Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Heavenly Hope: A Journal Stone

I lift up my eyes... where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the maker of Heaven and earth.
Psalm 121:1-2

Rebecca recently wrote a short but powerful testimonial blog that focused on the miracle of God's hand in the gift of their family's new dream home. Her story was filled with such hope, as it was one of her main reasons for writing, that it provoked in me the response below. 

As so often happens, when I write for any reason--be it initiation or response--Holy Spirit has this way of working things out in me and clearing a path for the new. Having shied away from writing altogether for far too many months (has it really been almost nine months since I posted anything?), this heart response to her blog felt like a tiny release of just as many months of words stored inside me--words not given any freedom to surface and bring relief to an oversaturated soul. It was refreshing to once again put thoughts to paper (metaphorically speaking). And it renewed the desire to pursue the very process (writing) He uses to heal me and speak to me, but also can use to minister to others, should they come across this blog.

Many people have a passion for writing and for sharing through this medium, but I think sometimes we can get bogged down by this obligation to ensure our writing has a purposeful period at the end of all the sentences. That we have to deliver a sermon in order for our words to be worthy of clicking the 'publish' button. But Revelation 12:11 tells us that our testimonies, along with the blood of the Lamb, defeat the enemy.

Sharing HOPE is a testimony.

So I'm anchoring my response here to not only have a journal stone that reminds me of this day's hope (because it's so necessary to be able to look back on what God has done), but praying that anyone who reads this will be provoked towards God and receive the very thing He wants to deposit in your heart, be it hope or the encouragement of seeing God's goodness in the lives of others.

If you haven't read Rebecca's "Our New Home and Hope" blog, head over there. I've never known anyone who thinks they been exposed to too much hope, or God's goodness on display.

I know, as I begin to type my heart’s response, that it’s got the possibility of being a lengthy one. Even with your writing being shorter in length than I anticipated, the impact of the words you chose are deep and rich and wide and long. They have stirred HeavenlyHope, as you have taken the time to declaratively share the wondrously miraculous works of God, the best Daddy ever! 
Just a few weeks ago I had the privilege of hearing Todd White share his heart for Jesus and he said something that immediately tattooed itself on mine: “I share my heart with you so that it will provoke your heart to God.” 
I wrote those words down because I didn’t want to forget them, but honestly, I haven’t had to go back to my notes to remember this statement. When Holy Spirit illuminates something for me, it has this way of sticking. 
You’ve done this today, Rebecca: shared your heart so that you could provoke other’s hearts to God. I am not taking away from the fact that you are also sharing God’s goodness in your life; I’m just partnering them together. Because when we share, we are pointing right at God. It’s one and the same. 
HeavenlyHope … I’ve been struggling to hold onto this. Some would read this as if I’m stating that I’m struggling to even believe in Hope anymore. But it’s really the opposite. I’m struggling to hold onto the rope of hope as the waves of circumstances push and pull against me. That rope is the my lifeline, and I’m not struggling to even consider whether or not it’s worthy of my holding on to, I’m struggling to not let it go … because waves do one of two things: they either propel us towards shoreline and safety, or they grind around us, wearing us down and challenging our fortitude to hold onto our belief that rescue is coming. 
“Everyday I drove by the house for over a year and I asked the Lord to give the family an amazing promotion, that it would be a blessing and a joy for them to move. Sometimes, as I drove by my heart would ache so bad that I could barely get the words out. They tasted bitter on my tongue as I felt my hope waning. But, I persisted…" 
Rich, rich words. Filled with a belief that grounded your hope. Sustained by a heart to bless a stranger. But also displaying the reality of blessing not always being easy. This paragraph holds it all. You didn’t just say to us “bless” and then BAM! your dreams are fulfilled. You showed us that heartache can stand alongside blessing and still be powerful. They don’t have to be exclusive to honor God because the point is that you dared to speak blessing and abundance over a family instead of just some random prayer that God would find a way to make this home yours. That’s POWERFUL! That’s a heaven-to-earth focused heart. And even when it felt hard or tasted bitter, you prayed blessing. HopefulPersistance. 
I purposely clipped off the end of your last sentence because these three words “but, I persisted…” screamed at me. They embody STRENGTH. “For when we are weak, then we are strong (2 Cor. 12:10).” My soul cheered when it read these words because even it recognized the spiritual significance of His Strength partnering with your persistence and then triumphing over the long ticks of seemingly endless calendar days and the taste of bitterness on a tongue. It’s VICTORY over flesh. And it’s VICTORY over the enemy of discouragement and the stealer of hope. 
When I think of the lengthy natural process you guys endured–from first seeing your dream home, to being beaten out by time constrictions, to believing it was still yours (just not yet), to a persistent prayer of blessing, to sustained hope, to the now of the reward fulfilled–I am reignited to not just be satisfied with the fact that I’m still holding onto hope, but I will, once again, LOOK. I’ve been so busy focusing at holding on that I haven’t opened my eyes in a long time to see what HeavenlyHope looks like. I’m not focused on the One who dreams first for us and then places those dreams in our hearts to pursue; I’m intent on surviving. And survival is not God’s heart for me, not the fullness of it anyway. 
“…seek Him first above the things He can do for us.” 
This is the focal point. When I seek to survive (only), I lose sight of God’s BIGNESS. I know Who is keeping me alive, and I truly am thankful for every way that He has sustained us time and time again these past 8 months. But my HOPE for big things, for dreams and purpose, has been reduced to the hope for another month’s rent. One is not wrong–it’s just not the fullness of hope. I’m thankful for manna, but I’ve stopped hoping for the Promised Land. 
Sharing your heart, Rebecca, has provoked me towards the Bigness of my God’s heart (again), and His dreams for me, and His land filled with promises that I just can’t yet see. I’ve stopped looking at the tops of the hills with anticipation, believing for promises that lay on the other side of one of them. Lately it’s just been this weariness that the top of the hill is “way up there”, and that it’s a long climb up. 
And I’m not complaining about where we are right now. I am truly thankful for sustenance. For the goodness of God’s hand of provision. I just know that the desert is not where God intended to leave his children. The desert was the journey from one place to another–not the destination. And while this desert journey hasn’t been as harsh and hot as some in the past, it has held some stolen dreams, stolen income, and the reality of a long time friendship dissolved by an act of careless betrayal.
But … the Word of God does not return void; I believe that with every fiber of my being. And Romans 8:28 is an active promise filled with the active hope of loss redeemed by His goodness. “AND WE KNOW that ALL things work together for those who love God and are called according to His purpose.” 
Seek first the kingdom of God, and ALL things…

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

What if We Dared to Look Deeply?

This morning she awoke with a different sensation bubbling up in her heart. But it wasn’t what was bubbling that struck her the most; it was this instant recognition that it was drastically divergent from the companions that had been sharing her days for some weeks now, maybe months—actually years if you were brave enough to press in beyond the easy answer and ask “how are you?” more than once, and really mean it.

Apathy. Wandering. A touch of Loneliness. Well, maybe more than a touch. Probably more like the deep end of the pool that sometimes feels like that expanse of ocean experienced when one swims out beyond the break of the waves. There are no sides to hold onto out there when the legs grow weary from treading water. One simply wills him or herself to tread longer, or … sink.

These were some of her companions, but there were others too.

Insanity. Really, just a sense of insanity, but not the kind we call crazy where the mind can’t distinguish thought from reality—the kind that causes a mind to break into pieces and take up residence in the fractured places of darkness. No. This is the heart kind of insanity where what’s offered up and out to be heard and accepted and understood and nurtured bounces back in confusing ways. Ways that speak one thing but demonstrate another. Ways that almost force her to choose between what she hears and what she sees. Ways that allow room for her to grasp at hope for change but often back her into a corner where she has to consider a reality that may not be what she’s built around her. A carefully constructed environment often betrays what lies behind closed doors.

This kind of insanity is dangerously deceptive because while crazy tends to prominently display itself, the heart can hide itself in pretend smiles and creative words that tell a story of what’s longed for but not actually lived out.

And then there are those questions unanswered. Constant questions can spin a mind into a cycle of unknowing that feels endless and exhausting. Questions about what’s been and what is and what will be—and how they all fit together. Questions about what’s true versus what’s believed, and the fact that the forces of life’s winds can twist and bend us until up seems down and down seems up. And we’ll stake our lives, and the lives of those around us, on this upside-down truth. That’s a world with which she’s become far too acquainted. A world she chose to settle into because it seemed as if it were the only option offered. But was it? Is it? What if we don't see other options because we're just not willing to look in a different direction? Many say they see, but how many actually look?

What happens when questions remain unanswered for too long? When not knowing no longer satisfies the often-distorted stability of uncertainty? When the desire for answers trumps unanswered acceptance? A heart can only ask for so long before it just stops asking.

She’s heard it said, “One should not ask a question they don’t want to know the answer to.” And she’s understood for some time now that many happily abide by that suggested life policy, and do so with ease. Many don’t ask because there simply isn’t a desire to know, and she’s been wondering if that’s equally proportional to their desire to not be known. Questions are necessary though—vital actually—to fully living instead of just surviving, to knowing instead of just being.

The mystery of the human heart—just like the Mystery of God—is hidden, not to be forever buried, but to be uncovered by those who desire to search for it and appreciate the adventure; and deep is not meant for those who are content to float on the surface, but too many are.

What if we dared to look deeply and stayed long enough to gain trusted access into this hidden place? We may discover a world that’s pleading to be inhabited, where the ground is lush with life and love, and the soil is fertile for growing so many things new. Where treasure remains unearthed because no one’s yet dug deep enough to find it. Where the fraudulent belief that knowing someone is a finite process actually dissipates and then stretches into the wondrously wild and borderless expanse that was breathed into man by the One who is infinite.

But to many—to most, more often than not—this hidden place is too hazardous a path to travel because it requires a conscious choice to step over awkward and into the delicate and fragile territory of the unchartered human soul. It’s risky business here because easy answers don’t work, and listening is more profitable than being heard, and questions become the shovel to the buried treasure of the heart.

And really, isn’t there some truth to the thought that we’ve been lulled into this belief that comfortable clich├ęs are enough? That communicating knowledge and being heard are the same as being known? And those years marked off on the calendar equal knowing someone instead of what they really are … just time?

I wonder how much would change if we dared to look deeply? 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Gold 2013


This is my fourth year of accumulating Golden Nuggets: a succinct thought or scripture that grabs my heart on a given day. I thought about keeping a running tally here of nuggets I've held onto for the past few years, but decided to store each year's individual scroll as my last entry for that given year. You can find them under the label "Gold".

The path of a spiritual leader is almost always marked by rejection. Bob Hamp, podcast snippet, January 2

There's something magical about twinkle lights shining in dark and difficult places. Brene Brown, Daring Greatly, January 11

We often feel desperate for absolutes ... it's the human response to fear. Brene Brown, Daring Greatly, January 11

Because redemption, after all, is ugly made Beautiful... ~ Amber Louthan, January 13

How can we be connected if we are covered? ~ Bob Hamp, People of the Way podcast, January 15

No one ever entered into the full rest of God by giving Him only half of themselves. ~ Ann Voskamp, When You Are Weary, January 15

When you named Him your Lord, you gave Him right to your life on His time. ~ Ann Voskamp, January 20

There are many problems I cannot solve or fix, but I can take them to the one who can, Jesus. ~ Christine Caine, January 20

The walls you face in your life might not be literal or physical. They might be emotional or relational. And it's okay to feel frightened or intimidated by those walls. ... It would be unhealthy not to appreciate the significance of a major challenge. ~ Excerpt from a devotion telling the story of a competitive extreme climber, January 20

Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it. ~ Mark Twain, opening quote to Chapter 19 of Cross Roads by Wm. Paul Young, January 22

Hope allows us to leave our unanswered questions in God's hands; it empowers us to remain at peace, and it enables us to believe the best about the days to come. ~ Joyce Meyers, Hope Devotional Reading, January 30

She hasn't learned yet to try and be anything but who she is. ~ Sarah Mae, January 30

He showed me His heart as a Heavenly Father who watches His children go through difficult tests. We cry out in desperation and we ask God to deliver us from the trial. However, our Sovereign God knows what is best for us and allows the test to mold and shape us into stronger followers of Christ. ~ Amber Rhoads, February 13

Reaching a point where you say "enough" to a toxic environment is not cowardly--it is so very brave. ~ Jen Hatmaker, April 25

When you forgive, you are reclaiming your heart for your own. ~ Alan Smith, April 26

When we find a redemptive perspective on our suffering, it ceases to be suffering. ~ Viktor Frankl, Psychologist, April 29

God is using the "all is lost" season in your life for His purposes. And when we submit to His purposes, any death can be redeemed. He's living proof of that. ~ Donald Miller, April 29

Fear begets fear until Perfect Love interferes. ~ Bob Hamp, May 3

Roll your works upon the Lord [commit and trust them wholly to Him; He will cause your thoughts to become agreeable to His will, and] so shall your plans be established and succeed. Proverbs 16:3 ~ Crystal Lewis, May 6

Your rebellious child's real problem is not drugs or sex or cigarettes or porn or laziness or crime or cussing or slovenliness or homosexuality or being in a punk band. The real problem is that your child doesn't see Jesus clearly. The best thing you can do for rebellious children--and the only reason to follow any of these suggestions--is to show them Christ. It won't be simple or immediate, but the sins in their life that distress you and destroy them will begin to disappear only when they see Jesus more as He actually is. ~ Abraham Piper, Let Them Come Home, May 9

That's the mystery of it, and the purpose--two whole people bumping into each other and learning (through a lot of patience and vulnerability) to keep choosing each other anyway. ~ Alex Hendrick, Knowing Your Boundaries, June 18

For the rest of your life, there are going to be windows, {Ellie}. Some are going to lead to places you shouldn't be, and some are going to lead to a more beautiful view. I can't open them for you and I can't tell you which ones you are supposed to open. But He can, and He will. Your job is to know Him well enough to hear Him, and to be constant in obeying Him. ~ Angie Smith, When Life is Big and You Can't Control It, June 26

In cooperating with God to bring {my husband's} heart back home I first had to pray for his heart to come back to the Lord. We wouldn't have made it if {he} wasn't first softened towards God. Then God softened {my husband's} heart towards me. Rebecca Gates, Facebook Post, July 6

It also reminded me that we have to love as big as we can even when people can't receive it. ~ Travis Gates, Facebook Post, July 8

And I wonder how many times I shake my head in disappointment because I'm frustrated that the Lord has given me the smaller portion, not realizing He has chosen the best based on a characteristic that I don't use to assess the options {quality over quantity}. Angie Smith, Portion, August 21

God hardwired us to remember. That's why photos affect us so deeply. They hang on our hearts as well as our walls. Jimmy Evans, October 13

You never know how much a small gesture can impact a person and alter their life. You just never know ... You might press a nickel into the hand of a little girl who doesn't know she's loved and alter the course of her family for generations. Kate Andre, The Legacy of Adoption and Grandma Clydella, October 18

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Aware of the Extraordinary

That first morning thought. Sometimes clear and concise, partnered with this feeling that you must have been mulling it over long before your REM pattern changed. Other times a blurred line between your dreaming and conscious states. Most of mine come into clarity after my first cup of coffee. But there's always a first morning thought. Right?

This morning mine was crystal clear, as if God wanted me to not forget it. Today is August 15 and it's our two month anniversary in our Dream Home. Being summer and without schedules and all, dates are nothing but an after thought or a question asked. But not today. It was as if God was celebrating this date with me before my eyes opened.

Two months. 60 days. 1,440 hours. 86,400 minutes. 5,184,000 seconds. When broken down, time seems much more significant. 2 months versus 5 million seconds. My mind pauses as I consider it all. Two months feel like a blip on a radar and forever all at the same time. Time has not stopped and waited for me to pay attention to its passing, but the contentment of here has caused me to forget where I came from.

And yet I still wake up, still meander into my kitchen, still light the gas stove and turn on the lawn sprinklers, still mosey up the stairs to where my no-so-littles hang out, and I smile. Smile because the goodness of God is in every wall, every window blind, and every blade of grass that paints our front and back yards. And it's in the aroma of our home created by the combination of paint and wood floors and ... us.  

Every home has its own fragrance. It's distinct and recognizable, like a name. You may become so familiar with it on a day-to-day basis that you stop paying attention to the comfort it brings. But just leave for a few days and it's almost automatic that the first words out of your mouth when you return will be, "Ahh, it smells like home."

Every address I've shared since becoming a transplanted Texan has held its own unique place in my heart. From being the first in Double Oak to representing new beginnings in Bedford; from starting over in Keller to down-sizing in NRH and re-imagining in Roanoke, memorable moments have been carved into my mind that I carry forward with each passing year. 

But this place. This Dream Home, my Ephesians 3:20 home as I've called it from first sight, is something extraordinary because it represents God's Above-And-Beyond-All-That-I-Could-Ask-For-Or-Imagine Kind of Goodness. It's extraordinary because it represents a tidal wave kind of miracle. It's extraordinary because He brought us out of the depths of loss and placed us in a palace of promise. It's extraordinary because it represents the blessing of God and His gracious generosity. And it's extraordinary because it came with a promise of God's faithful provision. 

Hebrews 10:23 - Let us hold fast the hope we confess without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.

Choosing Differently

Today. Today I read this and this and this as I carved out time to just enjoy the morning. Window shades pulled up to let light in. Coffee in a spill-proof cup because I still haven't found the night stands I really want and the coffee has to sit in my lap for now. Covers all messy around me and over me. Laptop waiting with words that will fill the emptiness created by not purposing to fill it. Instead I've just allowed myself to ache over emptiness and then ache some more. Boredom and emptiness beget boredom and emptiness. Yet in the low places where they both wait, it takes effort to not be lulled by them into complacency and then settle for them as companions.

So I chose differently. Today. I chose to sip at the drink that I've unwittingly abandoned, the one that ever satiates my thirsty soul. Words beautiful and words deep breathe life into me. Words written from the heart of God and placed in The Book that will never be out sold, and other words that He delivers, written from the same place but bound with a different cover, or none at all, with a different title, because that someone bowed in passionate obedience and listened and then set those words free.

I've neglected words, and I am well aware again of the price I pay when I do. Thirsty. Parched. Dry. Cracking. Apathetic. And then bored and empty.

But today I chose differently. That's all it really takes. Choosing Differently. Yet that choice can feel too hard and almost beyond my ability when I neglect it for too many days in a row. Or weeks. Or months.

And it's not that I've disregarded His Word for too long. Because they are there. Always there. It's in the choice to sip and walk away or linger and drink the entire cup that determines my level of saturation afterward.

No, it's not that I haven't chosen His Word, but instead the addition of words He chooses to write through attentive hearts. And I've neglected also allowing Him to write through mine.

And it's not that His Word isn't enough, it's always all and then some, but there's good reason that He also chooses to give words to others. Because His heart continues through those who sit with Him and then release to us. 

And it's not just words. It's every gift really.

But for me it's that written trifecta. That perfect storm that keeps my heart alive and fresh and inspired, and keeps boredom and emptiness at bay: His Words. Their Words. My Words. Really ALL His, but dealt out to different hands and hearts.

Words inspire me and feed me and drive me and love on me. And today I chose not to abandon them but to abandon myself to them.

What feeds you, drives you, loves on you and inspires you? Then choose it today. Remember, that's all it really takes: Choosing Differently.