Deep water

It is early morning and a heavy rain is falling.

I am thinking about a far away country. A place filled with both people I have read about and people I know. Marissa is there. My mother and father are there.

My Savior is there, my King. He is all the light there.

I am thinking about the sea of life that leads to that forever kingdom. The sea is rarely smooth, and it’s not meant to be. The waves–sometimes gentle, sometimes menacing–teach us to balance, to focus, to trust the helmsman.

Do you feel your legs getting stronger as you brace for the waves?

It is all grace that we are not falling down in the choppy waters, in the storm.

It is all grace that we are being strengthened even as our hearts are quaking.

Struggling to stand is not at all the same thing as falling.

My prayer list is full of struggling sailors.

I don’t understand why many are called to such deep water. Constant turbulence and waves that won’t stay calm. Fears turning into reality. Crippling squalls.

When they prayed, “Lord, send me anywhere,” they didn’t know that anywhere could be here.

The whys and their answers don’t belong to me.

But I see a steady light of faith in these ships all around me, and in the dark I hear songs of deliverance. It seems the most overwhelmed are singing the sweetest, melodic praise.

Hope settles around me, filling my heart. I am grateful for the light, for the singing.

My soul has an Anchor. It is safe and kept. Eternal. Secure. Loved.

Jesus is near me, with me. He can walk on the deepest water. I am not alone.

His love will never fail.

This storm is equipping me, strengthening me, preparing me.

This deep water is not meant to destroy.

This deep water is simply the path to home.

We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Stedfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.  Priscilla Jane Owens

Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls; All Your waves and billows have gone over me. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God. Psalm 42:7, 11

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek. Hebrews 6:19-20

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

January

I’ve been doing my best to make friends with January.

New starts and new charts and a new me–I’ve never been good at channeling that into one month. I do evaluate my life and move toward change, but I’m more successful if I don’t try to alter too many things at one time.

And January memories are hard. So many cold and harsh moments in that January three years ago. A battle so intense that we didn’t fully realize that our sweet girl was slipping away.

Memory flares into emotion that I cannot will away.

But I can speak truth into it.

The burdens of the year are already heavy–so many battles to bring before the Lord each day. I sympathize more now with the weight of suffering and try to help bear the burdens of others in prayer. I have found the best way to relieve the heaviness in my own heart is to pray truth back to God, to recount to Him what He is like and what He has promised. To sit still with the enormity of who He is.

And that’s what we can do with the new year in front of us. Speak truth to our fear, to our heartache, to our expectations.

Move toward right thinking and right doing.

Be patient. Be grateful for mercy. Be confident in hope.

Cling to the One who planned and knows and is present in every tomorrow.

The LORD is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. Lamentations 3:25-26

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calm and bright

It’s early morning and the house is quiet. I love this time of day best. Fire burning and tree lights twinkling. My heart settled in truth.

Before the frenzied rush of day, my soul stilled and filled with God.

I know that all of my living and doing and striving can take me far away from peace. My memories and anxious thoughts can distance me from these calm and hushed moments.

Do you feel it in your busyness? In your distress? The stretching and groaning of your soul?

I think back to that Christmas three years ago, when life was growing dark.

https://tracinghisgoodness.com/2016/12/15/immanuel/

But even there, a soft, calming light of truth was near. We were never alone, never forsaken. We were strengthened for every hard moment. We were blessed to see God through it all.

He was very present in our trouble. And He is here in all of the mundane of today. Still speaking light into all of the corners of my life.

We pass a house in our neighborhood that is decorated profusely for the holidays. In the bright light of day, it looks cluttered and a little shabby. But in the night, the lights shine over it, making it cheerful and bright.

We are a little like that house. Examined closely, we are faded and worn, weary and run down. Rooms of sadness. Rooms of fear. We are sitting in such darkness.

But into that darkness has come a marvelous, glorious, gentle light.

Emmanuel. God with us.

Jesus.

He has enough light for all our darkness. Enough joy for every sadness. He speaks peace to all our fear.

He came to give us an eternal hope. To transform our tattered gloom into radiant joy.

To be our King. To save us.

O come, let us adore Him.

The Sunrise in our shadowed darkness.

Christ, the Lord.

Because of the tender mercy of our God, with which the Sunrise from on high will visit us, to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. Luke 1:78-79

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perspective

Summer turned to fall so slowly this year, reluctantly letting go of its warmth. It is a surprise to be at the end of November. The frosty morning air and the quickly darkening afternoon sky still startle me some days.

Each season has its hard and its lovely. We can resent the cold and darkness or we can embrace them. I like to make friends with the new season, changing my rhythm to fully experience it.

But there is an adjustment. A change of thinking. A putting away of picnics and pools and gardens. A pulling out of sweaters and blankets and candles.

Exchanging the color of dancing flowers for the color of dying leaves.

All change requires adjusting, accepting, settling. Letting ourselves sit with the way it is rather than the way we want it to be.

Perspective is everything, isn’t it?

Some life events are big, changing our direction and our expectations.

The wind shifts just so, and we are in the middle of a storm. Not just a quickly moving squall, but a tempest that changes our course.

Perspective lets us cling to what is good: the anchoring of our souls, the promises of God, the friends alongside us. Even when a storm threatens to sweep everything away, the Creator is near. A very present help in trouble.

He is piloting our boat, steadily and silently. He is taking us somewhere safe.

This is Thanksgiving week, and many layers of memory surround me. Many happy, carefree remembrances, but some shadowed and dark layers. I miss my mom and dad. I ache for Marissa.

But I am clinging to what is good.

Thankfulness is simply a faith-filled perspective.

I am grateful for my reconciliation with God through His Son. For His every-day mercies, His powerful promises, His gentle, constant presence. I praise Him for the beautiful people He has given me to love, and for His bountiful provision of every needed thing.

I am looking for my future home where all the shadowed layers are turned to light and the heaviness of grief is lifted. Where all the broken things are healed.

Where the Lamb is all the glory.

Where I will sing forever of His faithfulness in the storm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pictures

For Rissa on her birthday

I was just looking through all our apple-picking pictures over the years. I remember how you were the one to insist on all the photos, how you would gather the groups and make sure all the various combinations were taken.

Those pictures represent some of our happiest memories–all of us running away to the mountains together. Feeding the sheep and eating hot doughnuts and drinking apple cider.

I think of the kindness of our Father when I see them. I look at you, your joyful face. I touch each picture with gratefulness.

We have our last family picture hanging on the wall, taken in January of 2017. I love it because we are all together, but I can see the strain behind our eyes. You had just gotten home from the hospital where we had received the worst kind of news. You had oxygen waiting in the car, and we wheeled you to the field in the wheelchair. The unspoken pressure was there to capture the last family portrait. All of the siblings took a picture alone with you. We laughed (as we do) and did the best we could.

When I see that picture, I see your face full of grace. Your hair is short and your face is puffy from the steroids. You have endured more than many 80-year-olds. You are tired and sad and maybe a little confused. But you are standing straight, and I see your unwavering heart in your face.

I love your heart, Beanie.

Today is your birthday, and we’ll do our best to celebrate the things you love. We’ll take new flowers to the cemetery. We’ll look at old photos.

And even though the pictures only reflect a snippet of your life, a fragment of your time here, they are precious.

They help us remember all the days of you, all the ways of you. How blessed we are to be your people, your family.

I think about heaven and how little we really know about it. God only gives us glimpses of its beauty. It doesn’t always feel like enough, and we are left wondering and longing and reaching.

But that’s how pictures are. Just snapshots of the whole.

Your smile does not reflect the whole of you, the fullness of your story. And my small assurances of heaven cannot reflect the majesty and power and glory in your present, unseen picture.

But I cherish the pictures, those I can hold and those I can’t. The glimpses of past joy and the promises of the future. I’m grateful for all the pieces.

And by faith, I believe in the whole. The glorious expanse of what God has prepared for those who love Him.

Unknown and unseen, but as real as your smile. As real and as eternal as you.

Today I am touching all the pictures with faith.

I am touching them with full assurance.

I am touching them with gratefulness.

Happy birthday, Rissa. I love you forever.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yielding

Not long ago there was a hurricane that shattered beautiful places, and people were changed forever by its force. Yet here there was only the softest breeze.

And that’s how the storms come. Mostly they are distant. Most days we are only reading the headlines, mere spectators. Only a few storms are personal, touching us and those we love. Shaping our landscape. Feeling very much like destruction.

Then we soften and yield, or we stiffen and break.

This summer I walked through some days where I felt unsettled. Restless and agitated. Was it weariness? Lingering sadness? Or were memories of the past and fear of the future turning my heart into a stony ground?

I felt surrounded by a thousand pressures and a noisy soul.

Was I resisting God somehow?

And this word kept coming to me: Yield.

Yield the past with its prolonged sadness. Yield the present pressures and weights. Yield the future unknowns.

Yield to the story God has written.

Grief is a life-long pressure, but it is sacred and quiet. It is between God and me.

But the daily struggles, the burdens that float around in my head, do not feel sacred at all. How can car repairs and medical decisions and too much to do compare with watching my daughter die?

Yet all of the mundane frustrations are also between God and me.

Yield has two verb forms. The first means to give up, collapse. Its synonyms are give way, crumple, break. Throw in the towel. It is the yield of defeat. But the other meaning is to grant or allow. It is a bending. A surrender. An assent.

It is a whispering of yes.

A life centered around Christ requires this every-day yielding. Choosing to believe God, to trust in God, to live with a view of eternity.

Especially when I don’t understand.

To invest in the things that are not seen. To let go of the things that are.

It’s a continual bending. Consenting to God and His purpose. Complying.

Saying yes to trouble. To flat tires and unexpected bills and cavities. Yes to all of the heavier battles, the physical and spiritual and emotional struggles of this broken world. Yes to all the unknowns of the future. For me and my children and all of my people. Yes even to grief or suffering. A continual opening of heart and hand.

Yes to all my moments.

Lifting them up in the name of Jesus to God who is over all and through all and in all.

Believing with child-like faith in His good purpose and promises. Resting in all His truth.

Walking humbly. Softening and yielding so I do not stiffen and break.

Rejoicing that He is worthy of every yes.

What God Ordains is Always Good 

What God ordains is always good:
His will is just and holy.
As He directs my life for me,
I follow meek and lowly.
My God indeed in ev’ry need
knows well how He will shield me;
to Him, then, I will yield me.

What God ordains is always good: 
He is my Friend and Father;
He suffers naught to do me harm
though many storms may gather.
Now I may know both joy and woe;
some day I shall see clearly
that He has loved me dearly.

What God ordains is always good: 
though I the cup am drinking
which savors now of bitterness,
I take it without shrinking.
For after grief God gives relief,
my heart with comfort filling
and all my sorrow stilling.

What God ordains is always good: 
this truth remains unshaken.
Though sorrow, need, or death be mine,
I shall not be forsaken.
I fear no harm, for with His arm
He shall embrace and shield me;
so to my God I yield me.

Samuel Rodigast (1649-1708)

One God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. Ephesians 4:6

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? Micah 6:8

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Big love

Thirty-eight years ago, when I was young and not very wise at all, I somehow did the wisest thing–I married the man that I share my life with today. And even though I did make that promise soberly, at the time I never imagined I would need the promise. I thought holding on would be the easiest thing.

It‘s a different kind of loving than I had thought it would be, a little more stretching than I was planning on. Not a perfect love. More ballad than fairy tale. But he makes it easy. Funny and clever, gentle and kind, a full-of-grace every-day reminder of God’s love.  

So much water has gone under our bridge, children and chaos and noise. Storms and obstacles and churning rapids. Trouble and sorrow and loss.

But there has been joy. So many good days filled with soft trickling and tender light. 

Through it all I have been blessed with this big love. A place where my heart is safe, where I am home.

God has been holding on to us, to our promise. God has been teaching us how to love.

I have been thinking about 1 Corinthians 13. Love never fails. God is certainly not saying that we never fail, that we can love perfectly. Part of the magic of old love is the understanding that someone knows all of our weak places and so many of our secrets and still cherishes the best parts of us.

It is the actions of love that never fail.

That kind of love looks like patience. It looks like kindness. It isn’t filled with envy, boasting, or arrogance. It doesn’t seek its own.

(And isn’t that the hardest part? Seeking someone else’s good and not your own?)

It isn’t irritable. It isn’t full of resentment. It does not rejoice in wrongdoing.

That kind of love bears all things. Believes all things. Hopes all things. Endures all things.

It never ends.

That kind of love is more than flowers or candy or candlelight dinners.

More than laughter or passion or romance.

It’s big love–love that stretches and pulls and fills all the spaces.

That kind of love is from God.

 

 

The God who sees

I had almost forgotten the heavy warmth of a newborn baby asleep in my arms. It is good to remember.

I don’t keep scrapbooks, and I am not a good photographer. So many details of my life are forgotten, blending into the whole. It makes me sad sometimes.

Yet I am the product of all my memories, all of my experiences.  The details gather and take shape, coming together like words on a page, telling a story.

They do matter.

Marissa’s story has touched you in some way, and many of your stories have touched me, invisible threads binding us together in ways we don’t understand.

We are not alone.

A sovereign hand moves and surrounds and binds together.

During my evening walks I pass behind a row of houses. In December the Christmas tree lights were shining through the back window of one house, twinkling festively. They were still shining at the end of January, long after everyone else had packed their lights away. Then the blinds were closed tight.

But sometimes I would notice a flickering of white light. One night last week, the blinds were left open and the tree sparkled into the summer night.

I’ve seen an older man out mowing the grass. Does he live alone? Does he sit in the evening staring at the tree and enjoying thoughts of happier times? Or maybe he has a wife who sits there all day long, lost in her memories.

I don’t know his story, but it has intersected with mine. Now I look for the lights every time I walk by.  I have prayed for this man I have never met.

And I am comforted to know El Roi, the God who sees.

He sees behind the closed blinds of every story.

He sees you. Your fear, your insecurity, your pain. He sees every part of your suffering.

Your weakness and your struggle. All your disappointment.

He knows your empty places.

Your hopes. Desires. Each fragile dream held tightly.

You are seen.

Every detail is known.

You are not alone.

For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the LORD, and He watches all his paths. Proverbs 5:21

For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. 2 Chronicles 16:9

So she [Hagar] called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.” Genesis 16:13

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grace for the breathing

I drove to the cemetery last week and sat awhile, the silence and faded flowers an odd comfort. The mountains in the distance remind me of places far away. Places I am going and places I have been. Memories settle around me like flower petals, velvety and smooth.

Such longing.

But with it, a promised peace.

My twin sons graduated from high school this week, and it has stirred up all sorts of emotion. Really? When did that happen? When did my little babies turn into strong young men? When did they pass me in height and strength?

When did they stop holding my hand when we crossed the street?

I suppose when you have lost a child you no longer take youth for granted. Ten years ago Marissa stood on that same platform with shining face and hopeful heart. What are my boys thinking as they venture on into life? Sorrow is no stranger to them. They carry fewer assumptions than most teenagers but hopefully a firm assurance of truth and eternity, of God. I pray they will offer their lives to Him with open hands and faith-filled hearts, welcoming the sunshine without worrying about how quickly the storms can come.

I pray they will not be afraid.

Last May we gathered around my mother’s deathbed. This will be the first Mother’s Day that I have no one to thank and no one to call. No flowers to send.

The first year I am mother without being child.

All the years a breath.

And it is the breathing that hurts sometimes.

On the final trip I took to visit my mother last year, I sat next to a woman who never stopped talking about herself, never asked me one question. She announced that Mother’s Day was her favorite day, recounting all the activities, all the traditions that her family kept to celebrate her.

But I know that I can’t be the only mom to shrink back a little from the accolades. To feel a little worn with all the giving, all the stretching. To know the heaviness of struggle and faltering.

I know that I am not the only mom to need a bit of grace.

For the every-day-giving-up-self kind of loving. For doing all the hard things. For the disappointments, the good-byes. For living every moment of this story written for me.

Grace. I need grace for the breathing.

And He pours it out on me, a perfect grace.

It is enough for every shadowed crevice. It cleanses and heals me, covers me. Awakens all of my hushed, imperfect praise.

Delivers me.

It draws me to the only One who has ever loved completely and perfectly.

From His fullness, He gives it freely, grace upon grace.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. John 1:14,16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday morning

I hadn’t realized spring was here until we drove away from it.

A couple of weeks ago we headed north for a retreat and gradually left it behind. Blooming flowers and fields of green giving way to barren browns and grays. The temperature was about the same, but the color just faded away.

A reminder of seasons and change. We are never more than a few paces from winter, are we? It’s good to know that spring always comes around again.

Sometimes waiting is the most active kind of faith.

After 5 weeks in the hospital, my grandson is home and doing well. Still many unknowns, but the terror has subsided. The gray has lifted.

But I am holding some close in prayer who are a long walk from spring. Color is just a memory. And the heaviness of waiting is bearing down.

Down in the valley. Valley so low.

I’ve been reading about the passion week, and today is Good Friday. I’m thinking about the followers of Jesus who were there, feeling forsaken and despondent and so disappointed.

Faith so small. Blackness descending. Color all but gone.

And they can hardly remember what they are waiting for.

Death, a menacing companion. Grave, looming so large.

They can’t comprehend that Sunday is coming.

When we drove back down the mountain roads to home, we were surprised by the gradual returning of color. We had been gone only a few days, but we had somehow forgotten how lush and green it all was. We had somehow forgotten spring.

And it reminds me.

It reminds me to be active in faith through the bleakness of winter.

It reminds me of a rolled-back stone and an empty grave. A merciful God and a risen Savior. A future where every darkness and every part of dying is swallowed up in victory.

It reminds me of Sunday morning.

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this? John 11:25-26

He will swallow up death for all time, and the Lord GOD will wipe tears away from all faces, and He will remove the reproach of His people from all the earth; for the LORD has spoken. Isaiah 25:8

Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. 1 Corinthians 6:14