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.

 

Untangle My Chest

I wake to a new day, sleep still lingering in my eyes. As my body stirs, so does my mind, doing a mental scan of my thoughts and emotions. I notice, again, the weight in my chest, gaining strength. It’s been the pattern for weeks, my constant companion in my waking hours. Frustration settles, as I prepare to battle through another day weighed down.

This invisible heavy hand has a hold of my heart, presses down, keeps joy from rising, from excitement growing.

I’m a tangled metal knot with no idea how to lift the oppression. It’s debilitating—how does it dissipate?

I share this with Eric as I brew the coffee, kettle boiling, beans ground into powder for my pour over. He takes me face in his hands and leans me in close, nuzzles my nose.

“It’s like a tangled fishing line,” he explains, the man familiar among open water. “There can be many knots—big ones that take a lot of line, small, tight ones that seem almost impossible to sort. But you work them out, massage the line. It takes time, and you have to be patient, but eventually the knots loosen and come undone, and you’ve got a full, clean line again. Sometimes you have to clip, sometimes you lose a hook, but eventually it works out, if you take the time and care.”

I stare into his blue eyes, still sleepy in their own right, but true and focused, soft. His next words are almost a whisper. “That’s what God’s doing with you. You are uniquely made and it’s beautiful. Something’s gotten tangled inside, and He’s sorting it out with His own hands, helping you untangle.”

I hold to his words, wondering. That’s a new picture I’ve never drawn before. The tender process of becoming undone to be pieced together. The strong and nimble fingers of my Lord, massaging out the clump of knots crimping my life flow. Bending close, breath on my face as He studies what has curled to choke me inside, maneuvers each strand to slip free.

It’s in this intimacy where I find my God Immanuel, the One who wants to be with me. If I lean in, allow Him His work, I find His presence, find healing strength in Him.

Longing for Life

The Spirit of the Lord shakes the pillars, rattles the roof where we reside. Meet us here, in the whirl of the wind. Rattle our hearts, shake our souls awake.

Bare branches sway in the sky. Bare, but they will bloom, bear buds and leaves and flower petals—each unique to the type of bush and tree.

Bring them to life. Bring us to life, for this is a beginning. We are longing for life, even if we don’t yet know it’s life in You that we are looking for. We seek in all different spaces, each heart moving to make a way for what is missing. Will You make Your way in us? That we may be filled to the measure of Your love, a depth that knows no end?

You have sent Your Spirit to speak the Good News of new life. From death and burial comes newness, breath. From thirst to satisfaction. Dry bones manifest flesh, become whole.

Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
And Christ will shine on you.
-Ephesians 5:14

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.

 

***

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.

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.

Uninhibited

First, a finger. Grazing the water at the edge of the shore, a dainty swipe of hand beneath the cool, silky water of the lake.

The sun is hot, air heavy with humidity. Above, only blue with no covering of cloud.

Shoes come off, along with the socks, and the soles of my bare skin press into the burning sand. I make my way across the stones, step into the small waves lapping the shore. Submerge my feet, my ankles, wade to cover my shins.

This is not enough. I turn and trudge back up the sand to where my shoes lie next to washed driftwood, where my house key and phone perch on the wood. I strip off my tank top and shorts and place them over my phone, feel the air on my bare belly, my thighs, and walk slow back into the water. Lower myself in the cool currents bobbing through, take my time submerging. And then I freak out for a moment that I am in a lake with fish and they could swim up to me at any moment. My crazy phobia keeps me wary of wandering under the water, and I take a few moments in sun and water and the quiet of waves to coax me into giving in.

With a quick intake of breath, I plunge myself under the surface and am immediately swept up in the light, smooth hands of the water enveloping me into part of itself. I am weightless, rolling with the current, brush against the sand at the bottom.

I look at the wrinkles and ridges of sand under the water that current and wave have formed washing over again and again, untouched for days. But now I am here, ruffling the sand prints and smoothing them as grains dance upturned in the water.

With legs crossed, I let the waves lap against my shoulders, caress my skin. Stare above at the swirl of greenery along the shoreline, trees waving in the breeze, color pops against the clear blue.

I blink away the drops of water running down my face, feel the warmth of the sun begin to dry them. This is freedom, unabashed, joyous freedom at its most natural state. This, I believe, is how God intended us to live, uninhibited.

Place of My Own

I am not meant for the fast-paced whirl of the world, for loud sounds and shifting ideas, for the roar of motorcycles out my window, blast of exhaust and engines, crowds of people.

My pace—my soul—is slow, takes its time to expand and receive the world in quiet breaths, savored moments. The tapping of leaves against the wind, ruffle of bird feather, the pull of rain down a heather gray sky. To sit and pay attention, to invest deeply in a few valued relationships, to immerse myself in a small community—this is what fuels me, energizes in the right way. Nature was carved by God and so am I; we are linked in an eternal purpose following the here and now. The slow way of life allows me to notice, to examine, to unearth my feelings, the way of the world and my place in it.

Do not give me a rush, a schedule, an examination. Rather, set me in the middle of a limestone beach, the crest of a jutting cliff, the glass water of Lake Michigan, and let my heart fill, form and feel. Let me wander for the sake of wandering, to pause and praise the One who made the shape of my spirit and set eternity in my mind, one slow breath at a time. //

Languid, listening to the murmur of stars, stretched across time. No hurry, no order, simply being present. This is my gift, my design.

When we slow down, we see, and I don’t ever want to lose my sight. The day is for wonder, and so is dusk, and the deep evening shadows. It all has its place, and in the quiet swing of seasons, of scenes, I nestle in and find a place of my own.

 

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

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.

Bottle This Life

I have been around the world, seen the beauty of cultures and places I’ve never imagined I’d step through their soil. But there is nowhere that I love more than the home water of Lake Michigan seen from different places up the shoreline.

The billow of smoke swelling into clouds from the power company across the pier. Curve of cross atop the arch of steeple jutting into break of blue sky from the overcast Monday. Dance of white caps disappearing beneath swirl of cobalt and cerulean.

My dad sits across from me in our favorite harbor cafe in a wicker chair with a view of the water. Glass of Diet Coke fizzes in the buoy of ice cubes. He shares more of himself with me than he has in years, honesty flashing behind his humor, glimpse of his inner-wiring seldom shown.

I want to bottle this moment, this life.

Heading back to work for an appointment, he brushes my cheek with a kiss and thanks me for being his daughter. I switch to his seat so I can have the view of the harbor. He waves outside the window, walks across the street with his blue jacket straining in the wind. His life is nowhere near where he thought it would be, but still he steps on, courageous. Isn’t that the truth for all of us?

A cup of three quarters drunk cocoa stands open on the table, lid face up with remnants of whipped cream, milk, and chocolate. I sip through the cooled liquid.

Here comes a boat speeding from the open water, waves of white spray spread behind like the train of a wedding gown. I miss the rhythm of the lake, cadence of community. Familiar warmth of nipping cold that bites early spring.

I am fully myself here and I don’t even have to think about it. I just breathe. I just am.

Dad snaps a picture of me on his phone through the glass. I am sitting in his chair, cup outstretched in greeting, grin etched on my lips, while behind him is a layer of parked cars and a sliver of blue from the breakwater. He eyes his phone and smiles at the image, and I keep smiling, watching him capture this blink of time.