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.

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.

Come and Rest

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30 (NIV)

There’s a settled quiet in the bedroom. An occasional car passes on the main street outside the window. I am waking from a nap, my husband, Eric, asleep on the living room couch: a merciful calm from the wild savagery that is COVID-19.

Though it’s late afternoon, dark is already deepening shadows through the apartment. I feel it in me, the cold and black beyond the curtains.

This soreness runs deep as I try to catch my bearings, breathe. Reprieve, I pray, lifting my heart to God, with no strength left. Mercy. Jesus, Your rest.

COVID-19 came for us swiftly and mercilessly. As we do what we can while waiting to be healthy again, one of the things we crave most is that elusive rest that is part of the healing process. We long for an alleviation of the virus and are reminded of the fragility of our bodies.

Craving rest is natural. We all run around and work ourselves into a frenetic pace that will eventually forcibly slow us down or cause our inner “check engine” light to turn on. Whether it’s physical, emotional or spiritual rest, we know there has to be another way.

Jesus has been imploring us for years to find this way. It’s fairly easy to find if we pause and hear the words He’s whispered for centuries:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).

He doesn’t ask us to do anything other than to simply come to Him, however burned out or burdened we are, and spend time in His presence. Who isn’t weary? Who isn’t in need of this rest? Jesus is the right refreshment and nourishment we crave. He’s well aware of our overworked hearts and stretched lifestyles and has a softer, gentler way for us.

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I’m beyond humbled and honored to share about my need for deep soul rest at Proverbs 31 today: will you join me and hear about the rest Jesus offers?

 

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.

Carry My Burden

I am tired of all the exhaustion. Of all the confusion and feeling upon feeling that leaves me like I’m living underwater. I am sleep walking and long to wake up. A real wake up, where I am clear in mind and light in heart. Where I experience deep joy that wells up in me and bubbles up and out. It has been such a long winter, and the beginning of the messy March and spring still streak my soul with muck and a layer of heaviness and uncertainty.

But You are with me, even buried under the weight of my struggle. You often can do Your best work in the waiting, in the underground. Breathe in me, Lord, let Your oxygen fill my lungs and revive me again. It is not enough to long for it; I ask in faith for You to move in me. In every sinew, every cell, every stem of my brain and beat of my heart. Lift me from the mire and place me on sure ground. To whom else can I go? You hold eternal life out towards me.

//Carry my burdens, Lord. Take them from my sagging shoulders. I am weary from holding a weight I’m not meant to carry. You say to come to You and find rest, to attach to Your yoke and walk beside you, learning from You what it means to be gentle and humble in heart. Lord, I long for Your voice. I tune my ear for Your frequency; please don’t disappoint me. Please be here, in the middle of my mess, in the middle of my meltdown and confusion and strain. God, do a work. Carry me through this valley that has closed in on me in the middle of the night. Let me rest in Your arms, take comfort under the shadow of Your capable wings. There, I find my protection. There, I find my answers. There, I find my love. For You are strong, and I am weak. But Your power is made perfect in my weakness and I long to be revived by Your breath. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation, make each day a little better. Be the God of hope who fills me with all joy and peace as I hope in You, by Your moving Spirit.

Carry my burdens, carry my fears. The deep-rooted fears that fester, but I now recognize for what they are. Uproot them, Lord. You are the great Gardener of my faith and heart, and replant Your truth firmly and deeply in my soul. Where there is fear, respond with love and gentleness and truth. Only You can carry this weight for me; only You know in my barest being exactly what I need.//

The wait is long, weight of it all holding me under. But God is able. Always able. And always good. Keep coming after me, Lord. Keep fighting for me, keep healing and growing me as I make my way up through the soil. It takes a long time for the sun to reach underground, but when it does, my heart and mind will spring up in the hope of Your care, unraveling the weight which I no longer carry. You have gone before me, bearing me up, carrying my burden to bring me more to life in You.

 

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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: Carry.   // symbolizes where five minutes started and/or stopped.

Blessed Reprieve

Sleep. A blessed reprieve.

After weeks and weeks of no sleep, then fragmented sleep, up and down and exhaustion playing with our bodies and minds, our first reprieve and refreshing slumber.

Manna for the day.

We have been gifted in our wilderness with God’s manna, our daily bread, nourishment among the valley.

For over a month, we’ve received in this way: just enough for the moment, enough to satisfy us for the day. We’ve received substance, grace: even in the swirling suffering, lingering unknown, chaos whether night or day, multiple hospital stays, and the monster of the mental battle, He has remained steadfast.

He has remained.

Oh Lord, You have remained.

Glorious gracious each moment, each day. Full of mercy, our manna we wash down with Your love into our weary souls.

Hazy light rises over the yellow painted building across the street. The world is rising into a new day, and so are we. Again, all we can receive is grace for the day, stick our heads outside our tent and pull in the sweet bread placed before us, breathe in our thanks, and eat, remember. God’s sustaining love for the hour, His presence enough, His power made perfect when we are weak. But really, isn’t this the best place to be? Weak, because we are made strong in Him?

Weakness allows the love of God to come through. Open hands and hearts are able to receive His daily bread, His grace for the day, the way He woos us unexpected in the midst of a racing world. We are stilled, satisfied. This is enough for now.