Tuesday, March 26, 2013

On becoming real


Patches is quite a special horse, the best friend of my little guy.

A much cleaner, fluffier version of this guy came into his life when he was two. My mom took my daughter to buy my son something special the day he broke his leg, and with a musical Lightning McQueen card that sang, "Life is a Highway," this little horse found a new home.

Since then, my son has imagined an entire back story for Patches. He is a president, naturally, of an island called Patchifornia. He has three brothers (other stuffed guys), who all hold offices on this island. They are inseparable, meaning all have to accompany my son on trips and adventures. Patches has his own song, his own "voice," he has a unique and sassy personality, and he is always getting into trouble.

My son and I joke around about Patches all the time. It's something we often do at bedtime, and I can get him laughing by imagining all sorts of funny conversations among the three of us. A couple days ago, we were in one of these typical silly conversations revolving around Patches. I don't remember why, but at one point, I suggested that perhaps the scruffy horse was not yet a Christian. Well, that got my son right up into the business of securing the poor horse's eternal position. And with a grin and a funny voice, he pressed two hooves together and pretended Patches was praying, asking Jesus to come into his little horsey heart.

We continued to giggle at the thought of a stuffed horse praying to receive Christ, until it was suddenly very quiet. I watched my son raise Patches to his eye level and stare at the dingy cotton face for a few moments. Then gravely, he cried, "MOM! I think he is really smiling."

And he believed it.

As I sit here typing, I'm astonished to realize my son was looking for a change, knowing the magnitude of this prayer, no matter who says it. And with the eyes of his seven year old heart, he saw that horse become real.

I felt a pang in my own heart, the Holy Spirit whispering that it's true: the moment we surrender our lives to Jesus is indeed the moment we become real.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
Ephesians 2:4-5

This weekend we celebrate the One who gives us life, who makes us real. Jesus was the only man to walk the face of this earth fully real, fully able to be His truest self from day one.

I love how the Jesus Storybook Bible puts it:

For anyone who says yes to Jesus
For anyone who believes what Jesus said
For anyone who will just reach out to take it
Then God will give them this wonderful gift:
To be born into
A whole new Life
To be who they really are
Who God always made them to be
Their own true selves
God's dear

Before I asked Jesus to come into my life, before I stepped down from the throne, let's face it. I was only stuff and fluff putting on a good show. Dead, dingy, pretending. So much pretending.

This Easter, if you haven't ever trusted Jesus with your whole life, I encourage you to ask Him to show you who He is. In the Bible, God promises that any who seek Him with his or her whole heart will surely find Him. He will make Himself known. It is not a maybe, which is why when someone tells me, "Oh, I just don't know...I've been searching for God for years, and I'm just not sure..." I know that he or she has never sought God sincerely.

You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.
Jeremiah 29:13

If you've at all been wrestling with who you are, or who you were made to be, I will tell you that the answer starts with Jesus. His definition is what you've been longing for, to become your truest self. We live constantly itchy in our skin, pretending and managing our way through, until we allow Him to make us real.

All pretending stops with Jesus because He takes away all the garbage we otherwise have to manage, all the shame, all the deep down ugliness in ourselves we come face to face with daily. Pretending is just the way we manage our sin and shame. His blood shed on the cross destroyed the power of that garbage. It wiped our slates clean. Accepting Jesus means you have no sin or shame left to manage. He managed it, to the death. Forever.

That's what makes you your truest self; that's what turns you real. Freedom.

Jesus did His part. All you have to do is accept it. That's it.

If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
Romans 10:9

It's so simple even a stuffed horse can do it. Okay, you know I'm kidding, right? Don't send me emails. I know Patches does not really have an eternal soul. But we do. And pretending is so exhausting.  

Thank you Lord for giving us a chance to trade our stuff and fluff for a real heart that belongs to You.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

He's almost home (frame this moment}

My favorite Hawaiian girl has this new linky called "Frame this moment".

It helps me notice and say thanks for individual, beautiful moments in my days.

I keep missing the special linky day.

But this week, I had a moment particularly worth framing. And I remembered, not only to link it up on her blog (I think tomorrow), but more importantly, to emotionally snapshot the moment and log it in my heart.

I've been missing my man for over two weeks. This is the longest we've been apart in more than 15 years. It has not been easy, for either of us. And then, Sunday night, a friend who is on the big trip with him, and who has an iPhone with killer international wifi capability, shared. Facetime made me possibly thank God for Steve Jobs.

I think all four of our hearts swelled to see one another. He has a few new grey hairs, but I guess facing Everest will do that.

I asked him what has been greater: the physical challenge or the internal one? He said they've been pretty equal. That means the 80 miles he's traversed on the face of the tallest mountain in the world, at times in negative degree weather, have proven as difficult as some of the inner mountains he's scaled along the way. I can only imagine.

Well, really I cant. But I am anxious - so anxious - to hear his heart, see his photos, and come to understand a bit of why this adventure has been a part of his life.

Three nights, friends, and God willing, my scruffy husband will be seated next to me in the car, the airport lights shrinking behind us.


Thursday, March 14, 2013

On vision


Suffering has a way of running a broad, beautiful vision off the road.

I can have the most intimate time with God, fully tracking with His kingdom-centered perspective on my life and my purpose, but as soon as hardship or sickness or loneliness or fill-in-the-blank-with-your-poison enter the picture, my lovely, macroscopic view of life gets stomped down into a narrow and miserable fixation on my circumstances.

Know what I'm talking about? I can't seem to live it another way; the two are never in balance. Either I'm keeping the bigger picture in mind, or I'm tangled up in the stuff that doesn't matter much.

That is exactly where I am right now. Flip-flopping all the time.

I've been whining about the trials lately here because I think I lost sight of the vision for a second. Lots of seconds. I know you know that three big things have happened or are happening in my life.

1. The big move
2. The big climb
3. Let's call this one "Other"

Meaning other ways I can see He is working (i.e. MOPS talk, friendships, etc.). But though everyone else can pretty clearly see how all these things have been divinely orchestrated, I think my emotion and exhaustion have channeled my focus toward myself and have turned my eyes away from God and His larger work going on. I've been hearing friends refer to the bigger picture, or the "vision" of what God's doing in and through and around us through the move or whatever, and in my heart, I think, "Oh yeah...I'm so focused on the work and the weariness that I'm forgetting whose plans these really are. I'm forgetting the vision I had at the outset, when it all seemed inspired and holy, because now, I'm down in the miry muck of it all."

And the last two days - my goodness - my bestie Jesus has been kind enough to give me glimpses of how amazing His work in and through and around my life really is. He's saying, "Hey, are you seeing this? Because here is where your abundant life is. With me. In the middle of my plans. Don't forget that."

The minute I forget whose plans I'm in the middle of is the minute that the plans plummet in value to me.

The glimpses of His wonderful work have come in two places: seeing change in the lives of women to whom I spoke yesterday at that MOPS meeting, and hearing His reminders that this Everest trip is just a setting He's chosen to work in and through my husband's life. It's not about all the details I want to make it about or complain about. I actually have no idea what God will do through it. Just like I have no real concept of what He did through my talk yesterday. But something in my spirit is pulling me up and out of myself to believe that it is something very powerful and real. Far more significant than any struggle I've had in the last two weeks.

We are, in fact, talking about the Lord Almighty here. The Lord who is the commander over literal armies of heavenly forces. Who created the earth. Who knit together my own body and knows the number of hairs on my head.

My teensy little brain can't even fathom the magnitude of life-changing work He is doing in and through and around my life. And yet, I want to better maintain the vision that HE IS. If my minor complaints and discomforts are like a mountain range, I want to lift my view up and over those peaks and keep my eyes on Him. I love this excerpt from an email I got in my inbox from Oswald Chambers' devotional, My Utmost for His Highest, a couple days ago:

If we lose the vision, we alone are responsible, and the way we lose the vision is by spiritual leakage. If we do not run our belief about God into practical issues, it is all up with the vision God has given. The only way to be obedient to the heavenly vision is to give our utmost for God's highest, and this can only be done by continually and resolutely recalling the vision. The test is the sixty seconds of every minute, and the sixty minutes of every hour, not our times of prayer and devotional meetings.

The hardest part about maintaining the vision God has given you for your life is bringing that awareness into the details. I'm not exactly sure how to do that yet, how to work through the most mundane tasks of life with a sense that something holy and grand is happening at the same time, in and through and around me.

But I'm trying to learn.

And I think that's all He really wants.


Monday, March 11, 2013

So things went south for a bit


I feel like I'm waking up from a bad dream or a serious illness.

The last couple weeks, because of the tremendous responsibilities related to our move and my husband leaving for his trip of a lifetime, I went from keeping my head above water to fully sinking. Yeah. It was not awesome. I was so overwhelmed.

Then, I slowly began to realize this was not just the usual "I have so much to do" meltdown. I was totally under spiritual attack. I have some experience here, some familiarity with what this feels like, for me. I'm sure it's different for everyone because we all have our weaknesses, those vulnerable spots in our hearts where the Enemy knows his lies might just work. Of course I don't really see how I may be agreeing with lies at the time. I don't really know when or where I start to let go of the truth about who I am and who God is.

But I started to recognize the fruit of spiritual oppression.

The life-sucking, poisonous fruit.

Being under attack, for me, feels like an unusual weight on my soul. It feels like something I want to call depression, a sort of sadness that I can't escape. I don't want to get out of bed, but I have to, and so I drag through my day in exhaustion and irritability. I don't have any joy. I don't feel strong or clear headed. Bad ideas - ones I would never consider in my healthy life under the light of Christ - seem fuzzy and appealing. It feels like complete misery. And naturally, I'm tempted to soothe this misery with the wrong things.

For a few days there, the enemy made relentless work of planting all sorts of unhealthy cravings in my heart. As if satisfying them would have made a difference. As the Bible makes clear, Satan's only goals are to deceive me, steal from me, and destroy me. There was in fact an element of physical pain, this pressure in my chest that hurt. Day after day, I wondered what it was. I lay on my bed and winced from the burn.

The closest word I could find for it was grief. It felt like the physical pain you feel when someone you love dies, or a relationship is lost. When I asked, in my spirit, why I was feeling this sort of pain in my chest, I heard the surprising answer: God was filled with grief watching me suffer this attack. Oh my goodness, I thought. Of course! He lives in my heart. My God who loves me as his daughter was grieving my heart's struggle! He hurt because I hurt. Though He was allowing this onslaught to take place, and though I know He had his good reasons for it, He was suffering too simply watching it happen to me.

I imagine I felt a fraction of that same kind of grief the day I watched my two year old son's broken leg be hurriedly cast in the ER without any pain medication. I knew it was best for him. He screamed the whole time, and I had to turn away to cry my own tears, those a loving parent cries when her child is suffering. God loves me so much more than I love my children. And He knows what's best for me. I'm the two year old in this situation.    

And I wasn't thrown into battle without some weapons. I knew a couple of things still. One, that it is never wrong to be tempted. Satan can and will place ideas in my head and I have the choice in how I respond. And I knew God promises a way out. Satan doesn't have the power to make us do anything. God always provides an escape. I also knew, from past experience, that Satan always always always wants us to hide. He is the Prince of Darkness; exposing darkness to light is one quick way to break its power. After the grieving Holy Spirit urged me for a few days, that was one good choice I was eventually able to make: I used a literal lifeline and phoned a friend.

Okay, I emailed a friend, because I couldn't bring myself to call her, to say what I needed to say out loud. So I brought my darkness into the light of Christ; I typed out all my struggles to someone I knew would have God's eyes for me, and it worked. That weight on my soul started to lift, the power of the oppression was so clearly breaking. Two days later, God provided another chance for me to share my struggles with a friend. And the light flooding in from these two Godly women was so healing. God used them to love me, to blow a clean wind of grace into my heart that pushed all the cloudiness away.

I've once heard it said that a true friend is one who knows who you are and speaks it to you when your memory fails. I sure hope you have a friend like that. Because we all fail to remember who we are, and whose we are, when the battles come.

I'm clearer now. And it's a good thing, because on Tuesday, I'm speaking to a group of MOPS ladies; it's the Spring Tea, and I'm giving an invitation to receive Jesus for the first time. I'm sure that's part of why Satan made a go of kicking me when I was down. My fatigue and stress from our current circumstances left me like a weak little lamb most easily picked off by the wolf.  

Good thing I have a kick-ass Shepherd. I totally just said that.

He counseled me and gave me enough strength to reach out.

He positioned other believers to speak truth to me and stomp out the embers of lies.

And he gave me a powerful reminder that I'm pretty darn helpless on my own.

{If you think of it, please pray that the Holy Spirit would BRING IT on Tuesday morning. Thanks.}


Sunday, March 10, 2013

Traditions: Creating an Easter Garden

Because we are in the middle of a giant, cross-country move, I haven't figured out how to pull off this project this Easter. Well at least not in the same way as in the past. And that's sort of killing me. I know, I know. I need to let go of my expectations this year and instead be focused on our family's transition. But it's extra difficult; truly, this is one of my most favorite traditions that I do with my kids of the entire year.

I've been getting a lot of visits to my blog via Pinterest because of this project that I shared the last two years, and for those of you who are new, I just wanted to share it again. (Did I mention how much I love it?)

Here is our Easter Garden from two years ago.

* * *

Last week, I tasted a bit of the holy.

Not often do we get those chances in life. But I tried a project, and it became so much more.

Immeasurably more.

It's shocking that all I did was make one choice to step out. Try something new. A lot of times, my ideas don't work. They don't flesh out like I imagined. People are whining, hungry, fighting...you get the idea. Not exactly what was pictured on the magazine page where everyone is sitting so...very...still.

But on occasion, an idea becomes out-of-the-blue magical.

On one of my new favorite blogs, Contented Sparrow, I saw this idea for making an Easter Garden. Lo and behold, Megan lifted it from my favorite, Ann at A Holy Experience, and this post from 2009. Ann called it a visual parable. I was mesmerized.

And my giant pot was empty.

After school pickup, we drove straight to the garden store. It was sprinkling, but under the umbrella, I had two helpers fluttering with excitement about making our garden. Everyone got to choose some miniature plants. Everyone anticipated the planting of something special.

Creating with hands in fresh soil brought focus, life coursing through little plants brought gentleness. Even the rock path was laid carefully.

Truth-planting and life planting all at once. All life hinging on truth. Life sustained by the very breath of truth.

"I am the way, the truth, and the life."  
John 14:6

At first it seems that the way leads to emptiness. A tomb lies hungry for death. A prickly cactus at the end of the path reminds us of pain, the so very great cost.

But water in our pond reflects hope. 
“If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”  John 4:10

The garden awaits.

On Palm Sunday, we'll read the greatest story every told, we'll light candles along the rock path, and wait for Him, eager and burdened with a debt we cannot pay.

On Good Friday, the candles will not be lit.  We'll read about the darkness and the earthquake. And His words.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
Luke 23:34

Jesus will be wrapped in a cloth and laid in the tomb. Men will stand guard, as if they could contain Life. Saturday, the path stays dark.

But Sunday, Easter Sunday, now that day makes all the difference.

The stone will be rolled away.

The cloth will lie vacant.

And we will celebrate freedom.

Looking at our Easter Garden every day as I walk past makes me long for Him. The empty scene is merely a reminder of my empty condition without Him. But a promise is also rooting deep.

For the next month, we'll watch the thyme and succulents grow, and feel the promise of Life swell within our hearts.

"For God loved the world so much that He gave..."
John 3:16

ADDED: To see what happened in our Easter Garden one month later, on Good Friday 2011, click here.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Hope Spoken {and that I will hug you}

hope spoken

Some people are not huggers. That used to be me.

But luckily, my husband and his family converted me many years ago. I am now a recovering non-hugger. I've gotten pretty good at hugging because I learned from some really good huggers. And if you come to Hope Spoken, I will hug you. Like it or not.

Have you heard about Hope Spoken yet? I am seeing it everywhere in social media, perhaps because I was supposed to post about it 4 days ago like everyone else involved, but my husband left for Mt. Everest and, well, that was/is sort of an all-consuming situation. I could have planned ahead and scheduled the post. Yeah, that would have been a good idea. One I didn't think of.

So here's the story, my friends. I am super honored to have been asked to be a speaker at a really incredible Christian women's conference in Dallas next March. It's being hosted by CaseyDanielle, and Emily. If you remember, Casey and I have had a mentoring relationship for over a year now. She is so dear to my heart. And here's the thing about Casey. Behind her unbelievably beautiful family, blog, personal style, her paintings, and everything else about her online presence that seems at times larger than life, she is really a simple girl. She loves Jesus. She really does. And her one desire in hosting this conference is to make Him known. This is, in fact, a genuine desire of each woman involved in pulling this weekend off. These ladies are the real deal, living out real faith not only publicly, but in their day to day lives as wives and moms. And that is the biggest reason why I'm so thrilled to be named among them.

The second biggest reason is that we all share a passion: telling our stories and also encouraging other women to share theirs for God's glory. One of my favorite verses is Psalm 119:111, which says,

Your testimonies are my heritage forever, for they are the joy of my heart.

The Lord's story as it works into my own personal testimony is a rich and precious inheritance I have as His daughter, and it does bring me a lot of joy, particularly in sharing it.

Hope Spoken will be a weekend full of women testifying to God's love and power and grace. It will be uplifting, soul-searching, and relational. I can't even describe all the opportunities you'll have to let the Lord speak to your heart. And wow! The speaker list is so awesome because these women (myself included) will desperately seek the Lord before they breathe a single word out to you that weekend. Like I said, I'm super honored to be named among these ladies. And I seriously can't wait to see what the Lord does next March.

So don't you want to come!? Tickets are already on sale and there are a limited number available.

But don't say I didn't warn you: if you don't want to be hugged, then you better not introduce yourself.

{But I sure hope you do!}

{Get a ticket here by clicking on "registration" and then let me know if you're coming because I will so look forward to meeting you. Serious.}


Saturday, March 02, 2013

California dreamin'

This winter here in SoCal has been the coldest I've ever experienced. I've lived here my whole life and I've never seen the lows dip into the 20's before. Everyone freaks out when we get an occasional 36 or 37 degrees the three days a year it may happen. You think I'm exaggerating. These kinds of temps make the top story in the nightly news. It's been the thing people are chattering about - how stinking cold it's been this year.

I thought maybe it was good, like I was being prepared for something slightly closer to the climate of Montana. I was, like, practicing being cold. For a minute.

Then today, it was 85 degrees. And I came to my senses.  I never, ever, ever get tired of being warm. You know what? The weather here is unmistakably awesome and that's why it costs a small fortune for a modest house where you can shake hands with your neighbors out the upstairs windows and enjoy your postage stamp of concrete that's deceptively called a backyard.

But. You can go to the beach in March.

You can wear an impractical scarf.

You can dig your toes into the cool sand and let the damp, salty air give your hair that excellent, slightly sticky feel.

You can roll your pants up as high as they go and skitter away when the tide chases you.

You can dream of endless summers and sunshine that feels like a hug you've been needing.

Even though you know the California days are numbered.

Even though you know one day this misty, salty wonderland may feel as fuzzy as a dream.

And even though you know that one day, you'll make new traditions, have new favorite spots, wear cozy scarves.

One day, the dreams themselves may even change. But for now, I'm soaking up this sun. I'm appreciating it and enjoying it with my people maybe more than ever before.

I'm extra grateful for today, trusting God for tomorrow, and even though I'm exhausted from the moving process and starved for alone time, that's enough for me right now.