Random thoughts on quarantine, prayers and thankfulness…

This is a weird time to be in right now. The requirement of being home is quite different than wanting to be at home or choosing to be home. When I want or choose to be home, it’s like giving myself the gift of permission to just “be” and that feels safe and cozy and pleasant, something to savor and appreciate. With a lot of things feeling off kilter and out of balance, I feel a bit lost in being home and it not being my choice. Errands that were annoying and exasperating a few months ago, begin looking so lovely! An opportunity to get out! Go! Do! Accomplish! But, that’s not how life is right now. It is eerie being out, strange to feel exposed and vulnerable just doing what I always do. It is odd to need a mask on my face to feel some semblance of safety, yet not really knowing where the threat is coming from…is it the guy over there by the bread? The woman, with no mask on, coughing, by the eggs? The seemingly strong and fit younger guy browsing the veggies? Or the couple walking by with their dogs, trying to enjoy some sun? It is a disconcerting knowing there is a real threat out there but having no idea exactly where it is lurking or if I am the threat to someone else.

I love to pray, intercede and talk to Jesus during the day. There are times when I feel unsure and overwhelmed by all the need in the world and next door and in the next state and in my own home, that I literally do not know how to pray for all of this. We haven’t experienced this before and there isn’t a “set way” to do it. This truly is beyond us. But God… sitting on my patio thinking about how to pray for ALL of this, God reminded me of Romans 8:26, “And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words.” That’s comforting. He knows how this is going to turn out. He knows what He is going to do and not do, who He is going to equip and raise up for such a time as this. It’s been in preparation for eternity and this virus has not taken God by surprise. He’s gifting scientists and researchers and healthcare workers with wisdom, creativity and intellect to tackle this and we aren’t left all alone in it. Filtered through His hands. When we don’t know what or how to pray, it is perfectly ok to say, “Here it is God, here’s all the need and fear and illness and death and unknown, so just here, take it, heal it, work it out and please just give us You.” He’s enough.

There is a book I like reading each morning – Jesus Calling. I loved yesterday’s reading. “When you focus on what you don’t have or on situations that displease you, your mind also becomes darkened. You take for granted life, salvation, sunshine, flowers and countless other gifts from Me. You look for what is wrong and refuse to enjoy life until that is “fixed.” Negative focus darkens the mind. Hmmm. Yes, I think it does. Right now, there are a lot of things that are not going our way, that seem impossible to surmount, that are terrifying and unknown and create so much fear and panic and feelings of lack. I think it is healthy to acknowledge all the things that displease, frighten and anger us. If ignored and denied, those feelings and fears fester and grow and threaten to take over. But, once looked at and acknowledged, maybe we can choose to look about us with clear eyes, open minds and expansive hearts to find things to be thankful for that are good, positive and bring joy. What if we were present and not attempting to rehearse the future, imagine what post-virus life is going to be like and just be and see what is in front of us. There will be terrible things, but I need to believe there will be just as many, if not more, good things right in front of us; maybe hidden by the large looming pandemic, but still there. Simple things like warm sun, chilly rain, 11 day old baby kittens in my guest room, sunrise and sunset, birds singing, coffee on the patio, a walk in the neighborhood looking at all the flowers, the actual chance to sit, to be, to stare at nothing…

I know this is random and disjointed, so thank you for sticking with me, if you made it this far, but this is my mind right now. I don’t have this figured out and I don’t know how to do this either. I can guarantee my mind will go to dark places, probably even today, but I know I can pull my thoughts back up and refocus as many times as I need to and so can you. The one constant I know completely and has never failed me is Jesus. He’s never left us and He’s not going to now.

I pray His peace and presence all over every one of you!

It is well

Pandemic. Shortage. Lack. Hoarding. Panic. This is how it feels right now. All of social media is full of the latest death, new cases of Covid-19, rumors of martial law, people ignoring social distancing out of fear, denial, ignorance, stupidity, selfishness…it is frightening and disconcerting. We haven’t had to do this before. We don’t know how to do this and that in itself makes everything feel off balance and surreal.

The first time it really struck me and became “real” was in the grocery store not that long ago. The atmosphere was odd. People were wandering the aisles and I could see the uncertainty in their faces – how much do I buy? Will there be enough? Will we be ok? I stood still in the aisle that normally contains all types of dried beans, rice and pasta and felt totally overwhelmed. The shelves were bare. Stripped of just about everything. It was such a surreal feeling. I have never felt that way before and it felt like the footing was ripped out from under me. I stood there and wanted to cry; for the loss, the strangeness, the total unknown, the anxiety that all of that produced. I finished my shopping, but that undercurrent of unease and chaos still simmered there.

I turned on music as I put away our groceries and the song It is Well by Bethel Music started to play. I stopped, sat and listened to the lyrics. Such beautiful words. Such truth.

“And through it all, through it all, my eyes are on You. And through it all, through it all, it is well…and this mountain that’s in front of me, will be thrown into the midst of the sea…So let go my soul and trust in Him, the waves and wind still know His name…and it is well with my soul, It is well with my soul…”

God knew I was afraid, disconcerted, stressed and feeing out of control. I adore Him for gifting me with this song at that moment. I literally felt my muscles relaxing, my breathing slow and my soul calming. The wind and the waves obey His every command! They cannot cross the boundaries He has put into place without His permission. He’s got this. He’s got us.

The chaos is still here, life still remains uncertain; panic and fear prowl and sniff at our hearts and minds, looking for any tiny fissure of terror and doom, to sneak in and flourish. We don’t have to let them in. We don’t. It is very hard not to, believe me, I get it. I have to talk to myself and Jesus constantly to keep from getting sucked into chaotic thinking and trying to rehearse what will happen and how this will all turn out. I am not good at that and not always successful. I don’t know what the new normal will look like, as this virus continues to rage or what the new normal will look like once it has run it’s course. No one knows but Jesus. He knows and He isn’t afraid, He isn’t scrambling and panicking. Nothing touches us that isn’t first filtered though His hands.

I pray that as we navigate all this “new”, that we will love others and try to give lots of grace and compassion. I pray that we allow others to feel what they feel and allow ourselves to feel what we feel, because we are humans; but I pray we choose not to reside in chaos and fear, but remember that it is well and He is so very near.

 

 

Blessed

My new coffee mug has the word Blessed inscribed across the front of it; letters big and bold, like a confident declaration. When I saw that mug on the shelf, it called out to me. I had to have it; I want to feel blessed and be blessed.

This New Year’s morning, I sat at my favorite spot at my table, where I look outside my slider and watch the morning unfold. There is often a variety of early birds at the feeders who are singing, as they jostle for position, waiting their turn; sometimes with nice attitudes and other times, not. There are the other birds, scratching and scritching among the garden debris, ferreting out whatever treasures are hidden in the rich dirt. Watching these birds go about their daily business, I began to think about the word blessed. The dictionary says it means consecrated; holy; sacred; blissfully happy or contented. These words are beautiful. I do want to be these words, feel these words, live in these words.

I have often thought of living blessed and being blessed as something elusive, more like a thought or an elevated idea, than something I could truly capture, do and live inside of each day. As I pondered my birds and the beauty of a new morning, in a new year, I  began to see that the word blessed is not a higher thought on a difficult to achieve spiritual plane.

Imagine a typical day, in which you wake up and grab your coffee in your favorite mug. Perhaps you watch the morning unfold in front of you on your patio with a soft breeze floating past you; all kinds of sounds and scents in the air. What if during this peaceful time, you began to feel grateful that you are alive; able to see and smell and experience nature going about its business in the Divine order of things? Is that not be sacred and pure; bringing you bliss and contentment? What if during your ordinary day, you witness a startling and unusual act of kindness, that causes you to pause, maybe tear up and have your faith in humanity and goodness restored, if even for a moment? Is that not holy? Is that intersection of the Divine and the human, not sacred ground? Hmmm. I wonder when I’m making dinner, if I play worship music that brings me into the Divine presence of Jesus, or when I pour out my heart to my Father – the good, the terrible, the truth of my heart – on a walk in my neighborhood, if those places become sacred, holy, and divine. Blessed. Blissful happiness, contentment.

But…what if the day isn’t full of things that make me blissfully happy and content? The car accident that totals the car, the child that makes a very poor choice that has lasting ramifications and you see no clear way out of it. Maybe cruel words were hurled in the heat of the moment and they can’t be taken back. Maybe there is a diagnosis you never saw coming. Is there room here to declare “I am blessed?” Yes. Yes, you can declare yourself blessed. Some blessings come after the hurt and wounds. The Divine often shows up in miraculous ways, turning devastation into glory, failure into victory, wounding into strength and the impossible into something to be remembered in awe and reverence, because there seemed to be no good ending, yet there was.  I truly believe that to live blessed, one has to be alert and try to find it. It won’t always show up immediately and may not be dressed up in blissful happiness and a cute outfit. It may come dirty, scuffed up, straggling and a bit off kilter, but I do believe it will come. I have seen it come in both forms and both are equally holy, sacred, consecrated. Blessed.

At this start of 2020, I want to live expecting to be a blessed person. I’m not good at it yet, I confess, but I want to be. I want to bloom where I am planted and thrive there, no matter what it looks like. Maybe we can do this together? I absolutely believe that the holy, divine, sacred and blissful happiness is all around us, waiting with open arms for us to slow down and seek it. What is sought will be found. May we see it, grab hold and never let go!

 

Anniversary

This simple word holds a lot of meaning. It’s definition is “the date on which an event took place in a previous year.” It doesn’t say that this event was particularly good, bad or otherwise, but it often represents something significant; something that is seared in your memory and that has long reaching effects on life going forward. Marriage is one of the first events that typically comes to mind, along with birthdates, first day of school, graduation, first job, death of a loved one.

For me, this time of year is the anniversary of an event that was completely unwelcome, blindsiding, shocking and heartbreaking. Nine years ago, on November 23rd, 2010 my Doctor told my husband and I that I had breast cancer. It was the day before Thanksgiving. I find that ironic. Thanksgiving, when we are supposed to count our blessings, be grateful, go around the beautifully decorated table and list 3 things and people we are thankful for that year. It is supposed to be happy, full of laughs, calm, restful; full of blessings and appreciation. That is not at all how I felt nor did my family.  It was a time of sadness, fear, helplessness, not knowing if I would be alive the following year, deep anger and many emotions that I still, to this day, do not have adequate words to describe. I was not thankful.

The next several years were full of chemo, radiation, Herceptin, anti nausea and various other meds pumped into me 24/7. There were prods, pokes, surgeries and so many scans and tests, blood work and scares and triumphs. And every year, the anniversary of one of the worst days of my life.

Yet…now that there is some distance from that first anniversary, now that the scares come less often as well as the blood work and tests, I find I am thankful. The scares and fears are still there on some level and will always be with me and I’m ok with that. What I learned through this experience and living through these anniversaries has taught me more about life and God’s love, compassion and mercy than anything else could have. I’m not in control of everything and it’s not my job to be.

There are those who say forget the past and all that it brings up, focus only on the good and positive. I agree on a certain level, however, I don’t believe in erasing those things God allowed into our lives for a specific season and purpose, because nothing touches us that He doesn’t first filter through His hands. Nothing. Life, death, pain, heartbreak, joy, triumph and victory. It all serves a purpose and will be used for good. I can’t say I know how it will all be used, and I won’t say it might not break our hearts, but I 100% believe it is and it will be used for good. The imagery of God’s hands filtering and sifting events, people and circumstances that enter my life makes me feel safe and valuable and protected.

This anniversary is one I will not forget. I will not try to stuff it all down or put it away. I let it come each year and I let the emotions that are attached to it flow. It isn’t easy and parts of it still hurt, but there are many parts of the memories that don’t hurt anymore, because I see clearly how close Jesus was to me. For that I can say that I’m thankful. He had and still does, have a divine purpose in all of this. This trauma brought me close to Jesus. It had to, because I had nothing else to cling to and no other hope but in Him.

So this Thanksgiving and the anniversary of my cancer diagnosis is a reminder to me that there is hope in Jesus for every single circumstance that is allowed my way. I don’t know what your anniversaries are and I don’t know the impact they have had on your life and the lives of those you love, but I do know that God was there on that first anniversary and He is here right now. He saw you then and He sees you now. You are not alone and He is working it all out. It may be hard, frightening, a wild ride full of joy and victory, love and loss and new seasons, but in the midst of it all there is hope, extravagant hope!

Psalm 119:114 NLT

You are my refuge and my shield; your word is my source of hope.

Jeremiah 29:11 NIV

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

 

How do you fit?

I wonder, have you been at a church gathering and experienced the uncomfortable feeling of not quite fitting in with the norm when it comes to how you encounter Jesus? Do you feel like the tried and true formula of experiencing His fullness and love doesn’t quite work for you or that you never really arrive; are somehow found lacking? I have; often. You watch everyone nodding in earnest agreement, when the sermon urges you to follow the formula of reading the Word daily, for a specific amount of time, in a certain place, in a specific position, saying specific things and following a proven formula to bring you close to Jesus. However, your Spirit is not connecting with this and your attempts at following these rote formulas fall flat. It must be you, your mind tells you. Everyone else is nodding and looking sagely about them, confirming that yes, this is how it must be done. The closeness you felt to Him as you worshipped just moments ago seeps away, as doubt and failure cloud your thoughts. “Yes,” says Satan, “you don’t fit in the body of Christ; you can’t even follow a simple formula to fill that void. Look at all these others believers. They get it. They are doing it. They succeed, you fail. Maybe you don’t belong.” Lies.

In the teaching series by Larry Osborne, A Contrarian’s Guide to Knowing God – Spirituality for the Rest of Us, one of his comments leaped out at me and brought me to tears. It touched a spot in my heart that has been hurt. Larry says we can’t practice all the spiritual disciplines (Bible reading, time in prayer, memorizing scriptures, worship, thanksgiving, etc) all the time! All disciplines are not good tools for us based on our personalities. There is great value in listening to and obeying God in each season of our lives. He urges us to never allow spiritual tools to turn into rules. The freedom I felt fall over me at these words was incredible.

This is something I have wrestled with for a while. Hearing other people say what we must do to be a good Christian and strong believer is very crippling in our journey with Jesus. When you know in your spirit that you adore Jesus, seek Him and find Him in that soul deep place where He meets with you, but are told it isn’t enough, unless a formula is followed, it wounds and taints something that should be precious, intimate, beautiful and deep. A stench of doubt permeates the very thing I believe Jesus celebrates about us; our uniquely individual personalities, gifts, quirks, responses, that HE CREATED. He made each of us just exactly how He wants us; no one identical, no one better or more loved or more cherished or more valuable. We each have such a specific purpose and that is so beautiful.

I react and buck and kick at being boxed in to a formula for doing anything in life, especially when it comes to journeying with Jesus. I may not always outwardly thrash at the formulas (sometimes I do!), but in my mind and spirit I certainly do.

What Larry Osborne said resonated with me on many levels. Spiritual disciplines are wonderful, necessary and amazing ways we each get to use, as our personality dictates, to become closer to the Father. I love that some of us pour over His word, intently study it and soak it in; others worship, sing and dance to connect with Him; some pray without ceasing; some share Jesus with strangers and others sit silently in His presence for hours, just soaking Him up. Some of us need to be in nature with our senses fully activated, experiencing Him through sights and sounds, movement and the wind in our faces. It’s all good and it’s all ok. All ok.

Listening to God and being who He says we are is freedom.  It feels really good to know that my way of connecting to my Father is good, just right, pleasing to Him and completes me, when I follow how He is prompting me to connect with Him. For me and my personality (introverted, empathetic, discerning, observer), I connect most deeply with Jesus when I’m alone; in nature observing or hiking, biking, gardening, camping, swimming; listening to worship music; observing people and praying for them as He leads me; talking to Him throughout the day; meeting someone’s needs anonymously. This is me, and it may not be you, and that is fabulous!

So get out there and connect with Jesus in the ways He created you to do it. Be free in that and enjoy every second! There is only one you and I believe that Jesus wants you to celebrate that in all its fullness. He sure is!

Zephaniah 3:17

“For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

Holy Ground

Easter is upon us. As I reflect on the most tremendous sacrifice of love the world has ever known, I am overwhelmed. I can’t wrap my mind around this kind of love. Before Creation, Jesus knew the sacrifice He was fully willing to make for you and for me. He knew every doubt, sin, unbelief and evil thought we would harbor; every selfish, unkind act we would commit; every self-sufficient attempt we would make to be in control of our lives and ignore the leading of His Spirit. He knew. He died for us anyway.
John 3:16 – “For God loved the world in this way: He gave His One and Only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.”
One of my favorite songs is Holy Ground by Passion. When I hear and sing the words to this song, I tear up. Not out of sadness or pain. These tears come from a heart that’s grateful for the grace, mercy, healing and compassion that is beyond what I can understand. Tears come out of love, awe and reverence for the power that is in the name of Jesus.  As the words to the song convey, the power in the name of Jesus changes everything! Absolutely everything. The personal encounters with Jesus I have been blessed and honored to have, of His presence, power and healing, leave me without adequate words. As you read the words to part of the song, I pray that they reach out and touch you in a personal way that is just between you and HIm. I pray the words you are desperate to hear from Him, the love you desire to know, the peace you have been so long in seeking, will fall down over you.
“Chains fall, Fear bow
Here, now
Jesus, you change everything.
Lives healed, Hope found
Here, now
Jesus, you change everything.”
He knows where healing and renewed hope are desperately needed. He knows every single detail about the chains that need to be broken and what caused them to bind you in the first place. He can heal all of that. Fear will be cast down and put in its place before the power of His great name. Jesus knows exactly why we need Him and in what circumstances we need to see a miracle. May our burning, beating hearts become holy ground, where the divine and humanity intersect and dwell together, creating something beautiful, miraculous and eternal.
“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11

 

Living with Hope

1 Peter 1:6-9 NLT “So be truly glad! There is wonderful joy ahead, even though it is necessary for you to endure many trials for a while.  These trials are only to test your faith, to show that it is strong and pure. It is being tested as fire tests and purifies gold – and your faith is far more precious to God than mere gold. So if your faith remains strong after being tried by fiery trials, it will bring you much praise and glory and honor on the day when Jesus Christ is revealed to the whole world. You love him even though you have never seen him. Though you do not see him, you trust him; and even now you are happy with a glorious, inexpressible joy. Your reward for trusting him will be the salvation of your souls.”

These can be hard words to read when we are in the midst of a painful trial that seems to have no end in sight. Sometimes the trial blindsides us and we reel with feeling overwhelmed, unprepared and totally out of control. Maybe this trial was caused by the result of someone else’s choices and we didn’t see it coming. Other times, the trial is born out of our own poor choices and we are left stumbling through consequences that our own actions brought to our doorstep. We have all been there at least once in our lives. It hurts, we are confused and we desperately want Jesus to take it all away. It becomes easy to feel helpless and to want to throw our hands up and say, “forget it, what’s the use, God?”, especially when the trial we are going through is one that God wants to use to change us and move us away from destructive patterns and steer us in a new and healthy direction. Remember, that feeling helpless is NOT the same as being helpless. With God, we are never truly helpless. He is always close to us. We are not without hope because our God is the source of all hope. He never leaves us to face our trials alone.

The authors of the Life Recovery Bible (NLT) offer these words that bring comfort to the pain and weariness that the trials of life bring us. “The refiner would heat the gold in the fire in order to separate the worthless and impure dross from the precious and beautiful gold. The dross would be skimmed off until the refiner could see his image in the liquid gold. God uses the fiery trials and tribulations in our lives to purify and beautify our faith so that one day he will see clearly his image in us. This truth offers great comfort to those of us who struggle to make sense of a past marked by suffering. We can be confident that God will separate something priceless from the dross of our experiences.”

Imagine God looking down on us as he skims off the gunk and begins to see HIS image in us; something priceless. Oh, that I could see something priceless from the mess of my life experiences! I hope it makes you smile, that the God of the universe, Creator of galaxies, is so invested and in love with us, that he takes all the time necessary, with infinite patience, to allow us to feel the heat of trials, so that he can one day bring forth, for the world to see, the radiant beauty of our life testimonies; so that we can be a beacon of hope, salvation and love to a world full of his children who are hurting and need to hear a word of hope and see a life redeemed.

1 Peter 1: 3-5 NLT “Now we live with a wonderful expectation because Jesus Christ rose again from the dead. For God has reserved a priceless inheritance for his children. It is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And God, in his mighty power, will protect you until you receive this salvation, because you are trusting him. It will be revealed on the last day for all to see.”