  our house for random visits and we say hello to “Abby” the red-haired retriever and “Bruno” the little black and white fellow with the stubby tail from next door.

My daughter rides her bike for the first time pretty much ever and we take walks and wave to  people we know and even those we  don’t.

We call out to others about the beautiful weather when a summer’s evening feels unusually cool and we are blessed with extra tomatoes out of the abundance of a backyard garden nearby.

I feel held accountable to keep up with the garden weeds, even in the heat of July, even when I’m busy, even after a summer rain shower that makes everything grow like a jungle overnight.   No more calling it quits in my yard the first time the temperature hits 90 degrees.

After a week or so in our new house, my husband actually had to explain some neighborhood-life  tips to our kids.

  1.  You don’t have  to  ring your own doorbell when you get home from being outside.  This is your own house . You can just come on in.
  2. Don’t just invite yourself over for dinner at a friend’s.  If they are ready to eat dinner, come on home.

We’re all learning and adjusting a bit.

Maybe learning to  live in a neighborhood is a lesson for all of us.

Maybe it doesn’t come naturally, this staying close, being held accountable,  giving and taking and sharing and caring.

After all,  even Jesus’s followers didn’t always know what to  do.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Great!

But, who is my neighbor anyway and do I really have to love ‘that guy’?

The disciples surely had some growing to do in the neighborhood-life department, too.  They weren’t alike and perhaps didn’t have that much in common outside of Jesus.

They were fishermen and a tax collector, a zealot, and Nathaniel sounds to me like a well-educated skeptic.

Some were related by blood, some were friends, others were outsiders.

And, as people in close  proximity are wont to do, they fought over superiority and responsibilities and decisions.

What drew them together wasn’t their “sameness.”  It was  simply going where Jesus was going, following where Jesus led them,  working together as a team to  minister as Jesus sent them out.

They were fellow-travelers and “bunk mates.”  Surely, they had to learn to be each other’s neighbor along the way.

In the Old Testament, Ruth declared her never-ending,  stick-to-it loyalty to her mother-in-law Naomi like this:

But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God (Ruth 1:16 ESV).

This is what she promised :  “I’ll go with you.”

There can’t be many sentences in this life more powerful than that. 

Not just “I’ll pray for you” or “I hope you have a nice trip” or even “I’ll watch your stuff until you get back.”

Not that.  This:  I’ll pack my bags and put on my walking shoes and I will  go with you.  

The disciples traveled together.

Ruth and Naomi traveled  together.

Who is  traveling with you?

Stacey Thacker writes,

The presence of a friend can encourage us to not turn back in grief, but to look forward with hope (Fresh Out of Amazing). 

We all need a little  whisper  of hope today and we all know someone who needs us to whisper hope to them.

None of us can traipse along as fellow-travelers with every single person we meet.  We’d be drained and exhausted.

But we can’t  set off all by our lonesome selves  either.

Instead, God draws us to the right people and we choose to follow His lead.  We whisper the words to them….or maybe they whisper to us:  “I’ll go with you.  We can be neighbors.”