Even As

Even asEver find yourself waiting for that perfect moment? Every new season of life finds me waiting for the stars to align over a particular circumstance or relationship or dormant dream.

As a Christian, there is only one perfect moment to look forward to – the return of Christ. But there is something to take heed of in Jesus’ words to His followers. Here is a rough summary of His commands to anyone who claims to believe in Him – “Wake up. Obey. Go. Serve. Love. Tell others.” And when He says that, He doesn’t mean, “Wait for the perfect moment, the opportune time to live your life exactly as you imagined it would be.”

He means – even as you go to grade school, even as you move into your dorm room, even as you wait tables, even as you grieve the loss of loved ones, even as you parent, even as you sit at your office desk, even as you post on Social Media, even as you get married, even as you travel the world, even as you pay off your debts, even as you watch others get married or get pregnant or buy a house or get promoted or work their dream job.

We’re missing something about God and the life He has called us to if we are constantly waiting for our life to change. 

The Christian life is so much more about where we put our hope every morning than it ever will be about our circumstances. The Christian life is a plodding. A believing heart and mind tempted and distracted by an unbelieving world. Day in. Day out. It is surrendering and rejoicing. Repenting and receiving. The Christian life, at it’s core – is a happy obedience, no matter where we find ourselves.

I’m beginning to realize that myself. I am the queen of excuse-making – my favorite excuse to date is parenting a toddler. So I tell God, “I can’t do that because parenting. SO HARD.” And God says, “Do this.” and I say (in absurd exasperation), “When?!” And God says, “Do this.” — this goes on for days, weeks, months etc etc.

I tell God that I will love my neighbors tomorrow, I will sit down and write when I have the time. I tell God I will put my husband before myself when I’ve had a day to myself thankyouverymuch. I tell God I will dream big and trust Him to use me when I’m done raising little kids. I tell God all kinds of things.

And God says, “Do this.”

Even as you parent your little one – love your husband. Be intentional with your time with him.

Even as your days rush by – honor your parents. Call home.

Even as your home is unfinished and messy – love your neighbor. Invite them inside.

Even as you wake up early to work out – love your body as it is right now. Smile at your reflection.

Even as you buy groceries and run errands – love the words I give you. Love them enough to write them down.

I’m waging a battle of convenience against God’s commands and it’s not working. When I stifle His Spirit, when I choose self-indulgence again and again, when I make excuses – my world becomes so small, so self-obssesed. I want out. And the only way to get out of my own way is to acknowledge that HIS way is the best way. (that sentence has the word “way” in it 4 times. ridiculous. I should be a rapper.)

Even as the Day of the Lord approaches, there is work to be done. I don’t want to be found waiting around for the perfect moment to get started on it.

Are you waging a battle of convenience with God? My advice is lay your excuses at His feet, then your hands will be freed up to do His bidding. You might be surprised how sweet it is to be inconvenienced. Gotta go – my kid’s awake and I gotta go buy groceries before dinner. #evenas

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A Prayer to Love the Ultimate

img_0975Jesus, you are returning. You are right now seated at the right hand of God and you are waiting. Oh God! WE are waiting too. We look around us and within us and we inwardly groan and we outwardly weep because it is hard being here. Some seasons threaten to suck the very breath from our mouths. We, like David, eat our tears and lament what was so precious that was lost to us. Around the world this very moment, my brothers and sisters are being persecuted, imprisioned, and murdered because of Your Name. Because they refuse to renounce You. I cannot understand the way You work. You are God and I am not. But I hold fast to Your promise that You are with me, You are with them even in the darkest and scariest of places.

You have gone before us, Jesus. You have fought for us and You have already won. By laying down Your life You gave Satan a glimspe of what it would be like for hell to have no boundaries and for humanity to have no hope. BUT YOU ROSE AGAIN. Hope fell fresh and new and for the first time in mankind we had a clear road to it. You tore off  the suffocating seal of death and sin and grace came pouring in like a waterfall that never stops gushing and pouring and moving and changing the landscape around it. You change hearts. Nobody else can do that but You.

Change our hearts, Lord. Change mine. Create in me a pure heart (Psalm 51) and lead me into the way everlasting (Psalm 139). Because your love is better than life, my lips will praise you (Psalm 63). Because you are alive right now that means you are also listening right now, you care right now, you see right now, you know right now the numbing depths of pain we carry. You see how we medicate with stuff and distraction. I confess Lord that sometimes the news is so horrible, I turn it off because I am overwhelmed. Why has Satan been allowed to exploit so many? To kill so many? To possess and inflict so much pain? Why?

God, I know that Satan is a desperate loser who is frantically racing to beat the eternal clock. He knows his time is coming and he is anxious to bring down nations, to tear apart families, to maim children, to rape and to violate and to destroy as many lives as he can sink his claws into (1 Peter 5:8). God, I know that suffering is the lot of every man. That all who desire to live godly lives in Christ Jesus  will. be. persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12) but we can take heart because even in those impossibly hard seasons, You have overcome this world. (John 16:33). Some suffering is more distinctive and apparent – we turn our eyes to Aleppo and we weep because it is palpable there. Some suffering is silent, like a tumor that grows undetected until it chokes out the life ot it’s host. Depression, anxiety, paranoia, postpartum depression, alcoholism, addiction, phobias of all kind that posses our minds and convince us of our doom and our uselessness.

God, I am so loved by you. I cannot look at the cross of Jesus and say, “Nobody loves me.

So, instead, Satan directs my eyes inward – to my pride and my selfishness and my failures and my inadequacies and there, surrounded by my familiar flaws, I say with confidence, “Nobody loves me.” For who can love all of that mess?

Sometimes, when life is going smoothly, Satan will turn my eyes to other people and I will instantly break out my mental measuring stick and make sure that I am doing better than the next person. I will congratulate myself on such a wonderful marriage or beautiful child or great job and I will forget that I even needed God, that I even needed forgiveness of my sin – “What sin?” I think to myself, “I don’t see where I’ve messed up! Clearly, I’m doing an awesome job at life.” It makes me sick to write this out but God you know it’s true.

It’s like Agur prayed so many thousands of years ago, “Two things I ask of you; deny them not to me before I die: Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, “Who is the LORD?” or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” (Prov. 30: 7-9)

You are all I have. And You are all that lasts. Yet I cower at the thought of someone disagreeing with me on social media or calling me names because I believe your Bible is true and because I center my life around You. I’m so scared of other people because I have given them your throne. The influence that ought to belong to the living Spirt of God to move me steadily forward with confidence and courage is instead tossed loosely from hand to hand of the people I interact with on social media and in real life. That is not their fault, God. It’s mine. I handed the reins of my value to people who are just as screwed up and insecure as I am. Not my best idea.

I feel as if I’m beginning to wake up a little. I am not inclined to incite arguments or look for disagreements but I am called and commanded to stand my ground on truth which will very likely incite arguments and disagreements. I will lose friends, I will lose perhaps even some kind of reputation that others have built up in their mind about me. Yet I have to stand in truth because You are ultimate, God. Your Name will be glorified whether I stand or whether I sit. But the invitation to come and participate in what You are doing in the world has set my chair on fire. I can’t sit still. I can’t be silent.

People will misunderstand me, God. And I will misunderstand them. We will likely hurt each other’s feelings. But I don’t want to be known just as someone who could make a person laugh or smile. I want to be known as someone who made much of Jesus. Sometimes I make people laugh because you have given me the gift of humor and comedic timing and a love for words. Those are good things! They are not ultimate things. I think my seasons of unsettled discontentment often stem from my placing my value and hope in the good things you have given me instead of the ultimate things you have promised me.

Ultimately – You get the glory.
Ultimately – You are victorious.
Ultimately – Satan is damned.
Ultimately – Your children are saved.
Ultimately – Souls are reunited with their Maker.
Ultimately – Heaven arrives.

In the mean time, you have asked me to step out into the public arena and to tell people about the Ultimate things. You are looking for willing vessels. I have been docked at the harbor of my reputation (both real and imagined), my anchor of fear is nestled comfortably in the shore and I haven’t budged. Because I am afraid. I think I’ll still be afraid even now. I know you tell me “Don’t be afraid!” more than you tell me anything else in your Word. But You need to give me that courage, Holy Spirit. Embolden me with the presence of You. (2 Tim. 1:7) I won’t start out with thick skin, so it’s going to hurt a little. But I want to end my race on earth with a full, open, warm, heart to the world.

Do not allow me to become prey to the cynicism and bitterness that bids me to build walls and throw insults. Do not allow me to be consumed with consumerism. Sharpen my eyes and my mind to see You and to seek You in all of my days that I might find You even more beautiful than before. (Jer. 29:13) Even on Tuesday mornings like today. You are at work in my home and my neighborhood and around the world. Open my eyes, strengthen my knees, don’t let me quit because You have called me and You are faithful and You will surely do it. (1 Thess. 5:24)

How to Not Drown in Your Crappies

fall-1Samuel is napping while I fluff up our home with festive touches of fall and consider the season of Thanksgiving that’s approaching. I don’t know about you but I often fight gratitude with reasons. With cold hard facts and cruel reality. I have my reasons for being bitter and resentful and unhappy.. Don’t we all? Life can be a real beat down. But I’m learning that truly being grateful for my life isn’t just giving thanks that my “happies” outnumber my “crappies” – it’s often a fight for the right priorities. What things, of all the list of happies and crappies really matters? Long term. Big picture. Eternal perspective. That shift in focusing on priorities helps me so much when I’m struggling to be grateful. It also helps when I remember that I’m not supposed to endure crappies all by myself.

Listen to me – You will drown in your crappies if you’re trying to go it alone.

Here’s what you do to avoid drowning:

1. Get to know God. Study Jesus. – This sounds so “woo woo wacko” if you’re not someone who thinks about or cares much about who God is or isn’t. It also may sound like 2 steps but they’re one in the same. This is a crucial step. Why? Well, if for no other reason than you were made in His image. He put you together so if you have beef with Him or questions about stuff that’s true of you/been done to you/you’ve done to others – start the conversation by pursuing Him. *Spoiler alert – He’s already and always pursuing you. So, you’re about 15…20… FOREVER years behind. It’s OK though, totally worth jumping in and getting to it. I recommend picking up a Bible and reading the book of John – it’s in the New Testament, 4th book down if you’re looking at the Table of Contents.

The more you learn about God, the more you understand about yourself. I do this by reading the Bible on a regular basis, praying, and talking to other people about just about anything from God to parenting to careers to hobbies etc. Which leads me to my second tip to avoid drowning in your own crappies

2. Let yourself be known by other people. – Full disclosre: I’m bad at this. All of my closest friends (spouse included) will tell you I’m bad at this. I have a tendency to hide behind all of my happies, sweep the crappies under the rug until they explode and then it’s like a shitstorm. Pardon my french but it’s a quite accurate metaphor is it not? When you let other people know when you’re hurt, angry, lonely, scared, or confused you may be amazed to discover they still love you any way. EVEN ALL OF YOUR CRAPPIES. Use caution with who you let into your shitstorm though because it ain’t a pretty place and you need the real troopers who will wade in and pull you out without feeling the need to pinch their nose.

fall-2So if you’re like me and you’re so super excited about Fall and PSL and OMG CRUNCHY LEAVES but you’re kind of feeling a little (or a lot) like you’re drowning in crappies, it may behoove you to dive into the aforementioned steps and see what happens. Maybe by the time Thanksgiving rolls around you will be able to lift your glass at the obligatory “thankful toast” and experience in your heart – real and abiding gratitude for the life you’re living right now.

The Dark, Cold Waters of Depravity

On the day I should be humble, Lord

Stricken with grief and despair

I find myself looking up at You and

mocking you with my stare.

“If you are the son of God,” I yell

“then get off that cross. Do SOMEthing.

Save yourself. Call the angels. How foolish

that you do nothing!”

I watch you speak to the criminals as your lungs start to collapse,

offering a seat in Paradise? Please. You’re nothing but a man.

Eventually you die and as the sky and ground split in two,

I shrug off the scream of creation, my eyes are fixed only on you.

You are dead, Jesus. That’s what I see.

I feel nothing but disappointed.

What a joke I played on my heart, to think you were somehow anointed.

Now here I am, generations removed from the actual moment that you died

and I am so so angry Lord. I want to do nothing but scream and cry.

At You.

It alarms me because I have always been for you, with you, trusting every move you have made.

Now I find myself retreating from the wings that gave me shade.

Do you see what’s happening around here, God? Do you hear the bombs and screams?

As girls are ripped from their innocence and the heads of children fill the streets?

I’m back at the foot of the Cross and I am yelling at you again to move, to ACT

my voice catches in my throat because it’s actually desperation I feel. Not anger.

I am so tired of holding out nothing but hope. It seems so not enough for that mourning mother.

What of that child who watched themselves become an orphan? WHAT ARE YOU DOING FOR THEM?

For years I have recited the rhetoric. I have looked at the cross with deep sorrow yet JOY.

But this year, God I am struggling SO HARD to believe this isn’t just a big ploy.

I have broken down for the broken down and feel entirely spent.

I know you offer eternal life, but does it matter when this life, for so many, is hell?

Yet, before your eyes close in death on the cross, before you surrender your life,

You look down into my hateful heart and am compelled, for me, to die.

You know that I will doubt you, that I will try and flee from your presence.

You have gone with me every place I am, You will continue into the next one.

God I weep at my unbelief, at the doubt I have nurtured, coddled and kept

But just as you saw me, clear as day on that cross, you saw billions and billions… and wept.

So even though sometimes it’s hard to swallow the truth lodged in my imperfect, wayward spirit,

I will proclaim to the nations, to neighbors, to friends, to anyone who will hear it:

God saw and He moved and He entered into our hate. He suffocated under our darkness.

Today, RIGHT NOW, the Enemy tears through flesh and nations to convince us that our God is absent.

Oh friend, skeptic, critic, and saint – do not be deceived any longer.

The glimpses of terror we have seen in our time, are a fraction of what laid on Christ’s shoulders.

We will not ever fully know the dark, cold waters of our depravity, as Christ has known them.

The Enemy likes to make us think those waters will drown us in despair and pain,

But Jesus’ death gives every soul the chance to come up for air, and remain.

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Soil and strollers and a God who makes it all work.

Its 6:40pm on Monday night and the mailman rings the doorbell. I open the door, expecting to see another Amazon box filled with cliff bars or theology books (welcome to my world) and instead I find a USPS box addressed by dear friends in New York.
I rip open the package and almost immediately find myself swallowing sobs and smiling like an elf on
Mustache pacifier, y'all. I LOVE IT!

Mustache pacifier, y’all. I LOVE IT!

Christmas: little boy onesies and a myriad of baby accessories spill onto the kitchen counter as I fish in the box for the little envelope knocking around. I read the words of our dear friends sharing in our excitement and I cry harder because these people are so precious to us. They’re cheering for us and praying for us and believing for us that God will make all of the unknowns of first-time parenthood, surmountable and doable. The timing of this package couldn’t be more perfect.

The day before, my pastor had preached on a parable that addressed how our hearts receive the Word of God (Luke 8:4-15). One response to the hearing of God’s Word is to accept and begin to grow in faith but then have your growth and maturity stunted by all the cares and riches and pleasures of the life happening all around you. Basically, life gets in the way of your faith. Or rather — life convinces you that your faith in God cannot possibly satisfy, provide, protect, or sustain you.  As I took notes, I heard a soft voice ask, “Do you care more that I am real and present?… Or about what you’re gonna put on your baby registry?”
I swallowed. Hard. Because He never asks questions to be vindictive or spiteful, He always asks questions to guide and direct (and re-direct) me to Himself. Lately, I’ve been pretty overwhelmed by all the millions of details that have to fall into place for baby’s arrival or oh my gosh he’ll be sleeping in a cardboard box and ALL OF THIS IS GONNA BE A TRAIN WRECK.
Also, hormones are a thing during pregnancy.
I confessed my anxiety and asked for a heart that was willing to be brave and believe. I want a faith that scorns the thorns and digs deep into the promises of God. A thorn-scornin’ faith. How’s THAT for a song title?
Anyways, I have a sneaking suspicion/affirmation from dozens of mothers that this worry over your child is one that needs to be constantly placed back at the feet of Jesus. If we’re not careful, we will be lured into the chokehold of worry or lust or greed or whatever idol Satan slides into the weak parts of our heart. 
I’m realizing if I continue to operate out of a place of fear, I’m gonna miss some pretty special fruit. I’m gonna fuss over all the this-and-thats of preparing for my son and forget to enjoy the fact that he’s been given to me and John as a gift.
My face says it all. This is how I feel about being halfway through my pregnancy. ;)

My face says it all. This is how I feel about being halfway through my pregnancy. 😉

My Heavenly Father longs to help me become an earthly mama. Imagine! The Creator of my little boy longs to commune with me, and guide me through this next chapter. And here I am, eyes glazed over as I scroll through endless websites filled with innumerable varieties of car seats and strollers and cribs etc. Missing it… missing HIM.

I’m still going to do my best to prepare well for this little rascal. I’ll still read articles and seek advice and by golly we WILL get a baby registry together! But I need to do some thorn-scornin’ work in my own heart first. Beginning with the lie that I have to figure all of this out on my own and I better do it perfectly OR ALL IS LOST.
Literally, 12 hours after realizing my need to surrender control over all of this STUFF I received texts from two different people offering a variety of helpful baby gear I could borrow/have and then BAM! a package of faith-building love lands on my doorstep. So I may be all weepy over a bunch of onesies (to be expected) but I’m also sowing new seeds into good soil for this season.
This isn’t to say I’ll never worry again, but rather by the grace of God, I will be quicker to remove myself from the chokehold of worry and slip into the open arms of a God who gives courage to the weak-kneed expectant mother and offers perspective in the face of an ever-growing to-do list.
What about you, reader? Are there thorns in your heart that are choking out your faith? How can you begin the process of breaking free from their grasp?
It’s time to get our hands dirty in some serious thorn-scornin’ work, y’all.

Sandy Bottoms

IMG_4615I look out and I see who you are, God. Vast and powerful and unchanging and unyielding.

I am fearful for the future. What if I lose my job again? What if I miss a window to serve and love because I’m so scared of being misunderstood? What if I do it wrong? What if I settle for mediocre?

I have excuses where you have promises.

I cup my fears and worries in my hand, desperately trying to convince myself that I can control it all. You pour your grace into my thirsty spirit and before I know it, my cup is running over with grace upon grace.

You do not leave room for fear of man. 

While the world hands me lukewarm, unfinished warm-fuzzy sentiments about love, You consume me with unrelenting, holy and pure love. Love for me. Just me. Not me plus a dozen unwritten obligations and standards I have to meet. Just. Me.

Jesus sits with me on the sand as the pounding surf harmonizes with distant thunder.

“Oh you of little faith, Rachel. I will not ever go away. I am not watching you for mistakes, I’m walking with you through them. I am not waiting to rescue you from your folly, I’m waiting for you to realize you have already been rescued. I am not ashamed of your fear, I am here to turn it into faith. Don’t you see? 2015 will be new to you but I have already seen to the end of time. You will experience new heights of joy, depths of sorrow and lengths of wilderness. I will love you the same through all of it. I did not come and die for you to wait to live. It is for freedom that I have set you free! You are free to be you! You will mess up this year, Rachel. Let’s just stop trying to beat around the bush about it. And yet I have chosen to use you for my purposes and my kingdom and you don’t get to tell me not to. I am God. Do you get that? Sitting on this damp, cold beach with tears running down your face and joy lighting up your heart, I think you get it. But I’m going to have to remind you tomorrow and the next day and the next week,month and year. That’s ok. My faithfulness outruns your forgetfulness every time. Trust me. Trust me. Trust me.”

It’s getting darker and colder so I will gather myself up out of the sand, walk into our warm small condo and I will remember. I will remember the kind of God who pounds the surf against the shore and, without missing a beat, sits down in the sand next to His child and watches the ocean with her.

Your 2015 is new to you too, reader. A new year is a gift though for many it feels like a burden. I want you to remember that your year matters to the God who has created eternity. This year, sit down at your kitchen table, your bedside, your cubicle, or your car and make time for the God who has all the time in the world to teach you, challenge you, love you, and value you.

We all need more sandy bottom moments with Jesus. IMG_4619

I need them to remind myself that I am known by God in all my mess. I need them to remember my life is no small matter if it is lived out for and with the God of my salvation.

I need them to remember I know a God who is never too busy to sit with me in the sand.

 

For the Broken Bells

hanging_jingle_bellsI love this time of year! All the feel-good jingles and the festive sleigh bell jangles. Christmas is magical in so many ways! As each year has passed, Christmas is still beautiful and fun but the world around me has sort of lost it’s soft innocence I had enjoyed as a little girl. Back in the day where my biggest concern was getting to the JCPenney gift catalog before my sister did so I could mark all the stuff I wanted before her, I didn’t know about things like loss or grief or pain or sorrow.

There are days where I miss that innocence. Where I wish I could close my eyes and see the world with all of the naiveté of a 6-year-old. Where people didn’t hurt people so badly or where hard decisions weren’t weighing on my mind or relationships weren’t shattering and depression wasn’t suffocating and grief wasn’t so ruthless and final.

This world and every (every) person in it are messed up on so many levels and for all of the Christmas caroling and jingle belling that swirls around us, we just can’t fix it. So I sit in my car and listen to the lyrics of “O Holy Night” and beg the Lord to return, to break visible chains of bondage because sometimes it’s hard to care about the invisible ones. To stop oppression in it’s tracks and display his power by silencing all the violence. I praise Him for thrilling our souls with a hope that stays and for entering a world that was pining in it’s own desperate, depraved chaos. I ask Him for wisdom for His church because while the world certainly needs His law of love and gospel of peace, His church needs it too.

I could probably name a dozen reasons off the top of my head why I should feel bitter, angry, and confused right now. Some of the reasons are personal, some national, and others global. I have my list of “How do you explain this” circumstances that I have wielded in anger as I marched up to the throne of grace, demanding explanations.

I know that believing is hard, friends. I know that if you’re hurting right now then you probably don’t feel like decking the halls and it’s probably hard to dream of a White Christmas when you aren’t sleeping at night. The palpable, frenzied happy feelings that pulse through the air and radio this time of year may be cutting you like a knife and nobody seems to really get it.

I just want to tell you — somebody gets it. In fact, He’s the reason all of this celebrating is happening. Buried beneath the white noise of holly, jolly, ho-ho-ho, 50% off, buy-more-save-more is a baby boy sleeping in a cow trough, his mother exhausted and in pain on the cold barn floor and his father with deep lines of fatigue and wonder tracing his face.

I know it seems so ridiculous that a baby would save the world. Even more ridiculous to believe that God would become a man. Christmas is absurd, really. But God has never done things the way we expect Him to, or even demand Him to. He is not in the business of catering to finite, individual understandings of who He ought to be and how He ought to act.

He is in the glory business. The kind of glory which displays a radiant hope that pierces through thickening hate. Glory that takes deep pain and massages it gently into restored wholeness. Glory that sees lost causes as second chances. Glory that points to a God we just can’t summarize.

Christmas is about a God who saw you hurting and scared and tired and angry and said, “I am coming to heal that. Forever. Once for all.”

The sin that plagues you internally and externally is waging war so ferociously because it has already lost. It is frantic to distract you from Christmas, desperate to keep you from Easter.

In case you thought that Christmas runs only as deep as the warm-fuzzy feelings, I wanted to tell you how wrong you are. It finds the lonely, isolated, angry, heartbroken, and torn and says, “Ahhh yes. This is where I belong. I love you. You matter to me. Will you hear me? Will you believe that I came for you?”

I’m praying that you hear it, this year. The real sound of Christmas ringing through the cold, dark winter of your pain — a thrill of hope, a new and glorious morn.