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)

Advertisements

Old lovies and New Years 

2016 is almost over and 2017 is ahead of us – bright and shiny and untouched by our missed expectations, our great accomplishments and our deep disappointments. This year has been really hard for many, for many reasons. One thing I noticed as I swapped out Samuel’s hippo lovie tonight with a new model is how much love was pressed in and spilled out and worn into this lovie toy. Compared to the brand new, right outta the bag hippo – the lovie looks beat up. Like many of us may feel at the end of 2016. But the lovie is LOVED you know? 

We are a little dirty and worn and we have endured hard things and they have marked us – but so have all of the hugs and the prayers and the friendships that carried us and the family who held us til the imprint of their embrace also left its mark. I am different because of the love and the challenges and the stubborn hope I collided with in 2016. I am as ready as I can be for the imprints of 2017 – the love and the pain. 

I will do my part to hug my people and leave my mark this year too – with my words and with my arms and with all the love I can muster. Will you leave your mark? Who will you love so hard that they end the year with your hug DNA smudged into them? 

Who left their hugs on you this year? That’s a sweet sentiment to consider as the year ends isn’t it? Three cheers for all of our old lovies who make every New Year more bearable and more enjoyable! 

Are you sure? – A Reflection on 2016

Merry Christmas friends and family!
img_9861Throughout November and December I’ve done some reflecting on this past year.  2017 awaits us – untouched and full of possibility like freshly fallen snow. But before leaping into the New Year and discovering the pain and the joy it will bring, I wanted to capture 2016. How could I sum up this year?

As I look back, I remember three little words that defined my journey through 2016 – Are you sure?

Are you sure that’s the best decision to make for Samuel?
Are you sure you should have moved back to VA?
Are you sure you’re worth hiring?
Are you sure you have value?
Are you sure God is who He says He is?
Are you sure God cares about any of this?
Are you sure John’s not tired of being married to you?
Are you sure it wouldn’t be better if you were married to someone else?
Are you sure Samuel is developing ok?
Are you sure you are doing everything in your power to help Samuel develop well?
Are you sure your faith is real?

Are you sure it’s worth having faith at all?

I believe it’s healthy to ask questions and dig deeper into your life – your belief/unbelief regarding God, your relationship with others, your long-term goals, your passions etc. All of those are worth analyzing and evaluating on a regular basis. How can we grow if we don’t seek to understand these things, right? But to marinate in a doubtful mindset only leads to frustration, second-guessing and missed opportunities.

When John and I decided to move back to VA after living in TX for 6 years, we were excited about all of the possibilities! All of the opportunities! We were certain God was behind this move and was urging us to take a step of faith. So we stepped. And what was “supposed to be” a 2-week mini-vacation living with my parents in central VA turned into an entire summer living in my childhood home, both of us unexpectedly unemployed and discouraged. It stung. I was angry about it. I was certain that we had misunderstood God’s hand of leading us back to VA. I felt that way because I thought stepping out in faith meant stepping into certainty. Stepping out in faith meant God would reward me, right? Easy peasy.

Here’s the thing about believing that God is real and Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of all mankind – when you believe that, you surrender. A life of faith is marked by surrender. It’s not the big decisions either that ultimately test and refine your faith – it’s what I like to call the “wednesday afternoon decisions” you make day after week after year to trust that God is present in your life, that He is at work, and that He cares. Do your daily, unseen choices and attitudes reflect a belief in a good God? This year I let my attitude err on the side of doubt and bitterness. I didn’t want to redirect my thoughts because I was quite comfortable sitting in my self-made pity-party surrounded by my familiar “friends” of apathy, selfishness and fear. Maybe you can relate?

I feel compelled to share this reflection because those three words “Are you sure?” can paralyze us or misdirect us. That was true of me on many occasions this year.

If you asked me those questions above, chances are you would receive different answers depending on how I feel at the moment, depending on what was happening around me. The compelling joy found in a life surrendered to the person of Christ comes from understanding that even in our fickle wavering, even in our uncertainties and our “it’s not supposed to be like this” moments, Christ does not change. He is sure. He is steadfast. He is present. He is real.

So even when I am not sure, Christ is and always will be! 

Hallelujah! There is no greater hope, friends. NO. GREATER. HOPE.

“We have this hope as an anchor for our souls.” – Hebrews 6:19 (paraphrase)

I’m looking back on 2016 and I see shaky steps of faith that I did take and I see steps that I was too scared, too lazy, or too selfish to take. I see a heart that has been filled with the fullness of the goodness of our God, and a heart that has been tossed to and fro by the wind and waves of circumstance. I am grateful for this past year. My knees have buckled in surrender even as my chin has been lifted by the One who promises peace, joy, and a kingdom everlasting for those who believe.

Soon the holidays will be over and January will give way to February and spring will come and summer will appear and so continues life as it always has. But what will you do with this coming year, friend? What will be your anthem?

For me? I’m trading my doubt for a promise. Even as I face uncertainty in 2017, I will wave this promise as a banner over my life. “He who calls you is faithful. He will surely do it.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:24

Nothing and no one is wasted when surrendered to a God who is faithful and near to every person who desires His will be done more than he/she desires a perfect understanding of how it will be done.

I encourage you to take some time to reflect and prepare for the New Year before you head back to work on Tuesday or normal life resumes and routines are settled into. None of us knows exactly what this New Year will bring but we can choose what we bring into it.

The Unlikely Chauffeur

This is an excerpt from my journal today which, strangely enough turned into a reflection on Satan. It is scattered and unedited but I wanted to put it out to you because maybe someone out there needs to see it. I have too many drafts waiting for perfection, I didn’t want this to be one of them.

——-

Grace cannot be recycled. It is not a commodity to be sold and then re-sold over and over. Grace is not a pond that I dip a bucket into to wash away my sins. It is the ocean that drowns my sins until no one can dig them up or air them out or make them matter again. Yet that is exactly what Satan spends his time doing. He roams the earth seeking who he might devour, he targets Christians and their weak convictions, their shaky faith and imperfect understanding of grace. He deep-sea dives into the depths of my past and my present, he haunts me with horrors that could be. He dismantles my future simply by planting an idea that would assure me it will go horribly wrong for me if I continue to believe in Jesus. He fights grace. Every moment of every day, Satan swims against the current of God’s grace for any follower of Jesus and he takes our hand and convinces us to do the same.

“Not enough, Rachel. Do you remember? You’re not enough. You should have spent your time differently today. You wasted today. You could have done so much better today but you didn’t. You messed up. You will never be anything but what you habitually retreat to. God doesn’t care about this. He’s busy. He’s interested in people who take Him seriously. You don’t, obviously or we wouldn’t be having this conversation. You should worry more about Samuel, he’s so small you know? So fragile and easy to break. You aren’t doing enough to keep him safe. What if something happens to him? You don’t take good care of John. You care more about yourself than you do him, you always have. You are selfish and hopeless. He could do so much better than you. It’s a shame he settled, isn’t it? You are so holy Rachel. You’re way holier than her. You read your bible more and you love talking to women about the Bible. You are so good at public speaking. So good at being in front of a crowd. You should have majored in theater, you should have been famous. You could still be famous you know? It’s easy. You just have to trust me. Fame is so great. It is SO much better than the dull life you’re leading now. People care about your every move! Imagine! To have people imitate you and look up to you all the time! To hang on your every word! Imagine the applause you would get with that great sense of humor. This is too easy. This whole making you dissatisfied in the life you’ve been given thing. Too easy.”

The trickiest thing about you Satan, is your adept use of reality. Not the reality about things of eternal significance because I know you’re already defeated there. But the reality that you know what’s happening in my life too. You know my fears and my unsettledness. So you use the reality of my life against what I profess to be true about Jesus. You pit them against each other as if they were meant to be at war with each other. When I take enough time to step back and watch how you work, I’m amazed at the gaping flaw in your approach. Yes, you know my heart and my fears and my sins. Yes, you have the ability to sway my mind or attention from the things of God and to create in me a festering obssession with the things of the world. I would be a fool to deny that. I experience it all constantly. You are constantly trying to pull my attention towards self-preservation and self-exaltation. But I died to myself, Satan. It is no longer I who live but Christ in  me. This means, enough time spent dwelling on my self and I grow restless and aching and searching until I fall again at the feet of Jesus and say, “Prone to wander, Lord I feel it. Take my heart, take and seal it for your courts above.” Do you see it? YOU LEAD ME TO THE FEET OF JESUS. Sometimes it takes weeks, even months at a time for me to make it back to Him. To quietly collapse in surrender, to feel the cool tides of grace welcome me home – but I never realized that, on many occasions, you were my unlikely chauffeur.
chauffeur-labeled-for-reuse

You have won battles in my life, Satan. I know you will never stop trying to convince me of my unworthiness, my inabilty to matter or make a difference. You are desperate for my destruction and it makes me desperate for Jesus. The Holy Spirit within me convicts me of sin, He shows me where I am being lazy, foolish, selfish, and unrighteous and He always beckons me to open my Bible, get in community with other people who preach the gospel to me, and pray. I am responsible for my mistakes and I will continue to make them. But, in order for me to be defined by my mistakes, I have to give you that permission. I have to hand over to you everything I think that makes me special or worthy and you can help me obsess over them all. But instead, my specialness and worthiness comes alive in who I am in Christ. That’s why any pursuit for self is disappointing to me if it is not also the pursuit of Christ.

You are busy putting makeup on my corpse and convincing me to carry it around and show it off for people to applaud. Meanwhile, the Holy Spirit fills my body – the one I have right now – and enables me to be poured out as an offering to the Lord. He enables me to serve, to love, to teach the Bible, to make people laugh, to hold people when they cry, to let myself be held when I cry.

Wow. What a relief for every person who is a disciple of Christ. Even in our shortcomings, when we were still sinners, Christ died for us! We were STILL SINNERS and He died for us. Because of love. A love that does not die of disappointment, is never weighed down by shame or vengeful anger, and a love that quite literally fills the body and mind of every one who believes that it exists. For everyone who believes that Christ’s life was not left to rot, and neither will mine be. No other act can so eloquently, succinctly, and unquestionably articulate the majestic, splendor of the glory of God than the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. No love like this exists within man. No perfect love whose only agenda was to save and adopt the ones who spat in it’s face.

One day I will meet you, Satan. To the last moment before your damnation you will be clawing at my wounds, attempting to open dark and painful things that you used to use to cripple and shame me. But I will be wholly holy in Christ in that moment. Your ability to create tears and pain and hatred and violence within me will shrink in the presence of my God. My sin nature will have been shed, I will have finally tasted the life that I had proclaimed and I will lean back into the arms of my Maker and I will be home.

Speaking of home, I’m about to pack up my laptop and head home. To the life that I lead, the people I love, the mission I embrace – all of them given to me by a God who has numbered the hairs on my head and the days of my life on earth. I can’t wait to see them again. This conversation has helped me realize just how precious and important it is that I show up and love and serve by the power of the Spirit. Your chauffeur services will not be needed, however – I know how to go home. Today, I know Who my home is.

The posture of love

posture of loveSamuel had kind of a whiny fussy day today and quite honestly for the past few days. Moving is tough on everybody and while I wasn’t a perfectly patient mom with him today, God gave us a few minutes of dancing around the living room and giggling while I sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” I couldn’t keep my eyes off of him as he giggled and threw his arms wide while we spun around.

 

We live in a scary world. That’s true. But let’s not forget that babies still dance in living room and people all over the world still get up every day and resolve to love each other and their neighbors.

We all get weary from the world and it’s gnawing agenda to keep on keepin’ on, while sharing space and time with people who are imperfect and difficult and demanding and all the things that we are too. We don’t have the soft luxury of a baby’s perspective about the world but we don’t need naïveté to love people, we just need to love people anyway.

Jesus told His followers that they will be recognized by the world because of their extraordinary love for each other and for others. Extraordinary love is not always huge, sweeping gestures of generosity or charity.

From what I can tell, The most extraordinary, life-changing, world-tilting love is born of faithfulness. It’s found in the person who wakes up every morning and says, “Every day I will do my part to heal hurts, give courage, share my time and resources, so that every person I come in contact with will remember they are loved by their Maker.”

I am not doing life right all the time you guys. But I know that Jesus is real. Hope is alive in Him. And His Joy is alive in me.

Go ahead and spin around in your living room and let yourself be loved, you goofball. Arms open, head up, smile wide. May that be our posture to the world and our invitation to every neighbor.

To all the little, tired days

An overview of the Lavoie’s month of May: 2 baby showers (in 2 different states), 2 graduations (in 2 different states), 3 birthdays, one plane ride, and the beginning of John’s final DTS classes.

IMG_5079

This is the nursery. Use your imagination.

Puffin Prep: Not a week goes by where we don’t receive a package at our doorstep filled with goodies for little Puffin. I sincerely hope this little man understands how loved he is because it’s already overwhelming his mama. Slowly but surely his nursery is looking less like a storage closet and more like a place where a human being could actually live and sleep without tripping over some kind of fire hazard. Whenever I walk into it, I usually find myself slowing down, looking around and praying, “Oh God. A little baby is going to live in here. You better show up when that happens because it makes me feel a little squeamish.”

Seminary Graduation: This weekend we celebrated John IMG_0040graduating from seminary! He has 2 more classes to take this summer before he is “officially” done but he participated in the commencement ceremony on Saturday and I was about an inch from a happy meltdown for almost the entire 2-hour event. (Keep in mind — I’m also pregnant, so when I let the tears roll, it’s usually only a matter of moments before I’m full-out weeping and snarfing my own saliva. So. Self-restraint was necessary).

Mother’s Day Shock: Now today is Mother’s Day and I woke up this morning to a bunch of “Happy Mother’s Day!” wishes that sent my mind reeling since I hadn’t even considered, amidst all the hub-bubbery, that today is my official first Mother’s Day as a mom. I could probably write a blog about all the emotions I’m feeling just about that little nugget of reality.

Honestly, all of these things are blog posts in and of themselves. I could tell you a million different stories about my pregnancy journey, my husband, our seminary experience etc etc. Maybe one day I’ll get around to expounding on them but for today, I’m just here to say to you, reader: Don’t miss the little days. Don’t miss the fact that all of these big celebrations, all the milestones that we celebrate and document and cherish in our lives are all built on a bunch of little, tired days. Days filled with butt-wiping or paper-writing or rush-hour commuting or late-night dinners. Days that stretched into the night, that turned into weeks, and stacked up into months. Accomplishments are born from countless unglamorous, non – instagrammable moments and unrelenting encouragement from other people. 

Sometimes you wanna quit. Lots of times, actually. Whether you’re working towards a degree, scratching out a foundation for your dreams, raising children or whatever else. Anyone I’ve talked to who has dared to embark on something that’s bigger than themselves has told me that it was/is hard, hard, hard. 

Seminary was hard for us. That’s just the truth of it. Lots of great fruit from the experience with lots of dark, sticky sludge to wade through to get to that fruit. I don’t have my son in my arms yet so I have no idea what awaits us in terms of parenthood.  That’s still an unknown world to me but many who are in it now tell me that it’s hard. It’s tireless, often thankless work that breaks your back and sometimes your sanity. They also tell me they wouldn’t trade it for anything. Isn’t it weird how you hear that a lot from exhausted parents? I think it’s because the things in life that humble us are the same things that free us. We can’t pretend to be perfect when it’s so obvious that we’re in over our heads, right? We can’t claim brilliance, independence, or self-sufficiency when we’re so tired we would hand our newborn baby to the mailman for 5 minutes just so we could take a hot shower.

All the best things in life come from the little days that we often miss. Just like “Rome wasn’t built in a day!” neither are successful people. “Successful” meaning well-adjusted, contented, grateful, hard-working people. Not necessarily with a big bank account but with a life that overflows with a million blessedly small moments.

To the little, tired days of my life — past, present, and future — thank you.

 

 

Happy birthday blogger- Rachel!

Wordpress NotificationI logged onto my blog today after a long day at work. John is currently en route to pick up dinner at my favorite cheap Italian restaurant in Dallas (hello first pregnancy craving) while our electrician installs two ceiling fans into our home (I see you, TX Summer. BRING IT ON). I was genuinely hoping to hop on and then hop off my blog because that’s basically almost always what I do when I find myself here, “Oh! Look! Words I once said! Looks like they’re still up there from 3 months ago when I last posted. Welp. Nothing to see here!”

But today is apparently, my 3 year anniversary with WordPress! I got a nifty little notification with some kind of fancy symbol on it telling me I had registered this blog three years ago today. That’s probably worth celebrating and so I’m posting this to commemorate. Also, taking a stroll down memory lane as my past-blogger-self, I have to say — I think I’m slowly getting the hang of this!

See for proof my first ever blog post — once you’re done counting all the different color fonts I used (which I’m SURE were clear as mud to read on your mobile device), you’ll probably be tripping over italics and BOLDED THINGS before you actually (mercifully) reach the end. In fact, I just double-checked and uhh.. yeah. You can’t read it at all because I wrote it in WHITE TEXT. I mean. How are you guys still around reading this? For those who have been with me since the beginning — THANK YOU and God bless your tired retinas.

I still enjoy the occasional bolded text — just to get my point across or to highlight the nuggets I think are most worth noticing but now I’ve sort of settled into my voice as a writer. It’s fun to notice that. My expression as a writer is clearer, without the help of magenta question marks or aqua bullet points. My posting is still as consistent as a snowstorm in Texas despite my empty promises and  internal pleas to myself to sit down, shut my mouth and write. Something that’s helped me with this writing avoidance I’ve created is a friend of mine who now meets with me weekly to swap pieces we write based on a prompt or an idea we have. She’s also one of my neighbors so there’s really no escaping her determined enthusiasm about our weekly writing rendezvous. I love her for it. 🙂

Honestly, she’s probably the reason I’m writing this post right now instead of spiraling into the abyss of Facebook or watching another episode of MASH (a guilty pleasure of mine. 11 seasons are now on Netflix. I am not ashamed). So, I HOPE YOU’RE HAPPY JOANNE.

But seriously, I want to say thank you to all of you. Whether I’ve met you in real life or just over cyberspace, your encouragement to me to keep writing, the thoughts you share and the insights I get from all of you is priceless. I would have nothing interesting to say and nobody to tell it to if it weren’t for the people in my life. So, this post is for YOU! I raise my fancy-embellished virtual notification to you and say — YOU have made this possible! Thank you for not giving up on me! Thank you for forcing me to write when I don’t want to, for encouraging me to publish more and edit less (ARGH), and for always challenging me to not take any gift or passion lightly. There’s lots of joy to be had in this life (even if it is juxtaposed with loss, sorrow, or anger). I solemnly swear to share as much of it as I can with all of you.

Seize the day! Life is short! (if only this blog post was too).

Affectionately,

Rachel