Good Things on the Horizon

The parents have just left to check out a new land they’ve never seen, like Abraham, a land God is calling them to go to based solely on a promise.

They’re nervous but excited, and I wander in an empty house too full of quiet and all the apprehensive thoughts.

I hope it’s what my parents hope. That it will be the new start for all of us like they think it will be once we move.

But I’m here in my childhood home, the one we lived in for 18 years, and full of melancholy and what losing all of this will mean.

Friends. Family. State. Home. Are we making the right choice?

I know the Lord has made promises to my dad for him and all his family–and I trust God’s promise and the ability of my dad to hear God–but I’m waiting for that quiet assurance within my own soul. So close now to moving, and I need that assurance.

Something to look forward to so that leaving all of this behind won’t be so hard.

But I can’t see it yet. Have no idea what to expect or if there is anything to look forward to. I feel as though I’m blindfolded and stumbling forward, just having to trust that The One holding my hand is leading me toward something great.

Right now, it’s so dim–a hope just barely seen, a pinprick of light in this tunnel, and the only way out is by going through now, because it’s final and the house is sold.

I haven’t heard the Lord telling me to stay behind, and overall I feel as though I am supposed to go and follow my family to this new state. But at least Dad has a specific promise to cling to. What is there for me?

I need a promise, Lord, I’ve prayed for weeks.

Soft light filters through my troubled thoughts, and I glance out the window, feeling drawn for some reason, called, lead outside.

I follow the sudden urge, and the second I step around the corner of the house, my jaw drops and all breath is stolen from me.

It is the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. The clouds are glorious streaks of pink and orange, the clouds building towards me as though reaching out for me, calling me to a land far beyond. At the base of the clouds–I almost can’t believe my eyes–a rainbow.

A sign of God’s promise for good.

I run back inside to get my camera praying I won’t miss it, knowing I’m meant to capture this, remember this.

They’re even more brilliant by the time I make it back outside, and at first, a pang in my heart realizing this is one of the last times I’ll ever have this view, standing here on this property.

But as I stare at that rainbow, tears well up at God’s tenderness towards me, and peace begins to fill me.

Here, now, is that promise I’ve been praying for. And it’s so much more beautiful and grand than I had ever pictured!

The heavens displaying His glory remind me of the might of The One who holds my world in His hands, and how perfect the rainbow, reminding me of the sweetness of His promises.

It might not be in words, but His promise and reassurance for me spreads across the sky and reaches across the horizon, promising more brilliance and glory and hope for my future than I could even begin to comprehend!

So much more than I could ever ask or imagine. (Eph. 3:20-21.)

But with the sunset, actual words of promise finally sink into my heart as well:

I am not taking you to this new place to abandon you, but to bless you. I have good things in store for you. 

A long-forgotten verse springs up within me: “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you, and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!” (Psalm 31:19, ESV.)

Clouds with Scripture 2

And I remember.

Ahh, thank you, Holy Spirit, for constantly working to remind me of the truth. For being the antidote from the spiritual amnesia I’m so prone to. So silly of me. Whether here or there, I know you’re in control and will perfectly care for me as only you can.

And the promise… thank you for the promise, Lord!

The promise of His faithfulness no matter what life brings, His promise for good because He is good, to work all things towards good, and a good so good He has to store it away, it’s so much!

Do you hear that, oh worried and troubled heart?

He has good things in store for you. So much overflowing, abundant good, He had to store it all away it was so much!

Do you get it? 

He’s just waiting to hand it out from the storehouse of His love for you, every day, each and every moment of the year. He’ll never run out. He won’t forget.

Do you see it?

Isn’t this sunset, this beauty, so very good? Is it not in the sight of all humankind if we’ll just stop to see, and doesn’t He have many more sunsets in store, with sunrises, too- and won’t He provide them the moment that we need them?

I walk away with a smile as the sunset fades, knowing I have a promise I’ll see fulfilled, because as the Scripture says, “The LORD’s promises are pure like silver refined in a furnace, purified seven times over.” (Psalm 12:6.)

And I do see them fulfilled. 

A new year, and a new place, and even after experiencing so much of God’s goodness and faithfulness this past year, once again I find myself worrying about what the future holds in store.

But I have a picture, and a promise, and I remember with a smile…

Good.

There’s good for me in store. 

 

 

 

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He’ll Be Here Soon

I look out at the early morning light from a hospital room as the city sleeps, and I am reminded of another time very similar to this. Same hospital. Same sleeping city. Then as now, the city seemed completely oblivious to what was going on only a few stories above them. With my dad laying almost unconscious, the lights of the city had looked cold, indifferent. But today there’s a soft light pouring over the mountains in hues of rose and gold, and the lights of the city look like little stars that refuse to give into the dark.

It’s a beautiful day to have a baby, I think.

And so it is.

Whether it’s just my nature or the nature of watching a baby being born, I am very contemplative. The night has brought tears, and fear, struggle, and sweat. To get my sister Rachel’s labor going, we walked the first and second floor. The third. And then… the fourth.

My heart clenches as we step off the elevator and I realize where we are. The floor is different here, so I recognize it immediately. My shoulders tense involuntarily as we pass the patient’s rooms, and memories come flooding back.

Inside one of these rooms, I looked out at a sleeping city and begged God to wake Dad from his deep sleep. Inside one of these rooms, someone else might be doing something similar.

I ponder this as we make our way back. Same hospital. Two totally different experiences. A place of both sorrow and of joy.

Rachel has thrown up from the pain and lays writhing on the bed. Her body curls and uncurls from the contractions, and she begs for a warm bath. The tears streak down her cheeks, and I feel them filling my own as she’s lead away to the bath and the door closes.

I sink down onto the couch and bow my head. I didn’t expect it to be so hard to watch her be in such agonizing pain.

“I don’t know if I can do this,” I whisper.

I whisper, even as she screams it: “No, no, nooo–I can’t do this!” And Mom says soothingly back, “You can, honey. You’re stronger than you think. You’ll be able to do more than you ever thought you could.”

Her body tightens with the next contraction, and she holds her breath until we all say as one, “Breathe, Rach. Don’t forget to breathe. Work with them.”

All of this reminds me of the verse that says, “But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” (Romans 8:20-22.)

I feel the truth of it now more than I ever have before.

Remembering my dad’s pain. Thinking of all the pain we passed as we walked the halls. Seeing, hearing, feeling her pain even now–and being completely powerless to stop it. If there was just something I could do! But nothing I say can calm the fear. Nothing I do will ease the pain. And isn’t that the toughest thing of all? Seeing the ones you love in pain?

In the kind of emotional pain that wracks the body with sobs the same way as the contractions take over my sister now. All encompassing. Impossible to get away from.

My own pain, I can handle. But seeing a loved one in that kind of pain… it’s almost more than I can bear.

Labor Pains 2I get it now. The verse. All of creation groans and waits. The earth contracts and eases with its own kind of labor pains… ever watchful for the day when the Savior will return. And when He comes, He will wipe away every tear. (Rev. 7:17) 

With the city just below, my sister in front, and all the memories in my heart of the hallway we walked, I recognize it for what it is now: the continuous labor for what we lost when we lost Eden. It contracts and eases with both death and new life. And in my own heart and life, I see the same. Was it only a year and a half ago that my heart was contracting with the pain, curling into itself? And now, for a happy occasion, and the pain has eased and a sense of anticipation lingers in the air.

Always the anticipation. Always searching for… something.

With all the rest of creation, I wait. Through all the labor pains, we breathe…and cry…and moan. Like waves, it ebbs and flows, carrying us along, trying to suck us in, releasing us onto the shore.

I wonder… does the same way of dealing with physical labor pains apply to the emotional kind as well?

It makes sense, somehow. To just breathe.

Sometimes, it’s the only thing you can do.

To let the pain have its way and let it shape us into whatever it is that needs to be birthed. That way, if we work with it instead of fighting against it, maybe we can give birth to hope. To joy. To love or peace. To forgiveness or grace or mercy. For has He not promised to make everything beautiful in its time? (Ecclesiastes 3:11.)

All Creation waits for the glorious day when He will return and all pain will be taken away…breathing through the contractions, and holding our breaths in anticipation of the coming majesty. And we were given the Holy Spirit to help coach us through… He who is called our “advocate,” or “counselor.” (John 14:26.) Like my mom beside Rachel’s bed, He leans down to grip our hands and remind us of the truth: “With me, you’re stronger than you think. Together we’ll get through this.”

Rachel’s been pushing for almost two hours, and she falls against the pillow and gasps, “I can’t do this. I don’t think he’s ever going to come.”

And the doctor and nurses are all quick to say, “Yes, you can. You’re almost there! He’ll be here soon.”

None of us can see him yet, and we all exchange doubtful glances. It’s been a long time, and we see no sign of progress. No sign whatsoever that he’s coming. How can they be so sure?

It’s only a week until Christmas, and all of a sudden, I’m in a stable where another young woman falls against the straw and cries, “Joseph! I can’t do this!” He squeezes her hand even as the terror clenches his heart, and forces out between quick swallows, “Yes, you can! You’re almost there. He’ll be here soon!”

And all of Bethlehem waits, even as the star shines down proclaiming His life and all the prophets and the wise men promise, “He’ll be here soon.”

How can they be so sure? A Savior? Sent into this ugly, messy, painful world? And the pain just keeps on coming and we’re not sure it’ll ever end.

But in hope, we wait… and through the stillness… a cry! Our Savior is born! He who is called Counselor, Father, and the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6.) He who is come to take away the sins of the world! He who came to win victory over the grave! He who came to cry our tears and feel our labor and bleed our blood. He who will come again to wipe away every tear from every face.

I cry as baby Boe arrives–all perfect eyes and ears and toes. He gives his first cry–gurgly and strong, and Rachel stares wide-eyed in shock. Her head falls back for an instant, then she’s looking up once more in awe and amazement. The cord is cut, and Boe is laid close to her chest. He snuggles in and blinks at her, and Rachel says with reverence in her voice, “Yeah. I’m your mommy.”

My heart shouts and leaps with joy, and I am certain as I stare at this new life: HE is here.

Emmanuel, God with us. 

And He always will be.

For just a moment, a glimpse of heaven’s beauty in front of me.

And all creation waits

New Baby Boe

Daffodils in the Snow

The daffodils were bright, happy patches of yellow in the otherwise dark store, and they took my breath away as an employee gathered a bunch together to arrange.

They made me smile at first, but that soon gave way to a heavy ache as I forced myself to look away.

They’re just flowers, I sternly reprimanded myself. Perfect flowers, the rebellious side of me whispered back.

Ask any single girl around Valentine’s Day, and I’m betting most will tell you they do their best to ignore any and all flowers. Because most girls like flowers. And even more, we like relationships and having someone to spend the day with. After one too many Valentine’s and no flowers… it can get start to get a tad depressing. And if you’ve never had any flowers on Valentine’s Day except from your mom… um, yeah, that would be me.

But God has taught me so much about what true love looks like in the years I’ve been single, and while it can definitely be discouraging, the number one thing I’ve learned is this: love is so much more than we ever give it credit for. Love is

“Love” in our culture has been re-defined and restricted in a way I don’t think God ever intended, often reduced to being contained to two people or within a single family; so much so that if you’re a single adult out in today’s world…well, then. Love just isn’t for you, and we all know the shame and stigma that comes along with the title “single,” and I can promise you the effects are felt whether we admit to it or not.

It’s still very much one of my deepest desires to have husband, home, and family, and please don’t hear me say there’s anything wrong with wanting those things or that it somehow makes you “less holy” if you do. It’s a beautiful thing, a sacred thing, and you can serve God just as easily within marriage as you can without. And trust me–I’ve read my fair share of articles/blog posts that sound like a whole bunch of embittered single women turning their noses up at marriage pretending as if they don’t care, and I’m not here to be one of those women.

But, oh, church, hear me– love is so much more than a word for Valentine’s Day. So much more than a sign for the family room or a word spoken at a wedding. Love was always meant to be shared, to be extended and multiplied, given freely and frequently.

I can thankfully say at this point in my life that God has blessed me by teaching me to expand my own definition, to consider myself blessed not because I have any “one” child, but to consider myself blessed because I have many.

While I know I still have a lot of misconceptions to break through about my idealized view of romance just as God broke through my idealized version of what motherhood would be like my first day babysitting (which took about .5 seconds after the parents left and I did a head count and came up one short), I feel pretty fortunate to have a preview of what real love looks like, too, and I can pretty much tell ya it isn’t all sunshine and roses.

But I can tell you this:

Real love is loyal. It’s faithful and true. It’s hard working, generous, and kind. It’s patient and merciful. It’s humble and right. It’s strong and it’s pure, and oh, man, is it hard. 

It’s sitting on the floor of somebody’s living room just to be with them in their grief.

It’s staying when you’d rather leave. 

It’s getting on your hands and knees to scrub a floor from a mess you didn’t make.

It’s holding someone’s hand in the hospital just to help them sleep. 

It’s the mundane of folding laundry and washing dishes. It’s choosing to look over someone else’s wrong and clothing them with grace as Jesus does instead.

It’s singing lullabies over a sick child, ladling out soup to the homeless, or standing next to a father at the grave site to let him know he doesn’t stand alone. 

God has planted within each of us such a great capacity to love. He is our Creator, after all, and the Creator Himself is love.

But love also has an enemy, and we are a generation that’s love-starved. We strive after “The One”, and all along we miss The Many. We chase after the ring, and run right past a relationship with Him. And oh, dearest, how we miss it! How we miss the sweetest, most important of loves, for His mercies are new every morning! (Lam. 3:22-24.)

The truth is that I used to think I wasn’t loved, and I thought I wasn’t loved because I didn’t have what the world defined as love.

A first kiss, flowers on Valentine’s Day, an engagement ring, or so many other things. And I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you it’s left some wounds, and I’ve believed the shame. Pitched a tent and put my feet up right in the center of it, in fact.

But I’m so happy to tell you I was wrong.

I am loved by The Most High. So loved that He died on a cross for me! I have more love in my life than I could ever know what to do with, and that’s because His love is a bottomless well. An endless desert for me to explore, an ocean for me to sink into, and as sure and as permanent as the sun is in the sky. Something I can extend to others and partake of for myself not just one day out of the year, but 365.

The same as it is for you. 

And how could I forget the family and friends surrounding me? The many families over ten years who have given me the honor of letting me into their homes to rock their babies to sleep or teach their preschoolers their ABC’s or get even the most determined of my charges to laugh. The precious people I was completely blind to because I was so focused on the one thing I didn’t have instead of all that I did.

So if you’re there today, dear heart, if the sight of roses make you cry or you had to spend one more Valentine’s Day with another broken heart in your hands, may you know that love is already yours. That there is now no shame, because that shame was taken away in Jesus’ name. His was the first love, the only love, and the kind of love that not only meets us where we’re at, but runs straight for us to embrace us as we are. 

May we follow after Him and never forget: Life is too short to only love one person.

And you know those daffodils I was talking about earlier? I found them one winter not too long ago shooting straight up through the snow in front of my car. And we’ve never even planted daffodils. 

So look for your daffodils today, daughter of The Most High. Because you, you are precious to Him, and my guess?

My guess is they’ve been right there waiting for you to discover all along. 

Daffodils in the snow w Frame

I Asked God for Candy and He Gave me an Apple Instead

Candy AppleIt happens every year.

You know the kind.

It’s a terror beyond all terrors, horror unspeakable, the kind of thing that makes you wonder if there’s any hope for humanity at all…

The person who gives you an apple (and I’m not talkin’ caramel here, either) instead of candy on Halloween night. You know–because it’s “better for you” and “healthy teeth are important” and all that.

As a kid, didn’t that just grate on every single nerve you had? “What is wrong with these people?” kids everywhere ask, shaking their heads. “Don’t they understand us at all? Don’t they know kids want candy, especially on Halloween? What kind of torture is this?”

I wish I could say that as an adult I grew out of that phase. Because yes, while it is extremely annoying to go to a stranger’s door with hand held out expecting one thing and receiving another, the reality is, you’re still receiving something. They didn’t have to give you anything at all.

Unfortunately though, I cannot tell you how many times I’ve done the exact same thing in my relationship with God.

The mature part of me says, “I need to be thankful to receive. God is good, and I will absolutely accept whatever He wants to give me as what I need and not necessarily what I want.”

Then there’s the real me that gets the apple and throws a fit.

“Lord,” I pout, “You said ask, and you shall receive! So what’s up with this? Don’t you get me at all? Don’t you care?”

But it’s not just the silly, small things. Sometimes it’s about the really big things, too.

It’s about that time we prayed for healing, and healing didn’t come. That time we prayed for money to come in, and hospital bills rolled in instead. The time we asked for a promotion and found ourselves fired in the very middle of our prayer.

There are definitely times when we’re stomping our feet without cause. But then there are those times where the hurt and confusion runs deeper–where lines get blurred and all we can cry is, “God, why?”

Jesus says this in Matthew 7:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

 Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matthew 7:7-11.) 

Still doesn’t make a lot of sense, does it? If God wants to give us good gifts, then how on earth does prolonging our suffering accomplish that? How does an apple compare to candy?

What to do when the disappointment hurts? 

All of us know the first option. We can stomp our feet, demand a re-do, or even turn away from God completely.

That’s definitely one way. But as God has been showing me lately, there is another alternative.

We can trust Him and surrender to His love and plan for our lives.

If you’re anything like me, I bet those two words made every single muscle in your body clench. Surrender and trust are not words that come easily to the human vocabulary. Haven’t since the very day Eve decided that she could be like God, discerning between good and evil, and brought her own kind of apple to her lips.

We fight God. In fact, unless we are reconciled to Him through His son Jesus, we are even called His enemy. And I get it–to surrender sounds like a very pious, saintly thing to do: “I surrendered my life to God, and now I’m a new person.” Or how about, “Well, you just need to trust God, honey. He’ll get you through this.”

And all the while, the same people uttering those phrases are the same people who are walking straight past the pain. The problem, they imply, is you. Trust God at all times. Be patient. Hide your emotions, because they’re kind of unflattering, and we’d really rather not see them. You should probably deal with that.

Because of  regular, ol’ sinful people (evil, I believe is the term Jesus used), I think we begin to look at God the same way. The way they react to us begins to color the way we see God, and we assume He’ll react in an identical manner. “Enough with all of this. Go take your temper tantrum somewhere else,” we imagine God as saying.

But here’s the truth, dear heart: Jesus will not ever walk past your pain. 

When you come with your requests in prayer you come not only to the throne of God, but to the cross of Christ as well. Understand that though He is King and asks for you to surrender to Him as Lord over your life, He is also the very same Lord who surrendered to your sins and died to save your life.

You can trust Him.

You can trust Him even with your pain. 

SurrenderBecause here’s the thing: while the subject of surrender definitely involves the laying down of our pride, it has a lot to do with the laying down of our pain, as well.

Wounds we won’t allow Him to touch because we believe He’s the one who put them there in the first place, and how dare He ask us to trust Him that somehow those are meant for our good?

If we peeled back all the layers, if we looked at the root cause, we’d probably all admit that the fear to surrender lies in an even greater fear: that He doesn’t actually love us like He says He does.

It’s okay to admit. You won’t find any condemnation from me. Because every Christian faces this at one point or another, and when we do, we have two very clear choices in front of us: “Either Christ loves me, is completely holy and good, incapable of doing me harm, and I will trust Him to make decisions for me knowing that He has the right to make those choices, or I turn my back on everything He did on the cross to prove His love and right to rule my life, call it all a lie, and live life the way I want to.”

The pain, the anger, the questions–they have to go somewhere. And in my experience, the best place is at the foot of the cross.

Because it’s there The Mercy King waits to meet us. 

It’s a place you’ll go to often as a Christian. Because surrender is a continual thing. It’s something you’ll have to do over and over again, and that’s okay. It can be a long process. It might take a lot of yelling and crying and even rebelling to get there.

But it doesn’t always have to. 

Ask, Jesus said, and you’ll receive. No, I never said you’d receive exactly what you asked for, exactly the way you specified, but I did promise I’d work it all towards your good. I did promise to love unfailingly, to never leave you nor forsake you.

Seek, child of God. Ask your questions, bring your complaints, try to make sense of it all–and I promise you’ll find Me.

I promise you’ll find not just empty answers, but The Answer. The way, the truth, the life. I’ll hold you as you sob, I’ll take your doubts and show you my hands pierced for your sins, and yes, I’ll open my arms to you once more.

God has a good gift in mind for you and only you, His child. It may not be what you expected or asked for. It could be a new job that doesn’t look very pleasant at the outset. It could mean being set free of your past through forgiving someone else. It might even look like a dumb ‘ol apple that’s supposedly “good for you” and all that.

But no matter what, nothing will ever change His promise: Dearest child, I have a gift for you, and it’s gonna be a good one. 

You just might have to let go of the junk before you’ll be ready to receive it.