hard times 

My husband makes a play list of songs for each summer. It becomes the background of nights under the stars, camping trips and BBQs with friends. He named the one for this summer, “Hard times and summer time rhymes”. It is well named. We got summer time rhymes going, but there are some things that are very hard. 

We are on our second round of disappointment this summer. A bulging disk sometimes pinches, seizing his back and deferring our plans. We go through the five stages of grief, accepting the reality of changed plans and adjusting to the flexibility that circumstances are currently demanding as best we can. 

In a comfort-seeking culture, it’s hard to form a theology of disappointment. Or a theology that is rich enough to hold the messy, hard, broken parts of life (physically or emotionally) that inevitably are part of our story whether they are a memory or a current reality. 

This theology cannot be hard lines, start black and white, but must be a splattering of chaotic gray. It’s hard for me to put into words, but it feels like I can just barely grasp one drip of paint here and there. It is when I get a chance to stand back and try not to understand all the particulars that something beautiful starts to emerge. 

If I were to wish away the back pain that affects our life right now, I would also be asking for a different man than the one who walks beside me. Who’s to say what his life would have been if he had avoided the things that led to this current injury. But I know that I cannot have him as the man I love today without the pain. 

Sometimes I want to wish away the dark season in my life, the broken relationships, the confusion of that time. But again, if I wish that away from my story, I also would be asking God to take away the very thing that He used to form and refine me so that I can be the wife and person I am today. I cannot be me and also not have that part of my story. 

And so what we hold in our hands is one part brokenness and one part provision and grace. The same thing is both pain and joy. We know that we were made for wholeness, and so we pray against brokenness and place our hope in restoration and healing. But we also find ourselves thanking God for the pain and trusting Him, that He is able to make even our brokenness into gracious provision to shape and form us to be ever more like Him.  

He truly is able to make beauty out of ashes, and joy out of mourning. 

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Comfort

Trickling water finds the path of least resistance. It sloshes and ebbs, finding the crevices and the easy places. I know water can come with an intense amount of power and destruction, but for illustration purposes, I’m thinking of a yard hose gurgling on a deck during a lazy warm summer day.

I find some of those same tendencies in myself. A comfort – seeking beacon in my mind and heart looks for the easiest, the path of least resistance. And like a lazy summer stream, I am prone to get carried away in the current, to feel like I’m just going with the flow, a victim of place and time moving along.

It scares me, to be frank. I read about how Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God on a bloody cross, and I cannot escape that the means of the kingdom coming is sacrifice and service – the very antithesis of comfort. I wonder how giant the blindspot and how skewed my view of life is when every song and advice of the culture around me is comfort and ease.

I want to own where I am, what I do and how I make decisions. I don’t want to simply slump into the comfiest sweater and fly under the radar. I want to ask what the kingdom is like, and then be willing, really willing, to sacrifice, knowing there is no other way to usher in the kingdom. I want to be proactive rather than reactive. Holding my reality with intentionality by the grace of God.

Instead of waiting for God to speak, I want to get real and actually face what He has already told me in places like the Sermon on the Mount. He’s spoken so clearly and wonderfully, and He’s promised us His very presence as we walk with Him. I want to risk.

Perhaps I want to be more like a glacier than a stream, shaping and forming the world around me rather than shifting and snaking through the softest mud. 

on turning 30

We were eating ice cream as a small group when the topic turned to birthdays and my impending three-o. A friend expressed how much she wanted to be thirty, and when I inquired as to why, she responded that thirty-somethings have life figured out. I laughed, and assured her that that is not the case.

I’m not loathing thirty, but I’m not jumping at it either. I want to embrace it as just another year, but it does seem to carry a certain significance. Other prominent birthdays up to this point had certain privileges attached to them. This one seems like a mile marker in a race, a line in the sand by which to note what has and has not happened from my 18-year-old life plan.

I tend to be naturally reflective and so love an excuse to stop and remember. I wouldn’t fit into my twenty-year-old self, and I’m thankful for that. The last ten years have held the deepest lows and the most wonderful highs I have yet to know, all of which God has used to shape and form me. And not only have these circumstances been beneficial in developing character and values, but the journey of knowing Him has in and of itself become a treasure.

I hope when I’m turning forty that I will look back on my thirty-year-old self and not be able to fit into this body. I desire to grow, to be known as faithful, gentle, and one with hope. I have dreams for the next decade, all full of risk and trust and change. And perhaps that is what I am most thankful for – that He is unchanging, but my understanding of Him is not. My last ten years (and most likely the next ten) have ebbed and flowed, been secure and rocky, joyful and sad. But He has proven faithful through it all and will continue to. Getting to know Him has only proved that He is greater and more worthy than I can hold in this little heart. And so, much of what I have learned and want to remember seem to be from the imprints of His Word and Spirit.

First, the Gospel is really big. It’s the Kingdom coming, with it’s inauguration already initiated; which means that the Gospel is about my personal salvation and an entire universe more. It eradicates the dividing line between sacred and secular and calls for obedience and discipleship in every area of life. Kingdom coming means I am passionate about renewal and restoration, stewardship and investment, justice and mercy. And it  is not only extensive in scope, but weighty in glory. The Gospel, set next to the world’s hope, is holy, holy, holy. The more I live, the more I see it’s beauty.

Second, rest. It reminds me of who I am and creates a boundary of my humanness. It leaves work at the office and protects me from attempting at super human scheduling feats. It allows space for lack, which ultimately drives me to rely on the Lord. When I practice rest, I move from depending on myself to trusting the Lord to sustain and provide that which is beyond me (which is, essentially, everything). When I stop, the world keeps spinning because Jesus is on the throne.

Third – excuses are lame. “Let what you say be simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything more than this comes from evil.” Matthew 5:37. Which is another way to say: have integrity. It’s incredibly humbling to let reality be a simple, one-word answer that hangs in the air without further explanation. I find that my desire to explain is so often tied to seeking my own justification. Christ justifies me, and I’m learning to let that be enough.

Fourth. Live in the light; lies live in darkness. Some of the most painful conversations have involved letting light shine into dark, hidden corners. It blinds at first, and feels like sharp needles, having eyes so accustomed to darkness. But it heals. Light corrects perspective and orders priority, destroys the power of assumption and banishes false thinking. And I can only live in the light in vulnerable, transparent community. If the community can’t endure the light, it disintegrates. And I’ve found that it’s the genuine people and community left basking in the sunshine.

Finally, risk. Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians wasn’t that they would accomplish great things, or have a successful ministry. He desired that they would know how great the Father’s love was for them, and that they would live rooted and grounded in that love. I risk when I’m living secure in love, not intimidated by fear. True love was born out of risk in my life. At the beginning of dating, so much could be risked, because we were so convinced of how much He loved us. How much of my daily struggle and anxiety would be quieted if I truly loved in Love!

Thankful for these twenties, hopeful for my thirties, thankful for a steady God who will never change.

empty time

Today is empty with no plans and no obligations, and while that may sound glorious, the blank-ness of today ruffles my insecurities.

As I continue to be given more responsibility in life, I’m convinced that most of what we are called to regards stewardship. Not just in terms of money, but in how we spend our time as well.

So today feels like I’ve been given a hundred bucks and I’m now given the task to spend it well, with how I spend it reflecting my values and beliefs, like the characters in the Parable of the Talents.

Most days, my insecurities don’t have time to make it to my conscious. On any given work day, there are things to do and places to be that fill my day from my 530 alarm going off to dishes being rinsed and dinner cleaned up after 7. There is rarely empty space in a work day to steward. Instead, I find myself stewarding and managing the tasks I have before me, the relationships I have with my coworkers, team and clients. On top of that, regardless of how the day has gone, there is most likely a neat stack of drawings on my desk, lists of emails that have been sent, and quantifiable forward momentum on projects a, b and c, which quiet any insecurities I might have had with the satisfaction of production.

On so many weekend days this last year, insecurities have stayed quiet again as we celebrate or gather together with family and friends. We’ve attended graduations, bridal showers, anniversary parties and weddings, along with holidays and just-because visits. The weekend is usually full and carries with it a different kind of stewarding-the joy of investing in people and caring for those we are deeply connected with. There are games, laughter, good food and good conversations while on long walks. I come away from those weekends knowing that time spent with people is always time well spent.

But today, I’m neither secure in the structure and routine of work, nor am I secure in the presence of community. It’s empty, and I’m not sure how to fill it.

It’s in the empty space like today, when it’s quiet enough and still enough, that insecurities have enough voice to be heard, and my mind has enough time to address them.

I think there is a practical question and a heart question that quickly rise to the surface.

First, I want to know what it looks like to wisely fill this time, and not just haphazardly add a million tasks so that I can be personally satisfied at the end of the day that I checked off a list of items. I was racking my brain last night for some kind of project this weekend, just to have a project. I’m prone to jump into everything and say yes, and fill my days with multiple appointments and coffee dates. But what is wise? How do I rest well so that I can steward the work day better? How can I invest in my marriage in the empty space? And do I need to consider intentionally carving out more empty space, so that I can invest more fully and consistently in a particular type of serving?

But I think the deeper heart question is, Do I trust the Lord? Empty space provides an opportunity to be lead by Him. It allows me to be available in ways that I am not usually so, but it requires my trust and surrender to let things be unknown, and my flexibility to respond outside of my plan. It also requires that I listen and have eyes wide open, to more fully engage with what is around me.

I still think the call to steward this empty time, along with all other aspects of life, is a high and important calling that should not be taken lightly. However, I want the stewarding to come out of the joy and freedom of having been saved by grace and not the fear of one day accounting for my life before God. On that day, I will give an account of how I spent my empty time, and what I did on a weekend day such as today, but for my righteousness, I will still only claim Christ.

Father, thank You for being in the empty space of this morning.

circumstance

We were waiting for the light to turn green when the car jolted. For the second time in three months, we had been rear-ended. Thankfully nothing worse than whip lash and a potentially-totaled car, but the emotional toll of re-navigating a circumstance we had just almost closed was tiring to say the least. Ironically, the chiropractic care from the first was going to be wrapped up that very week, but instead of ending the care, another round was opened under a different insurance claim number. It summed up our fall – navigating circumstances that at times were funny but more often than not overwhelming and challenging.

In processing the accident amidst the litany of insurance phone calls, arranging for tows, body work, etc. we voiced the what ifs just to give them air and let them breathe. What if we hadn’t stopped to shop for pants. What if we had taken another route out of the parking lot like we had mentioned. What if we had taken 5 more minutes at lunch? We could make ourselves mad with all the possibilities that brought us to be sitting in the exact position we were in.

When I think of navigating circumstances, I almost always think of them as being necessarily difficult and challenging. In a lot of circumstances this fall, my heart has been quickly anxious and frustrated. My lack of trust in my good Father has been exposed as a result. There have been more nights of corporate prayer born not out of praise but out of exhaustion and feeling at wit’s end. Quick tears. Whispered fears.

The last twenty-four hours has reminded me that circumstances aren’t by default challenging, and that there is good reason to trust in Him to guide us through it. I was reading an advent devotional, in which they were contemplating how Jesus sent his disciples ahead of him to prepare the last supper, and how they found everything as He said it would be. Even in the midst of a bustling city on the verge of a massive celebration, He had the perfect foreknowledge and wisdom to know exactly what they needed, whereto find it, and how to provide the way.

Last night we laughed really hard for the first time in a while. We were under the impression that a misplaced coat was forever gone at Goodwill. We left for our friend’s party frustrated that it was lost. Yet when it came time for the white elephant gift exhange, what should I find as I opened my gift of choice, but the coat. The whole room erupted in laughter. Our friends, instead of sending it to Goodwill, had kept it just for this party, and from my vantage point, the most appealing present in the stack contained the coat. A million what ifs surrounded this circumstance. But these ones made us smile and laugh rather than wring our hands.

There is this wonderful quote from Husdon Taylor that speaks into this: “…learning to think of God as the One Great Circumstance of life, and of all, lesser circumstances as necessarily the kindest, wisest, best, because either ordered or permitted by Him.” I don’t think God ordered our accident, but I think in His goodness, He permitted it. I say that while holding the challenging side of grace, which is sometimes hard to hold. But I think He also permitted the re-discovery of the coat, and that gives me hope and a smile, because it is so utterly small, and yet I know it didn’t escape His knowing. It reminds me, in a silly way, that whether it be a hard or joyful circumstance, He is ordering it or permitting it, in His perfect wisdom, love and kindness.

Father, give me the faith to remember that You are here with me in every circumstance. The ones that make me cry, but also the ones that make me laugh.

 

rain

If I were to compare the rain storms that I experienced as a kid with the one that dumped for the twelve hours between last night and this morning, it would be measly at best. I remember one season where it rained forty days and people were grumbling in town about people starting to construct large boats. Regardless, it was significant by Silicon Valley standards, enough to have some space in the news.

The incredible thing to me about this rain is that with so little, the hills are turning green. I left this morning in the dark with the rain beating down, and I come home to a distinguishable tinge of green to everything. For real.

This season has been full. There hasn’t been much extra time for things with studying and traveling, work and life. But, as life does start to slow a bit and we are here more weekends than we are gone, my cup doesn’t feel completely bone dry like I thought it was going to. I expected that the month of October would inevitably be one of getting sick, arguments and low energy.

The sweet gift of this full season has been God’s rain here and there, sustaining us and carrying us. A conversation with my mom, a weekend with my in-laws, conversation with best friend in person and little moments here and there with my man…how I wanted so much more, but this was all graciously enough. More than enough. I spend close to sixty hours a week working, with commute time and lunch factored in – hours that are necessarily dedicated in that manner. And how wonderful that what is a mere two hour (in comparison) small group with dear friends fills and cares for my heart. Like rain.

I believe that Jesus is with us always. Yet I’m also thankful for the rain He sends to bless and carry us along the road. Reminders of His faithfulness, goodness. Tangible pictures of the things that will be true in His kingdom always.

comfort

He mentioned that there was a bit of pain coming back and the first thing I thought of was, ‘Lord, make it go away.’ 

That prayer is simple and can be a genuine cry out to God. But in my heart for that moment, it was the cry of comfort- I was really asking for the removal of what might be difficult. 

If I’m honest, my prayers are like that a lot. Lord, help me get there on time, let our plans go smoothly, let me get enough sleep and let there not be any hiccups. Because time is money and there are a million things to do, and if it could just be easy, then everything would be so much more enjoyable and so much more could be accomplished. 

I’m guilty of wanting convenience and ease.

We are studying through the Sermon on the Mount and what strikes me is that Jesus doesn’t talk a lot about being comfortable. He talks about being salt and light, and neither one of those is something that comes easy. 

If I am to follow Christ in the way of the kingdom, it means my prayers ( and naturally, my perspective) must change as well. Prayers end up being less about circumstances and more about the matter of the heart. 

It’s not to say that we shouldn’t pray for some circumstances to change, because some of them are hellish and praying the kingdom come means their eradication. But more often than not I just don’t want to be inconvenienced. 

Jesus doesn’t call me to be comfortable, but to be holy, and those are usually contradictory. 

Lord, give me the desire to hunger and thirst after righteousness over the pleasure of passing ease. 

correction

I’ve needed correction for a while. Three weeks ago I would have told you that I felt off, but I couldn’t pinpoint what might be out of sync. Two weeks ago, I would have told you I was blinded by my own pride, and forgetful of simple things, like the Holy Spirit and the promises of God. My eyes were opening, but I was in a place of knowledge before experience. Like looking out and clearly seeing a storm on the horizon, but not yet feeling rain drops.

These last seven days, however, have been gracious days of correction from the Lord. They have not been easy, and we are tired at the end of them, but they feel merciful on numerous levels and I wouldn’t change them for anything.

God has been mercifully present in the split seconds of our lives. Like when He protected us as we were rear ended on the freeway. No one seriously injured, our car only needs some minor body work, and it just so happens that our make of car has everything (gas tank, exhaust…) on the left instead of the right. Easily overlooked, until the right side of your car’s bumper is folded under the chassis, and the left is completely untouched. It could have been so worse. We didn’t deserve the grace He extended us.

He has extended merciful protection when we were completely unaware. Like when we came back to our house Saturday night after being out with friends to dimming/surging lights and electrical smoking smell. Close to midnight, PG&E comes to our door to discover that a tree has fallen on the main line to our house, surging electricity through our house, melting surge protectors and turning our power off for close to a day. We could have come home to a smoldering heap of a house, yet God’s hand mercifully stayed the power that night.

He is merciful in the unexpected mundane.Like yesterday, after my exam, in the middle of the day, when my husband calls to say he’s had a flat tire, but that it’s all fixed and that it didn’t happen too far from the repair shop.

Any one of those things are merciful graces from God – circumstantially they could have been much worse than their outcomes, but for my heart, they have been merciful on an entirely different level.

My heart has needed to be re-awakened.

Before last week, it was shrinking and getting hard. The race of life, money, career and production was catching up to me, and my eyes were getting dim. I knew it, but when life is busy and crazy, I just keep pressing through, even when I know that what is life giving is to stop and be with Jesus. It’s shocking how easy it is to fall into the rut of self-reliance and self-wisdom. I was ploughing forward even though there were repairs that needed to be made.

It’s merciful to feel God’s correction and guiding Hand. Merciful to know His presence in the midst of numerous situations that were very clearly out of our control. Merciful to feel His discipline in reorienting priorities, causing pause, prayer, thankfulness and dependence. This last week has been far crazier then the previous weeks have been (which I didn’t think was even possible), but there has been an assurance and peace previously absent for a while.

Just because I knew these things in the college, doesn’t mean I don’t need to learn them again and again and again.

God is merciful. In our circumstances, most definitely. In our hearts, so graciously.

As my husband prayer the other night, keep us dependent on You, always, despite how crazy or normal our circumstances might be.

rich

It was a caption on a quickly passing instagram post. The words I am rich stood out to me as I glanced at a man’s chosen words to describe a picture of his wife and child.

The phrase has stuck with me the last few days, and yes, if I think about it, I can agree that I too am rich. In a season of life where it feels like there is a constant desire for more, it is good for my heart to remember that I am crazy, abundantly rich. It’s not the word I would use to describe my life, but that is more a result of lacking perspective rather than lacking things. And multitudes of things hardly begins to capture the riches of which I speak. There is richness in waking up before dawn every morning and watching the world wake up as the sun crests the hills. In having him as a partner and lover in life, one whom I get to play, rest, work and serve alongside. In using my mind and talents at work and getting to engage in something interesting and valuable. In this home and the gifts that have come with it. In financial provision at important moments, eleven-year-old friendships, honest conversations and vibrant church life.

Regardless of what is objectively true, my heart has been slow to follow in agreement. Worhip feels shallow, weak and distracted – the very opposite of rich. It’s easier to believe the lie of lack than it is to embrace the gift of gracious mercy and dwell in it. There is the constant, daily battle to reconcile godliness with contentment while mucking through present realities alongside future hopes and dreams. And it’s in the future where I most doubt the goodness of God to continue the grace of provision in our lives.

And thare lies the fulcrum. My richness is not something that I hold as a result of merit, but it is a gift from a most rich and gracious God who has never lacked anyting and never will. The gifts that fill my heart and life with good things are mere crumbs compared to all the riches He has. He is abundant, He has given, and He will continue to give and supply as He sees fit in His wisdom, power and love.

Jesus, I am only rich becuase You are both exceedingly wealthy and graciously loving.Thank you.

“All the year round, every hour of every day, God is richly blessing us; both when we sleep and when we wake His mercy waits upon us. The sun may leave us a legacy of darkness, but our God never ceases to shine upon His children with beams of love. Like a river, His lovingkindess is always flowing, with a fullness inexhaustible as His own nature. Like the atmosphere which constantly surround the earth, and is always ready to support the life of man, the benevolence of God surrounds all His creatures; in it, as in their element, they live, and move, and have their being. Yet as the sun on summer days gladdens us with beams more warm and bright than at other times, and as rivers are at certain seasons swollen by the rain, and as the atmosphere itself is sometimes fraught with more fresh, more bracing, or more balmy influences than heretofore, so is it with the mercy of God; it hath its golden hours; its days of overflow, when the lord magnifieth His grace before the sons of men.” – Charles Spurgeon

narrow

Sometimes my view of the story gets really narrow and I convince myself that there are only one (or maybe two) options for what happens in the next chapter. I start to believe things like, ‘where we live next year is where we live for the rest of our life’, and my little self curls up inside and doesn’t want to hear words like risk and trust. 

Days like today are helpful. They remind me that stories are different and that what might be true in one case won’t necessarily be true in another. It reminds me of my own story and how I would never in a million years thought that this would be it, but I wouldn’t change it for anything. 

As I look forward and dream a bit about what might be present a year from now, there are definitely things I want to be true. Some of them are the continuation of what is already true, while others aren’t present. Some of them seem relatively easy to attain, and others seem completely impossible. 

My tendency, being finite, is to narrow in on a few things, and try to figure out exactly how to arrive at that one potential. The trouble is, I don’t know what that exactly is, and I don’t have any idea how to start that journey. 

I squeeze Potential out, Providential guidance, and amazing Grace. The older I get, the more scary they are, but I do want risk and trust to be in my vocabulary, and I want to attempt the holy-spirit empowered dance of living content, desiring good things that aren’t true right now, while not seeking only comfort and ease in this life.  

Lord, keep my eyes wide open and my heart away from the confines of narrow hopes and dreams.