When Everything Falls

There was quite a lot of devastating news traveling around last week (not even counting Downton Abbey…) and my heart has been weighing a bit heavy ever since.

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I was driving the other day and heard the song “Held” by Natalie Grant. The song always makes me tear up because it’s about a very young baby who passes away. There’s one line in the song that just seemed to hit exactly what I had been feeling:

This is what it is to be loved and to know
That the promise was that when everything fell
We’d be held

The promise Jesus gave to us was not that we would not suffer. Rather, the promise was that in the midst of suffering, we would be carried. We would be held in the hand of a God who not only knows all but who has actually felt the ultimate pain when He died on the cross.

When tragedy strikes someone who isn’t a Christian, I get anxious about what might happen in that person’s heart. You see, if that person takes a leap of faith and cries out to God in prayer, it can be devastating when He doesn’t answer the way he or she expected. That person might then turn away from faith forever, feeling scarred by his or her seemingly useless prayer.

It can be so scary to step out into His grace. We are so used to taking care of things ourselves. We want a guarantee that if we reach out to God that He will answer exactly the way we hope.

Just yesterday I was searching my email archives for something and ran across an email exchange with Tyler on March 29th of last year. It was the day before we found out he had a tumor and we were emailing like we normally do throughout the day. Tyler wrote that he had done some research on the likelihood that the mass was a cyst or a benign tumor and that he was just believing it would be nothing. We both wrote that we needed to remember to put the champagne in the fridge to celebrate his health. There’s even an email from me with just a bunch of star emoticons.

It’s bizarre to read those notes knowing what happened the very next day. That we would walk into that doctor’s office after days and days of prayer from our closest friends and family and squeeze each other so hard when the doctor said the words “malignant tumor” because we didn’t want to cry in front of this stranger.

It’s strange to look at that email thread and then remember that the champagne stayed chilled in the fridge for 3 months while we kept waiting for the good news. While we kept praying. While others kept praying.

God didn’t answer our prayer that the mass wasn’t a tumor. Or that the tumor wasn’t cancer. Or the prayers that the cancer wouldn’t need chemo or that there would only be one round of chemo.

Tyler did get healed (thank you, Jesus!) and I know that is a happier ending than a lot of people get. But we didn’t get all the things we asked for, did we?

If you haven’t experienced God’s grace or been carried by Him through a storm or felt His sweet gift of redemption, not getting the answer you want might feel like a total letdown. Why follow a God who doesn’t give you what you want?

The thing is, when Tyler was sick, God answered prayers for grace, strength, peace, comfort. He also met us in our darkest hours and the time we spent with Him there was so precious. Reading Psalms together, listening to worship music, just being still. He was present.

It was still hard, don’t get me wrong. We dealt with a lot of fear and had a lot of difficult moments. There’s just no doubt that God showed up for us in a big way.

I don’t write this so that you’ll never ask God for healing or to be taken out of suffering. Jesus is Healer! I believe that and have seen His touch heal people in my own life. We should bring all our worries to Him and ask for miracles.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7

But let’s remember that our relationship with God is not “transactional”. We desire to be in communion with Him and sometimes that means enduring a trial together. When I’m going through a hard time or I know someone is struggling, I pray that we would understand that Jesus will be there and He will be enough.

The Bible does not say that if we become followers of Christ that we will not endure any suffering or experience any pain. Quite the opposite, in fact, Jesus says:

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Take a leap of faith in your prayers, my friends, and take heart! He is waiting there with open arms.

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Sunday Thoughts: Growing Roots

The end of the year typically leads people into reflection – on their past, what life is like today, and what could be to come in the future. I don’t always choose New Year’s resolutions but I do like to set goals and think about how things could be different in the coming year.

I spent some time in the book of Jeremiah this morning, reading about God’s promises and prophesies for Israel. Jeremiah is a prophet called by God to spread the message of repentance and turning away from false hope in empty idols.

I was convicted by this passage, which made me think about where I put my trust and the fruit I’m bearing (or, more honestly, not bearing):

This is what the Lord says:
“Cursed are those who put their trust in mere humans,
    who rely on human strength
    and turn their hearts away from the Lord.
They are like stunted shrubs in the desert,
    with no hope for the future.
They will live in the barren wilderness,
    in an uninhabited salty land.

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
    and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.
They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
    with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
    or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
    and they never stop producing fruit.”
Jeremiah 17:5-8

Even though I committed my heart to Jesus many years ago, I still struggle with putting my hope and confidence in Him. I let things bother me too easily and often feel like there’s more that God could be doing with my life, if I were open to it.

I want roots that grow so deep in the Lord they never get thirsty. Doesn’t that sound so refreshing?

As part of Threshold in November and December, we have been experimenting with spiritual disciplines. I chose the disciplines of silence and solitude. I have noticed over the last couple of years how distracted I am. I only make time for God when I feel like it and my time with Him seems to just consist of me asking for things. I fill the air around me with music, tv, people and am always thinking about or processing something, whether it’s news, work, facebook or other blogs.

My assignment was to spend 15 minutes in silence and solitude every day. I set out to leave my desk at work and walk the surrounding streets without listening to music or looking at my phone. The goal was to clear my head and just be silent. It wasn’t that I was expecting to hear from God in those 15 minutes, it was more about creating space in my life that was open for Him to speak, without my specific parameters crowding the time.

To be honest, I haven’t been very successful. My first few days walking around the block were consumed with thoughts of where I was going to park in December when Tyler moved to Maine and my regular commute changed. This was such a glaring example of how I fret about stupid little things instead of letting God work them out.

I did have some sweet moments of His presence. One day in particular stands out when I was blessed with some memories of my maternal grandparents who both passed over a decade ago. I also experienced a lessening in my desire to be constantly multitasking. I’m hopeful that this will continue and translate into a more focused heart on God’s presence in my day to day life.

It’s easy to become stunted shrubs in the desert, inhabiting a barren land without even really noticing. I feel like my roots have tasted of good soil but have yet to grow deep. I want more of that good soil.

As we reflect on 2012 and look forward into 2013, I pray that we would not only taste the good soil but plant ourselves firmly and deeply into it. I look expectantly with hope that God is going to bear sweet fruit from my life, despite how barren the land before me may look.

Blessings to you and yours in 2013!

(Pssst… Growing roots has a two-fold meaning for us in the new year. Check out my new blog on organic living at http://simple-roots.blogspot.com)

It Begins with Him

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Luke 2:15-20

It’s been a quiet month on Heights of Love. While we are living this transitional chapter, a tale of two cities if you will, I have been seeking stillness in the chaos. My heart has been receiving a lot in this time and I look forward to sharing it with you in the weeks to come.

I was planning to write a post about the song Let There Be Peace on Earth. Tyler and I went to see the Boston Holiday Pops last weekend and at the very end of the concert, the Pops led a sing-a-long of this song in honor of Newtown.

I was struck by the phrase “let it begin with us” and thought I would write about how there is something each of us can do every day to contribute to peace.

I still believe that we play an integral part in making peace come alive but on this Christmas morning, I am reminded that it does not begin with us.

It begins with Him.

He came as an innocent babe, born into a modest setting and suffered a tragic death. Why?

For us.

So that we could have peace…

So that we could receive grace…

So that we could know His true love – a love that will never fade or grow distant.

Just as Mary treasured the miracle of her son, a life-giving prophesy fulfilled, I pray that we, too, would remember the miracle of this day and the hope that it symbolizes.

Wishing you and your loved ones a very merry Christmas and new beginnings in 2013.

Blessings and peace to you this Christmas morning :)

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Prepare My Heart

It’s the first Sunday of Advent, the season of anticipation and preparation for the birth of Jesus. I have fond memories of lighting our advent wreath and reading through devotionals from my mom.

I love this time of year, as many of us do. The traditions, the festive decor, the food (yum!), the music. It’s so easy to get caught up in the gifts and the parties, almost finding ourselves surprised by the real Christmas story when we go to church on December 24th.

I don’t want to be surprised this year.

After spending time in the Psalms leading up to Thanksgiving, I didn’t quite feel ready for Christmas when the Black Friday sales began and radio stations started playing Christmas music. Over the past week I’ve felt drawn to the book of Isaiah, one of the prophets in the Old Testament who prophesied the coming of Christ:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
will accomplish this.
Isaiah 9:6-7

It’s like God was whispering to me, Don’t lose sight of My heart this Christmas.

I haven’t found an Advent devotional yet and I don’t think we’ll be lighting any candles since Tyler and I will be apart for almost every Sunday night of advent. While I’m longing for these traditions, I’m also welcoming the opportunity to have quiet, unstructured reflection this Christmas.

As we prepare for His coming, we anticipate a lot more than presents and a holiday meal. The birth of Jesus brought a new hope into this world and each year we have the opportunity to open our hearts to His grace and salvation.

I’m not sure what God will reveal during these next few weeks but I know He wants to speak to each of us. I pray that God would prepare our hearts for the joyful gift of Jesus, so that we might live with a renewed sense of purpose in the coming year. I pray that we would find stillness in the chaos and that when we find ourselves singing “O Holy Night” on Christmas Eve, that we would truly understand the meaning of “a thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.”

Blessings to you this Advent season!

May the Hand of a Friend Always Be Near You

At midnight I rise to give you thanks
    for your righteous laws.
I am a friend to all who fear you,
    to all who follow your precepts.
The earth is filled with your love, Lord;
    teach me your decrees.
Psalm 119:62-64

On this Thanksgiving Eve, I’m thankful for the gift of friendship.

As I write this, I’m watching Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, a classic holiday movie about two strangers who navigate the most ridiculous journey home for Thanksgiving. It makes me think about the wonderful friendships I have formed, sometimes under unusual circumstances or in unexpected places.

Friends are so important in our walk with Christ. They lift us up, ground us, keep us accountable, challenge us, laugh with us, offer a shoulder to cry on, grieve with us and celebrate right along side us. There are many examples of friendship in the Bible: Jonathan and David, Ruth and Naomi, Barnabas and Paul. Jesus modeled friendship with his disciples. It is an essential and beautiful part of life.

For a lot of us, Thanksgiving means going home. Back to the place we grew up, where we made our first friends. A lot of people have become strangers but there are those precious few people who we look forward to seeing every time we go home. They know our past and share some of our favorite memories. There’s something special about the people who knew you when you had braces, awkward bangs and loved Limited Too a little TOO much.

I have a few of these dear childhood friends and several more from other stages and experiences in my life. God has very clearly ordained some of these friendships and they have left indelible marks on my life. You know when you meet someone who just gets you? It’s like you are speaking the same language, almost like they have known you as long as your childhood friends. Those people are treasures. Kindred spirits.

As Tyler and I make the move back home to Maine, and away from many of our friends, I have been thinking a lot about how important it is to cultivate and nourish these friendships. I have friends I haven’t seen in months, some I haven’t seen in years. Yet I know we are still knit together by heart and I pray that God would hold the fibers of our friendship together in spite of the distance that separates us.

Thank You, Jesus, for modeling friendship and for being the ultimate friend to us. I ask for your blessing and favor over all my friends tonight, scattered as they are. I praise You for the way You have put people into my life who have become unexpected gems and beacons of light. I thank You for the way they sustain me and teach me about myself and what it means to love others. I pray over the transition in our friendship and that the road between our houses would still be well traveled.

“May the hand of a friend always be near you” – Irish Blessing

Happy Thanksgiving Eve!

Released From Perfection

To all perfection I see a limit,
but your commands are boundless.
Psalm 119:96

I’m thankful to be released from the false promise of perfection.

I am a recovering perfectionist. I have spent most of my life figuring out the absolute right way to do things so that I could get the best possible outcome.

And I have failed and disappointed myself time and time again.

I worked with the late Bill Bicknell who used to say, “The best is the enemy of the good.” (I think this quote is attributed to Voltaire) Bill taught this in the context of quality in public health practice. Essentially, when we strive for perfection, the cost of getting there is not worth the end.

This idea of striving for unattainable perfection came up again last week at a faculty workshop led by one of my colleagues at BU. She was sharing some new teaching methods she had used in her courses recently and gave the disclaimer that they haven’t all worked perfectly, she’s just been willing to try. Some of her experiments have failed but some have yielded pretty incredible results in the classroom.

I don’t have to depend on my own abilities or plans to yield a life of excellence but I do have to be willing to step out on a limb and accept that sometimes I will fail. The security lies in God’s sovereignty: His abilities and plans know no limits. He is not handicapped by doubt or forces out if His control. He IS in control.

We are not.

That reality terrifies us but really, we should speak this verse and breathe a huge sigh of relief. We don’t have to be perfect!

Our pride gets in the way here because we WANT to be perfect and we want so desperately to be able to control it. But until we stop striving for the impossible and obsessing over the details, we won’t get to taste the improbable yet incredible glory that God bestows on us when we learn to walk in His way.

Our version of perfection will never measure up to God’s greatness and the cost of trying to get there on our own is far too high.

Thank You, Jesus, that you died for all my gross imperfections and continue to cleanse me from my sins. I rejoice in the freedom of letting go of an idol that only serves my pride instead of the goodness we trick ourselves into believing we will produce by being “perfect”. You are perfect, Jesus, and I pray that our striving nature would strive to be like You and not a worldly version of perfect. Thank You for lifting this burden from me!

Sunday Thoughts… on a Monday

Couldn’t quite get my act together last night so here are my Sunday thoughts, a day late!

1. Thanks for your comments and messages in response to my last post about not knowing where I’m headed with my career. Not surprisingly, a lot of you aren’t sure either. I’m glad we could all take a little sigh of relief that we aren’t the only ones walking around without a master plan. Phew! Also, there’s always this:

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

I’m holding onto that while life continues to unfold. I hope you will, too.

2. It was my birthday on Saturday and our original plans for the day had to change because Tyler had a last-minute work emergency. I decided to curl up with my coffee, the Jesus Culture Pandora station and my Bible to spend some time in the Word. Sometimes I like to flip randomly to a page in the Bible and see where it takes me. I ended up in the book of Romans and after a few verses, came to this, which I immediately scribbled down into my journal:

Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. Romans 5:2

Birthdays are a time of celebration and getting lots of attention, gifts, and treats. You could even say birthdays are about undeserved privilege because really, my birth was something orchestrated by God and delivered by my sweet Mom (yes Dad you did have something to do with it but let’s not go there haha).

I had nothing to do with my birth yet I get the benefits of being celebrated every year. A pretty good deal if you ask me.

And if you think about it, on a much bigger scale, this is what salvation is like.

Then, as stated in Romans, we are to share this glory with others. Not reluctantly share it but joyfully share it.

Tyler and I had already decided not to make a big deal out of our birthdays this year and thought it might be nice to spend the weekend doing some random acts of kindness. This reminder from Romans felt like a little encouragement from God. So we spent the weekend focusing on others and being a little extra generous. And then we got to celebrate a precious dinner together because some special people were extra generous to us.

It was a very happy birthday indeed.

3. My friend Laura, sister of my heart, shared this quote in her latest blog post, What’s Upset When You’re Upset:

“No matter the jarring, a jar of fresh water can’t spill filthy water. When you’re upset, you upset what’s really in you.”

I love that I read this on Laura’s blog because she continues to address the presence of sin with a courage and conviction that really pushes me to examine my own heart. She writes, “I can be friendly and delightful to people who do not annoy me, or make me feel unloved, or undervalue me.  But anyone can be friendly and delightful in good circumstances.  The Bible is clear about that, it is no great accomplishment to love those who love you.

Amen! And leading back to #2, we aren’t even deserving of the grace we get, so why do we require others to earn ours? Thanks for those thoughts, sweet Laura!!

Hope you all have a wonderful week :)