Exodus 2020-21: A Walk in the Wilderness

I recently met with a group of women to give them words of hope and encouragement in this strange season of 2020-2021. My original thought was to share scripture from Paul’s letter to the Galatians, since it was one I had been frequently revisiting:

Let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. (Gal 6:9)

And even though I strive to see glimpses of good in every situation, sometimes I still feel the heaviness and frustration of all the change and challenge of new ways of doing life in this season. The unknown and the unmet can certainly be challenging…and exhausting.

But as I prepared to share, and hopefully encourage…the word that came to me wasn’t about weariness or perseverance at all. Instead, it was the words of remembrance that were spoken to the travel-weary Israelites near the end of their wilderness journey:

I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet. -Deut 29:5

And as I thought about the Israelites’ journey in the wilderness, it felt familiar and timely. But let me first say, I’m not really comparing our season of Covid, shutdowns, changes, confusion, and political and social unrest to the harshness of being in slavery in Egypt or to the long, hungry wandering in the wilderness for 40 years.

But when the people fled out of Egypt, they really didn’t know what to expect. How long would they be in transit? What would it look like? How long would their lives and routines be put on hold? What would happen on the other side? What would be the “new normal?” It was really only about an 11 day journey. Shouldn’t be that hard at all, right? I mean…what could go wrong?

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.

Proverbs 13:12

Well…you know what did happen in that forty years? Fear, isolation, disappointment, changes to routine, grumbling and complaining, rebellion, lying, challenges to faith and family, disease, death. And if we could brainstorm and compare notes and thoughts, the list would keep growing. But you know what else was forged during that time? Faith, boundaries, relationships, leadership, tribal unity, new ways of worship, hope, greater realization of God’s presence. And more.

And then I thought about us during this time. Any of it sound familiar in 2020? Stay home, isolate, social distance, flatten the curve, wear a mask, quarantine, unclean, take the pressure off hospitals, make a plan, figure it all out. I’m not being cynical. It was a new route in the wilderness of 2020 and I think most leaders were trying their best to forge their way along an uncharted path…with no cloud by day or fire by night.

Then I thought, maybe it’s not such a different picture after all. Maybe we had been slaves unaware prior to the pandemic. Slaves to time, tradition, comfort, the expected usual ways, routine in worship, community, education, and gathering. Are we looking back now, like they did, wishing for the good ol days back in Egypt with meat by the fire? Or have we developed a taste for something new? Will we ever again complain about having to go to bible study on Friday where we would have coffee and laughter with our friends? Or getting up to go to church and worship freely on Sunday mornings? Uninhibited hugs and kisses on the cheek? Do we understand the concept of just enough whatever for the day? It felt a little scary when you couldn’t find toilet paper, right?

When we get to the other side of this…what will be different? What awaits us?

We need a Red Sea to the Jordan River moment in our lives…a “Red Sea parting” to provide a way and a “Jordan River crossing” to help us look back and remember. But also look forward with hope. But first we have to be dressed for the journey.

I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place,  and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Ephesians 6:13-17

Can we say…for 40 days, or 40 weeks, or 40 months…He led (and we followed) through this time, this wilderness, this season of pulling away and becoming different? In 40 weeks or 40 years…the whole armor of God won’t wear out or rust. But we do have to choose to put it on or to walk around in the wilderness naked… exposed and vulnerable.

Can we say, on the other side of the mountain: daily I collected my portion of bread. Daily I put on my clothes and my sandals?

My belt of truth and breastplate of righteousness. Check. Not worn out. Belt fits securely. I have been consistently seeking truth. Got a whole robe of righteousness.

My shoes of peace wrap around my feet like the peace of God that passes understanding and are as strong and supportive as ever. I walk securely. Lots of traction out of these shoes of peace.

This shield of faith has taken some heavy hits and fiery darts but it keeps on deflecting. Not worn out or even splintered.

This helmet of salvation is secure. He hasn’t given me a spirit of fear but of peace and love and a sound mind.

And the wilderness-wanderers may have had the tabernacle, the cloud, and the fire but we have the sword of the Spirit… the Word of God.

I have led you forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet.

I ask you to think about that verse this week. Very tangibly as it relates, not only to 2020 and beyond, but to how He has led you through…whatever. And remember this encouraging truth found in Lamentations 3:21-23

But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. –

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places

Because He has led, and is leading, you a figurative forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes have not worn out on you, and your sandals have not worn off your feet.

New Year’s Revolution

It’s 2021! Happy New Year! At the start of every new year, millions of people make plans to change something during the upcoming year. Read more, exercise more, lose weight, eat better, travel, save money, and on and on. They call them resolutions. But read that title again. We’re talking about creating a New Year’s revolution! Resolutions plan…but revolutions do.

2020 was a year unlike any other that most of us have ever experienced. We found ourselves confronted with a global pandemic, massive shutdowns, social and political upheaval, media frenzy and bias, isolation, mental health crisis, uncertainty, and for many, a year of great loss: jobs, financial security, social interaction, death of friends and loved ones. If it taught us anything, I would say that it showed us that we are not really in control of our lives and circumstances as much as we had once thought.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us we were all going direct to heaven we were all going the other way-in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil…

Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities

Think back for a moment on 2020, but not with the typical eye roll and fatalist semi-humor of it being the worst year ever. Instead…find one good thing. One positive outcome or lesson. One new discovery. One very good memory. I promise it’s there. It may be obvious and come to mind right away. Or it may be so subtle and so slowly learned and still evolving that it may take some time to quietly reflect and realize. You may not even know its full impact in this season, but you will someday. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

The quotation above is the opening paragraph of a literary classic about the French Revolution, A Tale of Two Cities. I’m not trying to make a political statement, nor am I suggesting that we try to overthrow the government and create a 2021 American Revolution. But I do propose that we rise up and demand change. We create change. We become the change.

According to Merriam Webster:

revolution , noun

–a sudden, radical, or complete change

-a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something

Sudden, radical, and complete aren’t always easy, but a basic, fundamental change sounds a little more do-able. But it requires an active choice to consider the ways we think about and visualize the beliefs, patterns, activities, and interactions in our lives. Last year I suggested we look ahead and discover 10 things to leave behind and 10 things to embrace in the upcoming year of 2020. We could probably revisit and redo, but for now, looking back…

Think about and visualize: What made 2020 so hard for you?

Lack of control? Isolation or loneliness? All the unknowns? Fear? Loss? Then let’s evaluate: What are our expectations and how do we create them? Where do we get our information and answers? In what do we place our trust? Do we expect the government to do what’s right and best for us? Friends and family? Do we trust in nature, fate, karma, or whatever? Do we hope and trust at all? No shame, no judgment, no condemnation. But pause to consider: Does life just happen? Is there really a God in heaven who knows us and sees us and has a bigger plan and purpose? Even if in doubt, I encourage you to pause, look back, and find evidence of God’s involvement in your circumstances. Look for his goodness and faithfulness to you this year. Last year, twenty years ago… Like the cliché says: hind sight is 2020. Choose to see.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. -Psalm20:7

Then start a revolution! A fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something in your life and situation. Rise up and actively seek faith, answers, encouragement, and options. Engage others in person or virtually. Ask hard questions and seek real solutions. Throw off chains of doubt, fear, suspicion, apathy, and discouragement. Look back with mercy and compassion. Look forward with optimism and expectation. Want the change, seek the change, be the change.

The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s ‘own,’ or ‘real’ life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day by day

C.S. Lewis

My daughter bought me a beautiful, personalized planner for 2020. I pulled it out this morning and flipped through it. It is sparsely written in. Most of my plans in 2020 centered around going to work and coming home. No need to write that down. No exciting vacations or worldwide travel plans. But as I flipped through it today, I was encouraged by page after page of motivational words, thoughts, and stickers. And seeing more blank pages ahead actually motivated me. Blank pages are open spaces and opportunities. Maybe this has been a season of a different type of quiet stillness, sheltering, and preparing. For what? Maybe realization and revolution.

Have enough COURAGE to start and enough HEART to finish.

I’m going to suggest 3 tools, or weapons, in our arsenal that may enable us to rise up and start a healthy, life-changing revolution:

1. Perspectivehow and what we choose to see. 2020 was a great year for my dog, Maggie. She struggles with a canine anxiety disorder and I spent much more time at home this year, not taking a vacation and not taking her away from the comforts of home and family. We had fewer visitors to disrupt her ideas of the security and comfort of home. Her perspective is that 2020 was the best year ever! Can you name at least one gain or strength you acquired through all the changes and slowing down of 2020? Have you read more? Been outside more? Spent more time with your immediate family? Maybe you miss your family and friends and now realize what gifts a hug, an unmasked smile, and an intimate cup of coffee face-to-face really were. Perspective. Maybe it has changed how you plan on living next year…

2. Directivea goal, a plan, a desired outcome, and a carefully thought out way to get there. Battles are never won accidentally. They require strategy, bold commands, and faithful warriors engaged side by side in the battle. When you see clearly and accurately the path toward where you need to go, it makes the journey more productive, less stressful, and makes you more likely to arrive at the actual destination or goal.

But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul, Philippians 3:13-14

What is your one thing? One thing to leave behind or one thing to pick up and press on?

3. Electivewhat we choose to do. We can see and know what needs to be done, where we want to be, and what we would like to happen. We can even develop a plan of what the journey to change should look like. But then we must elect…we must choose, to follow through. To do it. Nike had it one-third right: Just do it. Just choose. Just start. Just get it done. Decide what “it” is that you want to accomplish or overcome. The change you want to make, the goal you want to meet. Define it and see it clearly. Then choose wisely. Just do it. 🙂 That doesn’t mean it’s a simple task. But seeing, planning, and then starting kindles the fires of revolution. The term revolution is neither peaceful nor passive. It suggests a fight or taking something by force, by determination, by strength and unity of purpose.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Lao Tzu

Be motivated and press on. Not simply as a New Year’s resolution…but a New Year’s revolution. As a rising up to overturn old patterns and oppressive ways…to overthrow darkness, doubt, depression, discouragement, fear, confusion, and anything else that would seek to defeat you or draw you away from achieving your goals, away from healthy relationships, and from personal growth. Let this be the year we desire and implement a fundamental change in the ways we think about and engage in the awareness and building up of our mental, spiritual, and physical health. Gather your army, build your arsenal, and start your own revolution!

Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. -Hebrews 12:1

It’s a new day, a new month, a new year. It’s like my calendar: 365 days, 52 weeks, 12 months, blank pages, empty to-do lists, spaces to fill with plans, purposes, ideas, hopes, and dreams. Bible studies, coffee dates, and trips to the mountains. Good things are coming. Keep believing. Happy New Year!

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. -Isaiah 43:19

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. -Ephesians 3:20-21

A Thrill of Hope…

I hope 2021 is better…I hope this virus goes away…I hope no one I love gets terribly sick…I hope we can start meeting together again soon…I hope my child will start making better decisions…I hope my candidate wins the election...

Those are just a few of the hope-filled sentiments and wishes I have heard in the last few months. What a long, strange year it has been. Such a hard season. Months teeming with questions without answers, conflicts without resolutions, information without facts, fears without explanation, and loss without mercy.

No doubt, 2020 has been a hard year for so many. I have seen, heard, and walked with friends through some incredibly hard battles this year. In fact, I don’t remember a time when I have witnessed more grief, conflict, loss, and despair than during this 2020 year. Job loss, financial instability, physical and mental health crisis, prodigal children, divorce, relationship conflict, hopelessness, death of loved ones, and so much more. I know very few people who have not faced a major battle or devastating loss this year.

But even as I typed the title, A Thrill of Hope, I was transported back to 2018…another very hard year for me personally. The details aren’t important…just that it passed and my family survived. And maybe lessons were learned and hope held us like an anchor throughout the stormy season. No, it did more than hold. It actually steadied and then redirected. Set a new course. Maybe it actually wasn’t harder than 2020. Maybe it was just somewhat of a great shaking and awakening to the fact that I really wasn’t in control of as much as I thought I was. That I was vulnerable. And too comfortable. A reminder that what seems fine on the surface can really hide darkness and pain. And in this world we will have trouble… No one is immune.

In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

-Jesus, John 16:33

Sometimes a word or phrase of inspiration comes from an unlikely place. Earlier in November 2018, my daughter had been asked to brainstorm an idea about a theme for an upcoming Christmas program. She suggested four simple, but well-known words from the beloved Christmas song, O Holy Night: a weary world rejoices… That’s the word I was looking for and didn’t even know until she spoke it: weary. I was weary.

Fast forward to December 2018 and we packed the car and took a mother-daughter trip halfway across the country. Well…to Waco, Texas. At the time I was still reeling from some major conflicts and disappointments, but the trip had already been scheduled, so away we went. The Silos, in downtown Waco, had been on my daughter’s radar for quite some time. Not knowing what to expect, when we arrived I felt like puzzle pieces had fallen into place when we discovered another four simple words had been chosen for their Christmas theme: A thrill of hope…

hope /hōp/ noun – a feeling of expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen; a feeling of trust. / verb – to cherish a desire with anticipation; to want something to happen or be true, or for the best; to expect with confidence.

A thrill of hope…the weary world rejoices…

It was a great trip: a new place filled with new sights, sounds, and excitement. There was quality time with my girl. There was quiet time to reflect, read, and pray. And there was something new…a thrill of hope. An expectation. A faint quiver or stirring in my soul that hinted that being in a dark or desperate place was simply temporary. A passing place. An opportunity to see even the faintest flicker of light all the brighter. A place of hope.

Fast forward to Christmas 2020… The world is weary. Ten months deep in the midst of a global pandemic, fear, confusion, isolation, and suspicion have been draped over many weary souls like foul-smelling, constricting grave clothes, suffocating life and light. People are walking and living in the land of deep darkness. A land of loss.

Our local hospitals are full. Dark and full of despair. People are waiting in emergency rooms for days on end to be placed in rooms. I have seen physical death in the hospital where I work, in local and global news, among friends, and even in my own family. I have sat with, texted, and Zoomed with both the frightened and the fearless, the deniers and the conspiracy theorists, faithful believers and those without hope. The world is weary. My town is weary. My coworkers are weary. My friends are weary. I am weary. We are waiting. For what? An answer, a cure, a respite from the merciless hours of fears, questions, arguments, and excuses? Relief?

Looking through my pictures from Waco, I found this one I snapped of a fireplace in the gift shop. Above it hung a sign that read:

Anticipation is the feeling of hopeful expectation, believing in the magic of what has been and what might be again. This we know to be true: there is wonder in the waiting.

There is wonder in the waiting. I think we miss that as adults. As children, we wonder who our new teacher will be. Will we make new friends at school? What will be waiting under the Christmas tree? Who will I marry when I grow up? Where will I live and what will I do for a living? We hope, we expect, we dream. At least for a season. And even when we are hurt and dreams are shattered…We move on. We forgive. We try to forget. And hopefully…we continue to hope.

We believe in the magic… Well, maybe not the magic. But how about the good? We believe in and we remember the good of what has been and what might be again. We remember carefree times we took for granted: huddled in close for coffee and secrets with our best friend, laughing and good times with our small circles, long hugs, cheek kisses, and shared tears. Even the hard times weren’t so hard because we were together…and we had hope. Dare we believe in the magic of what has been and what might be again? When we kiss and embrace and gather and laugh with no fear of sickness and suspicion. When we gather and worship and shake hands and sing hymns and worship freely. When we stop and chat and share our good news and blessings with our neighbors…or a stranger at the store. When we see one another’s smiles unveiled and unhindered. I miss the hugs. I miss the smiles. I miss the carefree conversation with no mention of politics and pandemics.

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.

Isaiah 9:2

Those are prophetic words found in the book of Isaiah. Words promising hope of a future salvation and deliverance. And while those words were written thousands of years ago, they feel timeless. The 2020 readers’ version could be: We are those people…walking and living in a land and time of deep darkness.

In biblical history, there were about 400 years between the last Old Testament prophet and the angel appearing to announce the arrival of Jesus. 400 years! Day after day, night after night of cold, prolonged, seemingly never-ending silence. And what is silence but auditory darkness? Emptiness. Hopelessness. Were they weary? Trudging through the mundane. Or were they ever-watchful and hopeful for their Deliverer and Savior?

A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…

So, yes, we believe in and we remember the good of what has been and what might be again. But more than that…we believe that a light has shone on our darkness…and we will again live and walk in that light.

…and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

It’s almost Christmas. Is it coincidence that in this dark season, we experienced the appearance and the wonder of the “Christmas star” in the sky for the first time in 800 years? Or dare we believe that it is a promise and a beacon of hope?

What has 2020 looked like for you? Were your plans stalled? Life interrupted? Events postponed and people scattered? What have you lost? Time? Money? Security, schedules, vacations? Maybe something much more substantial: a friend or family member…

Loss makes us weary and uncertain at times. Grieve the losses. Remember the good. Grieving is therapeutic and remembering is essential. It says it mattered. We believe in and we remember the good of what has been and what might be again. May we be ever-watchful and hopeful…choosing to see the works of God on our behalf in this season. And may we hold onto the great gift of hope.

Driving alone on a cold, dreary day, I recently heard a song that I felt encompassed the heart of the 2020 Christmas season:

In your silent night, when you’re not alright. lift your eyes and behold him. Feel the thrill of hope. You are not alone. In this moment, behold him…King forevermore, come let us adore, Christ our Savior, behold him.

Francesca Battistelli, Behold Him

We have no way of knowing what 2021 will hold. But in this moment, I choose hope. And I choose to have eyes that see God’s past faithfulness and blessing. Praying that the Light shines in your darkness wherever you are. You are never alone. Lift your eyes. We have hope and light and life. God bless and Merry Christmas.

When Holidays Hurt

I’ve been feeling it in the air for awhile now… Days are shorter, nights are longer. Skies are darker and breezes are colder. Changing seasons and impending holidays are often harsh, stinging reminders of loss and loneliness.

room

The evening grows long as I look out across the waiting room and see the many sad or sick faces waiting patiently…or not. Some fidget, sigh, and look at invisible watches on their wrists. Some stare blankly into the unreachable distance or at the monotonous pattern of the enclosing four walls, perhaps replaying old scenes or longed-for visions. Some stare absently into their phones for distraction, relief, or escape. Still they wait. I know many of their stories before they utter a word. I know their history or I read their eyes. I watch their shoulders slump, their hands fidget, their lips frown or faintly quiver. I feel the weight and the want and the weariness.

christmasalone

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” plays through the overhead speaker, piped in like a merry elf entertaining ideas of fun, frivolity, and lightheartedness, in denial of the pain, the longing, and the loss that the season brings to so many people.

The door opens and closes. Another name, another face, another story. There’s the familiar cloak of usual sickness: flu, sore throat, bumps, and bruises. Those are easy. Passing pain, sickness, or inconvenience that at least offers the hope of speedy relief and healing. But hanging heavy on the heads and shoulders of many are weightier garments: coverings made of death, disease, dysfunction. There’s divorce, abandonment, rejection, loss of dreams and other not-so-merry reminders in every piped in song, well-placed decoration, and carefully thought out department store diorama.

His wife was just found dead. Her husband lost a long battle with cancer. Children’s Services is involved. Her dad kicked her and told her not to tell. Her daughter has run away. Her son is in jail. It’s two weeks before Thanksgiving. He just lost his job. Their house burned to the ground. The Alzheimer’s is so much worse. Hospice has been called in.Third DUI. Arrested for heroin. Suicide. It’s almost Christmas.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.   Matt 11:28

alone1

I’ve been told it’s like a walking a treadmill…walking and climbing and struggling but never getting anywhere. Three steps forward and two steps back. But still they put one foot in front of the other. Some days are harder. Holidays are harder: days meant to gather and celebrate with people you love and people who love you. A time to reflect on blessings and health, the past and the future. So much to celebrate and be thankful for. But there are some who sit in quiet rooms all alone. There are some who sit in loud, clamorous rooms with many others, but are still alone. There are some who sit facing those who have mistreated, rejected, abused, or betrayed them. There are some who sit facing empty chairs of those who have left them through death or abandonment.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matt 9:36

church1

What does it look like to offer hope to the hopeless, rest for the weary, compassion for the hurting, and comfort for the grieving? Is there ministry in hearing, caring, and simply being present? What do you do when there’s no written prescription to ease the pain of heartbreak and loss and devastation? No first aid kit to stop the bleeding or cover the wound? No tender kiss to make it all better?

From the end of the earth I call to You, when my heart is overwhelmed and weak; Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.  Psalm 61:2

It has been a slow, humbling process…the realization that I don’t have all the answers. The fixer in me can’t fix all the hurt, restore all the loss, patch all the holes, or fill the empty seats.  I can’t and I’m not meant to. And with that, another realization… that it’s okay. I don’t have to be the great fixer, the final answer, a redemptive savior. I can’t be.

star

But what can I do? What can anyone do to make a difference in a world with so much hurt and loss and fear and hopelessness and uncertainty? Is it enough to have eyes that see and ears that hear? To give a gift that is both free and priceless: to be seen and heard, recognized, and acknowledged? Validated and assured that they matter, that their struggles are real, that their hearts and lives are important, that someone cares, and more importantly, that there is hope?  Yes, it matters. It all matters. I can be a hand to hold. I can choose to extend a hand that reaches, lifts, holds, supports, gives. A hand to guide, to direct, to point to the truth that they are fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of a God that loves them and wants to fill the empty places and the empty seats. I can be a voice. A voice that speaks truth and dispels lies and speaks words of encouragement and validation. And I can just be. I can sit in the ashes, care in the silence, be light in the darkness, and warmth in the cold season of the soul. I can offer hope in the simple ministry of being present and attentive. I can care.

I can love. ❤

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“Why Is Life So Hard…”

“Why is life so hard?”  There…I asked it. Well…I actually said it. It was more of a definitive statement. No question mark required. I said it to no one in particular since I was home alone; and it was, at the same time, an unanswerable question,  a statement of fact, a hands-up-in-surrender moment, and an exasperated prayer. Life is so hard. Yet the ‘why’ hung in the air like a taboo sort of question, complaint, and ever-growing dark cloud ready to burst at any moment. Why ask why?

Pictures from my own recent struggles as well as serious battles and prayer requests of family and friends hung in the air: death, divorce, isolation, estrangement, sickness, a runaway child, an addiction, bad choices, job loss, financial crisis, broken trust, broken relationships…and so much more.

And like the force of a blinding flash of lightning clashing with a rumbling clap of thunder, the invisible dam of stoic strength and self-defense that had been fortified with years of training, trials, tragedy, and trauma finally burst in that tear-filled question-statement.

Tears are simply the raindrops from the storms inside us.

-unknown

But the question remained. Is there an answer or understanding we can grasp with our limited view and experience? I’m not a theologian, sociologist, or a psychiatrist; but I have lived, witnessed, and experienced great tragedy, loss, and triumph. I am just a traveler on a long broken road and I believe there are more theories and partial answers that create more questions than there is space to write or brain cells to brainstorm, but here are a few:

THE WORLD IS BROKEN. People are broken, hearts are broken, laws are broken, vows are broken, trust is broken, relationships are broken. Do you feel it? Have you seen it? Life is precious and priceless, but also fragile and fleeting. What lies in the aftermath, the rubble, of any great breaking? Pain, dust, and broken pieces? Brokenness creates fragments and scatters bits and pieces. Like flecks and shards of shattered, jagged glass that wound and cut and dig into deep painful places. And looking through the brokenness often obscures our view, like a distorted reflection through a shattered prism. But brokenness is also a picture. It shows us what went wrong and gives us an opportunity to repair or replace. To start over and pick up the pieces. To restore and to make whole. It creates hurt, but also hope and a chance for healing.

Jesus said in John 16:33, In this world you will have trouble…  And I don’t think anyone would argue with him.

The psalmist said in Psalm 147:3 He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. Dare we believe it?! And seek it?

THE WORLD IS LONELY. Never have we seen so many faces and heard so many voices…and have yet been so profoundly alone. Alone in our homes, alone in our hurts. Behind a mask, behind a screen. Unseen, unknown. Alone.

King Solomon in all his wealth and wisdom understood: There is a man all alone, without even a son or brother. And though there is no end to his labor, his eyes are still not content with his wealth: “For whom do I toil and bereave my soul of enjoyment?” This too is futile—a miserable task. Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their labor. For if one falls down, his companion can lift him up; but pity the one who falls without another to help him up! Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one may be overpowered, two can resist. Moreover, a cord of three strands is not quickly broken. -Ecc 4:8-12

How can we show people they aren’t alone and unseen? Unimportant? Share a smile, hold a hand, make eye contact, give a hug, make time, ask questions, offer help, share the load. You may ease their burden for a moment in time.

THE WORLD IS HUNGRY. And seeking to satisfy its hunger with fleeting passions, importance, abundance, busyness, and untold distractions.

Why spend money on what is not bread,
    and your labor on what does not satisfy?
Isaiah 55:2

Anxiety and depression are at record levels. Addiction is rampant. Addiction to food, drugs, alcohol, work, or to pleasure. To relationships, recognition, and achievement. The ways we try to satisfy the hunger in our hearts or to still the quiet rumbling in our souls are countless and fruitless. How do you satisfy an unquenchable thirst and feed a hungry soul? Why does there always seem to be an insatiable hunger for more?

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.

C.S. Lewis

THE WORLD IS CONFUSED. Wrong is right, right is wrong. There is no truth, no consistency, no identity, no clearly defined lines between right/wrong, good/bad, black/white, yes/no, up/down. Truth is relative, your truth is your truth, and on and on… But real truth remains truth regardless of who believes it, disputes it, tears it down, or tries to erase it. While those bold enough to stand and proclaim it are mocked or labeled as haters.

The further a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it

George Orwell

Jesus said, I am the way and the truth and the life.

My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.

Abraham Lincoln

THE WORLD IS AT WAR. Sometimes it’s obvious. The never-ending news reports show battle images of soldiers and weapons and planes and death. Of rape and violence and murder, Headlines scream of anger, fear, division, and conflict. War at home, war abroad, war in our streets, in our homes, in our hearts. War without, war within.

There’s a battle for your time, a battle for your mind. For your kids, your spouse, your friends, your peace, your identity, and your heart.

We fight against time and schedules, against growing older and growing colder. Against shadows, demons, fears, and imaginations. The people in our past, in our homes, in our work, on the phone, in traffic, on the Internet, and often our worst enemy…the person in the mirror. It’s a battle on all fronts: physical, emotional, and spiritual. No wonder we are tired and battle-weary.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.   

– Jesus, John 10:10

People are angry. They fight to be seen, to be heard, to matter, or simply to be “right.” Life is hard, but life is also good. Trauma, trials, and tragedy come…but so do triumph and love and laughter.

And in the battle, sometimes wisdom and encouragement can be found in the least likely places: the hug of a friend, the laugh of a child, the wag of a tail, the rustle of the wind, the crash of the waves. Even a seed planted long ago in an inspired, creative idea. My very favorite movie is the Lord of the Rings. There is brokenness, loneliness, hunger, confusion, and war. More than entertainment or escape, it creates a picture of life as we live it: triumph and tragedy, fierce opposition from enemies, the need for unity to stand and fight and overcome, light in darkness, hope in hopelessness, and the promise of a coming King. In both an intense and encouraging scene, as the battle raged, fighting seemed futile, and most hope appeared lost, young, brave Sam offered hope and encouragement for a battle-wearied traveler to continue:

“It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something. That there is some good in this world, and it’s worth fighting for.”   

-J.R.R. Tolkien , The Two Towers

Does that answer the question of why life can be so hard? Maybe not. I still feel the hardness. And I know you do too. If not right now, then probable yesterday…or tomorrow. It will come. The brokenness, loneliness, hunger, confusion, and war… within and without. But I have to ask: Are you holding onto something? Even just hope…maybe especially just hope. Know that there’s something or someone worth fighting for. I encourage you in this season of hard…when all seem lost or you think you’ve done all you can do…stand, fight, and hope.

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have trouble. But take heart; I have overcome the world.   

-Jesus, John 16:33

Rainy Days and Wednesdays…

Today is Wednesday and it’s raining. Sitting on the covered back porchimg_9198 watching the rain and hearing the distant thunder, I found myself humming a familiar old pop song from the 70s: hummm, hummm hummm… rainy days and Mondays always get me down…

Although I was fully present, watching the birds splash around in the birdbath and then search for worms in the freshly wet soil, I was magically two places at the same time: my safe, dry, covered porch and the tumultuous stormy time when rainy days were not so safe and peaceful.

I had recently been scrolling through Instagram and found a post that had the old Carpenters song Rainy Days and Mondays embedded in her story. Maybe that’s why it was fresh in my mind. Smooth and melodic, it flowed beautifully from an angelic voice but a troubled heart and mind. It was my “go to” song back in college whenever I needed a good cry. Today I pulled it up on my phone and let the old melodies and memories wash over me like the rumble of the distant thunder and the cleansing of the pouring rain.

Then I came to a subtle, yet stunning, revelation: the song wasn’t making me sad as I listened to it today. Was it because it was a Wednesday and it changed the whole song context? Or was there a deeper work and awareness of a long ago place that had quietly, almost imperceivably, healed?

It made me realize and appreciate that I’m in a very different place now.

It also made me reflect on mental health…the reality, crisis, the concerns, the misunderstandings, and all the unknowns. Sadness, depression, anxiety, and all the diagnoses that get placed on troubled hearts, disturbed spirits, and confused minds.

img_9200It also reminded me of beautiful, young, troubled Karen Carpenter and the life and breath and talent that literally wasted away in front of cameras and producers and specialists and fame and the eyes of all who heard, watched, and loved her. She is still my favorite.

I had never heard of anorexia before Karen. Millions hadn’t. How might things have ended differently with an earlier diagnosis? Quicker, more specific intervention, more education, more counsel, the right medicine…? I have no answers. I understand they did the best the could with the information and resources they had at the time. Sometimes that’s all we can do. Where the brain, spirit, heart, and hurt collide is a pool too deep for most to navigate with clear understanding.

Then I ask myself the same questions…for myself, my friends, my family, people I see at work: How might life be different with the right intervention, the right friend, the right diagnosis, the right chemical balance, the right word at the right time, the right removal of the cloud that follows our minds and confuses our hearts and our thinking?

img_9160My first encounter with suicide was in high school. My friend wasn’t at the bus stop one morning and I just assumed he had slept in. No…he had put a gun to his chest and pulled the trigger. Gone. In a moment, I knew he was troubled. He was angry. He smoked too much and drank too much. I didn’t know at the time that he was medicating hurt and confusion. Years later my cousin did the exact thing. He was my favorite but I never told him. Maybe I should have. Questions without answers. Should I have? What if? Why?

I suspect that we have all been in dark cloudy places of varying degrees…just “hanging around, nothing to do but frown…”  Not to minimize serious mental illness…I have seen it destroy minds and lives and dreams and families. Just to say that some feelings and experiences are universal. Sadness is universal and timeless. Anger is something we all experience. Discouragement weighs heavy in many seasons. Fear, confusion, comparison, self-defeat. Too many to name. I have wept. Jesus wept. I suspect you have wept too.

But out of angst, sadness, and near-defeat often come life-changing strength, encouragement, and inspiration. Some of the best poetry, songs, plays, stories, art, ministries, and outreaches have been birthed out of soulful desperation and darkness. And have also created platforms for awareness, for help, for hope.

Tell the story of the mountain you climbed. Your words could become a page in someone else’s survival guide.  – Morgan Harper Nichols

But there is no black and white. No magic formula that works in every season and situation. We can’t say to an anorexic, just eat. To the bulimic, just stop it. To someone depressed, just snap out of it. To someone in a bipolar rage, just calm down. There are a myriad other ways we unintentionally downplay or say it inappropriately: just do it, img_9197don’t do it, cheer up, get over it, just have more faith, pray more, get more sunshine….

Is there an answer? A cure? Hope? I don’t pretend to have all the answers. Mental and emotional health are complex. Relationships are complex and are often at the root of serious wounding.

But where we are wounded is often where we are healed, how we are healed, and how we eventually are able to offer help to another. For myself, it was a long hard journey. It continues to be a journey. But healing has been found in safe, healthy relationships and through seeking and believing the truth of the Word of God.

The world is seeking to know and be known. img_9161To have purpose and meaning. To belong. To be seen and heard.

“Nothing is really wrong…feeling like I don’t belong…” I’m not sure I really believe that line. I believe there is always something to be heard in that feeling. Something really is wrong. That sadness, that emptiness, that anger, that frustration, that _____. You fill in the blank. It is just sometimes so very hard to identify. To name. But it’s so important to attempt to name it. It says that it matters. It hurt. Is it sadness, anger, unmet need, unresolved grief, unrealized expectation or dream? It often takes two or more to look and see and pray and hope. It is so easy to lose heart when the battle rages from within and without. Jesus told us that in this world we would have trouble…but He also encouraged us to take heart, believing He has overcome. Take heart. ❤

If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.  -C.S. Lewis

Sozo is a Greek work translated many ways: safe, sound, healed, delivered, set free. I believe there is healing to be found: through faith, through time, through relationships, through counseling, through medications, through seeking truth.  I believe there is a God who creates and knows all the intricacies of his creation. Body. mind, and spirit. I believe He can heal completely. In this world or the next. But in the present, He can also use every pain and affliction for our and others’ ultimate good and his glory. He used Jacob’s limp, Joseph’s bondage, Moses’ lisp, Naaman’s leprosy, David’s adultery, the blind man’s blindness, the lame’s affliction, the demoniac’s possession, Peter’s denial, and so many more. He can use our darkness, depression, and what every affliction we find ourselves bearing. In due time and in the right season and situation. But for now we can offer hope and love. And we can strive to learn and reach out and hold close and hang on to those we love and value.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor 13:13

img_9212Nowadays I love the rain. Love a good IMG_7255thunderstorm. I still get down sometimes. Sad, angry, frustrated, confused. We are fearfully and wonderfully made to experience a full realm and range of emotions and reactions. But it’s never as dark and lonely as it used to be. Now there is hope, I pray you hold onto hope as well.

 

Another Prayer For My Hometown

In 2017 I wrote a post titled “A Prayer For My Hometown.” img_5200At the time, it was to address a specific situation happening locally. There was an outside hate group that threatened to come in to stir up division and discord…right here at our little town square. It was trouble threatening us from outside our boundaries…uninvited, unwanted, unsupported.

While that was addressing a specific time and event, I’ve noticed something interesting about the post: it has been viewed by people from 35 different countries in the past year. Thirty five!  It is by far my most widely read post. South Africa, Philippines, Russia, South Korea, Pakistan, India, Kuwait…just a few. Queue Walt Disney’s melodious musical tones of “It’s a Small World After All…”

I traveled to Guatemala on a mission trip in college. Since then, I haven’t really traveled very far. I don’t speak another language. I don’t really engage in varied cultures. But as I thought about people from all over the world sitting at their computers or on their phones doing a search for words and prayers for their hometown, the world suddenly became very familiar and very small to me. bd7936c9-c694-477f-a3b3-8c2473696a27It became my hometown, my familiar space, the place where I live and work and worship and love. I saw so much more than colors on a map.

As I have thought about the needs that would drive people to seek and to pray, I don’t believe it’s simply a black and white issue, a right or wrong issue, a peace or chaos issue, or an us and them issue… I believe there is an underlying common theme of human frailty, hurt, and need…and hope. People are hurting, people are searching, but so many people still cling to hope. And sometimes that is enough.

You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come…

I don’t really understand war. But parts of the world are always at war. Always. I don’t understand merciless killing or torture or captivity or terrorism. I don’t understand deceit and hatred based simply on appearance or social stature. The band Nickelback imagined it well:

If everyone cared and nobody cried,                                                                                                  If everyone loved and nobody lied
If everyone shared and swallowed their pride
 Then we’d see the day when nobody died.

But that’s just a song. Of course people die. And people do cry. Some deaths are mere echoes and celebrations of a lives well-lived. Some church1tears are joyous and cleansing and freeing. Some tears come from depth of pain and need. King David cried. Jesus wept. I have cried. I imagine you have too. Tears of sorrow, pain, loneliness, helplessness, anger, injustice, and hope. Tears for ourselves and tears for others. My heart hurts for people who are lost, displaced, discouraged, hopeless, or in fear. For people who feel cast aside and forgotten. Unwanted. I see it in the news and pages of magazines. I see it in people’s faces that I encounter daily. Some are in physical wars, others in emotional and spiritual battles. But many are searching for solutions, for remedies, for a moment of peace and hope in a sin-ravaged, war-torn world.

While I don’t really understand actual war,  I know that there are things and people and ideas that are worth fighting for. When I think of all the people in countries where their own government suppresses or sabotages them, where their children go hungry or die from treatable diseases, where the poor are treated as less-than or disposable…What can I do? Are they the ones who are searching for prayers for their own hometowns?

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places…

When I see the devastation and loss and incredible tragedy as natural disasters are unleashed with destructive, uncontrollable, unpredictable power destroying everything in their paths…  When people lose their homes, their hopes, their communities…What can I do? Who is praying for their hometowns?

At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold…

I have recently traveled to several cities close to home where terrible tragedies have brokenchurchhappened. Two church shootings, other public shootings, serious widespread fires, racial unrest, tornadoes, unexpected violent deaths… When people are intentionally wounding others: abusing, exploiting, rejecting, abandoning, killing…What can I do? When people are overwhelmed with crippling fear, crushing anxiety, and debilitating depression…trapped inside their own heads, battling torment, mental health, or addictions….what can I do?

…but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved…

Yes, there are some tangible ways I can intervene. I can spend money and time and effort and kind words…but sometimes the bigger battle is fought on a different battlefield. When I can speak, I will speak. When I can give, I will give. When I can go, I will go. But sometimes… I can pray. I will pray. So this is my prayer for my hometown, for me, my family, my friends, my neighbors…and for you and your hometown too:

img_5729Lord, I pray that you will give me an abundance of faith, hope, and love…A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over… (Luke 6:38) I pray for: faith to seek and to believe, hope to want and to know, love to care and to intercede.

In addition, I pray for hunger. Not for satisfaction of an earthly longing, but for an insatiable desire…a hunger for truth, for action, for kindness, for mercy, for justice. He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6:8) 

Lord, could I pray for world peace and brotherly love, with an end to war and strife? An end to abuse, addiction, murder, and disease? Yes, but you told b5d10f36-f91d-4d3e-906d-b4d2cce03689us in John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”  So I pray for God-given peace regardless of circumstances.  For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim 1:7) I pray that we will not lose heart but will look to you.

I pray that each member of the church body will arise to the full function you have designed. Lord give us eyes that see worth, value, purpose, and God’s design. Eyes that see your way where there was previously no way. Eyes that see your image on each face we encounter and your hand on each unexpected miracle.

Give us ears that not only hear the cries of the lonely, the destitute, the needy….but also the gifted, those designed for service, the divine ideas whispered to our spirits in the quiet times.

Give us hearts open enough to love deeply but strong enough to be solid in conviction and truth. Sensitive to you and your leading but guarded enough to be aware of the enemy’s schemes.

Give us hands that reach the unreachable, that hold onto truth and hope, and that hold our families, our friends, our brothers and sisters, close and point them to you.

547275cc-c827-4d14-83e0-c081ec2a20a9Give us feet that stand firm on your word, your truth, your promises. Feet that go where you lead and create a path for those who are lost or searching to follow.

So while these may sound like simple personal prayers for the individual, healing begins with one. Encouragement begins with one. Discipleship begins with one. For as I am overflowing with faith, hope, love, and truth…I will be changed, my neighbors will be changed, my world will be changed. I will be praying for you and your hometown.

Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly;
defend the rights of the poor and needy. (Prov 31:8-9)

And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.   (Mt 24:6-14)

 

I Didn’t Go To The Beach…

The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the Lord thunders over the mighty waters. The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is majestic.  Psalm 29:3-4

I didn’t go to the beach to find answers, but there I was…on the beach, the wind urgently clamoring and the waves pressing in: What are you afraid of? img_9429Is that what I was really hearing? With every roar and crash of the tumultuous tide, my mind felt the same turbulence. It felt as if the waves were talking to me, calling me out…and in. Why are you running? Was that question for me or for the nervous little sandpiper that darted and dashed both toward and then away from the searching waves? Did it doubt its ability to fly? To swim? To navigate the rushing, unpredictable waters? I am that sandpiper, I thought. I get excited, I rush in, I get overwhelmed or consider the cost, I pull back or run away. I doubt my strength, my identity, my ability to navigate the deep unknown. Was I afraid? Was I running?

Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.  Psalm 42:7

I didn’t go to the beach to forgive, but there I was…on the beach, studying the footprints of so img_9424many who had walked before, near, or over my own prints in the sand. As the waves gently washed over the prints, many disappeared, leaving fresh, untouched sand. A clean slate. Yet others remained visible until they were washed again, and again, and again. Like the sometimes long journey to forgiveness. The waves were rough, it was hard, but it was cleansing. The remaining beautiful sand shone and sparkled with the radiance of the sun and the power of the cleansing waves. Still others remained long after our paths had crossed and I had moved far along the shore, not looking back. People leave footprints in our lives…tracks that are often deeply imprinted on our hearts and souls. Some are good and encourage us to follow. img_9425-1Some tread heavily with no regard to damage caused and deep tracks left behind. Are there imprints that I still guard with regret and defense? What tracks have I left behind?

Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver, to release you from something that will eat you alive; that will destroy your joy and your ability to love freely and openly…You may have to declare your forgiveness a hundred times the first day and the second day, but the third day will be less and each day after, until one day you will realize that you have forgiven completely.    -Wm Paul Young, The Shack

I didn’t go to the beach to explore or question myself. But when the volume of the world is turned down, the responsibilities are left at home, and books and quiet reflection become the duties of the day…words speak. They speak from the wind and the waves and they leap from the pages you read while lounging by the shore.

You need to claim the events of your life to make yourself yours.   -Ann Wilson Schaef

Sounds oversimplified. drseussDr. Seuss also said it with simple eloquence. As thunderstorms rumbled in over the beach, I settled in for a simple teaching video, Becoming Myself. That’s where I was reminded of the wisdom of Dr. Seuss. Childlike and simple, not tangled in the lies, deceit, and false facades the world offers and encourages. What does it mean to become myself? How does it happen and when will I know it is complete? Is it ever complete? And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. 2 Cor 3:18

I didn’t go to the beach to search, to forgive, or to learn. I went to enjoy sand, sun, seafood, and friendship. To relax. But the first day on the beach I read Psalm 29, and the voice of the Lord really was over the waters. (Ps 29:3)

img_9422

 

 

When It’s Cold Outside…

 

How many lessons of faith and beauty we should lose if there were no winter in our year.       

Thomas Wentworth Higginson

The world is white today. Beautiful, really. The same brush strokes that painted the world white also hit the pause button on the repetitive tapes of routineimg_8361 daily life and created a thousand still shots: mixtures of laughter, fun, relaxation, warm cups, warmer hearts, cozy mittens, scarves, and snowballs. Through filtered computer light I’ve seen pictures of snowsuits, snow boots, snowmen, snow forts, snow angels, sleds, and at least a hundred cold, smiling faces.

Our home is quiet. No one trekking in and out of the snow. No nudges or pleas to go outside and play. No sledding or snow forts. It’s a quiet sanctuary with no schedule apart from hot coffee, warm soup, and wide eyes watching the snow fall. The backyard bird feeders are frozen, the birdbath a mound of snow. So much to think about when the world is on pause…or at least moving in slow motion.

Measuring up. What a strange thought to entertain on a snowy day. Was it the varied predictions of how much snow, how low the temperatures, various cancellations, and other life disruptions that prompted the thought? Maybe it was images and thoughts far less img_8358tangible than measured inches or levels of mercury: laughter outside, pictures on phones and computer screens: rounded red faces flushed by winter wind, puffy balls of children swaddled in warm coats and hats, brave snowmen standing proudly in the midst of their cold, humble beginnings. They all seemed to project carefree laughter and unbridled joy from a three inch still shot photo on the computer screen. What did any of those images have to do with measuring up? It didn’t take long for a barrage of questions to assault my accusing thought processes. Was I a bad mom for basking in the warmth of  fuzzy blankets, inviting books, and warm, soothing coffee? Should I bundle up the kids and rush outside to make cold noses and warm memories? But wait… The kids are grown and making snowballs or enjoying quiet moments on their own. Then more questions…had I done it well, did they have good memories, why didn’t we get this much snow when they were younger and eager to play in the snow? Such simple, seemingly unimportant questions. How insidiously the comparison trap begins…

It isn’t really about the snow. It’s about the questions, the feelings, and the accusations. I see it everyday in a hundred different ways: comparison, competition, struggling, striving, never quite feeling good enough. I see it in people who have worked themselves into sickness and depression. I see it in the tired eyes of theimg_8301 lonely woman, the defeated man, the bullied teenager, the insecure child, the dropout, the addict, the weary. I see how it tries to sneak in, unseen, into simple everyday thoughts, plans, and observations. I should have… I could have… Why didn’t I… I wish… Like cold hard snowballs thrown mercilessly by the enemy, they always seem to find a weak spot or an unguarded target.

In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.

Albert Camus

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

Romans 8:1

Where do the thoughts, the lies, the accusations, and the comparisons come from? When did they start? Why are the voices so familiar? Could it be that the struggle isn’t new at all? Could it all be a picture of the ancient struggle that began in  Genesis 3 with two simple yet opposing questions?

Did God really say..?

Who told you that..?     apple-273839_1280

Who told you that you weren’t good enough, not smart enough, not strong enough, not pretty enough, not a good mom, not a good wife, not a good friend, not loved…just not enough?

What did God really say?

But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  I Peter 2:9

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   Romans 8:37-39

The Lord your God in your midst,The Mighty One, will save;

He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.  Zeph 3:17

He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. Phil 1:6

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made..  Psalm 139:14

Why snowflakes and snowmen made me think of measuring up..I’m not quite sure. Snowmen are created in various shapes, sizes, and circumstances. Their lives are intentional but fleeting. They are masterfully crafted and shaped and each is unique.

And us? Masterfully crafted and unique? Fearfully and wonderfully made? What will it take to believe that? How can we be intentional? snowmenWhat would it look like to find others willing to step into the cold, messy storm with us to lend a hand, to support, and to strengthen? What does it mean to take every thought captive? Frequently set aside time for a thought check and belief inventory: What do you believe? Who or what do you concede the power to define you?  And a support inventory: who do you love, trust, and believe? Who will walk with you and give honest reflection of your strengths, your weaknesses, and your worth? All the voices, images, memories, and ideas we are exposed to have power to create beliefs and self-imposed definitions. Some realistic and accurate, others false, unrealistic, or even unattainable. So we compare. Or we condemn. We measure. Others and ourselves. How will you measure your worth today?

 Those were my thoughts on this cold snowy day.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.   Micah 6:8