California Interstate 5: A Road Trip Watching

24099_1376311454053_6507475_nThere are trees uprooted next to the freeway. Mounds of dirt clod clumps clinging to thick roots sticking up, awkward, misplaced.

I want to get a better look at them, but I am driving on California Interstate 5 to Los Angeles. Husband and kids and bags and I journeying to friends who said, please come. It is overcast, gray sky low, arms stretching out in embrace.

If I were in the passenger seat, I’d take a photo. Or, I’d grab words and try to work out what it is that makes my heart feel so tight in my chest when I look out. Gnarled empty limbs, cement brown, so undignified, these trunks sprawled, broken and exposed, on their sides.

I am familiar with almond trees–as a farmer’s daughter who watched her dad bend low, dirt crusted in lines of tanned skin, watching and listening to the voice of trees. I know the sharp edges of older bark as it breaks off in clumps, and the smooth, knotted roughness of young bark layered on new green. I know the smell of wet earth and the miracle of paper-thin nonpareil shells the dogs crack open and eat from the ground.

These trees were planted once. They were seeds once. They were shoots that laid in dirt brown and hard, softened by drinks of water, aerated by steel spikes pulled by tractors, and visited by furry gray-brown squirrels and jackrabbits that scamper and scurry to limb upon limb or underground.

Hands laid each shoot into the ground. And the shoots grew and limbs stretched, quiet and strong, sprouting green leaves and white blossoms, and then nuts with green velvet shells before the hulls hardened and opened wide. Downy against thumb or cheek as you rub them close.

The day the bulldozers ripped roots straight out, one by one, row after row–violent, sure–was not a decision made quickly. It was not a decision that was easy. It was not a decision that was fun.

But it was necessary, whether due to lack of water, or money. Or maybe the orchard changed hands.

I hope new trees are planted soon. I hope these old trees, their roots so wrongly bent in weird angles outside the land where they belong, are replaced with new, young shoots. I pray their lineage continues, the life of the seeds giving birth to trees, with limbs pruned and the trees growing tall, before being pulled out of the ground.

Death doesn’t look beautiful, from this angle, as I speed by, one of thousands of cars on a January Saturday afternoon. It doesn’t look poetic or kind. It doesn’t look hope-filled or cause for any celebration.

My hands clutch the steering wheel and I memorize the scene, the uprooted orchards, the story of men and of women and of dreams and of life coming so miraculously from hard ground.

I remember my mom’s words to me on the phone the day before. The almonds will be in bloom soon. Just a few more weeks and the blossoms will be on the branches. The trees my father planted.

And here I see only uprooted trees, disaster, disorder, disappointment. And I know the trees my father planted are scheduled to be pulled up soon, too.

The word for almond in Hebrew, is shakeid, the root of the word meaning to watch or to awake. Jeremiah, when he is asked by God what he sees, looks and says “I see an almond branch.” And I think about Jeremiah looking for what God wanted him to see, and how Jeremiah did see, and how what Jeremiah saw was something of so much beauty.

Father, show us what to watch for. Ask us what we see.

Praying God gives me eyes to see what He wants me to see.

How will we answer? What is before us? What is in front of us? How do we see it? What is God asking us to see?

Jeremiah saw an almond branch, a branch of beauty, a branch also decorating the Lamp stand of the Tabernacle, in Exodus.

It is less than a minute and I have driven past the orchard. I am aware, as I look, that it is a memory I want to keep. I knew that I would want to record it.

Aren’t we stirred, both, by beauty and beauty absent?

And in this moment I feel tears fall; I realize I am struggling to see beauty and hope when before me is disorder and chaos and death.

Let us watch with clear eyes, with open hearts. Let us remember there is always newness, always beauty, with God, even when things feel completely bleak.

And the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Jeremiah, what do you see?” And I said, “I see an almond branch.” Then the LORD said to me, “You have seen well, for I am watching over my word to perform it (Jeremiah 1: 11-12).

Wherever we are, whatever we are doing, whatever situation we now face, I pray, sister, we ask for help in being watchful, in being observant, in desiring to see with clear, open eyes, what lies before us, yes–the miracle in the death, the life awaiting awakening, the word of God He is asking us to see, live out, believe.

How are you looking? How can I pray for you?

Linking up with the encouraging and beautiful Jennifer, at #TellHisStory.

What To Do When God Feels Far Away

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When you feel far away from God, it can feel like forever until you find your way back. You don’t feel like you’re home.

It’s an uncomfortable feeling, darker than loneliness for its emptiness. For you feel hollow, forgotten even. Your head knows you are not forgotten by God, but the ache of your heart tells you something different.

Your heart tells you it is what you can trust, not your head. You are not free to be rational. You are not free to remember who you are–a beloved daughter who is delighted in. You want only to heed your heart, a heart that, actually, feels so untrustworthy now. A heart that may lie and a mind that wants your heart to listen to what must be true–despite it not making logical sense.

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For it tells you, once more: Dear one, you don’t have to keep chasing God. You need only know Him. Walk with Him. Listen for Him.

And you quiet, wanting to believe this could be true: God is close; God is here, despite the state of your heart and its untrustworthy whispers. For God gives away clean hearts. And it’s not because you deserve it, but, rather, because you totally don’t.

So you let your mind relax and your heart open up now–for you are unwilling to stay in the dark, where emptiness feels like death and God is life and hope. It is true: it is God you want, more than anything.

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So, these lies about not being okay have to go. There’s no room for them in a heart washed out bright and new and clean.

No more battle then, please. Instead, let’s choose God’s rescue and our obedience. Let this be a rebel’s determination to choose life rather than death, to choose God and fullness, not hollow, empty space.

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Come now, Father, mend these broken hearts. We are the rescued now, the fearless. We do not dread the quiet with you; we dread life without you, and our full hearts are what inform our minds now: stay here, where there is beauty, where it is safe.

 

How To Make Sure that Fresh Start You Crave Never Gets Old

IMG_8552When you read this now, you should know one thing: you are pursued. It’s a weekday, I know, and there is a lot to do. But what feels the most pressing–even more urgent than tasks to complete–is letting yourself recognize how desperate you are for God.  And you are desperate, you know.

Can you imagine beginning each day acknowledging–and then claiming–your desperation for God? Can you imagine celebrating it. Embracing it. Jumping up and down and yelling out with joy, “I am desperate! For I am desperate for love; I am desperate for surrender; I am desperate for rest; I am desperate for hope; I am desperate for joy! I am desperate for these things because I am made to be desperate for God!”

Desperation is, really, such a good thing.

We can get things twisted up around that definition of the word desperation, especially at this time of year, a new year on the calendar, when we’re invited to get our acts together and enthusiastically embrace resolutions that will usher in a fresh start.

A fresh start, yes. That’s always what we want, isn’t it? How can an attitude of desperation be in any way involved in one’s “fresh start”?

I wonder this, as I realize I cry out for a fresh start daily, as I rise each morning to the chill of the house and leave my warm bed. As I greet my children with hugs and kisses at breakfast. As I look in my husband’s eyes and seek his arms around me before we part ways for the day. Each day I am desperate to recognize the Holy Spirit’s presence in me. For, in obedience, when I recognize He is in me, I am more able to claim my desperation for God. And, in effect, I am living in the freedom–the confidence–of believing in who I am, in Him.

Let us not forget what a fresh start, with God, really means.

Let us not forget what a fresh start, with God, really means. And it's more than resolutions scrawled on paper.

For a fresh start is more than hope-filled resolutions scrawled on a piece of paper.

My husband, Justin, is the guy in my life who loves to make things practical. When I share with him my ideas for fresh starts, it is my personality to address the bigger picture–the vague–yet exciting–dreams I hope to realize. And he listens. And then Justin, who knows me so well, encourages me to look at the practical steps for how these dreams can be realized: What steps do I need to implement, what practices do I need to exercise, to experience the dream I have in my heart to live out?

So I talk to God about my desire for a fresh start, particularly in this season, when the New Year rolls around. And as I listen, I am reminded how the realization of any fresh start stems from my obedience to claim whom God has made me to be. One’s depth of relationships with God is tied to our obedience to Him. When we are obedient in living out what God has told us is true about us–that we are loved, that we are complete in Him, that we are perfectly made–we are more able to realize our identity in Christ. And that’s the kind of fresh start I am desperate for; that’s the kind of fresh start that never gets old.

We are each desperate to realize–to live–the reality of our identity in Christ. In community with other believers who know us and who love us, we remember something true about our desire for a fresh start: fresh starts happen each day we exercise faith through obedience. 

Fresh starts happen each moment we claim the truth of who we are, in Christ. Fresh starts happen when we claim the things we know are true but which we cannot yet see. Fresh starts happen through acknowledging the Holy Spirit who lives within us and who fills us with His strength. Fresh starts happen when we claim our desperation for God’s love for us and we listen hard for His whisper to our hearts: you are mine; I am in you; let me show you, through your obedience to me, how you are to live your life specifically, uniquely, desperate for Me.

What will happen, I wonder, if we spend time each day intentionally embracing our desperate need for God? What if we spend time each day practicing obedience, practicing listening to the love song He sings each moment, practicing remembering who, in Him, in I Am, we are?

I bet these moments, piled one of top of the other, will translate to a life of surrender, of freedom, of greater faith. What do you think about this? Want to claim a fresh start, this year, moment by moment, with me? Wouldn’t it be beautiful to do it together? Shall we begin thinking of ways we might, in a practical sense, exercise obedience to God, saying yes to whom He has created us to be?

When We Feel Down the Day After Christmas

When We Feel Down the Day After ChristmasThinking about you today, His girls–and wishing you a heart filled with God’s joy and increased faith in His presence and continual pursuit of you.

These days after Christmas can be days of exhaustion and emotional let-down. We have been working hard and seeking Him and desiring His strength to fill us.  He is here, and we know it. But this moment–let’s surrender again.

Together.

Father, bless us with desire for you, with calm, peaceful hearts, with longings for your presence in us. Empty us of all distractions. Empty us of all temptations to turn away from you, from the goodness you have for us. Fill us with your abundance. Fill us completely with you and help us to overflow onto everyone around us. 

We feel alone and lonely. Wrap us up in you.

We feel small and weak. Remind us you are the one who is strong.

We feel hurt and lost. Touch the places in our heart that are wounded and need your healing.

We are afraid and anxious. Let us breathe in deeply your love for us. Show us your face, your words, your touch. You are what we need now. Remind us. Our hearts open wide. We remember you.

His girls, here is a warm hug from my family to yours, this Christmas season! (Subscribers, click here to watch the video.) Please leave a comment below or send me an email to let me know how I can pray for you. {And please join me over at the Holy Entanglement podcast on Tuesday, when Justin and I share more about the emotional ups-and downs–and what to do about them–during this transition time of the holiday season.}

With much love,

The Vital Component of Any Prayer

The Vital Component of Any PrayerI wish I could write back to each one of you, personally. Almost 100 of you took the time to respond to the survey here, on Wednesday. 100 women gathered together?! You are so awesome. And I am about in tears again in the coffeeshop (where I write with Justin, on Fridays) as I read dozens and dozens of comments on the survey sharing about your dreams, your struggles, your desires, your wise insights about how You Are My Girls can meet you, even more.

You all are an amazing group of women, and it is no mistake how we are all here together, seeking God’s reminders about our identity in Christ (which was, by far, the interest area that scored the highest, in the survey.) But what is most beautiful about you is how you want more of God in your lives. You are hungry for Him. You want more of Him. You want to be encouraged, as you face heavy struggles at work and at home.

What a privilege, what an honor, to be here, gathered up, with you.

I woke this morning, when the house was still dark (which isn’t hard to do in these short December days). I needed to jump in the shower and get the regular morning routine going–today being the last day of school for the kids before Christmas break. But I felt God’s invitation to pause. One of my favorite things to do is to sit in the darkness, before anyone else is up (not counting my crazy dog whose tail is a like an airplane propeller gone berserk). I tiptoe out of the bedroom, close the door, and attempt to quiet my hyper dog, with whispers of “place! place!” I turn on not one light, and tread carefully to the sink to drink a glass of water before sitting down, hands in my lap, wool-sock-feet flat on carpet.

Before this morning, the last two times I prayed were with Justin. We did twice yesterday, when we needed wisdom about a decision regarding Gather, and then, in the morning, when we were worried about one of our sons. And, as I think about those moments praying, I realize how the best part of prayer is less about what question(s) we have for God, or what we listen close for Him to say back. The best thing about prayer is the experience of being with Him.

Both times yesterday, when Justin and I shared our hearts with God and then paused and listened for His voice, I didn’t hear a whisper back from God, yet I felt His answer to the questions we were wondering about. Not only were our questions answered; His presence comforted us about other concerns we didn’t even know how to verbalize.

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God’s presence is the most impactful outcome of any prayer. For, at the root of prayer, is the desire for connection with our Maker.

In prayer with Justin, I intentionally thought about God. I focused on His presence. I let myself visualize Him. And now I realize, when I do this, I am experiencing just one of two scenarios: One, sometimes I am in the presence of God, my Father. I picture Him holding me, reaching for me, letting me kneel before Him or stand near Him, or sing and dance, with so many sisters (like we will one day) around Him (Psalm 150:1-6, John 4:23). Second, sometimes, I am hanging out, doing something cool (and often crazy) with my Savior, Jesus. He likes to grab my hand and walk and climb and jump into rafts down the river. He thinks I dance beautifully, and He loves to lead and let me follow, holding my waist and letting me gaze into his eyes.

But always–always–whether, in prayer, I am with God or I am with Jesus, I am experiencing their presence because something else is happening: I am letting myself be awake to the Holy Spirit, who is with us. He is our Friend, our Guide, the One who stays close and never leaves (John 15:26). He is the Intercessor, the one who translates, for us, our deepest desires (Romans 8:26). He knows the cry of our hearts, how we long for God and what questions we have for God even if we cannot articulate (or yet even recognize) them.

As I sit in the dark this morning, I remember how each time Justin and I prayed yesterday, we gained more than an answer to a question. Rather, we were comforted and guided by the presence of the Holy Spirit in us, as we sought His counsel. So this morning, as I wait in the dark with God, I realize I don’t need words–or even any talent or practice in experiencing His whispers to my heart. What I need, more than anything else, is a heart open to the presence of the Holy Spirit in me. For then I gain more than a simple answer to a problem, the initial reason I thought I was seeking prayer. I gain faith; I gain joy; I gain peace; I gain hope; I gain a deeper reality of the love of God.  

How do we express in words what it means to be awake to the reality of God’s presence? (How would you articulate it?) To start, I can say this: when you are awake to the Holy Spirit’s presence in you, you are flooded with the recognition that your life–this moment–your reality of living, is sacred ground.

Shall we right now, this moment, recognize the Holy spirit living in us? Shall we say yes to experiencing sacred ground?

Stay here. Desire to be here. Believe this is what is most true about you: You are the inhabitance of the Holy spirit, Jesus’s helper walking around.

How do you feel about praying without words–or how one component of prayer might be the experience of recognizing the presence of the Holy Spirit?

And here are the two winners of the book giveaway (chosen randomly, by  random.org):  Heather (there were two Heathers–the Heather who won was the Heather who filled out the survey at 10:49 pm on Wednesday night!) and Bree. I only asked for first names–not even email addresses–when you filled out the survey–so please email me (jennifer@gatherministries.com) with your mailing address so I can get your books in the mail to you right away!

Ferguson and Holding Light

Ferguson and holding light

It’s into silence where you are willing to go. It’s into places dark and heavy. It’s where anger lives, injustice an iron vice around one’s neck. It’s where your people are trapped, souls chained like animals to a steel bar where freedom only seems to go so far. We are here, chained, the weight of the metal we forget to feel, see.

Where are the chains, Father? We are blind, forgetting we wear them when we forget you. We forget you walk into darkness, wanting to remove each and every chain.

We are created in God’s image. We bear His image. We walk around, beauty turned evil when we forget we are to bear light, in His name.

Carry us deeper into the darkness where you are, Father. We are in it but we forget. We forget where light is–and when we forget where light is, we are stumbling around in darkness and not even knowing we’re doing it. We think things around us are pretty good, until they’re not. And it’s because we are focused on creating our own light, our own lives, planning our own escape from the chains that we don’t really even see but think we can escape all the same.

Strip us of self-reliance, Father. Strip us of blindness and deafness and selfishness. Plunge us deeper into darkness, where you are and where you bear the light so we can remember you are the only one who is light. And when we forget and walk around holding high candles of our own making we are ignoring it is you who rescues and brings justice to the oppressed.

But we have a part to play.

You are here, and you are not removed from despair. You catch every tear, but you cry tears too big for us to ever catch, tears for the children who ignore injustice. Tears for the children who turn away from pain. Tears for the children who forget their brothers and sisters and are blind to their own chains that lead to indifference and turning away.

We are injustice too, when we don’t follow you into the darkness, when we don’t look to your leading for love and for rescue. We, too, then, are not truly free.

We are not free if we continue to forget who carries the light. We are not free if we forget we reflect God’s light only if we stay close to his light. We forget we can be candles in the window for the people who suffer and know they suffer. But we can’t bear God’s light for the suffering if we refuse to see how our only strength is the light that is His, within us. We falter when we try to create light on our own.

Suffering remains, darkness remains, when we think it is our own light that illuminates our way and not God’s.

For He stands in the darkness, a light created from nothing. God, you are the Word come down, light in darkness. You illuminate corners where pain walks, and injustice screams, and despair lies huddled long in shadows. Show us where you shine and how we can go with you, to shine. Show us how to see, how to hear, how to walk.

You come for us, freeing us in our chains. Help us stand with you, walk with you, in darkness with you–shining light where chains still exist. Help us go with you, removing chains, one by one, your hand in ours. Only in your light. Let us stay and shine in your light.

We continue to watch you shine. We continue to call out your name. We continue to forget ourselves and seek your face, in the darkness.

Oh, God, let there be light.

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Don’t Keep That Secret. It Might Be Time to Confess

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It was when I confessed what I had done–and what I do–that I began to know Jesus for the first time. Growing up learning about him was one thing. Seeing his face? Hearing his voice? Feeling the Spirit’s heat burning from my insides?

Confessing to Jesus what I was loving more than him–in this case, my pride–led me to experiencing God rather than looking at him from a distance. Confession was letting God create space in my heart so I could experience Jesus living in me.

When we stuff down our sin, refuse to confess our sin to God, we say yes to pride. We say yes to our desire for independence and self-sufficiency. We say yes to everything our culture tells us is perfectly good, an example of strength and success: work hard; keep your head down and try harder when you fail; don’t let on you’re weak and you can’t get the job done on you’re own; don’t let anyone see you when you’re down.

We shout to that distant God up there, somewhere in heaven,”I’m good! I’ve got this covered. No room for you!” And we remain feeling alone. And God keeps feeling distant. And we work harder to live our lives well, whatever that really means.

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You know who we’re listening to when we ignore God’s voice and respond to all the other voices that boom much louder, don’t you?

Oh, Jesus, I pray now that you silence the voice of the enemy right now. For everyone reading these words right now, silence his voice; make his whispers unable to be heard by our hearts. Let us hear just your voice. Let us recognize you and say yes to you, with wide-open hearts.

To do this, to say yes to the Holy Spirit filling us, to say yes to Jesus living in us, we must confess all the ways we are trying to live without God, all the things we’ve kept hidden, all the things we’ve tried to fix in ourselves, on our own, all the things of which we are ashamed, all the things we’d much rather forget than ever, ever address.

Now that we know what we have—Jesus, this great High Priest with ready access to God—let’s not let it slip through our fingers. We don’t have a priest who is out of touch with our reality. He’s been through weakness and testing, experienced it all—all but the sin. So let’s walk right up to him and get what he is so ready to give. Take the mercy, accept the help (Hebrews 4:16, MSG).

It was in college when I–a lonely, overwhelmed transfer student in a new, big school–that I first confessed my sins to Jesus. I was tired of keeping secrets, tired of pretending to have it all together; tired of praying to a God that felt so very far away and not at all like a God who was with me, in me, wanting to whisper love to my heart.

For me, there was a particular secret that I was working hard to hide from everyone. And Jesus was asking me to give it up.

And some of you here, reading? I know you have secrets too. You have things to confess, ways that you’ve been trying to fix yourself, things that happened in the past (whether the past could have been years ago or just a few minutes ago) of which you are ashamed.

 If we claim that we’re free of sin, we’re only fooling ourselves. A claim like that is errant nonsense. On the other hand, if we admit our sins—make a clean breast of them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. If we claim that we’ve never sinned, we out-and-out contradict God—make a liar out of him. A claim like that only shows off our ignorance of God (1 John 1:9).

Can you give it up now? Whether this is the first time you’ve confessed your heart to God, or if this is your thousandth, can we do this together, kneeling together before our God and asking him to show us what it is that we’ve been keeping from him?

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Go to a quiet place and close your eyes. Ask him to search your heart, to put his hand on the one place in your heart right now he would like to claim. What moment still feels heavy? What situation have you been trying to fix? What memory still haunts you? What burden are you carrying, this moment, that brings you to tears? In what area are you trying to be strong, on your own? What relationship is causing you pain?

Now, here’s an extra challenge–and you don’t need to do this at all. But, if you feel your heart beating fast and your chest all hot and you are feeling like you want to step forward even more, trusting Jesus in community around you, would you be bold enough to type up the confession, on the blog’s comments page, right here?

Or, if that feels like just too much–and I love that a lot of you do this–would you feel like typing up the confession and sending it just to me? Because then we can pray for each other and for God’s continued protection of us and our hearts as we confess. It can be a beautiful yet vulnerable place when we confess to our God. We are letting go of the old self and asking him to bring more of his new life in us.

Now, if you do this, there will be opposition. Those other whispers we talked about earlier? Yes, well, satan is not going to want to have you confess a thing. And if you do, he isn’t going to want you to feel good about it. He is going to want you to feel alone and crummy and afraid and doubtful it was ever a good idea in the first place.

So, together, let’s do the opposite of what we’ve been doing before.

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Let’s not hide. Let’s speak aloud our confessions to our God and imagine we are here, in a circle together, doing it together before our God. I know I would be emboldened by your confession. I would be reassured. I would see Jesus in you when you went ahead, saying yes to Him and no to the whispers of the enemy who are telling you to do exactly the opposite.

So, how about it, sister?

Are you with me?

I’ll go first (and here is the confession from that day in college):

Father, I confess I am worried about doing a good job with what you’ve given me to do. And in the evenings, with my children, I often react out of fear of still, not being enough or doing enough,with my job, my work, and I have trouble slowing down and being present with them. I give you my time with them. I give you my work. I give you my relationships. I give you my marriage. Help me to love you and stay here, with you, no matter what I am doing. Help me keep my eyes on you, my heart open to you. Let me see you wherever I go, wherever I am. Silence all the lies about needing to work harder to be loved. I confess I need you. I confess I am desperate for you. Help me stay forever desperate for you. I lay these burdens down. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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Wield Your Sword

Wield Your Sword

 

[I]t wasn’t just what she said. It was the way she said it, too. This friend of mine, this sister across the miles with whom I spoke on the phone for hours. This sister whom I have yet to meet face to face.

Her voice and her laughter. Her conviction of how this life can only be living, truly, if we are willing to wield a sword.

She makes me wonder where I wield one–and how I move with my King in battle, a King who goes before, saying onward, go forward, I am with you; you do not need to be afraid.

About your past.

Ab0ut your sin.

About your family.

About your finances.

About your decisions.

About this moment.

Wield your sword when you wake. Wield your sword when you work. Wield your sword with your King who fights before you, asking you if you trust him, if you see him, if you want to follow him and stay with him or cower, afraid and behind.

He will stay with you, if you stay.

He will remain close, his arms circling you, his breath warm on your wet cheek. But he stays here until you are willing to wield your sword. Because to fight on your behalf he asks for your permission.

To fight on your behalf he asks if you believe. To fight on your behalf, he asks you if you are coming. To fight on your behalf, he asks if you will take up your sword, the one he has designed for you and placed, like a glove, in your hand.

It is the sword you are meant to carry. A sword of courage and humbleness. A sword of fearlessness and gentleness. A sword of action, not passivity. A sword of trusting and listening. A sword of leadership and obedience. He leads and you follow and others follow and wield their swords too.

You wield your sword and your sisters and your daughters and your brothers and your family and your friends — they see you with your sword and they believe and they are encouraged and they see him in places they didn’t know he could be seen.

In the darkness of caverns deep, where only cracks of light get in. And your sword lights the way, the sword that reflects his light, your sword that carries with it his voice and his sacrifice. For you. He carries you as you wield your sword and you do not to fight any battle on your own.

But you must fight. You must press in to his light and let it shine all over you. Let it pour down, that light of him. Let it cover you, girl. For you have a mountain to climb. And there are thorns on the path. And there are rocks and boulders. And there are ruts in this road that threaten to trip you up. But keep your eyes on him, girl, and wield your sword and carry on.

Tread that precarious path he has laid out, the one where daughters who are fearless will follow. And there is healing there, when you follow him, wielding your sword.

You are the daughter who is fearless.

You are the daughter who is strong.

You are the daughter who holds up her head; she raises it high, and she does not yield against the enemy who says she is only worth what people say she is worth, what the world says she is capable of.

Wield your sword, choosing to see, choosing to look for beauty and truth and light despite the darkness of the walls that close in.

For I speak to you from one who has been prayed over, who has heard the words of  a sister who goes ahead, radiant in the light of her Father. She wields her sword and says come on now, let’s go. It is good here, with him,  It is good here, where he goes, even though I can’t see the path. I can see him. I can see him. And that is all I need.

My sister wields her sword and I wield mine and together we carry our instruments of battle–his truth, his heart in us, his healing as he speaks and we hear him and choose to see, choose to listen, choose to believe.

He is good.

He is here.

He is on this path with you, right now.

So come on, my sister. Come on His girl. Wield your sword.

It feels good in your hand.

Let’s march forward, our King before us, together.

 

Today? This weekend? How might you be looking for Jesus, raising your sword, seeking him for strength and courage? What is it you face? I’d love to pray for you.

Collecting Conversations With God–and Loop, My New Book!

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[T]here it is, the hollow emptiness of silence. The slight sliding of my hand as pen scratches across lined journals. The pressure in my throat as I whisper silent pleas at God. Prayer means me talking to God, and then feeling only a cathartic release–if it is possible to call the effect of journaling, searching for words to describe the state of my heart, cathartic. Either way, I pray with expectation that God is present, but in a distant-sort-of-way. To a Lord who feels to me intimidating, and a little aloof, a Lord who turns because it is his duty to turn, not because he wants to.

I get it.

Praying can feel like a mighty lonely thing then. A desperate, sad affair. Because if we feel God is distant from us, but we pray anyway, it is because we are at the end of our rope and don’t know what else to do. We are in a fix; we are messed up; we need help and a sovereign Lord who will care. And we read in the Bible that he cares, he loves, he sacrifices, he is completely all-in in his love for us. But it can still feel like he is a God that stays on the pages in our Bible when we pray, when we are on our knees in our living room, when we are at the kitchen sink crying those help me prayers.

No matter how earnestly, in prayer, we choose our words; no matter how often we read the Bible; no matter how many songs we sing in worship or how dutifully we complete our homework for Bible study, God feels far away when we don’t hear him answer back when we pray.

Which makes me wonder: What does it mean to hear God, to know he is present with us, to sense him, or to believe he is here, even if we can’t detect  his presence?

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible. By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, through which he was commended as righteous, God commending him by accepting his gifts. And through his faith, though he died, he still speaks. By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death, and he was not found, because God had taken him. Now before he was taken he was commended as having pleased God (Hebrews 11:1-6).

And as this message, in Hebrews, continues, it teaches us of the faith of the persecuted, the hungry, the tired, the weak. It teaches us of the perseverance of faith, of continuing to pursue God and believe in his goodness and his presence even when it cannot be tangibily or even, readily, seen. Abel, Abraham, Enoch, Sarah, Jacob, Joseph, Moses . . . they all continued to have faith even though they, “commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect” (Hebrews 11: 39-40).

Further on in Hebrews we are reminded of the One who founds and perfects our faith. We learn that following God—believing he is with us and he loves us–is a decision. And with that decision is a desire to lay aside the sin that prevents us from living, praying, in faith.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).

And this gets me thinking: I wonder if confessing our sin precipitates the transformation of prayer life. I wonder if surrendering our sin, in faith, to God, is necessary for prayer to stop being static, rote, impersonal. I wonder if this is how prayer changes from talking to God to listening for himI wonder if this is how prayer changes to conversation? After all, he is the Word come down.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1).

The continually laying down our sin, letting our old self die, is neither fun nor easy.  I know. But when I slow down and I get quiet. When I think about God and how I want to be more like Him, I want to confess the ways I have loved other things more than him. And when I confess, I am thinking about him, and when I think about him, I think about his demeanor and his face. I think about his character and his love. I think about how he wants to be with me, despite all that I’ve done. And that makes me want to be with him more, which prompts me to want to spend time with him and listen, and expect, because he loves me, he wants to speak.

And sometimes God’s speaking is not in words. And sometimes God’s speaking is not even a whisper I sense inside me. Sometimes his words to me–his voice–is his presence, his eyes, his arms spread out to greet me, his extended hand, his walking beside me, his catching each tear and staying with me, no matter what.

A conversation with God can be an unspoken one, for his words are more than words. They are life and light. They are beginning. They are God.

So, how do we converse with God? How do we not?

Some of you here have been longing to hear God’s voice, too. And some of you here have been joining me in my listening for God and have been receiving email devotionals in your inbox each Monday and Thursday morning. These email devotionals I call Loop. (And you can sign up here.) And now, these devotionals are collected in a pretty, hardback volume for you to carry around with you everywhere you go.

Loop book

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Loop book

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The book, Loop: What Women Need to Know, is officially releasing on Monday, December 5. And I am so excited, so thrilled, that you will soon have the opportunity to grab one of these books and be reminded of his whispers to you, his presence with you, his ongoing conversation that he wants you never, ever, to forget. Are you excited, too?

Do you think of prayer as a conversation? When you have prayed this week, has God felt close or far away?

P.S. I’ve been sending out special behind-the-scenes emails to subscribers about Loop the past two weeks. Make sure you subscribe to get the latest scoops–especially, as you’ll be the first to know when I have Loop’s new book page up . . .  . and you’ll learn more about Loop and why folks are so excited about it.

P.P.S. My dear friend Nicky Cahill, writer at Salt and Sparkle, interviewed me for her blog. I loved her questions. You can check it out here.

Because You Want More of God

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[Y] ou remember yesterday, the day of waking early, indigo sky etching clouds with traces of cotton-candy pink. It was one of those normal days of wonder, when you rise when the house still sleeps–or you think it does, and you tiptoe out the side door into the writing studio/cottage a total of twenty steps out from the house and you find your eleven year old on the couch attempting to set up a video game when he is supposed to be under a thick comforter, tucked fast.

You climb onto the stationary bike because your calf is sore when you run, although you’re sad to not run because you’re afraid to disappoint your sister and your brother in the race you’re supposed to be running in a few weeks and you’re learning your body is telling you no, actually, you can’t. And you like to be out there, running in quiet, when clouds yawn and sun rises–brilliance stretching like a promise across the sky. But today you’ll be content with pedaling in circles, reading Proverbs from an app on your phone.

And it won’t be ’til later that you wonder about brilliance and glory and how it is that morning time feels so sacred, and nighttime too–and how it feels easier, somehow, to go to that place where glory is pursued, where Spirit is heard, like beauty rustling in a dark, quiet place too often too crowded to hear rustling or stirring at all. In the morning. Or in the nighttime. But not in the day.

Not in the day when you forget to stop and ponder and wonder–about miracles and brilliance and the way light tiptoes through tree branches and over the tips of leafless, black limbs in that same indig0-turning-peach-rose sky.

But you realize that you begin to think about God’s wonder and light–his brilliance, his love, when you are sitting quiet in the most regular and normal place, on the metal bleachers of the football field when your 12 year old warms up with his team. You sit there dressed in black, the color of the day, and you pull out a book that makes you cry when you read just the first pages and you realize why it is that your chest feels tight and the afternoon sun shines glory like a spotlight on a tired, weary heart.

It is a language you are yearning to speak, the first notes of lullaby sung from heaven during the immeasurable moments before you were born. And you sit, thinking about wonder and about light. You realize that you want more of these moments, the time of ordinary and miracle, the measuring of all that is magic, the curl of the crimson fallen leaf by your Converse toe, the trill of the three year old’s laughter, the notes carrying further than the boom of the announcer over the speakers as he tells you to cheer loud and hard at each down.

You are here, in this miracle of moment. You are here, in the middle of wonder and brilliance, and you want to stay. You want to stay here in the ordinary and track the wonders by staying in them, noticing them. And you know there is so much you don’t see–so much between the waking and the lying down at night to sleep that you miss. And you think aboutu what it would be like to go in deeper, tread without trepidation into faith, into beauty, into listening and watching and pondering and noticing.

For you want to want it more. You want to want God more. And you know that in the noticing and the waiting and the choosing God will pull you in deeper, deeper into Him, and that–of course– is the only place you want, really, to go.

So, this morning, when you wake again, you will practice the looking for wonder and you’ll remember the miracle of the moment–this very moment–is sacred space with you and your God, the Creator who sings and dances over you, delighting in His girl come home.

*The book I started reading at the football field is Timothy Willard and Jason Locy’s Home Behind the Sun. It grabbed me from the very first pages, and I can’t wait to read more. What books are you reading or what music are you listening to or what surroundings are inspiring you to think about–and want more of–God?

linking with Laura Boggess: Playdates with God

photo credit: picjumbo

Listening for God? (aka Wrestling on the Mat)

sunrise[Y]ou here, my sister?  You, who popped in today? And you, who have been following along with me, listening to His whispers to our hearts, for a while? You are my heart.

It is no small thing that you are reading this now. And when I say “small” I mean it is not insignificant; it is not something to be ignored. For I believe in the gathering together of hearts whom He knows, whom He pursues.

Consider the wounds we lug like a vise around our necks. The sorrows we wear like a black cloak soaked with acres of tears. They are meant to be dropped at His feet, my dear friend. You are not meant to keep on going the way you’ve been going, alone, exhausted, emptied of energy and hope.

And I wanted to tell you that today, partly because I need the reminder, too. And I also because I have a question for you.

When you pray, do you listen to God’s voice to you back? When you pray, do you believe he hears you? Do you believe he is near? Do you believe he is in the room, at your side, within you, delighting in His daughter, his dear one, as she spends time with Him?

When you cry out or you shout loud with joy, when you whisper a plea or you beg for him to turn and hear, do you wait, with expectation, for how God responds?

Do you believe he communicates to you?

We each hear God speak to us differently.

Some of us hear his voice whisper in our heart, deep inside. Some of us see him, letting our imagination be wide open. And then he shows us where he is and what he looks like. We  hang out with him, and he shows us what he sees in us; he reveals to us himself.

Some of us experience him through reading his word regularly, captivated by his living truth. The words breathe life, replenishment to the drought we feel when we try to fix things on our own.

But it is difficult to listen for God’s response to us, when we pray, when we are not believing he will answer. And sometimes, our failure to believe he will answer is because we don’t know him. And sometimes, we don’t know him, because we haven’t let go of false beliefs about him, or we haven’t surrendered something that we love or believe in more than God.

That’s when it becomes difficult to pause and listen.

And wait on God.

And wait some more.

That’s when it becomes difficult to slow down and turn towards him, in the middle of whatever we are doing.

That’s when it becomes difficult to believe we are loved and we are seen and we can live pursuing God and relationship with him more than anything else–anything else at all–that we could be doing.

I know.

And that’s part of why I wrote Voice: 31 Conversations--and why I loved writing it almost more than anything I’ve ever written before.

I loved it because I love writing to you. And I loved it because I love listening to God’s voice to us–more than anything else–and finding words to the wrestling match that is our natural response.

On Friday I posted the 31st post for the series, Voice: 31 conversations. And, like I said, I have never, to this date, loved writing anything more.

The series, Voice, is like the devotional, Loop, but with your voice singing out, too. It is the Spirit’s whisper to his girls. But first, it is the heart’s cry-prayer and God’s response back. It is the whispers I hear when I ask Him what it is He wants to say, in response to the prayers He wants me to hear, on your behalf.

Does this sound crazy to you?

Again, it is my heart.

You are my heart.

To some of you who have been here a while, you know how the very title of the series–Voice–is symbolic for me. Both a statement of defiance and a declaration of freedom. Because for most of my life the word “voice” was something I didn’t believe I had.

And after a bunch of years and lot of wrestling with Him and a lot of healing through it all, I’ve claimed the voice He’s given me. What you experience here, I pray, is the voice of the girl He rescued. And the voice He rescued writes to remind you to listen to the Voice who speaks to you, too.

Because the rescued Voice was rescued to love.

And you are my heart.

And this is what I want to say:

This God of ours is not a God who sits on the periphery of our lives, a God who is distant and aloof, a God who is disinterested in our dreams, our struggles, our circumstances this very moment. He is Voice. He is Life breathed out. He is the Communicator of Love and Hope and Light.

He speaks life into you, again and again.

But I know: it can be difficult to hear it.

So I hope we can keep going to the wrestling mat together, with God, as we ask him to help us to hear him, seek him, remove anything in the way that makes our heart especially deaf to his Voice.

I’m going to be sharing with you some more about the experience of writing the Voice series. It’s just too good to not talk about some more.

But until then, would you mind sharing with me one word that captures how you feel when you hear the word pray, or listen, or voice, or God?

Much love to you, sisters,

 

photo credit: picjumbo 

Hearing God in the Wilderness

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[F]riends, I have a treat for you. My beautiful, encouraging friend, Kristin Taylor, who knows a few things about listening for God’s voice, particularly while in the midst of personal, medical struggles, has written an ebook, Peace in the Process: How Adoption Built My Faith and My Family, to bring encouragement to anyone in the midst of a tough situation while waiting on God. Kristin’s journey was one of infertility and of God surprising her in the midst of heartbreak. One of her deepest desires was to be a mom. I’m excited to have Kristin guest posting here with us today:

[F]or almost two years, trying to become pregnant monopolized my life. I had a job. My husband Greg had a job. We had friends. We went on trips. But trying to have a family dominated my thoughts.

Twenty-one months after I stopped taking my birth control pills and declared my readiness to get pregnant, my doctor referred us to a big-city reproductive endocrinologist. By this time, we also had learned Greg’s contribution to the pregnancy equation wasn’t helping our odds. The reproductive endocrinologist talked about the possibilities of pregnancy given the issues in both our bodies and, of course, scheduled more blood work for me.

The most basic explanation is my body doesn’t make enough of the right hormones to sustain my eggs, meaning the quality and quantity was low. Along with the endometriosis, the specialist strongly suspected I had poly-cystic ovarian syndrome, a condition that would explain my imbalance of female reproductive hormones.

My new doctor helped us connect the dots and eliminate or correct any variables that were standing in our way. While he talked about sperm, eggs, ovulating, implantation, I thought about how perfect conceiving life is.

The precise timing necessary to create a baby is more exact than anything we as imperfect people can control. In fact, it’s perfect, which is proof enough to me that God creates babies. He aligns all the variables and perfects a process inside our imperfect bodies. That is why I believe every baby has a purpose.

With that said, somebody could argue: Why ever go to a doctor if God is in control of conception? I’ll tell you: We need hope. God gave these doctors minds to help people like me that want to make sense out of what is – or in some cases, isn’t – going on inside our bodies.

Even so, God is most certainly in control of making living miracles. And I was weary from the waiting.

In the following weeks I grasped for more answers and hope, so I read a book called Infertility: A Survival Guide for Couples and Those Who Love Them by Cindy Lewis Dake. What stuck with me was a chapter on boundaries. I don’t really remember what Dake said, but I do remember coming away with the desire to set some emotional, financial, and physical boundaries.

I finally heard God through someone else’s words. Yet it’s not her words that stayed with me. It was hearing God tell me to draw some lines for my own well-being that changed me.

Having Type 1 Diabetes, I knew pregnancy was going to be physically hard on me. There would be additional insulin shots and probably more blood sugar ups and downs than I had in normal life. I also knew infertility left me emotionally drained.

While talking through all of this with Greg, we realized we needed to create boundaries for ourselves before we went to our follow-up appointment with the specialist in Nashville. And this was it for us: If the doctor recommended in-vitro fertilization, we would stop trying to get pregnant and turn our attention, money, and energy to adoption.

In October 2006, after 22 months of trying, a doctor who knew far more than we did told us our best odds of getting pregnant would come with IVF. We thanked him for the information and headed home. In those two hours in the car, I had more peace than I’d had since I threw away my package of birth control pills.

We had absolutely no idea what throwing ourselves into adoption would mean, but for the first time in my life I was experiencing the peace that passes all understanding. And I had yet to learn about a teenage girl who was just a couple months into her unexpected pregnancy.

God didn’t give me my way in December 2004 because his way in May 2007 was even better than I could imagine. Less than nine months after I stopped trying to become pregnant, I got to hold my daughter.

Infertility was my wilderness, but I heard God as he led me into my Promised Land. Turns out, adoption built my faith and my family.

For months and months, I begged to be pregnant and struggled to hear God, but God heard the desire of my heart, which was to have a family. It’s a lesson I still hold close: Even when we don’t say the right words, God knows. In his timing, we see a glimpse of his masterpiece.

We’d love to hear from you. How would you describe your season, now, of waiting on God? How can we pray for you?

head shot_20131115_5_1_1Kristin Hill Taylor tells about the two adoption processes that followed the hard season of infertility in Peace in the Process: How Adoption Built My Faith & My Family, which is available at Amazon. She believes in taking road trips, living in community, and seeking God as the author of every story – many of which she shares at www.kristinhilltaylor.com. She lives in Murray, Kentucky, with her college sweetheart husband and their two kids.

Our God is Not Silent, Love

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To all the girls

conversation 31

[T]here is a circle forming, and I can see it. You show me glimpses of it, when I curl up next to you. Even in this noisy coffee shop where I write now, my fingers on these keys, a long line of people behind me waiting to order. You show me glimpses of the circle, even when the world around me is full and busy and loud. Yes, you are here too.

And glimpses of the circle are good enough for me, Father. I can hear you wherever I am, if you are speaking. And you are often speaking, my Lord. ‘Cause you love us like that.

You love us and appreciate silence but you love communication even more. And your girls, here? Well, I think we have trouble hearing you sometimes. And I wonder if this is why: where you speak to us is unfamiliar. Your voice enters in a place in us we don’t yet recognize, a place where whispers form, a place where healing comes.

Because, for me, the place where you speak to me was a place where only lies filled the space. The space was full–too full–of false beliefs about you and about me. Lies that felt so familiar I didn’t know they existed.

How can I ask you to break a lie and show me truth if lies I don’t even know I believe are crowding you out?

There was no space for you, Father. My prayers desperate scribbles:  Do you love me? Can I love better? Do I even have any love to give? Work harder to be a better mom. Work harder to be a better wife. Work harder to be a better Christian. Work harder to be a better person.

Your girls here? I think a lot of them pray similar prayers, too.

I still struggle sometimes, you know. But now I know where to go when the lies come, when I believe I can’t hear your voice in me. You gather me to you, part of the circle where the daughters gather, the daughters who know they are loved, who know how to dance and sing and be free. It is the place where you gather us and remind us, again, we are yours, we are loved, we are free.

Oh, God, we see your beauty here. And in your beauty we have eyes to see our beauty, the freedom that comes when we claim our place, when we bow our knees and we let you take off the dark cloak of shame that pressed us prostrate to the floor.

You are here, my God. You are here, in the circle, bending low. You are here, in the circle, where your daughters are held and rescued and found.

Help us to hear you. Help us to say yes to you. Help us to let you in, no matter how difficult it feels. Helps us to be daughters who are known and fearless and grateful to pursue their true identity in you, community around us that reminds us of the place of Home, and adventure where we stay with you and go out, always, holding your hand.


[I] give you words, my love. They are words from a place of love. Because you know you are loved and you are free, you are able to speak. Because you know you are adored and you are pursued, you are given voice to sing loud the cry of the claimed: you are chosen,  you are delighted in, you are the one I wait here, to see.

To all my girls, listen close. I have something to say. In the moments when you feel fear overtake you, let me take your hand.  The circle is a circle with me at the center. Nothing else. It is a circle of hands clasped tight. Where daughters move in and out. But despite all movement, the circle remains. Growing larger, yet staying intimate. It is a circle of understanding and freedom. It is a circle where joy is captured. It rises high.

I am the center of the circle, my daughters. I am the center of the joy, the creator of the joy and the beauty and the light.

As part of the circle, you radiate out the light. You are with me and you go out, to tell people about this light. You show my light in the way you love. You show my joy in the choices you make to see. You express my voice in the way you spend your days. Moments being known. Being delighted in. Being fearless because you know whose you are how you are not alone.

So let me set you free again. Let me tear off that heavy cloak of regret and doubt and weariness and shame. These burdens are not for you. Not here. Not in the circle. The cloaks fall when you are of the circle and you are standing free and tall.

No cowering, my love. No hiding, my love. No striving to fix all the past and fix all the worries of the future.

Stay here. Free. Rescued.

I speak to you and remind you who you are and how there is so much more to you, just to you, I want to say.


Song to listen to: “Out of Hiding (Father’s Song)“, Steffany Gretzinger and Amanda Cooke


[T]his is conversation 31 of Voice: 31 Conversations: Click the image below to find out more.  Subscribe to stick with me, here.

VOICE a journey towards life (1)

Ready to Ask What a Future Holds?

future holdsTo the ones who no longer want to run

conversation 30

[F]ather, bring it on. I want all of you, and I hope you hold nothing back. I can take it. I can go back to those hard moments, those moments when the world was spinning and I couldn’t find legs to keep me up. ‘Cause I know you want me to. I know you want to heal me, bring me Home to you. I know you want me to trust you more, let you grab hold of this not-so-sure hand of mine and take me to a place I’ve never been.

I’ve never heard your voice, at least not that I can remember, not a voice I recognize as yours.

I’ve never seen your face, even though I close my eyes and I try to imagine you.

I’ve shirked from surrendering to you, and I have trouble in the quiet, distracted and afraid it will swallow me up. Would you meet me there? Would you teach me to not be afraid?

Because I want to be bold and fearless, with you.

Because I want to stand tall, letting your words to me in this stiff Bible of mine dance right off the pages and into my heart.

You’ve made me to hear you, right? You’ve made me to want to be with you, right? We’re made to be together, aren’t we?

Oh, come on, Father. Come on in. I am choosing you, no matter what that requires. I am tired of running. I am tired of trying to fix this life of mine on my own.

Take it. Take it now. And I’m going to come running right with you now. Not away this time. ‘Cause I want to be with you. I am tired of running away.


[I] am here, child. I wait as long as it takes. I wait as long as you need me to wait. I’m in no hurry. I’m not worried about your next step. But I do know the next step you should take. And I do know how each step takes you in a direction towards what is good for you or towards a distraction from who you really are.

When I speak to you, child–because, yes, I speak to you–it is to the daughter whom I see underneath the layers of wounds, underneath the shrouds you wear. You radiate light, my love, through the shrouds. But it only peeks through. And I speak to you and I guide you and I give you glimpses of what it looks like, what it feels like, to have the shrouds be removed completely.

Oh, daughter, you are not meant to wear these shrouds. They are heavy and dark. They are restrictive, the way they bind you and prevent you from seeing glimpses of what, in you, I see.

But whether you hear me or not, know that I keep speaking.

Whether you see me or not, my love, know that I am here.

Whether you feel me or not, whether you sense my nearness or decide for yourself I am far away, I am close; I do not leave. My love for you keeps me in you, the moment you said yes. But for more of me, for the lightening of your load, for freedom from doubt and worry and chasing, yes, let me come on in.

I hear you. I am coming. I am going to heal in you these places that have not yet seen light. I love your readiness, my darling girl. I love your willingness, my daughter. I love your soft heart and your courage, letting me be your courage and the director of your future now.


[S]ong to listen to: “Endless Years,” United Pursuit Band


This is conversation 30 of Voice: 31 Conversations: Click the image below to find out more.  Subscribe to follow along each day.

VOICE a journey towards life (1)

God, Why?

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For SB

conversation 28

[B]rown cardboard stacks silent like morose soldiers awaiting marching orders. Everything we own shoehorned inside. It’s taken days to pack but weeks to admit I want to scream and tear open those boxes and chuck plates and books and toys across the room.

We say goodbye to the house we thought you gave us God, the house of our dreams, the one we worked so hard for, the one we thought we’d live in forever. Why now? Why this job loss? Why this financial strain?

The worst day was telling the kids we had to move. The way D lowered his eyes like a puppy dog and the way S slammed her door and didn’t talk to me for four days. We collected boxes from the supermarket. Went to the produce section and got sent around back. Stacks of banana boxes and apple boxes. And then we went to the neighbors and collected plastic containers they no longer needed.

We aren’t moving far. The rental house is just a few blocks down past the school, and then another right turn at the donut shop next to the Starbucks where I used to go before work. But you know that, God. And I’m trying not to be mad at you, but I really thought we were in the clear. I thought the work would keep coming, especially for H. We had worked hard for so many years to buy our own house. And then to foreclose? To have to give it back and move out and squeeze into another house so much farther away from the kids’ schools?

But you know what is hurting most.

You know.

H isn’t talking much anymore. I think he’s depressed, God. I think he thinks he’s failed us somehow; he fears I respect him less because he lost his job and the whole family feels like the world is upside down.

I know we don’t deserve a thing, Father. I know you provide for us everything we need. I know you give and you take away. I know I should be trusting you more, here.

But it might be awhile until I feel okay again. I’m trying to have faith in you, but it’s hard to have faith when I want to just yell at you and scream, Why?

Why?

Why?


[I] know the room feels silent, daughter, and you wonder if I am here. I have heard the prayers, my love. I have collected the tears in the night, measured the sobs of your dear ones, felt the confusion, the accusations, the fear.

Come with me, now, where I want to take you. Sometimes moving is more than a move to a new physical place. Sometimes the move is closer, deeper in. And sometimes, initially, moving to new places feels darker and more ominous, too.

But keep your eyes on me.

I have a light that shines bright, my love, and I shine it forth, marking the way ahead. I shine it for your sweet girl and dear boys. I shine it for your husband. I shine it for you, for your listening to me, for your art, for your work in how you listen and love and serve.

Stay here, where I am, where I shine bright the light. Stay here, where I am, and I will direct you and bring forth hope in the dark places. All the dark places where fear wants you to sink further in.

I lift you out, my love.

Yes, keep your eyes on me.


[T]his is day 28 of Voice: 31 Conversations: Click the image below to find out more.  Subscribe to follow along each day.

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Break Me

break me flowers fade
From me

conversation 27

[F]ather, why is it the people I think are closest to me are the ones, sometimes, that I actually feel understand me the least? Or, is it, really, that they understand me the most?

I was confronted the other day by someone close to me who said that my priorities aren’t straight—that I should surrender my days to you more, that I am not giving of myself like I should.

Father, I dread being told that I need to change. I dread being told by someone else that I should probably go to you and ask you what you think. I think it is because I fear that I am messing up somehow.

And I don’t like to mess up.

And I don’t like being told what to do.

And I especially don’t like someone telling me I am messing up and I need to surrender something in me. Rather than listen to what they have to say, I want to attack them with my words. I want to deny I am doing anything wrong. Instead, I want them to change to accommodate me.

You love me like this, right?

In the garden of Gethsemane your Jesus bowed and surrendered, modeling, even before he ultimately let himself be sacrificed for our ransom, what it means to completely trust in you, completely surrender to you. Jesus shows me what it means to love you. What it means to be your child. What is means to know you are here and you are listening and you want to know how we feel about things.

To be a disciple of Jesus means we trust you, Father, more than ourselves. It means we trust your will is what is best. But—now this is important—being a disciple of Jesus requires knowing your will first. Otherwise it is impossible to surrender to it.

Is that right, God? Must I know you will before I am able to surrender?

Does wisdom necessitate surrender? Or does wisdom follow willingness to surrender?

I know this: my rebellion stems from the same pride that Satan had when he rose against you and wanted to be better than you, thinking his way was best. He didn’t want to get any closer to you; he wanted to remove himself from your presence because he didn’t like being told what to do and he believed he was smarter and more beautiful and wiser . . . than you.

And I am doing the same thing as Satan did when I turn away from wise counsel and I use harsh, rash, unkind words in an attempt to fend off the person who loves me and believes, for me, it is good to pursue change.

Father, here is my confession then: I am the rebellious daughter who wants to come home. I am the prodigal, the mess-up, the prideful girl who needs to fall, who needs to get low.

Take me like this, will you? Your will not mine be done?


And this time my friends, there are no words to the conversation. Sometimes, you know, there are no words. But, rather, it is His presence that fills us in response.

And with His presence, I am before him, on the ground, a heap of rags in a background of turquoise and shadows. He stands before me, a Father who faces his daughter and knows that sometimes it isn’t words she needs to hear.

Sometimes, she needs to be allowed to cry at his feet, to be given permission to let her tears fall over him. She is unworthy and she is loved. She is broken and she is mended. She needs to pour out her heart to the One who knows her and adores her, despite her wretchedness. For she is loved by the One who loves. And she is remembering who she is.

He bends low to touch her face, reaches his hand underneath her chin. She knows He is asking her, with his movement, to raise her head, to look up. So she does.

She does.

She does.


[T]his is day 27 of Voice: 31 Conversations: Click the image below to find out more.  Subscribe to follow along each day.

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Carry It On, My Love

carry on my loveFor T.

conversation 24

[G]od, remember me, your little girl? Those were the days of pursuing perfection, the days when she was sick and the mom I knew, the mom who laughed and planned, the mom who loved and filled a room with energy and life, lay prostrate for hours at a time. I missed her.

Me, this girl of hers, her only child, the one whom she whisked away from one side of the country to the other, the one whom she protected and shepherded and led to Jesus. She was my strength; she was my rock; she was my everything. And then her body began to fail. And I decided, when that diagnosis came in, that I needed to do what I could to make her better.

Be quiet when she was sleeping. Come home right after school. Get good grades. Don’t go to parties. Don’t get involved in sports. Keep my room clean. Be present. Be available. Don’t make her worry. Be the good girl and get everything right.

Carry it on my love

carry it on my love

I loved her, God. I loved her and I wanted her to stay. I loved her and I don’t understand why she had to suffer. She never complained. She never asked me to be perfect. That was my decision. I loved her with all my heart, and I didn’t know what to do to help her. So I tried to be the best daughter I could. Did it even do any good? Did she know how much she was treasured? Did she know how much she was adored?

I ache inside, God. I ache for her smile. I ache for her voice. I ache for her laugh, the laugh that would fill me up and make me feel safe and let me know, without a doubt, I was found and I was home.

With her, wherever I was, I was home.

I have spent years trying to find my way back to her, to feeling like I did when she was here. I was loved, God. I was loved and I was cherished and she was what I needed. I need her still, now.

Take this heart of mine, Father. You have been chasing me down, and I have trying, these past years, to turn, to listen, to not try to do everything on my own. I know, now, I don’t have to be perfect. I know now, I never did. But the part of me that still misses her, that still wishes it were all okay (because it doesn’t feel okay that she is gone), struggles to not try to do everything right. That little girl inside me wants her sons to know they don’t have to be perfect. She wants her sons to know their mom is strong and their mom is safe and they have a safe place, if they need to, with her, to fall.

When I was little I didn’t let myself fall. And I don’t know what it would look like to let my boys fall. I confess, I want to do everything in my power to not let them fall. (I don’t want to imagine what that would look like, God.)

So take this heart of mine, God. I give you all of me. I give you my fears and my little girl heart. Make me whole. Grow her up . .  . and can you tell her something for me? Can you tell her she doesn’t have to be strong?


carry it on my love

carry it on my love

[M]y daughter, take off your shoes. My daughter, come with me. My daughter, let me show you a place that is holy.

When I made you, you were crafted to look like me. You have within you my breath. My words breathed on you and in you. And what I see when I look on you, what I see when I stand with you, my shining one, is what is holy. You are pure and you are untarnished. You are shining now. You are glorious now. You are filled with light now. My daughter, I’ve never let you go.

I filled the room when I cared for your mother and I cared for you. I filed the rooms of your home, walked with you at school, guarded you while you slept. You are precious to me, and I know it was so hard when she was sick. I know how you were scared and you didn’t want her to worry. I know how you tried to be strong and do the right thing.

Do you know I am so proud of you? Do you know I stay with you and I watch you and I fill you with me because I love you? Do you know I have even more of me to give you? Do you know I have amazing things to show you?

So remember that little girl within you, yes. But do another thing, too. I want you to talk to her. I want you to tell her this, straight from me:

It is not your fault. It is not your fault your mom died. It is not your fault she got sick. It is not your fault and you didn’t do anything wrong. I am the one who carried your mom. I am the one who protected her heart. I am the one who guarded her and stayed with her and filled her with peace. That joy she had? That love she had, for you? It is because she knew me. It is because she trusted me. You know me. You trust me, too.

You carry within you her inheritance, the blessing of being known, the blessing of being loved, the blessing of being protected and filled with joy.

You are my joy-carrier, my darling. I fill you with my joy. Carry it on; carry it forward. It is me you are carrying. It is me you are beholding. It is me you are showing to your sons. Just point to me, living out freedom, not bondage. Living out joy, not striving to keep it all together.

Remember, I am the one who holds you together. Letting yourself go is the only way to carry that joy in you forth.

You can’t try harder now, love.


Song to listen to:  “Like an Avalanche,” Hillsong United


[T]his is day 24 of Voice: 31 Conversations: Click the image below to find out more.  Subscribe to follow along each day.

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Your Eyes, Your Hands

your eyes your handsFor J.

conversation 23

[M]y God, you are close. I lift up prayers for family and friends, and I know you hear me. You gather me up. You’ve gathered me up my whole life.

I have tried to be dutiful. I have tried to be faithful. My friends tell me I have a servant’s heart, that I forget myself and I give of myself and I can be counted on, no matter what. Is that what it means for me to be your daughter, God? Is this how I am made? Are you happy when you look on me? Do I make you smile?

I’m not sure I’ve heard your laugh, Father. Do you laugh? Do you play?

Do you ever do that, with me?

Where are you when I am serving? Are you standing beside me? Are you sitting and leaning close? Are you picking up dishes and whispering in my ear? Where are you at 8 pm and my patience is gone and I am wondering how to have strength to keep loving when I feel completely spent? Are your hands on your hips? Are you in the hallway or the kitchen? Are you just outside the kids’ rooms, or leaning, relaxed, on the stairs?

Fill me up, God. Fill up all these spaces of my home. I want no place to be empty of your presence. I want to feel you and follow you and hear what you are whispering to me.

And may I see you, too?

I have peace within me, knowing you have made me to love loving others. I have joy within me, knowing you teach me patience, you teach me wisdom, you teach me how to stay close to you.

I wonder what it means for me to walk even closer with you, Father. I read my Bible. I read books about you. I wake each morning and think about how I can love my family and friends. I don’t sleep until I have prayed. Is this what I’m supposed to do?

This is the life I’ve pursued, the life I have strived for, the life in which I have endeavored to be steadfast in my love for you.

I give myself to you. I give you my family. I give you my marriage. I give you my decisions and all my plans.

I am yours, my Lord. I will wait. I will wait on you.


[M]y dear one, I love how you spend time with me. I love how you pursue me. I love how you search for me. Want to do something new? Want to go on an adventure together? What if we went away, just us two? It could be quiet, yes, or it could be loud. I know the quiet is not what you love best. But I know you want to hear me more. I know you want to know me more. So, what if you took my hand and I showed you some things about you that I just love?

Your hands, my darling, first. Those hands of yours are precious, the way they touch and they hold and they comfort the ones you love and keep them close. Also, your eyes, my darling, sparkle, and I delight in looking at them. They have warmth in them, and when I knit you together, your eyes were a part of you I crafted with care and intention. You use them so beautifully, my dear–how you seek ways to see beyond yourself, how you perceive hearts of people who are hurting. And together, your eyes and hands? You love people and show them they are not alone.

It is your heart tying all this together now. It is your heart that ties together and makes beautiful the eyes and the hands.

And yes, my girl, this is what makes me laugh. I can’t help but jump and run and spin fast with joy when I see you. I can’t help but rejoice over you, delighted in being with you. Your love is the love I’ve given you, and the most perfect thing is that you know you can’t help but pour it out. My love is only for the opportunity for you to keep on loving others. And you see me and you feel me and you know me more with the experiencing of my love. As you love, as you serve, as you claim the gifts I’ve given you and you give them out, to others.

My love, you have been my girl since before you were born. You have been my girl since before you could speak, since before your lips curved into their first smile. I have adored you from the beginning, my darling. And the beginning, with me, is always the best place to be.

Beginning: always, the reason to laugh and jump and sing loud.


Song to listen to:  “Intimacy,” Jonathan David Helser (one of my very favorite songs EVER)


[T]his is day 23 of Voice: 31 Conversations: Click the image below to find out more.  Subscribe to follow along each day.

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How She Loved You

How she loved you

For C.

conversation 19

[I] watch these trees change outside my windows, God. The leaves turning from green to bright orange and red. There is quiet here, in this new place where all six of us moved. We are far from the city now.

The countryside sings tunes sweet and low—the creak of the branches in the wind, the frogs when night blankets the hills. There is music here I wish she could hear too, God. I miss her. I miss her voice and her smile and the way it felt when her arms were around me.

My mom.

She’s been gone now, twenty-one years. Remember how she battled? Do you remember how she believed—and we all believed—she would be healed? My heart aches for her. And I look at my daughters and my sons, three of the four whom she never met. Oh, how can I take it in how you let her meet my daughter, my firstborn, her first grandchild, in the same hospital where she was staying and where she died ten days later? Oh, God, you let her meet my daughter.

I wish she weren’t so sick so that she could have held her, too.

That daughter of mine is growing up so fast, Father. I can’t believe she’s moved out and on her own. Twenty-one years old, the same number of years my mom has been gone. How is it my daughter is already grown? Is this the same little girl I used to carry around and cuddle close? How is it so much time has gone by and I’ve raised these four and my mom has been gone this whole time?

Where am I going, Father? Am I doing okay? Am I raising these children in a way that would make my mom smile?

We’ve moved so far away from what I knew, and it feels right. But I still worry and wonder and hope this is all going to turn out more than fine.


how she loved you

[O]h, my darling how she loved you. She loved you with an overwhelming love, a love that came from my heart in her. And she showed you that love, because I adored her too, my love. I know what it is like to give up something you love. I know what it means to have a beloved suffer and you wish it didn’t have to turn out the way it did. But I have been present with you, my love. I’ve never left you. All the hours in the hospital. All the nights when you were at home alone. All the times when you stayed up late at night in your room, worrying and wondering how to fix this, how to pray hard enough to make her well.

I know.

I know it was so hard and your heart hurt and you didn’t want her to go.

I know.

I give you new beginnings, my daughter. Each time you turn to me, each moment you surrender to me, I begin again in you. I gather you up, my love.

Those were my arms you felt, too, when she held you close. Those were my words of love, too, when she looked you in the eyes and told you it would be okay, that she was there, that you could tell her anything, that she loved you and she would never stop.

That mother’s love is a fierce love. It is a love that would give anything for her children. And she hated that she wasn’t able to keep staying here, loving you. But she knew me, and you know me too. Her prayers, again and again, were prayers of love for you. Prayers of yearning for you. Prayers of desire on behalf of you.

She loved you with a love that surrendered you to me. She loved you with a love that would have given anything for you, because of me.

how she loved you

Those children of yours? This love is passed down, my darling. That love she showed you? That love I gave to her? You are showing it to your children. You are blessed with my presence. You are blessed with my love in you. You are blessed with my hope in you.

If you know me, if you hear me, if you follow me, believe me now. Believe I am here. Believe I help you to stand. Believe I am your steadfast anchor, your rock.

You are not slipping. You are not falling. You are not alone and fragile. You are given a love that holds you and protects you and goes before you. You are the one to keep leading, my dear. Keep leading them to me. Keep leading your children to me. By my love. By my words in you. By my whispers to you and my love upholding you. It is the only thing on which any family can stand.


 Song to listen to: “Majesty,” Caedmon’s Call


[T]his is day 19 of Voice: 31 Conversations: Click the image below to find out more.  Subscribe to follow along each day.

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Letting the Pieces Fall

Letting the Pieces FallFor J.

conversation 18

[I] grew up knowing you, God. I would curl up next to my grandmother and she would tell me about you. Her Bible was worn and beautiful. Next to her, hearing her talk about you, I believed you were real. I believed you were with me. I believed you loved me.

And I needed to be loved.

She would read scripture and then talk to you like you were the only one there, even when I was in the room. She saw you, right next to her, and I learned you are a friend I could talk to. Not remote and strange, but close and good and present.

You know how mom wasn’t around as much and how my grandparents were my rock. They loved me. On weekends I would crawl up in the big bed and grandpa would let me talk to him about everything. I was the only child in the family, and when my mom wasn’t ready for me, my grandparents decided they were.

Letting the Pieces Fall

God, thank you that you’ve never left me. I have felt lost many times, unsure about the decisions I’ve made, particularly since I am married now. You know my husband and my two children and how I feel completely overwhelmed most of the time. You know how I wonder if I’ve made a mistake that can’t be rewritten, with my marriage that can’t seem to get fixed, with my one child who struggles to find joy and find his place. Yet while I am lost, I have never felt incapable of being found.

I need to be found again now, Father.

So I will curl up next to you, just like I did with my grandparents, as a child, and I will let you hold me here. I will read your words and you will quiet my heart and I will know you are present here. I will let you guide me and bring hope and direction here.

For I need you, God. I drop my hands and everything I hold. They are empty now. Please, pick up these pieces and put them back together, God. I don’t even know how.


Letting the Pieces Fall

[T]here are some things I want to show you, my dear one. There are some things I want to whisper to your heart. There are some things I want you to know and believe and live out. For you are treasured, my love. And you are not forgotten.

I hear your words, and I see beneath them. I know that little girl you speak of. I know her heart. I know the turmoil she endured, the way she felt lost, the way she felt abandoned.

Is that when rescue becomes even more realized? Only when realizing one is lost can one appreciate how she is found?

Yes, you are found. Yes,  you are dear–and perfectly designed by me.

Those eyes of yours, my love, what do they look on each day? Those ears of yours, my love, what do they choose to hear?

I know how things were so hard when the cancer came, when it spread and they had to operate and you were so sick, so sick for so long, my darling. I know how alone you felt and how you tried so hard to be strong.

Now listen: I know you want to love your husband. I know you want to hold up your family. I know you want to be strong. I know you want to do what is right. But there is a point, as you know, when trying to be the strong one just doesn’t work. (I know, through these ordeals, this is what you’ve learned.) But now, my girl, now . . . yes, I say you can do it. You can be strong. You just need to be strong in your weaknesses, strong in your love for–and strong in your reliance upon–me.

Letting the Pieces Fall

You are needed. So go forth. You are beautiful. So let your beauty be revealed.

Yes, I want to tell you something about your beauty. My darling, don’t let your beauty hide. You have been changed, yes, by the disease, but you are glorious in your beauty and you are glorious in your strength in me. You are called forth now to stay here with me and recognize my whispers to your heart and know that I give you what you need to love your husband and your children. I give you what you need to teach and to be a friend and be a daughter and be held, too. I know you know you can’t do a thing on  your own.

So, yes, curl up here with me, my love. I will hold you, and I will refresh you. I will restore you, and I will nudge you now, to step into places of discomfort for the good of your family. I will ask you to step into places of uncomfortableness, because you need to heed my whispers now. I am asking you to rely, even more, on me.

My girl, you are so much more than you think you are. Let me show you what I see.


Song to listen to: “Endless Years“, United Pursuit Band


[T]his is day 18 of Voice: 31 Conversations: Click the image below to find out more.  Subscribe to follow along each day.

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