Strength in Stillness

The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14 (NIV)

The afternoon sun streaks through my living room window, and I settle into my seat, finding just the right spot for the light to warm my body. On my windowsill, books bend into one another, and pens spill from their holder; my daily Bible verse calendar shows an image of majestic mountain peaks and a scriptural assurance of faith I cannot see.

The call to faith in the unseen resonates deeper than I wish it to.

I’ve spent these past six months fighting for my mental and physical health.  I’m still wrestling with the lingering aftermath of COVID-19 and anxiety, comparing my state of exhaustion to where I was before I got sick.

When I see my life as it was, and I see the setbacks I’m battling, I can’t help but be tempted to spiral down the “why me?” rabbit hole. The daily battles leave me worn and wondering just how this will play out.

My camp is close to crumbling, and I need reinforcements. If I have the Lord of heaven’s armies with me, what is His tactic? What is His next move?

Is it to strengthen me supernaturally so I can take ground where I have loosened my hold?

Is it to storm my enemies and knock them down in one motion?

Is it to wait for me to say the right prayer or scripture and believe just a bit more for my faith to come to life and be “useful” in my healing?

Or is it possible God is calling me to something radically different? What if God’s will looks something like this: “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14)?

The more I meditate on this verse, the more I realize I’ve been carrying much more stress than I need to. I’ve hoisted the weight of my health on my shoulders, striving to learn answers, comparing what was to what is now, and holding heavy, unrealistic expectations in my heart and mind.

Maybe you are, too. Maybe we’ve all been holding on to our own designs of how life should be and having trouble wrapping our minds around reality.

What do we do with the vice grip we’ve put ourselves in?

 

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What a joy and honor to be over at Proverbs 31 Ministries today to examine what strength in stillness looks like. Will you join me there?

Beauty, Here

There is beauty, here, now. In this season. Yes, even in this season of suffering. There is a good God who sees, who feels, who emphasizes and emphatically says all is good, because all is God. He is the Waymaker, Deliver, Strong Tower and Soft Place, the One who loves unfathomably and unconditionally. Here, in the dappled sunlight that streaks through the pines, the flash of wing in the cross of Blue jay from one branch to another, the gentle rhythm of the water that never hurries, always sets its course assuredly. There is no rush, no hidden agenda. The waves just move.

And I just move with it all, swept in the current, roll with it under the watchful eye of Him who pulls me close when I am over my head in the deep waters, enclosed by flames. He soothes when I feel scorched, overwhelmed. He is here, in this season, bringing beauty when I pull my heart to hear His heartbeat. Lord, keep showing me where You are in the hard, keep showing me the beauty and grace that gets me through.

You get me through, somehow, in the stillness that somehow suddenly appears, when I am unexpecting, when I am parched and drink my fill.

 

Wait

It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
-Luke 23:54

 

We wait for You, we wait through the grave, the darkness, the disappointment. We wait holding our breath, the stillness of our lungs matching Yours. Such uncertainty in these moments, not sure how it will end.

You lay silent, also waiting. “It is finished,” You said, but we do not know what that means. So we wait with You, disbelief still pooling in our eyes, willing You to come back, evidence of otherwise rolled and sealed with a stone.

We prepare the burial spices with shaky hands, hearts numb with the weight of what we’ve seen. You were the One to save, and we are left bewildered, wanting.

We do not understand that it is finished means all is right, restored. Slowly, in the tick of hours as everything lay suspended, an unfolding begins, prepares.
You are coming again, like You said, and You are changing everything.

We wait, ready ourselves for another day, distracted by our sorrow. We forget to lift our eyes to the horizon, count the days and fasten to the dawn that draws near. “Hold on,” our hearts cry out, “just a little longer.” Our tears will dry; something shifts when we are least expectant.

Wait, You have reminded us.
There will come an exhale.

Hosanna

They took palm branches and went out to meet Him, shouting,
“Hosanna!”
“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
-John 12:13

 

What did the people think, as they saw You heading towards the Jewel City? What did they believe they would see? The survival of Your people? The placement of a new King? They had waited for Your arrival for millennia, and now You appeared, shifting Your weight on the seat of a donkey’s foal. How their eyes must have lit up, sparked to life by the glimpse of their Savior. How the whispers glided from mouth to mouth: “He is here! He has come! To free us from our chains of burden!”

Branches snapped away from trees, laying as pavement on the dusty road ahead.

“Hosanna!” They shouted, dirt-specked faces full of hope.

“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Sandaled feet slapped the ground as the crowd ran beside You, arms and palm branches swaying in the air as You continued Your entrance into Jerusalem. How excited they grew. How expectant they were of Your reign.

You saw them coming from a distance. Felt their eagerness in Your heart. To fulfill Your Father’s words, the final stretch was spent on the back of a placid mule. The chanting reached Your ears.

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Sandaled feet slapped the ground as the crowd ran beside You, arms and palm branches swaying in the air as You continued Your entrance into Jerusalem. How excited they grew. How expectant they were of Your reign.

You saw them coming from a distance. Felt their eagerness in Your heart. To fulfill Your Father’s words, the final stretch was spent on the back of a placid mule. The chanting reached Your ears.

“Hosanna!”

“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”

A bittersweet smile crossed Your lips. You had come to diminish darkness, but not from the seat of a throne. Rather, You would rule from the ruins of a tree, splayed in shame, broken for our burden. You would fight for Your people, without words, without lifting an arm in attack.

You knew what lay ahead, You knew what You would suffer. And You knew that the crowds welcoming You in with happy faces would turn sour and be among the first to seek to slay You.

Steadily You rode on, following the trail of palms and entering the city which waited to close in on You. To take You and beat You, drag You out and hoist You on a cross atop a hill.

Hosanna. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.

 

 

You took the fall for me. You knew what was in store for You and You rode on, into the grasp of darkness to turn it into light. Blessed be the One who comes in the name of the Lord. Amen.

 

 

 

His Light, A Loosening

In obedience to the Lord, you may find yourself in the darkness, but do not panic, for He will bring you the light you need at just the right time.
-Warren Wiersbe, Be Comforted

I struggle with where I am, fight with a tightness in my chest, a veil over my heart. This dim light of a season of fatigue, head fog, and anxiety stretches on, longer than I ever would have imagined. This is not something of my choosing, but God knows this. He knows the inside of my heart, the private corners I don’t even like to share with myself. He sees my scared heart, my fears that force their way into my head, the patterns of thinking I can’t seem to stop.

But there is hope. He has guaranteed it. And I am an active participant in this stretching, this suffering. These growing pains result in my good, even in the middle of this process. Even when there’s no timeframe that shows the end. But it will not last forever. He is providing for me right here, right now. Holding on to me when I have no strength to cling on my own.

I lift my heart, my mind, to the sky that is a settling blue today. It’s been so gray for so long, low-hanging clouds dampening the view.

 

For with You is the fountain of life;
in Your light we see light.
-Psalm 36:9

Your light, the glow that brings illumination in the darkness. You have led me into this darkness, the bleak caverns that cover my sight, but You have also given me Yourself, a guiding light that leads me out into the life You have in store, one that results in my good and Your glory.

Every day, I have a choice. To curl up and feebly live through the day, or fight for the faith I know is there despite what I cannot see. Faith becomes sight, and the sliver of light He gives today will grow brighter tomorrow. It’s the mindset of more, more trust, more faith, more of Him making a way. With the God of the universe beside me, what can I truly fear?

Today I am choosing to hold to the light, to stay my eyes on a blue sky. God is faithful. The dark does not last. I open to that tightness in my chest, acknowledge my fear, my disappointment, and I give grace to myself that I have not allowed in a long time. Grace grows to acceptance, a release of burdens I was never meant to bear.

Believe His presence is the fountain of sustaining waters springing forth in my soul. Believe His light is strong enough to penetrate the blackest night.

When I don’t understand, I choose to obey anyway. At just the right time, His light breaks through and goodness will once again flood my soul. Joy will come in the morning. Sorrow gives way to singing. In my weakness, His strength becomes my lifeline. He brings His light, right on time. I take hold to this comfort and let my chest expand a little more, allow a loosening, release.

Heart on Display

I am still confident of this:

I will see the goodness of the LORD

in the land of the living.

-Psalm 27:13

 

Why can I not open up to God with the deep, close things of my heart? I know I want to, but I hold Him at arm’s length at times, keeping my fears and hurts well hidden. There is a link between hoping and waiting. Hope involves groaning, longing. And those longings are stretched and laid bare in the waiting; I am helpless to cover up and hide them. As I wait, I hold open my heart, into those deep places where I want to find comfort and healing and answered prayers.

How much longer can I keep my heart on display? How much longer can I believe that God will make a way, that He will respond and show me His goodness here in the land of the living?

What does His goodness look like?

I turn on a podcast my friend Molly suggested I listened to. Molly, in all her counselor wisdom, points me to the sharpness in my spirit and gives words to the pain.

Hope is letting yourself want.  -Adam Young “Why Your Story Makes It Hard To Hope” podcast episode

Does it make sense to hope? Do I let myself want? Do I use my guttural cries to make myself expectant? Believe? I don’t think so. But part of me desperately wants to, so I keep listening.

In Psalm 27:13–it is before I die, in this life, God will hear my cry and give me what I long for.  -Adam Young

Life within the life. But what about my desires for my life versus God’s? Could they ever match up?

Adam continues to present truths and my ears sharpen to the list.

Living in hope requires three things to happen at the same time:

  1. Bringing our specific longings and desires to God
  2. Expecting God to meet those desires
  3. Wrestling with how He can be a good Father when He hasn’t met the desire yet

 

When disappointments pile up, it creates questions about God, doubts, anger, and resentment. When repeated disappointments make longing for something painful, the tendency is to kill the desire. 

He’s speaking right to me. Yup. I’ve tried to deaden my desire. Over and over.

His next words shake me: But it’s also a deadening of hope in God to do the miraculous.

This hits me sharp, sudden reminder of what I’m inadvertently cutting off. Adam follows up with how when we repeatedly have disappointments, they automatically build to cynicism. Thinking it won’t happen, whatever “it” is.

What can I hope for from God in the here and now? I war against hope–I try to stuff it down or kill it, but somewhere deep down won’t let me. God has put a safety switch in my heart so when I am down at the bottom, my dear, broken heart can realign and grow again.

It begins with barrenness, then buds, and then the bloom.

 

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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.

Snowflakes and Sunlight

Out for a run on this mid-March day and it’s a balmy 30 degrees here in Wisconsin. Lungs burning in a good way from being outside, fighting the wind, giving my legs room to stretch and move. It’s cloudy, mirroring my season of what seems like an endless winter. Snowflakes swirl through the sky. As I round the turn in the park by the river, ice still half frozen on the water, with some space open to house ducks and geese, I feel an odd sensation on my face. I look up: sunlight and a patch of blue sky between the gray.

Spring is coming, both to this earth and to my spirit. I am in-between the seasons, and it’s symbolic as I run, pound my feet on pavement, believing God will make a way. I have still both the snow and the gray and the cold clouds in my life, through the anxiety and fear and fatigue. But a new sky is growing in me, making a way for warmer life ahead. The blue breaking through the clouds, the stream of sunlight amidst the snowflakes, this is where I am inside. This is where God is growing me and taking me from this season of suffering not that is yet finished. It is still present, but bringing hope, renewed joy as I lift my eyes and look to the Lord, these blue skies parting to pull in puffs of white again in the sky. It is good. He is here. He is doing a work, a good, deep, growing work. Within the bad, He is blending beauty.

I believe He is making a way. I am standing on His Word, His truth, His character, His promises, and His Spirit, alive within me. I don’t know what He’s doing, and we are not done in this season of scarcity, but He is creating a supple bounty in my soul and spirit. As I look ahead and thank and praise Him for taking me from where I’ve been.

I’m living in the not quite yet, but longer am I planted in the what has been.

Snowflakes and sunlight.

Suffering and strength.

Brokenness and beauty.

Everything rolls together like the cadence of the clouds, mixing and moving like a choreographed dance of dichotomy.

 

Spring is coming. Here comes the shift of my heart and mind, making a way for blue beyond these clouds.

Appearing in the Flames

And the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked, and behold, the bush was burning, yet it was not consumed. 
Exodus 3:2

The Lord, appearing in the flames, the fire.

To refine, protect, to show up in the scorch of suffering.

He’s all about intimacy, desirous of deeper relationship. He will use all situations to draw us to His heart. Including a bush that burns deep in the wilderness, where there seems to be no way.

But He has been here, with me, even when it’s been intolerable, unbearably painful.

He is here with you, nestled in the bush, bearing with you in your burden.

Take off your sandals, for where you stand burns holy.

Open up your heart, bare your worry, your struggle, and let the flames purify.

He is here, with us when we can no longer feel our way through. The flames do not go out; they burn but will not consume.

God is faithful through our fears; His flame flickers holy. Be bare before Him; there is purpose in this pain. The Holy One transforms the hard to holy ground.

 

Heavy Winter, Hopeful Dawn

This has been a heavy winter. It’s felt especially dark, challenging, confusing, and stacked with suffering. This whole world heaves its weary chest, ragged breaths drawn from a rundown stretch of months, years.

We all have our pain, our heaviness, the rise and fall of fear and anxiety, the spread of questions gone unanswered, relief seemingly far off. Where do we run to find our way? The way seems run down.

But hope will not stay buried. Even when it’s piled down, hope still springs, still gives a lift to the weight. It shifts the heaviness from our shoulders, loosens the grip we have on weariness, angst, anger, grief, and confusion. Like the turn of light now in the later evening sky, God stays illuminated longer. We lift our eyes to the streaks of color turning in the sky, trace the outline of pines and oaks in the distance and choose to say, “Come, Lord Jesus. Be our refuge. Give us Your yoke you promise is easy.” He promises to exchange our heavy for His lightness, His Spirit gentle as He soothes our sores.

We’ve all been so sore for a long time, and we are done with it. This heavy won’t subside, but we can hand it off to the One whose shoulders are meant to carry it.//

Yes, it’s been a heavy winter. But up ahead holds a hopeful dawn. Spring is coming. The light is here. We’ve been waiting for weeks and months, and now, true to the natural rhythm of this world, time shifts, light shifts, and the biting wind and ice subside. Hallelujah, let that light come to melt this frozen world, melt frozen hearts, and warm the ones who just want to get out of the elements and stop their shivering.

Give us relief, our great God. We shouldn’t feel this heavy. We long for the softness and strength of Your arms, the pastel promises of the sky that brighter days are ahead.

 

 

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Continuing my attempt at the Five Minute Friday weekly writing challenge. Five minutes to write on the assigned topic. Raw and unedited. (Yikes!) This week’s topic: Heavy.   // symbolizes where five minutes started and/or stopped.

Bring Me Back

O God, You are my God,
earnestly I seek You;
my soul thirsts for You,
my body longs for You,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.

-Psalm 63:1

 

Life continues to spin straight out of control, off its axis, upside down. I am left no room to know which way is up, what I’m seeing straight before me. Static collapses my ears, closes off communication with You. I am millions of miles away, getting farther, but my hand strains to find Yours.

I am not meant for this madness, yet this is my life. My every day, off balance, and I desperately try to regain some semblance of control. Oh Lord, it has been so long since I’ve been silent with You, since I’ve sat in Your presence and lingered, allowed You to reach into me and soothe the frazzled places. How do I get back there? I long to be with You, sit before You and listen, receive. But the way this world is working takes and twists my path, dusts the trail so I am not sure where I am and what my distance is to You. I look up and am consumed by shadows, flashes of light.

How do I get to You from the chaos? I long to breathe in Your peace, Your presence, allow You to lead me beside quiet waters. But the pace of my life is frantic, overwhelming, impractical. I want to drop everything I’m trying to juggle and ask what YOU want me to pick up and personally place in my hands.

I long for You, my soul thirsts for you in a vast, unknown universe. My body aches and tightens until it finds You. Lead me, love me, bring my heart back from the abyss. I am nothing without You, and the distance between us makes me tremble. Cast off every distraction, every person, place, and thing that takes me away from You. You long to be gracious to me, as I lay in the dark without direction, without You, thinking of the way we used to be. Bring me back, my Love and Light. Sustain me, my Lord. You satisfy me as nothing else can, and I am tired of trying to keep up with this way of life when I was never meant to in the first place. I cling to You, my Provider and Help. Reel me in, tuck me to Your side. You are my directional compass, my North Star, the One who sees and knows. The One who won’t let me go.

 

Lord, I feel so far away. The pace of life, the way I’m wired, I just can’t keep up. I’m not meant to. I can’t see where You are or feel Your presence. Will You come quickly to me? Will You wrap me in Your embrace and clear the clutter that keeps me from You? You are the One who sees me, the One who knows what I go through and how my heart aches. Be gracious to me and bring me close to You. Amen.