examine

One of the great joys of reading through the Bible every year is that during certain seasons there are similar revelations, reminders of what God has spoken and done only 12 months earlier around this time of year. I love the rhythms of picking up my journals from last year, five years ago, and examining my growth or lack of movement in specific areas, all because of the foundation of the Word of God I’ve been consuming.

There is a correlation between seasons as well. This week I was unloading my car and I heard them — the lilting, haunting honk of the sand hill cranes as they migrate. They called to each other, circling around overhead, disappearing behind the heavy mist of clouds and to finally form a perfect ‘V’, following the leader to places familiar yet unknown. In my cyclical introspective look back I also am drawn through lists, of gifts large and small, my gratitude journals. This year I was looking through such a list of my momma’s from 2012, a tough year for both of us in many ways, and I read, “sand hill crane formation overhead” (dated February 17, 2012) and the special to me note “BA (that’s me) saw it too”. The cranes are led forth by an unseen urge that is built into their fiber and being. We, as created ones made in the image of almighty God, also have a built-in navigation system. But for humans it’s not an autopilot reaction like birds. We have to choose to listen, to follow, to allow the One who knows us best to guide us

I listen to their conversations and don’t hear a word of truth. Is anyone sorry for doing wrong?  Does anyone say, “What a terrible thing I have done”? No! All are running down the path of sin as swiftly as a horse galloping into battle! Even the stork that flies across the sky knows the time of her migration, as do the turtledove, the swallow, and the crane. They all return at the proper time each year. But not my people! They do not know the Lord’s laws. “‘How can you say, “We are wise because we have the word of the Lord,” when your teachers have twisted it by writing lies? Jeremiah 8:6-8 NLT

A searching of the heart, a repentive spirit, a mind and will that are yielded to God is my desire. February is my birth month, and the annual turning a year older, prayerful examination of my heart and ways brings me face-to-face with the question: Am I doing more than growing older?

Lord, help me to know how fleeting my time on earth is. Help me to know how limited is my life and that I’m only here but for a moment more. What a brief time you’ve given me to live! Compared to you my lifetime is nothing at all! Nothing more than a puff of air, I’m gone so swiftly. So too are the grandest of men; they are nothing but a fleeting shadow! Psalm 39:5-6 TPT

As we take the time to do the investigative work necessary within our heart we realize how much in need we are of the leadership of the Holy Spirit. He is a ready and willing Comforter and Guide along the journey of life! Truly careful examination will bring about the change of heart and a growth that calls out to others.

 Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end… And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose is that people should fear him. What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again. Ecclesiastes 3:11, 14-15

There is a hope and sense of purpose that calls to others from a willfully yielded heart. It leads to a deep sense of calm in knowing that our lives can be trusted when placed in the careful hands of our God.

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settle

As the new year dawned I began what has become my annual habit, reading the complete Bible, day-by-day, through the year. Few routine practices have brought more fruit to my life and comfort to my soul than my daily time of prayer and the Word of God, and so far 2019 has been no different! This year I’m exploring The Chronological Bible in the NLT version. I love how the stories of creation and the adventure of moving from the recounts of the first sin in the Garden of Eden, to the rapid spread of it’s dark effects causing God to send the flood to cleanse the land and begin again. Noah, the faithful and righteous one, walked in close fellowship with God, and because he was obedient, his family became the seed of the renewed inhabitants of earth. More generations came and passed away and we find Terah with his son, Abram, his daughter-in-law Sarai, and nephew Lot (Genesis 6-11). God was leading His people to a new place, and as they advanced, God’s word says they were headed for Canaan, a land of promise.

He was headed for the land of Canaan, but they stopped at Haran and settled there. Genesis 11:31

How often is God speaking to us, calling us up to a new and spacious place, but we settle? We choose the familiar, the safe, the common. To settle is defined as: to adapt a more steady or secure style of life, becoming fixed or established. Don’t get me wrong; there is no sin in being settled, stable, and dependable. But so often God is calling us forward to more!

The new year with Genesis and it’s biblical narrative of creation and giants and floods and conflict stirs the heart from a settled place of complacency. Do I hear Him calling me forward to more? Abram, after living many years of settled life in Haran, hears just such a call.

“The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others… All the families on earth will be blessed through you.’” Genesis 12:1-3

During the dark winter evenings, another past-time that draws me is to watch Disney’s The Chronicles of Naria trilogy, based on the beloved series written by C.S. Lewis. The calling of Lucy, Edmond, Susan and Peter Pevensie from their tumultuous existence in wartime London into the magical land of Naria and the adventures they live and the battles they fight have many parallels to the Christian walk. The children follow, sometimes in faith and trusting and other times in doubt and fear, but as long as they keep moving forward in obedience to the call they are well and protected. Despite hardship and peril they find comfort in knowing that mighty Aslan, the Lion, is leading the way.

So as this year unfolds, I’m grateful for fresh vision, a clearer calling, and the nudge forward. Do not settle! God is ever moving, and He calls us to come alongside and join Him. We can be bold as we follow closely to Him.

Be strong and courageous… Be strong and very courageous… This is my command – be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. Joshua 1:6-7, 9

The days become more hopeful even in dark times, if we’re walking closely with Him on the adventure of life. It’s never boring, often like a tale from a storybook with enemies and comrades, times of brightly lit days and long, dark nights of the soul. When we settle into God as our place of refuge, the paths are clear as far ahead as we need to see. He is our safety and faithfully leads us onward.

wonder

The holiday season seems to rush in like a storm. Each year I find myself becoming anxious, asking questions, searching for the perfect gifts and getting more and more flustered with each passing day. This year in all the hustle and bustle, I am reminded of the children of Israel, the generations before of the line of David, wandering and wondering as their God led them through the wilderness towards the land of promise. The ultimate plan for their wilderness journey was to break off the old ways of captivity so that they could relearn how to live, to begin to place their trust fully in God and begin to rest in the freedom of His Sabbath promise.

Asaph, a skilled musician, poet, and leader in King David’s choir, takes the time to put together a spiritual song to remind the people to not forget the effects of constant going and doing without taking the time to rest and place their trust in God.

In spite of all this, they still sinned; despite his wonders, they did not believe. So he made their days vanish like breath… When he killed them, they sought him; they repented and sought God earnestly. They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God, their redeemer. Psalm 78:32-35 NLT

The word wonder stands out to me, especially during this holy season of the celebration of the birth of Christ. As I look again at the sacred readings of Advent, a blessed time of waiting and hoping, the call is to come apart and remember: the miracles, the promise, the wonders that God wrought in bringing His one and only Son to live with us. “Star of wonder, star of might, star with royal beauty bright… Guide us to thy perfect light” The star was broadcast in the sky for anyone to see, but it caught the attention of a special group of people on that holy night.

Shepherds were the lowliest of low among the people of that time. They wandered to and fro, rarely having a permanent home, living amongst the smelly sheep and giving care 24-7 to a flock of dumb beasts. But they were wise! Shepherds knew the lay of their lands, the times and the seasons. Astronomy and scripture, the stories of the prophets and kings and psalmists were well known to this special group of outcasts. When God presented to them the Star, they knew what that meant. They went off immediately, looking for the King! Their eyes were so trained to see what was going on around them at all times, and when the star appeared they dropped all tasks and cares and came, following in wonder to find what they knew would be the Savior of the world.

“May we never lose our wonder, may we never lose our wonder; Wide-eyed and mystified, may we be just like a child; Staring at the beauty of our King… Fill us with wonder; Cause you are beautiful in all your ways, oh you are, yes you are… May we never lose our wonder…” Bethel Music

This Advent I want to follow the shepherd’s lead, to be so in tune with my surroundings and what I’ve been taught and have learned of this Holy King from the time I was a young girl. Wonder! To see Christmas through a fresh set of eyes, clearly, brightly, with the promise of salvation and peace and hope. Christ came! May I never lose that wonder to “…fall on my knees, to hear the angels singing and to join the chorus…”

It’s a wonder… immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ… God does both the making and the saving.” Ephesians 2:4-5 MSG As I come fully alive in Him I bring the glory of heaven to earth. “Glory to God in the highest! Peace on earth, goodwill to men… Luke 2:14 NKJV

Indeed, a Wonder! A Wonderful Savior is Christ our King!

become

Purpose and personality.   Lately I have been spending so much time thinking about who I am, taking emotional and calling and personality tests online. After a while it dawned on me that I already know how my personality is bent and my temperament is ingrained. At age 60 I have seen the results of those tests play out fairly consistently. Introvert, peace-maker, the shepherd caregiver, administrative and organized.  It seems there is a distinction between deciding who you are, and choosing to become who you are. What I really need to do is just to come, to allow the Spirit of God to move through me, and to become all that He designed me to be.

be·come: to come, begin or grow to be, to change. No amount of research can replace my being in His presence, and listening for His voice, and acting on His will for me. He calls to me:

Come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Hebrews 4:15-16

You can’t truly become, until you take the time to come! Oh, to come, boldly or timidly but to come, fully into His presence, not to stop shyly at the threshold but to cross over, to pick up my cross, and come. For  “the Spirit and the Bride say come…” Revelation 22:17. There is an open invitation to be in His presence!

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said,  “Become who you are” but that isn’t always an easy feat. There are questions to answer, such as what brings fulfillment and meaning to my life? What would I give my life to see accomplished. The becoming is both a work and a rest, founded in God and His will alone.

God sympathizes with my weakness, but He doesn’t want me stuck there. He draws me to come closer. In His infinite wisdom and plan I move from existence to living when I choose to ‘be’ fully in Him. There is a decision to let go of my striving with a confident trust that He is moving in me and on my behalf.

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28

“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”  said e. e. cummings, and this is true living. My courageous move to cease striving and rest securely in what He has planned for me, to become all the potential that was placed within me when I was created. This is the call, herein lies the purpose. To boldly come, and trustingly rest. To become!

the way

I accepted the challenge! Feeling the downward pull of messy closets and the clutter of living in one place for more than thirty years, I vented to a friend how out of control my life was right now. She questioned that seemingly drastic expression of the weight of my lifestyle, then calmly asked, “Well, could you choose just one space and set the goal to clean it out and organize it before the end of the month?” That question did two things. It put my focus on one small space in my home, and showed me that the entire situation was really not so bad after all.
As I began to pull out clothes that are no longer worn, shoes and old gift wrapping supplies, I unearthed a heavy plastic tub stuffed in the corner. Wonder upon wonders, I discovered family memorabilia from the past, of my grandparents, parents and my childhood, a treasure trove of decades of life. The contents revealed a true spiritual heritage: my chaplain grandpa’s communion set including the paper-thin wafers; my great-grandmother’s Bible with my name carefully entered on the flyleaf by her daughter in 1958; photos and certificates of my children’s school days. My eyes honed in on a ragged, blue, spiral bound notebook. I remembered how carefully the words were printed there, my early attempts at journaling the summer I turned 16. What a treasure!

Lately I have been walking through a journey of a different sort, a rediscovery of the plans and purposes of God for me in this next season. Its been an exercise of searching for the calling of God on my life, and part of that process asks for a list of the likes and joys and pastimes of my youth. I recall enjoying writing, always, and there were books, my mini library with official cards to check out my tomes.

In this precious notebook, my early attempt at writing, I had penned:

        The Way

So many paths, Lord

Show us the way

Teach us thy will, Lord

We constantly pray.

Your joy opens our hearts

To new love each day.

Show us the way, Lord

Show us the way.

Enclosed within the pages was proof of my earnest thoughts and theological leanings, a trust and a questioning of the direction I was to travel, way back when. By the following summer I was happily married and moving along the path of training for ministry with my husband. Our way was initially one of learning how to pastor and shepherd God’s flock. Today, even after his passing, I am still called to do that in my little corner of the world.

“The Lord your God has blessed you in all the works of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast desert. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.” Deuteronomy 2:7

The next forty years I expect that God will continue to direct my steps. He will guide me to remove the clutter in my mind and my heart and my home that may weigh me down. His gracious hand of mercy will hold tightly to mine, and I need never fear the turns on the path where darkness may prevail. This is a godly heritage that has been solidly passed down from generations long gone, and continues on with my children as they raise theirs. Faithful, ever faithful, God leads us tenderly!

hide and seek

The long summer evenings bring back illusive memories of my early years. We lived on a quiet street, with woods around back, close to the dead end of a neighborhood full of families with children my age. My brother and I would play outside after dinner as long as allowed, and often the game was hide and seek in the dusk hours. Heart pounding, fearful of being found out, feet moving so fast to break out and run towards home base if spotted. You’re trusting that the child appointed as “it” is playing by the rules, not cheating or peeking while they count. If you were fortunate enough to find a really good place to hide, “it” would search high and low and not be able to find you. After looking and looking he would call out “Ollie, Ollie, Oxen, Free” and you would saunter toward that safe place called home.

As an adult I find myself playing a similar game, but with more serious, long-term consequences. I try to hide myself, hold back bits and pieces, corners and crannies of myself from others. I fall into the trap of believing that if I don’t allow people to see the real me, they’ll somehow think I’m a better person. Maybe they’ll even think I’m perfect – wouldn’t that be great? I’m well aware that I’m not the saint that my actions and outward appearances may imply, but for brief moments I can dare pull it off and “be” perfect, at least to someone.

This only causes me loneliness and more feelings of inadequacy in the end because I’m isolating myself from those who would love me to be fully in their lives, imperfections and all.

The sad realization is that I also try to play this game with God. In my attempts to keep one little part of me hidden, “mine” as I would say as a little girl when others wanted my precious toys, I’m showing that somehow I don’t really trust Him with all of me. I’m fearful He will take my stuff, be demanding of my space and time, my very life. Yet the opposite is actually true. As I yield all of me to Him, I find a freedom and joy and life like nothing I could conjure up on my own. The giving is really so one-sided. If I give my all to the One who truly gave it all on the cross of Calvary for me, I gain so much more than I can ask or imagine – eternal life, joy in living today, freedom from the weight of sin and a love that cannot be explained.

So I’m taking a new step of faith and opening up my heart’s door even wider and inviting Him into the dark parts, exposing my very best hiding places to the One who daily hides me in the shadow of His wing. He is my true covering as I allow Him that rightful place. It is there I find true safety and peace like I’ve never known. So I listen for His call, “Ollie, Ollie, Oxen, Free” and run towards home to find a refuge and quiet resting place that only comes from giving up what I feel may be safe for what I trust will be so much more – life, and life abundant in Him. I will change places and become “it” and chase after Him in the dusk of my life. Oh, how He longs so much to be found!

my favorite things

As a young girl I recall the wonder and awe of the breathtaking mountain scenery and glorious melodies of The Sound of Music. Most likely the first movie I saw on the “big screen”, the story and pageantry of Austria and a home filled with happy children make for a grand early memory. Maria’s sweet voice still brings a smile to my face as she croons, “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens; Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens; Brown paper packages tied up with strings, These are a few of my favorite things…” These words have the ability to take me to a secure, happy place in time like none other.

In 2011 a friend gave me a copy of Ann Voskamp’s book, One Thousand Gifts. She challenged me to begin to compile a list of things I was grateful for. Rather than the lofty 1,000 gifts that Ann recorded, she suggested starting with 100. At the time I was in a dry, stuck place, and the precious gift of the book and her loving words began to do a deep work of healing in my heart. I listed such things as a warm cup of coffee, birds at the feeder, an unexpected letter from my daughter… all things that reminded me that God was for me, not sitting up in heaven on His throne waiting to fling down hardships and trials, but lovingly guiding me in the dark places of the soul. In that season my husband had decided that with his diagnosis of Parkinson’s he no longer had the energy or felt safe holding down a job. We literally went from being a two-income couple, with his income significantly larger than mine, to a one income lifestyle almost overnight. If I hadn’t already been listing the simple gifts of God, my focus may have strayed off my Provider and onto the circumstances and realities we found ourselves in. James wisely wrote:

“Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors. So don’t try to get out of anything prematurely. Let it do its work so you become mature and well-developed, not deficient in any way… So, my very dear friends, don’t get thrown off course. Every desirable and beneficial gift comes out of heaven. The gifts are rivers of light cascading down from the Father of Light. There is nothing deceitful in God, nothing two-faced, nothing fickle. He brought us to life using the true Word, showing us off as the crown of all his creatures.” James 1:2-4, 16-18

Our relationship became strained as I worked harder, became the primary care-giver, and watched my once vibrant, protective husband back down to the symptoms of ‘PD’. Continuing to shift my gaze from the trials to the blessings made all the difference.  We never missed a meal and our bills were miraculously paid on time. God proved Himself so faithful!

Music had always been a vital part of our life. We met at church at a youth meeting and what drew me to him was his sincerity and love for God as he played his guitar and sang. I remember shyly sitting next to him to hold the songbook so he could read the words. In choir together, later on worship teams and singing duets were always so important, a bond in ministry to God together. At my brother’s wedding we sang Steve Green’s “Household of Faith”, and pledged again to each other to stand alongside no matter what.

As the disease began to take away David’s abilities to play the guitar and sing, we discovered other musical couples, tuning in to their programs on TV and finding a connection that helped feed our relationship and bring a ray of bright joy. We found Joey+Rory, a singing duo with amazing harmony, deep country roots and a sincere faith. Joey’s song, “That’s Important to Me” was her own list of favorite things. “Having somebody to share my life, loving my husband and being a wife… that’s important to me…” Then we found Sharon White & Ricky Skaggs, a bluegrass singing couple who sang “Reasons to Hang On”. Even though life was difficult, there were still many reasons that we both had to hang on to our relationship, as well as the life we were living, because God was with us in it.  We would sit together and watch these musical couples as they promised to love even in the hard times, and it made us feel less alone in ours.

Thomas Merton wisely said, “To be grateful is to recognize the love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is grace.” So I’m resurrecting my gratitude list, and I encourage you to begin your own as well. I’m grateful for skilled doctors and surgeons, and the Great Physician who is restoring my body during this time of healing. I’m finding simple pleasure in homemade, sweet and tart blueberry muffins, straight out of the oven, fresh and warm in the early morning. Then there are friends who call or text to make sure I’m recovering well and taking care of myself. All these gifts are evidence of my God’s presence even on dark days. I join with Paul and encourage you to:

“… Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Philippians 4:8

Your gaze will be drawn upwards and I can guarantee that your face will be brighter with each gift you record. Each gift, every reason for life, those favorite and important things you list, will turn into moments of joy and will diminish the dark thoughts, as you focus on the Gift-giver. What are you grateful for today?