Trouble

We’ve been plunged into trouble, haven’t we?

I once had my raft overturn while white water rafting in the early spring–the shock of sudden submersion in the freezing water, the fear of the jagged rocks all around, being briskly carried toward the unknown and dangerous–it all feels familiar right now.

I had a life jacket on, but I certainly didn’t feel safe.

Are you struggling to feel secure? Protected? Sheltered?

Does it feel like the weight of fear might pull you under?

Courage, Friend.

This story was written long ago. Every detail is exactly as it should be.

You are not alone and not forsaken.

Fear has a way of making you forget who God is and who you are in Him.

When everything seems out of control, we remind ourselves. We get up each day and put on our armor–the belt of truth and the shield of faith. The breastplate of righteousness. We carry the sword of the Spirit–God’s very words which are alive and powerful and sharp. We engage in a spiritual battle in order to bring all of our thoughts into captivity.

We continue to love and worship the One who controls it all.

And we do fear. But not as the world fears. We don’t fear sickness or dying. We don’t fear loss of income or the disappointment of our best and dearest plans. We don’t fear a changed world or a changed life.

We fear God. And we pray that many might come to fear Him.

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Matthew 10:28

And we trust Him to do good. To work every moment and every detail for our eternal good and His glory.

Because we remember who He is and what He has done. We have already been snatched out of deepest darkness and utter despair by His beloved Son. We are already rescued, already safe.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit. 1 Peter 3:18

Every part of this story is already written.

Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. Consider the work of God: who can make straight what he has made crooked? Ecclesiastes 7:10,13

So we humble ourselves under His mighty hand. We do the work we are given to do. We cry out for mercy to the only One who can straighten this crooked path.

And we rejoice that He alone is life. He died to conquer every kind of death.

Just breathe that in. Deeply and confidently. Rest fully in the truth of it.

You are held by the Creator, the Savior, the Eternal God.

You are held by the Death-defeater, and He will hold you fast.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Returning to rest

Marissa Alice Bundy – October 2, 1990 – March 6, 2017

How can it be three years?

Three years since I saw her face or touched her skin or smelled her hair. Three years since I heard her speak or saw her laugh.

Three years since she left this world for another one, so far away from here.

My husband and I still stand by her grave and feel a stunned disbelief.

Grief is a little like wandering. Some days the path is gentle and peaceful. You wouldn’t have chosen this way, but there is enough beauty and joy and strength to keep moving. You have at least emerged from the thorny beginning to a level place.

But there are still days that bring you to a low point of struggle and longing and unrest. There are still mountains that seem impossible to climb.

I have been reading in the Psalms again. I used to think of this book as easy reading, but now I see deep emotion worked out in faith. From the lowest depths to the highest peak, a truthful power of believing that God covers everything.

He is big enough to surround it all.

Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the LORD has dealt bountifully with you. For you have delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling; I will walk before the LORD in the land of the living. Psalm 116: 7-9

I love when the Psalmist speaks to his own soul. He reminds himself of God’s bountiful grace to him. A deliverance from deserved death, a comfort in raw, tear-filled sorrow, a holding up, a carrying in the rugged places.

Return, O my soul, to your rest.

And I am so thankful for the returning.

For faith given to repeatedly turn my soul back toward God, toward rest.

It is a choice I make–turn to God. Hold onto hope. Rest.

Soul work to be done every day.

And as I choose, I am enabled.

Return, O my soul, to your rest.

Disappointment will come. Life will overwhelm. There may be sickness and never-sweet sorrow. An aching of body and heart.

And it’s all just part of this beautiful but weary road. Part of this path that leads to glory.

I remember that long day three years ago, death hovering around us as we waited. Marissa somewhere between this life and the next. As she neared her normal bedtime, I whispered to her that it was time to sleep. Time to go.

And at 9:55 she rested.

He shepherded my little one all the way.

She has been delivered from it all.

Her soul has returned to a beautiful forever rest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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