Does your soul need watering?

2016-10-03 14.11.34If someone were to ask you what one thing you could do for your relationship with God in order for it to flourish, what would you answer? I have a suggestion. How about scheduling a day to dwell on God’s unfathomable, unrelenting and undeniable love for you? During this day you will be able to hear teaching based on the book of Hosea and spend periods of time alone with God to pray and to listen to what He is speaking to your heart. In this guided retreat, you will have the option to choose from various spiritual practices specifically tailored to our topic for the day. What could do more for your relationship with God than setting aside some intentional time to cultivate it?

Registration is open for my newest solitude retreat. I hope you will pray about joining me April 21st at Calvary Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s called Flourish—Love that Waters the Soul. Register here.

This new retreat has been in the making for many, many months. It has been the most challenging text I have navigated for one of my retreats and I am growing increasingly excited as I think about what God could do with a woman who fully embraces her love for God—and His love for her. Prior to studying Hosea, I thought I had a good understanding of God’s love for me. Turns out God had a great deal to teach me about His love. All I am learning is changing the way I see God and the way I see myself.  This is the unexpected delight of traversing through God’s Word. It’s easy to become cavalier about God’s love. But God desires to meet with us and lavish us with his extravagant love in ways we cannot even imagine.

Journey with me through these incredible pages of Scripture and discover what God has waiting for you. These ancient words penned through an ancient prophet are surprisingly fresh for modern times, for where you are in your life right now. Today. Hosea’s words are seeping into the depths of my soul and awakening me in ways I didn’t realize I needed. You may discover the same. But, you won’t know unless you come. Hope to see you there.

Let us know; let us press on to know the Lord;

his going out is sure as the dawn;

he will come to us as the showers,

as the spring rains that water the earth.”

Hosea 6:3

 

 

Soul Music

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lightstock_192657_small_user_4014941Part of me died the day she did. She had such great hopes for me, vastly unrealized because of my stark apathy toward the gift God had given me. Now, decades later, I would give anything to have chosen to wholeheartedly avail myself of her extensive knowledge of and passion for music. But during that last year of her life, cancer ravaged her body, taking with it my desire to continue my study of piano.

I hadn’t known a braver woman. With her head adorned in brightly-colored scarves, she greeted me each Thursday afternoon with her Mona Lisa smile, dangling earrings and bracelet-swathed wrists. Her eyes betrayed her cheerful disposition. I knew she was in pain but she never complained and she still held me accountable for not practicing what I said I would.

Not attending her funeral is one of my greatest regrets in life. There’s much to be said for finishing well. I didn’t. Unable to process my grief, I refused to engage her death. My mother went in my stead. She came home from the service with a message conveyed by my teacher’s daughter. “Mom would have wanted Miriam to continue playing. She has such potential.” The words, meant to encourage, fell on me like a curse. Certain that I couldn’t live up to my potential, I disengaged music altogether. I placated my mom’s attempts to find me another teacher but nothing seemed to work. How could it? A relationship of 11 years cannot be replaced. I went off to college, leaving my study of flute and piano behind.

I would love to say I resumed my study of piano years later but this tale doesn’t end that way. It would have honored her memory so beautifully if I had. I see that now. That’s what time can do. It gives us a perspective we cannot attain any other way. Regret serves a purpose. Now the nerves issues in my hands preclude me from entertaining the idea of resurrecting my musical endeavors. But I can encourage the gift in others.

The expression of one’s artistic gifts and instincts is to be honed and celebrated. As I survey my childhood, this pivotal experience was only one example of a pattern of retreating deep inside myself in response to pain, emotional or physical. God has purpose even in our pain. I no longer use my hands to make music. I use God’s Word to make music. The inherent gift wasn’t the actual music. It was my allowing the Lord to use me as his instrument to help souls sing with the brilliant, resonating Truth of who God is and the mission He sent Jesus Christ to accomplish.

Ours is a God who redeems our pain and replaces our mourning with joy. The snow-capped mountains and the wake-etched shore shout his glory. Brooks that ripple, skies ablaze with ribbons of orange and magenta, and plains adorned with purple wildflowers bending in the breeze all proclaim His majesty. Art museum and concert venues elicit some of the most powerful music imaginable from souls unable to name what they are experiencing. Awakening to God’s joy bring us joy and enables us to experience our giftedness in creative, unorthodox ways and to help others do the same.

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to your name, O Most High;

to declare your steadfast love in the morning,

and your faithfulness by night,

to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre.

For you, O Lord, have made me glad by your work;

at the works of your hands I sing for joy.”

Psalm 92:1-4

 

Soulful Celebrations

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lightstock_179249_xsmall_user_4014941Aspects of celebrating this Advent season dangle around me like forgotten wind chimes. It only captures my attention when an intermittent gust blows through my life. My attention is easily drawn away by gifts, food prep, gatherings and frivolity. But my heart is really on my upcoming ministry events dotting the horizon of the new year. But without true celebration of Advent and Christmas, any ministry project would be rendered impotent. How can one do ministry without being connected to the Christ?

My annual tug-of-war with time-honored traditions is fully engaged. The tug-of-war is with myself, of course. No one puts more expectations on me than me. When the boys were young, my goal was to practice the same traditions each Christmas. The reality is something altogether different. I didn’t count on the fact that family dynamics change and so do life circumstances and suddenly, the cherished traditions were, for us, empty gestures. When exactly did I stop baking a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas Eve? Where are my advent candles anyway?

Tradition has its place and there is beauty in passing along that which we value greatly to the next generation. Yet, I seek to find within my soul an authentic place of celebration. This is my heart’s desire for my kids. And in the search I am renewed. I keep trying to divert my attention from that which God is wanting me to focus on. Yet, the ministry projects are a passion, his gift to me. He is birthing something through me this Advent season.

He desires to birth something through each of us. This process is always more time-intensive than we would like. The prayerful waiting outweighs the doing. But in the waiting we are changed. The four weeks of Advent preceding Christmas Day represent so much of what the Christian walk is. We wait for something. Yearning, growing, hoping. For a prodigal to return. For marital love to reignite. For a baby. For healing. For financial restoration. For relational restoration. For forgiveness to take hold.  For retirement. For fulfillment. For joy.

Advent provides a marvelous opportunity to reflect on the hope, love, joy and peace we have in Christ Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Advent is the time Believers prepare our hearts to receive our King. We focus on the arrival of Jesus the Messiah, both His birth and his future return to claim His church.

“For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

Isaiah 9:8

As the conclusion of this year’s Advent season draws near, our wait is far from over. I rely on God-breathed, Spirit-inspired holy writings to saturate my thinking and reflect upon how he has stirred in my life this year. The Holy Spirit has been my Wonderful Counselor, guiding me in unfamiliar terrain and speaking truth to my soul with each step of faith. God has shown himself Mighty as I watched Him open ministry doors that seemed so firmly shut. He has been my Everlasting Father in redirecting my missteps, forgiving my sinful attitudes and rejoicing in my faithfulness. And in a time when so much of the world perplexes me, the Prince of Peace assures me through His Word that His plan has never changed and He will never change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

Maybe traditions are not the point. Perhaps the greatest show of authentic celebration this season is to trust God to do a supernatural work in our lives through whatever it is we are waiting for Him to do right now. Trust that He can reveal himself to you in new ways you would miss if you were not in the situation you face right now. Trust that He is good. Trust that He is working toward the spiritual good of all involved. May your response to how God is working your life glorify Him and cause those with a front row seat to celebrate.

 

The Measure of a Life

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When I picture my life story being played out in my mind’s eye, I assume I am the protagonist. A heroine of epic proportion. After all, it’s my story, right? But I am seeing this is just another form of me thinking more of myself than I ought. It’s not entirely my story.

I remember the exact moment when years ago I was asking God why it was my job to help “so and so” handle a project that was a better fit for my gifting. God’s response was swift as the realization dawned on me that the reason He was prompting me to help her was precisely because I was better equipped to do the task. How else will she learn? Isn’t that how I had learned? The question on the table is how willing am I to do the role God has ordained for me in any given circumstance?

Perhaps the measure of a life isn’t what I allow God to accomplish through me, but how I help those around me to discern the voice of God and love Him with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength. I cannot do it for them but I can lead by example, the same way the Bible characters have been an example for me.

Few among us will be modern day Peters, Pauls and Johns. But more of us will resemble those who are far less talked about and whose names elicit a wrinkled forehead and a quizzical expression as the stinging word escapes their lips, “Who?!” Consider Acts 9. Right after the dramatic, miraculous conversion of Saul-turned-Paul on the road to Damascus, we encounter some historical figures not as easily remembered.

When the Lord directs Ananias through a vision to find Paul and lay hands on him so that he may regain his sight, he voices his concern about the reputation of this man who has ravaged the church. God assures Ananias that He has the situation well in hand and that Paul is God’s chosen instrument. He goes and obediently extends God’s grace to another despite his own fears. How powerful a witness his actions must have been to those watched with awe as a supernatural boldness allowed him to accomplish the work God had given him to do.

And what about Barnabas? His role in preserving the unity of the church by authenticating Paul’s conversion, went a long way in making peace between the disciples in Jerusalem and Paul. He was an encourager.

Dorcas was known in Joppa for being full of good works and acts of charity. When she died, she was surrounded by the widows she had made garments for when she was alive. They even brought the garments with them. Yet after Peter prayed, she was raised to life and Peter was able to present her alive to all the saints and widows whose lives she had impacted so greatly. The miracle became known throughout all of Joppa, “and many believed in the Lord” (Acts 9:43).

Perhaps most striking of all is the one sentence mention of Simon the tanner. Because of his profession of tanning the skins of animals, he was unclean much of the time.  Of all the places Peter could have stayed, he chose to stay with Simon. This act of grace was a nod to the Age of Grace established by the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah. Now, believing Jews and Gentiles could come boldly to the throne of God. Through Christ they both had access in one Spirit to the Father (Ephesians 2:18). Simon, a humble tanner, opened up his home to the most famous Christian of that day and unknowingly secured for himself a place in history. He wasn’t lobbying. He was simply available.

Could the same be said of us? Are we doing what God has equipped us to do despite the notoriety that may result or the appeal of the task? Our stories glorify God most when they show more about God than they do about us. How we respond to the events God orchestrates in our lives and in the lives of others is the most telling theme of our stories.

In the early Church, their obedience caused the Church to grow with wildfire-like fervency. Some roles will be prominent. Others will be of a supporting nature. Others still will be completely behind-the-scenes. But they are all important.

“Oh, Blessed Redeemer, let us not be captivated by anything other than your magnanimous glory. Cause us to see by your radiant light. Woo us with your mercy and steadfast love. Fill our hearts with the desire to exalt you above all else. May we do what you have equipped us to do in your strength. In Jesus’ name, amen.”

 

The Bounty of Fasting

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Of all the spiritual disciplines, I struggle most with fasting. God is teaching me that fasting is more art than science. It is more than simply skipping a meal.

There’s no shortage of written material on fasting or good teaching either, for that matter. But I would still conjure up any excuse I could to avoid fasting. When I did fast, my mind was focused on finishing.  My excuses seemed flimsy in light of all the cues the Creator was giving me. In my hesitation the signs became increasingly flagrant.

I awoke one morning with Isaiah 58:8 on my heart.

“Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,

and your healing shall spring up speedily;

your righteousness shall go before you;

the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.”

I began praying this verse for various people on my prayer list, but didn’t feel settled that I had discovered why God put this verse on my heart. This particular chapter of Isaiah contrasts true fasting with false fasting. But a few days later, one of my prayer partners texted me that the Lord had put on her heart to pray Isaiah 58:11-12 for me, which further highlights the blessings of true fasting. Well, that was no coincidence. God wasn’t prompting me to pray for someone else. He was inviting me on a journey with Him— through fasting. I felt drawn to not just do one fast, but to begin a fasting regimen. To weave a rhythm of fasting into my relationship with God.

In meditating on the whole chapter, two things become undeniably clear. Fasting with wrong motives may be imperceptible to others but it is obvious to God. And secondly, the bounty of fasting with pure motives leads to blessing. We are all in need of healing. Not just from physical ailments but from spiritual ones. Our unconfessed sin hinders our ability to thrive in our kingdom work and it taints our fellowship with God. Our physical ailments will not prevent us from doing the work God ordained for each one of us to do before the foundation of the world. But, our spiritual ailments will render us impotent if left unaddressed.

Even still, all I could think about is how much I like food. Shouldn’t food be the one area I am allowed to do what I want? The short answer is no. Either Jesus is Lord over everything in my life or He isn’t. There is no in between. My distaste for fasting was preventing me from experiencing deeper freedom in Him. The fact that I was so resistant to establish the regimen made me realize how much I had let my attachment to food become too important. It was out of alignment with God’s word. It was becoming a drug. Something to help me make it.  I was captive. How did I get here?

So, in His grace, God laid 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 on my heart. I put a copy near my bathroom mirror so I could memorize it.

“Or do you not know that you are a temple of the Holy Spirit within you,

whom you have from God? Your body is not your own,

for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

My fasting journey has begun and though difficult at first I have now found a rhythm of fasting that has led me to clearer thinking, heightened adoration for God, a greater sense of spiritual awareness and most unexpectedly, better sleep.

Could the Lord be leading you to pray about what role fasting will play in your spiritual journey? Though it will look different for each of us, New Testament references in Acts and Luke among others imply that fasting is a ‘when’ not an ‘if’ issue. Maybe He’s asking you to eliminate 1 meal a week. Or perhaps to eliminate certain types of foods for a period of time. That’s between you and God.

Each time I desire to fill myself with food, I pray. And in the praying I fill my mouth with praise, confession and thanksgiving.

“Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good.”

Psalm 34:8

 

 

 

Surrounded

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One of the unexpected pleasures of relocating to the South is easier access to the mountains. On the heels of months filled with transition and navigating the unknown, my soul craved time in nature. It is there my soul connects most readily with its Creator. My soul  finds rest in God alone and nestled in the midst the Smoky Mountains on a recent getaway I regained my spiritual footing.

The majestic splendor of a mountain captivates me. I am dwarfed in its magnitude and take solace in that fact. Its vastness is not something I can compete with and I don’t try. I simply let its presence humble me.

Psalm 125:1-2  tells us—

“Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion,

which cannot be moved, but abides forever.

As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord

surrounds his people both now and forevermore.”

A mountain never thinks of being something else or of moving somewhere else. It just is. It doesn’t desire to be anything other than what it is. It remains where it is without ambivalence. Oh, how I desire to be like that mountain! I want to abide despite the undercurrents of questions and misgivings rippling through me. A word study on abide expands my understanding of this term. Dwell. Remain. Continue. Endure. Abiding means to be steadfast.

In relishing God’s handiwork, I am renewed and begin releasing my temporal cares and the challenges of life in this world. As they diminish, I take notice of a babbling brook meandering through the mountains.  The water rushes over stone, stick and sand. It sounds like applause. The water is clapping praises to the High King of Heaven.  “Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy” (Psalm 98:8). If only my ears could hear the singing of the mountains. Surely this is holy ground.

My thoughts slow to a worshipful pace as I scan the mountainscapes  spanning the horizon. And as sure as I am there, the Lord is here, too,  surrounding me with His love. He will not move. But why do I? Because I am human and employing my free will is exactly that—an act of the will.  I must choose to remain. The picture of an immovable mountain is a symbol of what my inner self needs to be. Strong. Resilient. Resistant to the schemes of the Evil One. Choosing to abide means I am putting my faith in the Lordship of Jesus Christ. It means I trust in Him. I rest in Him.

My thoughts turn to praise and I bask in the creativity of the Maker. The longer I dwell on his work, the looser my  grip becomes on the unknowns of my life. I discover that I am awash in contentment. I choose to abide. And if I am abiding in something, then I am surrounded by something. What are you surrounded by today? In other words, what are you abiding in this day?

Yourself? Your circumstances? People? Their view of you? Your talents and abilities? We are to simply allow God’s love to surround us and not to allow imposters get in the way. Nothing can satisfy us like the love of God can. A perfect love. Learning to dwell in this perfect love and being steadfast in this perfect love is only possible because of who I am in Christ (Ephesians 1).

In Christ, I have been chosen before the foundation of the world. (v.4)

In Christ, I have been adopted into God’s family. (v.5)

In Christ, I have been redeemed through His shed blood on the cross, a perfect atoning sacrifice once for all. (v. 7)

In Christ, when repentant I am forgiven my trespasses because of His all-sufficient grace. (v. 7)

The spiritual blessings are countless.

That’s a love that not only surrounds me, but it covers me, sustains me and overwhelms me in the best possible way.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.

If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.

These things I have spoken to you,

that my joy may be in you, and that your joy my be full.”

John 15:9-11

 May your joy be full today as you abide in His love.

 

 

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Heartfelt Trust

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It was a stroke of God’s magnanimous grace that Luke, age 17, applied to a highly selective, drama conservatory program and was accepted for a four-week summer experience. We were amazed. Excited. Proud. Afraid. The temptation to Christianize his environment was overwhelming. Was it too soon for such a massive dose of the world’s realities?

After his audition and his interview earlier this year, we had waited for word of his application status. But no word came and the deadline was approaching. My computer memory was too full so I began deleting spam in my email account to make room. That’s where I saw it. Luke’s acceptance letter had been sitting in my spam folder for 3 weeks. He was able to accept the spot just before the deadline. God had opened this door. Trust would be required to walk through it. Not a trust rendered impotent by doubt and fear, but a flagrant one.

Our hesitance about sending him out East to such a secular, competitive and stressful environment diminished as our prayers increased. What we did expect was incredibly long, hot days with difficult work from eccentric professors. What we did not expect was the profound spiritual lessons that would arise out of such  an intense environment. Weeks later, they resonate with me still. One in particular.

Most acting methods at their root have one’s ability to connect with one’s own heart. Sounds simple. But for most people the default is connecting with the mind. Overthinking it. We resist feeling things because it complicates life and leaves us vulnerable. His professor would yell the same sentiment repeatedly. “Get out of your head and into your heart!”

We do the same thing, though, don’t we? It is easy to coast along in my faith and do all the “right things.” A mechanical faith. Hollow and lifeless. It’s easy for me to unknowingly disengage my heart when connecting with people and turn them into projects rather than relationships. To just keep them at arm’s length so they don’t realize the walls I have carefully erected around my heart deny them access. Or to try finagling circumstances to create a certain outcome.  The discerning people around us notice. But even when they don’t, God does. His desire for us is not to diminish our faith by overthinking it but to allow it to flourish.

Shakespeare said “All the world’s a stage and all the men and women merely players…” I agree that the world is a stage but we are not merely actors. Our lives overflow with purpose to use our free will to glorify God Almighty in all that we think, feel, say and do. A curious world looks to see what would possess people to call Savior a resurrected dead person who claimed to be both fully God and fully man and live in light of that belief. Yet, we do. In submitting to the Lordship of the Most High King our redeemed frailties and inadequacies scream hope to a hurting world.  And by His Holy Spirit He leads us, filling our hearts with a faith that defies explanation.

Luke returned from his adventure with a greater understanding of what God was doing in his life and more at peace with himself than we had ever seen him.  He didn’t have to wonder how he got through what he describes as the hardest thing he has ever done. He knew it was God who sustained him through His word and by His grace.

If my husband and I had succumbed to our fears and said no, we all could have robbed ourselves of watching God grow our faith.  In God’s loving kindness He gave us the strength to yield to His will. He moved us not only out of Luke’s way but out of His way.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,

and do not lean on your own understanding.

In all your ways acknowledge him,

and he will make straight your paths.

Proverbs 3:5-6

 

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More and More

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I’ve noticed a flawed theme recurring through my life. At some point I began believing the “less is more” mantra our culture perpetuates. When  I splurged on high-end shampoo and conditioner I used ridiculously small amounts so as not to waste any of it. When I invested in quality herbs and seasonings for cooking I used scant amounts in hoping to make them last longer. But the problem was that my method wasn’t working. I still had struggling hair and bland food.

Taking the time to observe the process of those who succeed in the areas I struggle made me notice some things. When I watched my stylist work, she used generous amounts of hair products and got far greater results than when I rationed out my meager amounts. When chefs cook, they season food liberally so that the flavoring will be distinct and noticeable.

A deeper issue needed to be brought to the surface. Why do I hold back in these and other areas of my life? So I asked the Spirit to plumb my depths and reveal to me what I wasn’t seeing. After some time in God’s word and in prayer the reasons began to emerge. Fear of messing up. Fear of being overwhelmed. I don’t only do this with hair and kitchen products. I do this with people.

I easily revert to protection-mode. I end up spinning a cocoon around my heart.  Nothing can get inside to hurt me but the problem is then nothing can get out either. Self-examination can be tricky. It’s tempting to avoid introspection altogether, fearing what lies beneath the surface. But this would have robbed me of the “deep thing” God wanted for me to see. Equally dangerous though, is the risk of dwelling too much on oneself and over-analyzing every interaction or emotion. When God reveals the deep things He always follows it with encouragement. Sometimes it’s a promise from His Word to cling to or the supernaturally timed text, call or card. Those penetrate cocoons.

Paul knew this well. His letters to the Thessalonians reveal a skilled encourager with paternal instincts  guiding into truth those he loved. They had become confused so he needed to clarify their thinking in some areas.  The undercurrent of his letters highlights what they were doing well and his spiritual desire for them to do it more and more. He didn’t want them to succumb to the temptation of being satisfied with their spiritual growth so far.  He encouraged them to keep going. May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all (1 Th. 3:12). Continue loving the Christ-followers outside the city but do it more and more (1 Th. 4:10).  Walk worthy. More and more. Please God. More and more (1 Th. 4:1). May your faith grow. More and more (2  Th. 1:3).

Paul understood that his words carried weight because of the time and love he had invested in them before these letters were penned.  Paul devoted himself to living out all that he was proclaiming to them. “So being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Th. 2:8). Wow. What proportion of the time can say we share our own selves with others and not just our knowledge? Am I willing to lavish people with love grace and mercy in the same way my heavenly Father lavishes me with those gifts? I don’t need to be stingy and hold back because God is more than willing to replenish my supply from his limitless resources.

When I allow the Lord to search my heart and yield to what He shows me, He removes from me that which blocks his love from flowing freely through me and my cocoon begins to break apart. By His instruction I am strengthened.  May He give me grace to respond to it more and more.

With Splintered Hands

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lightstock_242057_xsmall_user_4014941My reality still seems far from real. One year ago God began moving in strident ways to ensure our family would not miss His cue. He arranged every circumstance in our lives to point to the fact that He wanted us to let go of everything we loved so much about our lives in West Michigan and leave it all behind. He wanted us to go to a place we never heard of in an area of the country we had no desire to live. And so with courage that could only come from Him, we did.

With our leaving the past seems like a distant dream. Like someone has taken an eraser and begun erasing parts of our souls. Everything that was before no longer is. But that should be a good thing, right? Our relocation presents a blank canvas for God to paint a brand new picture. An abstract picture, perhaps, but art nonetheless. Yet, sometimes it doesn’t feel like a good thing. I should be brimming with anticipation for the possibilities but I am not. All I can see is the emptiness of the canvas. We have no idea what God is doing but we do know that He is at work. He is preparing us for what He knows is yet to come. It may feel like nothing is happening right now but that’s not reality. My feelings try to deceive me. The Enemy’s refrain echoes in my ears—You were fools to leave. You should have stayed! My thinking must be shaped by the truth of God’s word. Obeying God is always the right response. Without exception.

The hallmark of a maturing believer is to consistently take in God’s word, to study His word with others, to walk with a community of believers and to wake up every morning despite whatever mayhem is unfolding around me and say, “I still believeLord, help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). But that’s not been easy. It’s not supposed to be, is it? Jesus said to take up your cross and follow me (Matthew 16:24-25). And so with splintered hands, we follow. We take up our cross and cling to His. Only by God’s matchless grace is it possible.

The grieving process we navigate involves the “W” word. Waiting. Waiting to see how God will make good of all this pain. We have been in God’s emotional intensive care these recent months but the Healer has been present. Our souls ache for the jobs, ministry, church and deep friendships we have left behind. But God knows this and He cares. He also knows the wounds of leaving are evidence of the marvelous gifts He had lavished upon us in Michigan.

As His word daily reminds us of His goodness and of His unfailing love, we are strengthened to face another day. He helps us to take one more step forward in obedience, each step conforming us more to the image of Christ than we were before. We found a church and have joined Bible studies. We are starting over. Again.

A Mona-Lisa-like smile crosses my face when I realize that actually we are better off being here in Middle Tennessee in obedience than in West Michigan in disobedience. God is faithful and His promises are true. “He will work all things together for good for those who love God and are called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). I can count on it. And so can you.

So, my canvas awaits. The God who combines the colors, shapes, textures and hues to create beauty throughout all of Creation also combines relationships, circumstances, emotions and truth to turn ordinary lives into masterpieces. He’s also the God who heals splintered hands when they are daily surrendered to him in praise.

 

Savoring Solitude

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lightstock_10118_xsmall_user_4014941I had a dessert last week that was so memorable it earned a spot in my personal dessert hall of fame.

Dulce De Leche Cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory. The menu’s description? Caramel cheesecake topped with caramel mousse on a vanilla crust. Smooth, creamy, sweet and decadent. It came adorned with dollops of whipped cream and for texture it was accented with crunchy, toasted nuts creating an unforgettable experience.

I was so enamored with it that I would have loved meeting the pastry chef who invented it. Her creativity intrigued me. All sorts of questions about the inspiration behind it, about other culinary delights in the chef’s repertoire, and about the process sprang to mind. The experience felt incomplete without being able to shower compliments on the creator of this dessert and without the opportunity to extend my heartfelt thanks.

That’s how I feel about time alone with God. Sometimes my heart has questions about my life and the way He is moving in it. Other times my heart bursts with joy or becomes burdened by sorrow. Sometimes my heart is laden with everyday life. Other times I simply want to relish His presence and offer him torrents of praise.  I savor slipping away and spending some uninterrupted time alone with God in the classroom of His glorious creation. Perched beneath a towering tree or on a bench overlooking the river, I settle myself and read his Word.

Ensconced in the silence, I sit and I listen. I listen with my heart because I know it’s here in the solitude where God transforms my ability to discern and causes my eyes to see. Really see. Time alone with God is where I can find rest and it’s where He can restore my soul. It can also reawaken a sleeping faith.

Learning to inhabit solitude is a catalyst for spiritual flourishing. It’s within times of solitude that God’s power begins to change us. Blind spots are exposed. Healing begins. Direction is illuminated. Peace is experienced and truth revealed.

Solitude is where God stretches our capacities to be filled with more of Him. I hope you will pray about joining me for my upcoming retreat called Take Heart: Hope for the Discouraged Soul on May 8th. Come be refreshed by biblical teaching and times of solitude in the beautiful surrounding of Grand River Park near Jenison, Michigan. Details and registration information can be found by clicking here.

We won’t be eating cheesecake, but the retreat will be dessert for your soul!

“Oh how I love your law!

It is my meditation all the day…

How sweet are your words to my taste,

sweeter than honey to my mouth!”

(Psalm 119:97,103)