Learning to Nestle Instead of Wrestle

Shaken and soul-weary, yet sustained. That was my 2013 in a nutshell.

And here I stand still.

Calmer.

More steadfast.

More assured of a God who is present always – sleeping peacefully in the stern of my boat, regardless of the mounting, stormy waves.

He was there.

Is here.

And He cares.

For me and for my loved ones who were rocked so ferociously this past year. Sifted like wheat, chaff falling by the wayside as the heads of grain were laid bare.

Shaken.

Sifted.

Strengthened by Spirit’s hand.

Held.

Kept.

Secure despite the insecurities of rapidly-changing circumstances.

And me?

I bore the storms less graciously than perhaps I had wished. But I bore them. I bore them best when I placed the burdens to rest upon the Shoulders wide enough to bear them for me. Not just with me, but for me. And as the burdens were lifted one by one, my arms were strengthened to carry more. Reverse exercises seem to work best in the spirit realm. The more I release, the stronger I become.

While storms had hit many times in the years leading up to 2013, those storms provided much for me to do within those moments of waves crashing. There was care to be given to others. Decisions to be made. Doctors to be seen. Meals to be prepared. Medicines to be sorted and administered. Finances and paperwork to be organized. Therapy exercises to be practiced. Wounds to be bandaged. Even funeral preparations to be made. There was always some sort of physical application that brought relief  to others and allowed my grief and frustration to be used up in my times of serving.

There was healing in the doing.

Not so this past year. The storms of 2013 hit far beyond my capabilities to protect. Far beyond any ministrations of tangible help. “Pray and trust” became my mantra as I rallied beneath its banner and lifted so many precious ones in prayer… over and over and over again.

Soul-weary was my constant companion.

Tired of the hurt. Exhausted from the bad news and heartache surrounding me on so many fronts. Worn out from storms that required everything of me while taking nothing. No act of service. No physical care. No organizational skills.

Nothing… and yet, everything.

Last year took everything of me. Stripping me bare. Raw. Hurting. Messy. Weary. So very tired of the aching. Tired of too much and not enough walking hand-in-hand.

Even the safety of words was shaken as emails were infiltrated and accounts were hacked. Aliases and hedged messages became commonplace. Everything guarded. Me, most of all.

Yet in my guardedness, God guarded me. Never slackening His hold, though I often felt tossed about like a rag doll in the wind. He never ceased caring, though Satan taunted me with the lies. In the storm, the underlying “pray and trust” held firm. When all was beyond my control, not one thing happening was beyond His. And it still isn’t.

Not. One. Little. Thing.

All is in His care because He cares.

The more this past year was shaken, the more firm my foundation became.

Has become.

Is.

Though the tremors and waves still remain beyond my control, I am at rest. But this time I am resting with eyes wide open to see the heart of the One who is breathing peace and sharing it with me. I’ve found my place in the storm, and it is not at the helm, panicking in my pleas for the tempest to cease. It is at the stern of the boat, snuggled securely beside my Savior. Enveloped beneath His cloak, matching my heartbeat to his own as I press my weary head against His stalwart chest and rest in His care. Finally at peace. Confident that He’s got this… whatever this may be. At any given moment.

No longer soul-weary.

No longer fearful of the outcome.

Choosing to nestle instead of wrestle, I press more closely to the One who calms me. Though storms rage fiercely all about, we rest secure… my Lord and me.

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The Strength of Waiting

Sometimes our very inactivity shows the greatest amount of strength.

Soul-pierced.

Distanced from our dreams by disappointment. Held hostage by this seeming hopelessness. Parted from our purpose by this present pain.

Frustrated by this restlessness for something when we feel called to nothing.

Waiting is hard.

Resting can be the most challenging of work-outs when we are used to filling our time with activity and service.

If you are currently in or have ever been in a time of “waiting,” you well know how difficult a task it can be. It’s hard to stop a forward thrust of motion and refrain from filling our time with the simple act of doing something. Even when we know God is the One calling us to this time of rest – to this time of waiting.

We wait for His glory to appear — here — in this mess of confusion and doubt. Are we really called to content ourselves “outside the loop” of ministry? Has God really brought us to this season of rest, or are we missing His voice? What can possibly be the benefit of doing nothing when it’s obvious there are so many things needing to be done? So many opportunities for us to use the gifts He has given? The wrestling ensues as we try to make sense of it all.

But waiting is meant to be so much more than simply wasting away our days. Waiting on God can be a time of building our confidence in His character — leaning forward toward His presence in order to readily grasp what is being offered. Waiting is a call to stand in covenant with the promises we believe, the things we know to be true. Tarrying in trust. Lingering in love. Abiding in His rest while waiting for His words to either move on or nestle within our hearts.

Waiting calls us to be present in this moment, even when we may be wishing for another.

Consider the company of the following saints who were found waiting:

– Moses waited forty years before returning to Egypt as the deliverer of God’s people.

 Joshua lingered his way into leadership by staying near the tabernacle long after the rest had departed.

– Caleb waited with a warrior’s heart for forty years before taking possession of the land he had been promised.

 Simeon was waiting for the Consolation of Israel, filled with the Holy Spirit long before his arms were filled with the Savior’s earthly form.

– Widowed and worshiping, Anna waited in the temple. Praying and prophesying, she looked Redemption full in the face and spoke to all of the Deliverer.

The disciples waited according to the Lord’s directives and were met by Holy Ghost fire sweeping through the upper room and their lives, carrying the Good News into the streets of Jerusalem, to Judea, into the borders of Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

If you are presently in a God-induced holding pattern, consider yourself in good company. Press into this time of rest instead of warring against it. Listen for His words, yes, but continue to trust in His character even when your ears meet silence.

And remember, as you wait for Him… He waits for you.

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Out of My Comfort Zone… Again

Well, the votes are in, and it is unanimous: God likes to stretch me. Over and over, He edges me toward the outermost boundaries of my comfort zone, then gently (or sometimes not-so-gently) nudges me across the line. And I find myself looking about in bewilderment as  I wonder, “What in the world am I doing here?”

I recently experienced a bit of discomfort as I found myself facing the challenges of public transportation in the form of multiple train rides and bus transfers across England. It was the proverbial tale of the country mouse and city mouse colliding in a foreign land. Needless to say, this country mouse was a bit overwhelmed and often confused, much to the frustration of my exceedingly patient husband. Although the “patience of Job… or more appropriately ‘Jon'” seemed to wear a bit thin after awhile, even for my husband.

Which I’m certain had absolutely nothing to do with me.

Okay, so truth be told, I was the major cause of my husband’s exasperation as I tensed up and stressed out with every transfer to what I automatically assumed was the train to the wrong destination. But low and behold, we made our connections every time – even though not always in the time frame I would have preferred. And not without hitting a few bumps along the way.

Now that my feet are once again firmly planted in the soil of home, I can look back and almost laugh at the anxiousness with which I faced the same scenario that thousands of people deal with every day. Some would find it hard to believe that it took me 46 years before I ever rode on a train, but such is life in rural America. (I wonder how many of them can drive a tractor.)

So call me sheltered, but the truth is… I like my comfort zone.

I do.

I like the familiarity. The known. The expected.

Because when I know what is expected, I know how to react accordingly.

Within the circle of my comfort zone, I’m, well… comfortable. Physically at ease and relaxed. I can go through the motions without much thought and accomplish things without much effort. In short, I can handle life on my own there.

Perhaps that is why God insists on pushing me beyond the bounds. Challenging me to rely on Him. Causing me to turn my eyes heavenward and fill my lungs with prayers for assistance and guidance.

When I’m out of my comfort zone, it is clear that I need Him. And it is there that I live as if I do.

So God keeps pushing, and I keep fighting to stay within the lines of my well-drawn limits. Except I keep losing.

But perhaps in losing, I am actually winning.

For when I’m pushed beyond myself, I give in to His glory a little more each time. Unfortunately, it seems I’m only prone to relinquish the reins of control when I finally realize I am not in control. When I am aware that I’m in over my head and the situation requires more than I have to offer on my own. Hence God’s penchant for propelling me outward — away from my comfort. Away from myself.

And as I lose myself, I am actually finding myself in Him.

Resting in His strength. Dependent upon His grace. Trusting in His power to shine through this weak vessel of clay in ways that far surpass my human abilities.

Content to stray a bit further beyond the edges, I’m learning to be brave in God’s courage. Attempting things I would have run from once upon a time for fear that I would fall short of meeting the needs that were before me.

I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’d rather be moving forward than remaining stagnant for fear of missing the train completely or ending up in the absolute wrong place. Even if I hit a few bumps along the way.

I’m learning to trust more and more, and I’m finding comfort in some of the most uncomfortable places.

Because He is there with me.

The truth is, the more I stretch beyond myself, the more I find that He is able to complete His purposes through me. In ways I never dreamed.

For others.

For His kingdom.

For His glory.

Now if only I can find the courage to tackle that English train system…

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With Hearts Poured Out

I was thrilled to have my adult daughter home for a visit during the recent Christmas holidays. This morning, before preparing to return to her own home several states away, she took a few moments to sort through some of her items still stored in a cedar chest at our house. In her searching, she stumbled upon some diaries from her early childhood (by early, I’m referring to her life as an 8-10 year old). Through smiles and tears, she read aloud line after line of scribblings from a young girl’s heart poured upon diary pages. The range of emotions disclosed were as random as the thoughts being shared:

My brother is a pain. I mean it.

My friend’s birthday is in two weeks and I haven’t heard anything about her birthday party. I wonder if I’ll be invited. Good grief!

 … I’m going to a birthday party today. I was invited!

My little sister is lying in bed beside me. She said “kitty” today. 

Nobody fills my heart like Jesus.

Today me and Lisa made pretzels at Grandma Pat’s house. They had icing with sprinkles.

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We went to my brother’s ballgame and I made a new friend.

I just got home. Lydia hit me. Micah pushed me. And I had to get a bath.

My best friends are mad at me and I don’t know why.

As much as I hate to see my grandma in pain, I know she hates to see me in tears.

I went on a day out with Mom. I had so much fun. We rode up and down on the escalators. I like days out with Mom.

Grandma looks like she won’t live to tomorrow. I love my grandma. I keep asking God to help her, but I think He wants to bring her home.

We went to visit Grandma. She was lying in her bed. I watched as she suffered. Then I crawled up in bed with her. Her eyes started to close and she made a weird noise, then she went to be with God. I love her and I miss her very much. But deep down, I’m happy for her because she has seen God.

I’m spending the night at my great aunt’s house with my grandpa. We went in a canoe on the lake. Grandpa is sitting up in the chair late at night. I think he does that a lot.

The Lord is my strength and my salvation.

I love Jesus. Jesus is Lord.

As we sat together on the bedroom floor, we laughed at the silliness of her comments and the now-funny irritations with her siblings. We cried together as she struggled to read through the grief-filled thoughts of a ten-year-old granddaughter praying for her dying grandma. And we wiped those tears as we saw the script “Jesus is Lord” written as the final words on the inside cover of a little girl’s diary.

As I watched my daughter climb into her car and drive away, I couldn’t help but smile at the treasure she had shared with me from her diaries of long ago. The memories that she stirred have stayed with me throughout the day and have prompted me to dwell upon the past – both the blessings and the sorrows. And I found my thoughts turning toward this reminder from Psalm 62:8.

Trust in Him at all times, you people;

Pour out your heart before Him;

God is a refuge for us.

As much as I enjoyed hearing the thoughts of my daughter’s heart shared from long ago, I can only imagine how God wants us to come to Him much like that once 8-year-old girl approached her diary. No secrets could not be shared. No thoughts could not be penned. They simply poured out like water upon the pages.

I love the psalmist’s idea of pouring out my heart like water before my heavenly Father. Allowing myself to be so softened by His grace that whatever is within me flows out easily as a liquid, not clogging or catching with hard flecks of bitter sediments. All my emotions, with their sorrows and their joys; my desires, those that are mere wishes and others that are true callings; my prayers for myself, for loved ones, and for strangers; my hopes and dreams of things to come; my frustrations and pain over private history that has already occurred and has been received as less than desirable in my life.

Pouring out my heart to God while holding nothing back can be hard. Because it requires trust. It requires that I have a trust in Him to receive my offerings and to sort through my thoughts, storing up those that are worthy while discarding or refining those that are so much less than what they should be. In trusting God, I am also entrusting Him with everything that is in me. Sharing those deep, abyss-like secrets that I withhold from all others. Pouring out the good, the bad, and the downright horrid. Casting myself before a love that knows no bounds as I confront the issues within myself and fling them before the mercy seat of the Most High.

Trusting, always trusting that there is nothing that can not be made known to my Father. No thought too appalling to expose, no longings too deep to be shared, no sorrow too heavy that it cannot be borne by the Lover of my soul.

Indeed, God is a refuge for us. For one. For all.
But He is so much more than just a refuge – He is all the refuge that we need.

As we approach this New Year of 2013, may we do so with liquid hearts. Hearts soft enough to pour out before the One who already knows everything that is within them. Hearts strong enough to trust that our Father will receive those thoughts that we treasure and those pains that we process. But most of all, may we have hearts determined to love Him through it all – from the smallest of cares to the greatest of needs. May we repeat the childlike refrain from hands that penned these words of truth, “I love Jesus. Jesus is Lord.”

No matter what tomorrow holds, we can trust that He holds our tomorrows.

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God IS.

Only God knows how it all turns out,
and for those who belong to Him, it turns out well.

How comforted my heart was when it stumbled upon those words earlier today. Especially when this week has been one filled with phone calls and emails bearing discouraging news on so many fronts. Relationships being stretched to their limits, precious saints being persecuted by very real threats and dangers, trying circumstances causing frustrations and fears to rear their ugly heads. Doubts rising in attempt to thwart any vestige of hope. Yet in the midst of it all, God is.

And that is truly the key. The hope.

God is.

Regardless of what circumstances might lead us to believe, life is not out of control. It is firmly held within the Father’s care. He is very much aware of everything concerning you and me. And while we may be tempted to believe that He must surely have been caught off guard by the current situations glaring at us with such hatred and intimidation, God is not surprised. Not in the least. He is fully aware. Of. It. All.

Those people we love who are suffering, God is there with them. Loving them in ways we cannot see. Moving behind the scenes, shifting kings and kingdoms to do His bidding.

That daunting situation that appears to have no end in sight, God is already there at the finish line with arms outstretched in victory.

Those temptations that seem to suck us in time and time again, God is powerful enough to overcome them. And gracious enough to forgive us when we fail.

Those relationships that cause us so much frustration, God is intervening beneath the surface, wooing and drawing hearts continually.

In each and every situation, one variable is constant: God is.

The simplicity of hope found in that statement is truly profound. So profound that it seems too simple. And so we interrupt the measures of grace, adding a complexity to life that we were never intended to live. Instead of steadily breathing in the trust that God invites, we hyperventilate, overdosing on worldly wisdom in attempt to try and make sense of the divine with our limited capacities. Grasping for reasons, we let loose of faith and slip further into despair.

The truth is, we will not always understand why things happen the way they do. But we will always have opportunity to believe.

God is good, my friends.
God is aware.
God is in control.
God simply IS.

And He has gifted us with the ability to trust that  for those who belong to Him, it all turns out well.