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)

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Uncomfortable

imageHave you ever been in a place in your life when you think, “Maybe one day I’ll look back on this and see God’s fingerprints all over it and it will be grand and I will encourage people and it will be so lovely and I will summarize all of God’s faithfulness over a cup of coffee and isn’t that nice ?” But as you wade through that season of life you’re just thinking, “I don’t know if I can do this.”

That’s me right now!

So much of me longs to gird my loins, put on the armor of God and storm into this season with gusto and enough faith to drown out all of the anxieties and doubts. Oh but friend, I am tired. I am longing for respite. I feel stretched, weary and weak. I want to withdraw, to quietly pack up the armor of God, to pull out of every battle raging internally and around me and just wait for Jesus to clean it all up. (Try not to be too bedazzled by the tenacity of my faith.) If there’s anything you may learn from my spiritual journey it’s that trusting an invisible God does not come very easily to me. I guess the beauty is, it doesn’t have to.

My head knows the truths about God and His promises, but in times of adversity or confusion my heart swallows the truths with an obligatory gulp – and it often takes a while for it to be digested. Maybe you can relate?

Becoming more like Christ often means surrendering parts of your human nature that are familiar and easy – and crippling. I am a sucker for creature comforts, for happily ever afters, for “ignorance is bliss” and for the American dream. Every time any one of those things is gently rendered from my tight fists, I am left with open, empty hands. Which is (not surprisingly) exactly what enables me to connect with God and with others. How can I receive and enjoy the Good News that Jesus is who He says He is, when I am preoccupied with what other people think about me or how my life adds up compared to someone else’s (aka: things that don’t matter. ever.)?

My small piece of the world feels very unsteady and uncertain and I am uncomfortable in it. Yet it is my reality. Yet God has placed people in my life who remind me of His steadiness and certainty and the comfort of His Presence – even as all of those things seem tucked into a pretty sermon rather than winding through my story.

In addition to the uncertainties that plague my small corner of the world lately, my head has been spinning the last few weeks with questions about race, racism, and reconciliation. It all feels so big to me. Like too much. My pride bristles at ideas and perspectives that challenge my own, yet my spirit within me is restless for unity and peace and the mission of God. I have entered into conversations that require me to listen and reflect. I have walked into territory that is new and scary and humbling. This season of my life is uncomfortable, guys. Have I mentioned that? The issue of racism in America is uncomfortable. The searchings of my heart have led me to dialogues that have challenged and moved me to uncomfortable, refining places.

The firmness of my faith is being tested as I walk out, unwillingly, onto the waters of this season. moms flowersAgain I find myself looking at a future that doesn’t look like what I thought it would. Again I surrender to God and again I find it all difficult to do. Oh! To present to you the face of a woman who is so confident in her God and in her future. But honesty is too precious and saving face costs all of us too much.

Instead I am resolved to take a deep breath, one conversation at a time, one step at a time and wake up tomorrow knowing that the same God who sent His own Son to die a brutal death on my behalf, and live a resurrected life also sends me into my corner of the world with purposes He will fulfill through a life lived honestly, imperfectly and uncomfortably.

Life is hard. God is faithful.  Amen? Amen.

Be a Household that Remembers

I wrote a poem this morning while shoveling cheerios at my son and sipping my morning coffee because every year Memorial Day makes me stop – even when the world around me doesn’t. So much was given and so much was taken by the sacrifice of the men and women who died protecting the United States. Freedom and restoration was given, birthdays and anniversaries were taken. May you and yours be a household that remembers. And if you hold the ache of Memorial Day in your heart and home every day – Thank you. I am so sorry for your loss and cannot imagine your -pain. May you find in America a nation that cares about your sorrow.

——
Memorial Day Candles
Be a household that remembers
take some time, brief or long.
Consider the blood of sons and daughters
dripping from our freedom song.
Tell your children about sacrifice,
teach your students about respect.
Light a candle, say a prayer,
close your eyes and just reflect.
War is hell, there is no doubt,
it tears and burns and kills.
It seeps into a quiet home,
and leaves an aching chill.
Take a moment to enter into the pain,
and allow yourself to feel.
Every bullet fired, every IED,
every shock that made bodies reel.
From open fields of massacre,
to jungles, huts, and trenches.
Men and women entered in,
as our nation’s brave defenses.
Carried home in boxes, greeted by moans and wails,
hands caress the smooth wooden beams
and words have and will continue to fail.
We cannot bear the burden that so many families do today,
but let’s just set aside politics and divisions and humbly say,
“His sacrifice mattered. She will never be forgotten. And we will take care of you.”
Be a household that remembers
take some time, brief or long.

Following Wisdom

IMG_4890“When he established the heavens, I [wisdom] was there; when he drew a circle on the face of the deep, when he made firm the skies above, when he established the fountains of the deep, when he assigned the sea its limit so that the water might not transgress his command, when he marked out the foundations of the earth, then I was beside him, like a master workman, and I was daily his delight, rejoicing before him always, rejoicing in his inhabited world and delighting in the children of man.” – Proverbs 8: 27-31

I get goosebumps when I read accounts in Scripture about the creation of the world. The wordsmith in me is in love with the pictures that are painted in this account. Circles drawn on the face of the deep, marked foundations, firm skies, fountains of the deep. Oh! To know this God better. To walk alongside of Him and marvel in all that He’s doing in my neighborhood and around the world.

May I choose to follow wisdom into deeper places with this powerful, holy God. May I reject the status quo of wandering in the wilderness and embrace the unknown of communing with the Holy of Holies. 

Who is it that gets to enter into His Presence? How can a young woman keep her way pure? By guarding it according to your word. (Psalm 119:9)

Reading the Bible is not a checklist item, even when it feels like it is  —  it protects my heart, guides my steps, and pulls me closer to the God who established the foundations of the world, and knit me together in my mother’s womb.

Faith in this God is a humbling, challenging, beautiful reality.

Breaking All The Rules – Living Like Grandma

This past week was John and I’s first week back from a two week holiday break. The amount of grumbling and whining opportunities we had were tenfold. No more sleeping in ’til we felt like waking up! No more mid-day naps or spontaneous walks on the beach or hours spent reading whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. Now it was back to the daily grind. With all of it’s waking-upness and schedules and deadlines. John didn’t technically go “back to work” this week but there are about a thousand projects to do around the house that had him plenty occupied all week.

I’ll admit that at times I was pretty worn out and pining for some time to relax and unplug. Yet I also admit, the path paved with bitterness and discontentment, though comfortably wide and welcoming, always left me feeling more exhausted than I was before. So I decided to break all the rules of a post-vacation experience and actually enjoy myself. I began almost every day reading the Bible while munching on my Eggo waffles. I kissed my husband goodbye on the days I went into the office and harassed him mercilessly enjoyed his company when I worked from home.

Sometimes I would take a brief break from work just to pet the cat or look out the window and thank God for a beautiful new home. I even tried a new recipe this week and for those of you who know how I am in the kitchen, that’s basically the equivalent of skydiving for me. I am unstoppable.

This week I lived out what millions of other people before me have already discovered — the healing phenomenon of gratitude. Gratitude for your ordinary life takes work, until it stops being work and simply becomes a life you’re thankful for. Contentment isn’t found in the entitlements of the world. In the predictable patterns of comfort, self-centeredness, control, never-ending vacations, and apathy. Contentment is refined in the grind. It turns heads and raises eyebrows when it’s found in an ordinary someone living a life on purpose, with no bells or whistles attached.

Holding me in her arms and prayers for as long as I can remember. :)

Holding me in her arms and prayers for as long as I can remember. 🙂

My grandma has it. She lost her best friend  and life partner over 40 years ago, yet faithfully shows up to play organ at her church, visit friends and have Bible study. She has watched loved ones die year after year and has told me that it doesn’t get easier “just because you’re old.” But my grandma is close to the heart of God. She spends her time in prayer and asleep in front of the 5 o’clock news. 😉 She is ruthless and unwavering in her convictions about the grace of God and I will never fully know how much her prayers have shaped and protected and held me during difficult times.

I talked to grandma on Christmas Day and when asking her for advice about life she told me “be on your knees, Rachel. Every season of life you will always find help from Your Maker.” I cried because she made it seem so simple because for her it IS that simple. That’s exactly what I want. Whatever happens in my life, in whatever season, I know that contentment is most easily found in surrender to a good and perfect God. 

I am not perfect at this and I have had my fair share of grumblings and mumblings. Nobody does this flawlessly but I believe that it’s possible to be content where you are when you stop trying to control all the things you don’t like or understand about your life. This is easier said than done on every level, I get that. But this past week I learned it’s worth it. It’s worth waking up and making the most of the day as you can.

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.

 

My Song of the Sea

IMG_7559My women’s small group is currently going through the book of Exodus. Last week we talked about Exodus 15 – The Israelites sang their “Song of the Sea” after watching God destroy the Egyptian army in the waters of the Red Sea. It’s a beautiful, poignant picture of a people who are so ready to worship and revere their God. As a takeaway idea, I suggested we try and write our own “Song of the Sea” to declare God’s goodness and faithfulness to us during our own lives. Since I’m a leader of the group I figured maybe I should follow through on my own idea (which happens probably about 30% of the time), and I’m really glad I did! This was a great exercise in worship and reflection.

Rachel’s Song of the Sea

Lord, Your ways are unsearchable to me. Your grace is unavoidable.
You stand on my behalf in the presence of the Father.
You have claimed me for Yourself and I am irreversibly Yours.

Your hands have formed galaxies even as Your mind imagined the human race.
You are altogether good and trustworthy in Your design. You do not make mistakes or have second thoughts.

With You, there is no plan B.
In You there is no condemnation for all who worship You.

You patiently deliberate with me in my doubt.
In truth You respond to my anger and uncertainty.
In love You rebuke my arrogance and conceit.

When I hated Your plan for me, You heard and knew and felt that pain.
And You comforted me.
You lifted my chin and turned my eyes to a tomorrow that I can only dimly comprehend.

Great is Your faithfulness!

When I shake my fist in Your face, You put me in my place.
You destroy my wobbly attempts at being someone I’m not, simply by reminding me that I am Yours.

You free me to risk and to try because everyday I wake up in Your mercies.
Where can I go from You?

I chase after the wind as You chase my wayward heart.
You sing over me even as I reach for other gods.

I don’t understand You, God. You don’t fit into my boxes.

At times I’m silent before You, seething and lonely and scared.
At times You are silent before me, present and listening and leading.

Your Spirit is an anchor in the fickle seas of my flesh.
I am caught and pulled and tempted and fail.
You are steadfast, available, and ready to redeem.

The Enemy sits in my comfort zone, I have made him a friend as I seek and search for how to be god.
He prompts me and urges me towards forbidden fruit, towards the empty, glittery promises of lust, pride, greed, and hate.

When I do not trust You, I am trusting him instead.
Forgive me, Lord. Teach me to trust Truth.

You overturn his lies in righteous anger. You pull me from the depths of the pit and place me on high ground.
You are my high ground.

Your Kingdom is marked by truth and righteousness.
You opened Paradise to the ungrateful beggar.

Your mystery dwells in the hearts of everyone who calls upon Your name.
You are deep in the DNA of Your people.

No one can know what You know and still love like You love.
No one saves like You.

You are both my hiding place and my courage.
You are my Savior and my Maker.

Great is Your faithfulness!