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.

 

Disco Ball Light and Choosing God’s Joy

I am stretching high on chairs and bending low with dustpan, putting away Christmas garland hanging in the dining room and brushing up piles of pine needles from the Christmas tree being taken out the front door. A disco ball, bright globe of whimsy given to me from a smiling Justin, scatters light over the walls of my dining room. I watch light dance and spread as the ball turns, polka-dotting hope upon dark corners. Specks of mercy, paint-brushed love-dots from God.

Oh, how He wants us to see–to bathe in–His light.

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I tell friends how I can breathe a bit easier so far, this season. I feel like I am trying less to reach some goal just out of my reach. Rather, I am resting a little better, a little more. And I can’t point to another season in recent memory when I have been able to tell you I am doing that, really, at all.

Rather, I can point you to year after year, month after month, of striving and stretching and longing. And the longing wasn’t the kind of longing that is good–the kind of pure-hearted freedom when we stretch our hearts out to heaven and claim the beauty of truth we know is real but which we can’t, otherwise, see. For too long, the longing has gotten twisted up a bit–twisted into something a little darker, a little more like bindings stretched tight across my lungs and less like the sweet, fresh breath of freedom from wide-open windows that stretch to hope that never ends.

I am realizing something now: I think I have been dying.

I think another part of my false self has died. I didn’t begin seeing this happy truth until yesterday, when I verbalized it to friends. We sit in a circle, asking the tough questions with gentleness: how busy do you feel right now? Do you feel like you are stretched too thin? Are you filling your plate of to-do’s too full? How are you resting in God? In what ways are you anxious? How are you choosing to see God in the moments of your day so you feel like His strength is what you lean on and not your own?

I am surprised by my own excitement to join in the discussion, and I can’t help but jump in first (a bit uncharacteristic of me, by the way). But I was bubbling up with joy and thanksgiving as I realized I actually feel so filled up with God. I felt restored and jubilant, even. And it is simply because of two simple things that I am saying ‘yes’ to now. These are things which, for much of my life, I struggled to give myself permission to do: (1) get enough sleep; (2) do something fun and relaxing, regularly, that I love to do.

These past two weeks, during the holidays, something in me just let go. I stopped getting up early, never set an alarm, and slept in as long as I could (who knew my body actually wants eight hours of sleep, when it can get it?) We also, as a family, started turning off all electronics, all technology, all noise-making devices, at eight o-clock every night, and retreated to the front room of our house to sit together, our own separate books in our laps, and read. I think it has been since high school, when I would happily curl up on my bed and read novels that stirred my heart, just for fun. Not for work. Not because I had to. Not because it might be “good for me” to do. I did it because I found rest in doing it. I did it because it was fun.

And I think that my saying ‘yes’ to letting God restore me–by choosing to make changes in how I live, how I use my time–is restoring me, is creating space for God to fill me, is killing the pride in me that enslaved me to a life of doing and striving.

God wanted to kill another piece of the false self in me that was pulling me away from Him. And I didn’t even know He was doing it.

But looking back, this makes sense. He wants our whole heart. He wants us to rest in Him. He knows what is best for us. He knows his presence fills us, and overflows onto others, when we trust how he has made us. We are made to get rest; we are made to love God; we are made to love to do things that help us to see him and worship him, with our whole lives.

God wants us to abide in his joy.

And we have to fight for it, sometimes, His girls.

So, I sit in my dining room and position the disco ball so that sunlight streaming through shutters reflects off the hundreds of little mirrors and shines light all over the walls, all over the dark room.  The ball only shines, illuminating walls, when it is positioned to let the light hit it just right.

And, girl, remember this: that disco ball is made to shine.

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Shall we stay here, in God’s whimsical, beautiful, jubilant light? Shall we let God’s light for us bring life to our hearts? Shall we let light dance all around us, covering us, filling us with bright, shining joy?

Father, shine!

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:5).

Is there a place in you where you think God wants to shine his light? What is one way God fills you with His love for you?  What action are you taking (or you plan to take) to seek the light for you that he has? How is God inviting you to receive his joy?

More than whimsy, joy is a weapon we use to fight life's battles. ~Margaret Feinberg #fightbackwithjoy

Here is a book, just released January 5, that you don’t want to miss: Fight Back With Joy: Celebrate More. Regret Less. Stare Down Your Greatest Fearsby Margaret Feinberg. Fight Back with JoyI got to meet Margaret at her Writer’s Bootcamp, in Colorado, in October, after reading all of her previous books and loving her heart for God. Fight Back With Joy is a powerful and beautiful encouragement from a woman who chooses to fight life’s battles with joy, rather than succumbing to fear. She writes from the experience of knowing what it is like to stare death right in the face, but choosing God’s hope and joy for her, while she battles cancer.

Don’t wait to check it out and be blessed by Margaret’s story, as well as her encouragement, faith, and wisdom. Here are two of the places where you can find the book Fight Back With Joy: Amazon and Barnes & Noble. And here, you can find the Fight Back With Joy, 6-Session Bible Study Kit.

Fight Back With Joy 6-Session DVD Bible Study Promo Video from Margaret Feinberg on Vimeo.

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?

Before You Look Ahead to the New Year

Before We Consider Any Plans for the New YearI can forget what it takes to get through a day. I can forget it is up to me to choose whether to go right or left, and how God is in it. He is in the choices. He is in the moments before the decision making. He is in the space of indecision, especially, reminding me how He holds my hand and does not leave when a moment is too difficult and I feel frozen in what action to do next.

God does not get overwhelmed.

This week Justin and I were talking about the tug we feel this time of year, when we are on holiday, these precious days between Christmas and New Year’s Day–the pull to reflect on the past year while thinking ahead to the next. We both appreciate the thought of a fresh start, the invitation to set goals and define thinking about vision, plans, dreams.  Yet, the reality is we are smack-dab in the middle of moment when we just want to be present and slow, these last few days of 2014.

While we talk a lot about what are hopes are for the next year, we don’t want to rush there to thinking about them too quickly. Before we look ahead to getting down on paper our dreams for 2015, we want to look around a bit at this day, and the next, and the next, too. We want to notice the condition of our heart–and when I say condition, I don’t mean the miracle of its beat, the glorious wonder of it pumping blood all through our bodies and keeping us alive without us willing it to. We want to notice what, at our heart, at our center, we are made of–how we are restless and lost and unfulfilled without our whole self turned towards God.

No plan, no vision, no dream will be worth a thing–or even get off the ground or be realized in any way, really–without taking moments each day to recognize what it really takes to get through a day. I love what God whispers in Loop:

My daughter, it is a fight to stay close to Me. It is a choice you make each moment. Pay attention to the rhythm of your days, the way you wake–what you do when you first get up, what your first thoughts are, how you approach what is for you to do. Right when you wake, try turning over the plan for your day to Me, first. Before you attempt to accomplish one thing, ask Me what I think of your plan. Can you imagine wiping your list clean, the details scrawled out, and then rewriting it, in my hand, my fingerprints upon the page? Are you willing?

Before we look back at 2014, before we look ahead to 2015, let’s spend the next few days of 2014 resting in God, looking to where He is in us–how we consider him, how we think about him, how we look to him. Does he feel far away? Do we feel him close? Do we begin our days, right when we rise, thinking about him first? Or do we begin our day with worries, with schedules, with plans about how to get from A to B?

What is on your heart when you rise? How can we possibly begin to consider what a day holds–or begin assessing what the last year held, or what we hope to achieve in the new year ahead–without recognizing our heart for God right now?

Justin and I will be talking about that a bit tomorrow, on our podcast on Holy Entanglement. And we’ll be sharing, also, a challenge we have for each other, to complete as a warm up for considering any plans or dreams we have for the new year.

Let me give you a hint: it comes down to your heart . . . and considering how you are made . . . and if you are letting God restore you . . . so you can feel His presence in you . . . . It involves the simple question some of you have heard me talk about before . . .What do you love?

So listen in tomorrow morning (you can subscribe right here) and let me know what you think. And until then, let’s not hurry off to make those big plans yet for 2015. Rather, let’s ask God how we can be present to Him and all the wonderfulness and hope He has for us now, this moment, this day.

Before you lookahead to the New Year GATHER PIN

Do you look to the New Year with excitement and expectation? Do you like the idea of a fresh start? Would you like to join me, these next few days, and noticing where God is taking residence in our hearts, before we scrawl down any goals for the new year? I’d love to know what you think.

Rain Your Mercy, or Some Music of Heaven {a new song by Jonah Werner}

Can you imagine the music of heaven? Check out Jonah Werner's new song, "Rain Your Mercy"

When you hear God sing to you, you usually know it’s Him. Because sometimes, you are dancing and you can’t stop. You don’t care what you look like and you spin and jump and you’re not sure if the song you’re dancing to is still outside yourself, or in. The song is a melody you hear, though–you hear it either with your ears or from some place deep inside. But one thing is clear: the music is in you now; it’s the only thing, truly, you can hear.

Sometimes, though, the music manifests as a feeling deep down. It presses in hard, so you feel a bit breathless–except your smiling, too. And the loss of breath begs no discomfort. Rather, it’s short and it’s sweet. The Holy Spirit is pressing in, and you wouldn’t trade anything for this feeling to go away.

And then the music rises, and your body is burning now, each bit of it. Your chest fans flames high and fast, and then your head is hot, too, and your arms have to rise up straight and your legs feel like buckling, but they don’t, and then they do. And then you rise again, and you stand, and you keep dancing–because you can’t do anything else.

When you hear God sing to you, He is close, not far away, not playing games or staring down from some distant shore, disproving. When you hear God sing to you, you are free and you are joy and you are yourself and you just have to dance and shout and sing.

When you hear God sing to you, you wonder if these sounds are ones of heaven–where music fills you and you can’t hold it in, even if you try. Because in heaven, you’re fully yourself now; you are not pretending anymore. You, the daughter God created, sings out who she is, knowing she is delighted in by her Father, her King, her Savior.

There will be music in heaven; there has to be–because, even here, on earth, God is singing. My friend, folk musician Jonah Werner, sings from the inspiration of the Psalms,

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness and let the bones you have broken rejoice! (Psalm 51:7-8).

Jonah is a beautiful musician whose heart sings joy when he gathers up the lost and offers them the hope of God. He writes songs that sing Jesus, that sing love, that sing hope, that sing your Father is here, He loves you, you are not alone. Jonah has spent more than a dozen years as a Young Life worship leader, and he has a new song, “Rain Your Mercy,” available to download on iTunes, that you absolutely don’t want to miss.

Rain Your Mercy, a new song by Jonah Werner

A few weeks ago, when Jonah sent me “Rain Your Mercy,” my daughter and I were in the kitchen, and we blasted it through the open windows in our home and danced all over the kitchen. “Rain Your Mercy” is a song I know I’ll sing in heaven one day. It’s music of worship, of a heart stretched out in song:

I will call upon  Lord, who is worthy of my offering. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy of my broken soul.

I will call upon  Lord, who is worthy of my offering. I will call upon the Lord, who is worthy of my broken soul.

O let the name of the Lord be praised. Let it rain down hard on my driest days. It’s my highest call, and I’ve got no choice but to fall, and let the bones you have broken rejoice!

Open up the skies, open up my eyes, open up my life, and rain your mercy down.

I’ll be jumping and singing, letting God keep right on singing in my heart.

Sisters, keep listening hard now–you can hear Him, singing over you. So, let’s keep on singing right back.

How do you visualize yourself in Heaven someday, fully in God’s presence, in worship?

And here’s another post about Jonah I wrote, a few years ago: “When We Sing the Same Song”.

Finally, don’t forget to answer the 8 Questions and enter the 10 Book Giveaway!

Linking up with beautiful Kristin, #ThreeWordWednesday and Jennifer,#TellHisStory.