God in the Clouds

It’s appropriate how incredibly foggy and gray it is. The weather matches my insides.

Why do I have flare-ups of God’s goodness, and I’m grateful and feel lighter, but then I go back to gray? Why an empty, lifeless feeling?

God is there in the clouds.

I can barely muster up the strength or desire for my devotional time today, yet I pry open Streams in the Desert. It’s been a good companion for my darker treks, and today’s entry does not disappoint.

God still has His secrets–hidden from “the wise and learned” (Luke 10:21). Do not fear these unknown things, but be content to accept the things you cannot understand and wait patiently. In due time He will reveal the treasures of the unknown to you–the riches of the glory of the mystery. Recognize that the mystery is simply the veil covering God’s face.   -Streams in the Desert

This speaks to me. This is the only thing I’m able to open this morning. The mysterious veil covering His face. God in the clouds.

In a quick moment, my mind flashes to a story in Exodus. I manage to exert enough strength to find my Bible and move the pages.

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance… The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was.    -Exodus 20:18,21

The people were afraid and remained at a distance. But Moses chose to lean in, move closer to the smoke and dark because it brought him to You. You were in the thick darkness.

I take Streams in the Desert back onto my lap from the end table where I set it down, pull out the string bookmark and read the accompanying words:

Do not be afraid to enter the cloud descending on your life, for God is in it.

God is in the darkness, the thickness, the clouds. He is in the waiting, but tells me not to keep away. He invites me not to remain at a distance, hesitant, terrified, but to lean in and approach the gray, the cloud, the dim–He is there, He is waiting.

 

***

This is part of an ongoing series that will share excerpts of my book-in-progress, tentatively titled Grappling for Good: Revealing grace to light the dark. It’s my journey through a year of unexpected circumstances and soul excavation to discover the goodness of God in surprising ways.

Just Believe

Ignoring what they said, Jesus told the synagogue ruler, “Don’t be afraid; just believe.”
-Mark 5:36

 

It’s a simple thing, You say. To have faith. Faith in the smallest measure moves mountains, makes a way. Faith is honored, acknowledged, and in faith, I can come closer to You.

But I believe I have a brittle faith, one that still shakes and tremors. I pull into myself, bow my head and make myself unseen, not daring to lift my eyes and open my mouth to agree with You in faith for the deep things of my heart.

Why can’t I just believe? Why am I afraid to believe? I am afraid that if I release myself into freedom of believing You, I’m just tricking myself into creating an excuse to go after what I want.

I cannot equate the way I feel with anything that could be from You.

“Do not be afraid; just believe.” Your words, meant to soothe and build trust, strengthen faith. In context, You raise a man’s dead daughter. You do the impossible like it is simply Your everyday way. Because it is.

I can feel like the man’s dead daughter, lifeless, unmoving. Frozen in fear that what I want doesn’t line up with you, and if I open up to my deepest desires, I’ll be falling into sin and away from Your best for my life. I do not want to sin for the sake of my desires. Though what really calls to me the deepest are those places of desire and need nestled carefully in my tender heart. You tell me to believe, to follow You, and You give me just enough light to see the next step. But how do I know if it is You I am following when where I’m going couldn’t possibly make sense, couldn’t possibly be a part of Your plan? Even when my heart cries desperately otherwise.

Slow down. Remember to breathe. I am still breathing, and You are still here. You tell me to stop thinking, just believe, that I am missing the mark when I manifest my fears and diminish my faith.

Look to You. Look to who You are, who You have shown Yourself to be. Faithful. True. Loving. Kind. You do not want me to torment myself with wondering where I should draw my line on belief, how I should rate myself on my perspective of faith. I’ve already spent too much energy on worry that won’t come to life because it’s all in my thoughts, nothing has happened. I make it a mess and don’t sit still long enough for you to untangle me.

I am tangled, yes; my heart has slowed, yes. But I do not want to stay like this. I will sit still for You to carefully pull apart my confused thoughts, quiet me with Your love, and remind me I am fully Yours and because You are, I am.

You bring my belief back to life when I quiet myself and choose to believe my desires and heart align with Yours. Because we are connected, because I long for what You long for, because my heart beats for what Yours beats for.

It is a new awakening, holding on to hope. Lifting my face and meeting Your eyes, my heart jumping with expectancy.

Don’t be afraid; just believe.

 

Sometimes, my faith falters and I find myself doubting. But You know my heart, and You know who I can be in You. Thank You that You love me enough to still my racing thoughts and untangle the mess I make in my disbelief. Thank You that You fill me with trust in You, to remember Your character and how You love, and that You align my heart with Yours. Help me to hold tight to You, to stretch my faith and choose to believe Your truth over any fears I may have. I love You. Amen.

 

Emeralds of Earth

Restless.

Soul shocked in discomfort. Nothing satisfies, nothing sates my thirst.

Jump in my car, windows down, sun roof hatched, music through the speakers. Ditch the condensed city structures for country roads, open air. Span of land that stretches on and on, rolling up and over smooth bumps of earth that spray across the soil.

Two roads diverge at a stop. I coax the wheel left, keep driving, foot on the gas, ease the grip on my heart. Small town appears from nowhere, old shops of downtown, half abandoned, half holding on to the history that built a community from the ground up. Brake into a park, kids spread on ballfields, not enough numbers to form a league, so practice on a Sunday afternoon brings parents to the stands to watch.

Gravel trail at the edge of the park clearing, canopied by tall trees I’ve missed so I have almost forgotten how to crane my neck in wonder. Sturdy ground beneath my feet, I take the trail weaving through open sky and tall grass, hugging the bank of a wide creek that hums easy as the water smooths itself over stone. Chirp of birds relaxed in branches; some black feathered free themselves into the sky, beautiful synchronized liftoff.

Deeper through I go, noting the slap of ball to glove and calm grace it takes to be absolutely still and let the day unfold. Wind speaks to the grass overgrown to a sea of mint; they bow their heads to hear what she has to say. My feet keep the time languid; I do not pick up speed, nor do I slow down.

Around a curve of rooted trees slanting from the creek embankment, a bench beckons. My body folds into its seat and breath slips freely from my lungs, jumps from my lips. Distanced from everything, I am again a little girl lost away from the world. It is a hard thing, searching for God. But the very moment I stop seeking, He brushes a hand across my heart and says, “Here I am.”

Sweet scent of sun on skin, dry and harvested from my flesh filled with the nutrients of nature. Brilliance of green, dappled light cascading through a chandelier of leaves. Cluttered thoughts dissolve in the silence. I have spun myself tight in knots trying to make sense of my life, and in a few slow moments of sitting under tree and sky I am unraveled, loosened by the presence of a God who sees and knows how to hold my heart.

This is enough. To arch my spirit into the emeralds of earth, converse with the Creator of meadow and moss, and settle into the unseen particles of the universe—my universe—soundwaves and matter. Here, in the thicket of nothingness, all makes sense.

Quiet. Faint strum of heart. Lulled to life by soft pulse of solitude. Reading of the holiness of God, He gently guides my eyes to the vines that wrap their limbs around damp soil, fallen bark. For once I am reminded how to feel, the expanse of God’s mystery swollen in the pools of my eyes. The revealing of my heart to just be abounds.

It is good. Breathe in. Static crackles, stills. Undisturbed, the dance of clarity comes forth with calm steps. All settles, without one word spoken. Without breaking the bond of eternity, holiness glides on finite moments, gold-dusted truth touching beyond all expanse between mere body and blood. Belonging bursts; I am called to an other-worldly understanding right where I’ve been drifting before I even came to be.

Restless no more. This gemmed rest renews.

Glory in the Good

God is glorified in our suffering, yes. But He is also glorified in the good. Through joy, hope, wonder.

“I will cause all of My goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim My name, the LORD, in your presence.”  -Exodus 33:19

He causes all His goodness to pass in front. On purpose. Intentionally and specifically. I swipe my fingers over the thin pages of Exodus over until I reach 2 Peter, find what I’m looking for, and peer in the page:

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.  -2 Peter 1:3

Glory and goodness go together. Appear together in the same breath.

I am learning to grow with God is to grow in goodness, that goodness makes way for glory.

Nine months ago, did I know what this was? Nine minutes ago, I didn’t know.

In the confusion and reset and health mountains, adjustments, so much newness. I have never fully experienced His goodness as an intentional set up for the display of His glory.

But this is what God calls us to. What He invites me to experience. Abounding goodness, displayed for His glory.

Back to Genesis, to look closer at Moses and His friendship with God. Moses isn’t satisfied with simply hearing from the LORD; he hungers for more. He dares to ask boldly: “Now show me Your glory.”  (Exodus 33:18) And, in a surprising response, God grants him a portion of his request. No one can see God’s face, but He hides Moses in the cleft of a rock and walk by, allowing him to see His back.

Moses dares to ask.

What do I dare to do? Do I even dare? Is a part of my hindrance to seeing the glory of God my passivity?

Boldness belies the breadth and depth of my faith. Confidence that I can come before Him with whatever I dare to ask. I may find comfort in the crack of a rock, tucked tight to glimpse the goodness of the LORD and His glory.

 

***

This is part of an ongoing series that will share excerpts of my book-in-progress, tentatively titled Grappling for Good: Revealing grace to light the dark. It’s my journey through a year of unexpected circumstances and soul excavation to discover the goodness of God in surprising ways.

That Elusive Wonder

It’s bright in the camper cabin, starting at six. I manage to roll back to sleep a few times until the lure of seagulls and other birds calling to each other and the slow motor of boats heading out to the open water pulls me from the bed.

I try out the new by-hand coffee grinder, which is already a game changer, I can tell, brew my Chemex, sit my Bible on my lap, and look straight at God’s promise for me this year.

You have made known to me the
path of life;
You will fill me with joy in Your
presence,
with eternal pleasures at Your
right hand.

-Psalm 16:11

 

You will fill me with joy

Joy, that elusive wonder I have side-stepped for years, and the claim to be full of it this year. Full. With joy. With the presence of my God.

He is already slowing me down, switching me to a new season. Stepping me out of my nonprofit director role, pulling me to Him to simply be.

The sun has already broken in the wide sky over Lake Michigan, calm and slow the pace of today. Eric sleeps heavy as I bang open the door to let more air dance through the camper. To let more space in to breathe.

There is nothing needed to do today; we get the gift to simply be.

Being is a beauty all in itself we never seem to stop and pay attention to.

We keep to the clamor, the frenzy, and pride ourselves on how crammed we can get ourselves, then wonder why we can’t feel our pulse. We are existing, but are we alive?

I am. At least, I am beginning to be again. It is a beautiful thing to remember how my heart sounds, the words it is allowed to say once more, after so much time stifled and constricted.

My Jeep Cherokee is parked on the grass, its forest green paint reflecting the mint-colored tree above it. This vehicle is new now, a new part of me but has somehow always been there inside. This is a season of discovery, set to explore my soul, give it room to move around and get back to what it’s longed to be. To simply be is the best gift we never knew we needed.

The coffee from my Chemex is smooth and goes down easy. I have a feeling this next stretch of time will be the same.

Hard to Hold

Heartbeats are hard to hold in the palm of my hand when they are new and slippery and never stay in one place.

But here they are, just out of their plastic wrap, not a fingerprint mark on their surface, brought to life by the warmth of blood beneath my skin. Such innocence. Such amazement. Such determination to show me what it looks like to fully break open and out.

I wonder, what does it look like, to begin again? A new life, a thaw from the frozen fields of my heart battered and upturned? To step into the new world, the people and places that swirl about, unfamiliar shapes and colors, all a blur, everything foreign to my eyes.

At the crossroads of my identity, my heart’s skin is patching up the bones. It’s been such a battle to bring breath back into my lungs, to lock eyes with the landscape around me and dare to believe that I can rework the soil, clear space to cultivate something completely different than the forsaken remains of rubble that once housed my dreams.

God and I, we’ve unearthed the underside of my darkest pain, my scarred memories, smashed soul, and belief hammered down before it could climb into sunlight again. Over and over, I spoke a mantra that He is good, that He is good to me, even when I couldn’t keep tucked secure in faith.

But here I am, waking up one weekend with a wave of fresh air, on the edge of coming into my own in an environment where through and through I am completely alone. Starting over, seeking truth, beginning to understand that this continued path will not be easy. It will be messy, ensnared, rough choices every moment to decide to do work for my heart. Lessons lived, truths learned in earnest, catastrophe and incline.

Will I be taught to tie anchor to His strength and gear up for the battle? To reclaim ground, I must be grounded in the fire beneath my veins, remember how it burned so great within once before.

There are still vast wonders to find. Otherworld treasures that glow in the eternal realm, flicker in the here and now.

How to be bold in the face of the excruciating pain it will take to stand day after day in the open, heart hanging in suspension, exposed and aching. Learn what it means to lean into hope, hold onto it like a lifeline, that even when what I ask for doesn’t answer like I desire, that it is not the end. That it is good, because God deems it so. But to continue to hold out my hands in offering, accepting what instead He has to give.

To take heart, stand with a shield of courage banded in front of me, bravery a voice that had forgotten to share its tone with me for many years. Stand in the face of lions baring teeth like swords, stare them in the eye.

Keep kissing the hurt when I am pushed from my protection, of my natural response to shrink back inside myself and push away. No. This time I stay. I do not drop my gaze; I do not hide my heart. If at first it takes a lie to pretend I am someone stronger than actuality, then so be it. Soon enough, the more I speak to this persona, the more it will embed into my DNA and evolve into truth.

Here I stand, breathing out loud in the quiet. Listening to the way my lips exhale this newness, first blink of daylight in darkness long curtained in timid caverns.

I must begin to fight.

For creativity, the aching in my chest that pops like sparklers in July dusk. It’s been a black and white existence burrowed into my marrow, where once flashed multitude of magic shades. Words pierced me, brought this terrible and beautiful world bright and full when I first bloomed into being.

For love. To walk that road with head up and hands waving, smile sewn across my face. Even when it broke my bones and jaded my rose-colored glasses, dare to cast out fear in perfect love. Turn the spigot, spray me with that crimson stream that grows my desolate places. When love hurts, know the pain reminds me that this body, these organs, all particles unseen, are sparked reminders that I am alive.

Battle up for being brave. Because my heart, my hope, my faith, my soul, will take hit after hit, knockdown after disappointment. I want to know how to retain the courage to keep moving. To plow forward with confident determination that though I stumble, I will not veer.

Fight to feel. Break barriers to believe. Fresh cleanse from the musty attic of words I would not say. Refuse to fold. Trust Him alone who heals my hurt, makes all things new. To begin again is to behold the blank canvas, the color wheel, the first slide of step that lights the way.

I am the walking miracle regaled in stories whispered in awe around the world. Believe this. Begin again.

Your Chosen One

Slow mornings.

Letting the cloud of sleep softly dissipate, bleary-eyed to the coffee pot. That first sip of deep dark roast on the patio. I could swim in this stuff if I were small enough to fit in my cup.

The water sparkles today and I find my words fall short to accurately describe the glory.

You are showing me what it is like to be free, to be Your child, Your chosen one. Sometimes it comes softly, unexpected, in a quiet or silent moment where I’m unaware it’s holy ground until long after the day is done and I find myself cocooned under the covers, remembering how You held my hand and walked with me.

What would it look like to let You lead? Chart out my course and mark my steps on the map? And then follow, with no wondering, even if it appears I wander. There is purpose in the wander. It’s deliberate, thought out.

Let Him lead, dear heart. Let His soft and sure hand guide you through.

Align My Hope

Birds are chirping out my window, somewhere in the split-wide blue sky.

Spring is coming. The light lingers, air holds hope of warmth in weeks to come.

I have learned to wait through the winter, watching for signs of more welcoming weather.

I have learned patience, and also how impatient I really am.

Life should be enough. Breath, beautiful enough.

I have learned to be content. But is it wrong to want more?

Life in full; overflowing, rich in experience.

Is it wrong to want?

He has promised life in abundance; what was given through a life lived true and perfect.

Is it wrong to hold out my hands and ask for more?

Wrong for my soul to speak and ask for revival?

Peace. All I want is peace to know there is goodness within my grasp.

People are strolling the street, ducking in and out of shops, stopping for homemade bread and chocolate.

This town has its charm, albeit reminiscent of the dark mystery of Stepford Wives.

Lord, I want to break free.

Come alive, dig deep beneath surface and find a way to align my hope with what’s in the world.

Piece together my passion, explore what makes me curious. Connect the dots.

Lord, I want to be obedient.

Follow where I am needed, walk the way woven together for me.

Spring is coming. But where are the buds that should shoot forth from my heart?

Is it wrong to ask for more? For my heart to come alive?

Come alive, heart. Please God, find a way.

A Season of Sun

It comes to me sharp, out of nowhere. After months of wondering where my words went, months of days full and packed with a new life of running a start-up nonprofit, creating blueprints from thin air. After adjusting yet again to another season of life, alternate plans I did not see coming, and attempting to make sense of what I am unable to piece together.

Sweat pools in the dip of my chest as I pant my way along the harbor, breath catching up after my morning run. Clouds pull across the breakwater, give room to the sun streaming sparks of light on the water. Seagulls perch on tops of poles, feathers fluffed and gaze calm and unflinching, as if this was their territory and I and the fishermen with their poles and nets were trespassing. But the fisherman go along with their lines, cast, send their bait beneath the water and wait.

My lips curve a smile in greeting; my eyes catch their weather-whipped skin and scraggly beards. I’ve stopped to chat with a few on occasion, who had been happy to tell me the types of fish that glide the Lake Michigan currents—carp and rainbow trout, small barnacles brushing the underwater rocks. Slowly, I am learning the language.

This new life is languid, restful, healing in ways I was not aware I needed. My lungs take in a dose of fresh wind off the lake with a hint of rose bushes that continue to bloom again and again.

And there it is: I realize why there’s been a drought in my writing.

I am not used to writing happy.

My heart is light and has found joy. I am not familiar with a season of sun. I am used to the shadows, the unseen, the conflict and struggle of spirit, crush of my heart that crumbles, tapes together, and cracks apart in rhythm. How I processed the turmoil and strain, to make sense of my confusion, the wrestling of my will with God’s. Put pen to paper. Poured out my thoughts, my heart. I bled in ink.

Now, I find my heart is calm, even glad. God has come through on His promise that He would yet fill my mouth with laughter and my lips with shouts of joy (Job 8:21). I can hardly believe the change that has come subtly yet is ferociously here.

I am so much better at building up my battered heart in the ditch where I lay broken. But where does that leave me now, when I have nothing to lament?

Lean in to love, my heart whispers. Lean in to the lightness that lifts in your chest, the spark in your eye, the elusive smile that now stays on my face.

The water winks at me, reminding me that it has known this secret long before my life made room for this new rhythm, before I saw the beauty.

Who Indeed Restores

You are a restoring God. You number and name the stars, and You know our names, too. You care, You pay attention.

 

He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
-Psalm 147:3

 

I want to believe in good things. I want to get excited for what is coming, look forward in expectancy. Such a battle.

Trust is a choice. So is hope. They are also mandates, but it’s a choosing in my heart. Choosing to believe that You are good. Choosing to believe that You have good things for me. Choosing to be expectant, to look in positive anticipation for what You are going to do, what You are bringing.

Such a battle. But You, O LORD, are my banner and strength, the God who indeed restores.

 

***

This is part of an ongoing series that will share excerpts of my book-in-progress, tentatively titled Grappling for Good: Revealing grace to light the dark. It’s my journey through a year of unexpected circumstances and soul excavation to discover the goodness of God in surprising ways.