Monday, December 28, 2015

What Are You Hoping For In The New Year

A friend at work recently asked me what I want from 2016; what changes, hopes, and dreams do I have for this coming year. I thought for a moment and then responded with, “I actually have no idea.” I’ve thought about this friend’s question a lot since then. What do I want for 2016?

I want more of God and less of me. I want more faith and less fear, more trust and less doubt, more hope and less worry.
This hasn’t always come easy for me:

I am a planner and maybe, just maybe, have slight control issues.

I’ve been hurt and experienced loss, and as a result have struggled to trust who God is.

I’ve believed that I have to be good enough to experience His promised blessings, and that I often fall short of good enough.

I’ve lost myself in trying to be perfect in the misguided belief that maybe then I can protect myself from pain. 

Over the past few months I have been bringing these parts of myself before God. I have asked Him to give me wisdom, to heal the broken places, and to fill me with the joy and peace that can only come from Him.

At times it feels like I’ve been on this journey for years and I should be further along than I am. But I know though that I am not the same woman I was five years ago, let alone five weeks ago. I stand firm in the truth that the One who began a good work in me, He will not stop until He brings it to completion (Philippians 1:6).

And God is so patient with me. I’m learning how much He not only loves me, but delights in me, just as I am. In all my messiness, my failures, my triumphs, my wins, when I get it right and when I get it wrong — He. Delights. In. Me. This truth is beginning to settle into my soul and it is life giving.

There have been moments where He has met me in tender ways, where His presence feels undeniable. There have also been moments where I’ve only been met with frustrating silence. Through it all, I’m learning that faith isn’t a feeling. It is a foundation and truth I hold onto even when my feelings don’t align. Whether God feels distant or near, He is still God and He is still trustworthy.

Instead of giving me answers to all of my questions, God has been revealing himself to me. He has whispered to my heart, “I may not show you what is ahead, but I will show you who I am and how much I love you.”

I am learning that He is enough, and because of that, I am enough. So as we approach a new year, my desire is to be able to give it all to Him. That the times I question or am afraid will become fewer, and the times I walk forward in faith will increase. My prayer is that He will continue to reveal new pieces of His character to me.

God knows all the desires of this heart of mine, and He lovingly holds them in His hands as He walks with me. He delights in who I am — His beloved Daughter, who He created with a purpose. 

So as we approach 2016, may God reveal His unending and immeasurable love for you. May you rest in knowing that He delights in you.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

His Love is Unfailing

“Those who know your name will trust in you,
for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.”
Psalm 9:10

I have had a lot of conversations lately — cozied up in chairs around fireplaces, during drives across bridges, sitting in restaurant booths — conversations about the crazy society we live in, the fear that haunts so many, and the changes that need to be made.

While it speaks of a world that has lost its way, it also stirs in me the hope of a God who is here in the midst of the turmoil. It reminds me of Immanuel, God with us; the One who loves us so much that He will stop at nothing to rescue us.

This Advent season I’ve been pouring through stories of the Old Testament, reading of people desperately in need of God and facing evil not too different from today. I’ve heard it said that the God of the Old Testament is one of wrath and the God of the New Testament is one of grace. But as I’ve read the stories, I see how both the Old and New Testament reveal the tender heart of God and His great love for us.

In every story, He can be seen weaving together the larger narrative of redemption, grace, hope and healing. At all points throughout history, He has been preparing the way for Jesus.

You read it in the story of Joseph. His own brothers threw him away and he became a slave in a foreign land. But God was working even when He couldn’t be seen. He used what was meant for evil to bring about good in Joseph’s life and to save a family, a nation, and the very lineage of Christ.

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:20

You read it in the story of Naomi and Ruth. Living in a culture of violence, sorrow and upheaval; widowed and alone, they are unsure of what the future holds. But God was working in the midst of their deep sorrow and He had redemption in store. He sent a kinsman to rescue them, new life was created and they were grafted into the family tree of Christ.  

Praise the Lord, who has now provided a redeemer for your family … And they named him Obed. He became the father of Jessie and the grandfather of David.” Ruth 4:14a, 17b

You read it in the story of David. A boy considered the least among his family, years spent hunted, betrayed by those he loved, and making mistakes of his own along the way. But God was working as David waited and trusted Him. God chose David to be a mighty king, a man after His own heart, and out of David’s line came Christ.

In that day the heir to David’s throne will be a banner of salvation to all the world. The nations will rally to him, and the land where he lives will be a glorious place.” Isaiah 11:10

You continue to turn the pages and each story reveals how God has always been paving the way for our rescue. And then in the midst of a chaotic and desperate landscape, He created life in Mary, knowing that it would allow us to have fullness of life in Him.

So when we read the headlines or look at our own brokenness, we can breathe in God’s grace and truth. His love is unfailing and unchanging, and He is still working. “We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

We are called to internalize that love and then pour it back out.

We are called to pray, to speak, to act, and to give.

We believe that there is more than what we are seeing even when everything points to the opposite.

We wait with holy anticipation for when He will return again, and in the waiting we fearlessly love, hope and trust.

On this eve of Christmas Eve, I’m waiting and preparing my heart for the celebration of the One who loves me enough to die for me.
This Christmas, may you find joy and hope in knowing our Savior has come, He is working for our good, and He will come again.
For those who are filled with joy this holiday season or those who are hurting, here are song lyrics from a new song by Danny Gokey. A heartfelt reminder that we can trust our heavenly Father.
"Let every heartbreak and every scar
Be a picture that reminds you who has carried you this far
'Cause love sees farther than you ever could
In this moment heaven's working everything for your good"

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

He Always Has a Purpose

"... for the joy of the Lord is your strength."
Nehemiah 8:10
The kids and I recently returned from a wonderful, whirlwind trip to Disneyland. It was a surprise for them, and we jammed everything we could into two days at the parks. Watching their faces light up at different rides and shows was priceless and we had a blast. 

My oldest: he is brave and fearless, and reflective and sweet all wrapped up at once. My little one: she is strong, opinionated, has an incredibly loving spirit and is so easily delighted. Take these qualities and combine them with the joy of a family vacation, and I found myself praying silent prayers of gratitude throughout the entire trip.

We made it home late Saturday, and come Sunday morning I headed to church. I hate to admit it, but I was exhausted and had NO desire to be there. In fact, as I sat waiting for service to start, I thought I could still sneak out and head home to take a nap and fight off my cold before having people over for dinner.

As I sat there weighing the decision to skip this Sunday, I remembered a sermon I heard years ago where the pastor remarked "the times where we least want to be there are often the times when we most need to be." So I stayed put. And that pastor? He was right.

The sermon on Sunday was the type where you feel like God is talking directly to you. The kind where you are trying not to cry in the middle of the sanctuary because you are so overwhelmed by the Holy Spirit. The kind that leaves you knowing that God is whispering His peace, His presence and His promises directly to your heart for the moment you are in. All you need to do is let Him draw you close.  

The pastor spoke of the mess …

The mess all around us as our world seems to grow angrier, violence fills the news, and hatred penetrates deep.

The mess in our homes as loved ones stop believing, families fall apart, and loved ones are taken far too soon.

The mess within our own hearts as we face the broken parts of ourselves; the hopes deferred, the dreams shattered, and the wounds aching to be healed.

And in this mess, what is our hope? Our hope — it can only be found in the One who gave up everything and entered this messy world to save us.

The pastor reminded us, God brings purpose to our mess and nothing is a surprise to Him. He will never leave us alone. But do we trust Him to do that?

So there again was that little phrase that God continues to place on my heart.

Do you trust me? Do I trust Him with every piece of my heart, every area of my life, all of my dreams and plans? Do I trust Him both when the journey is easy and when it gets bumpy? Will my faithfulness and gratitude extend past the bright moments like a trip to Disneyland, to the dark moments of loss and sorrow?

While I sometimes fight against it and I can stumble along the way, I have seen His goodness over and over again. I know He is trustworthy, and my heart's desire is to be faithful even in the valleys.  

I trust His character “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love.” Psalm 145:8

I trust His plans for my life “As for God, his way is perfect: The LORD's word is flawless; he shields all who take refuge in Him.” Psalm 18:30

I trust His ability to bring peace and joy “The Lord gives strength to His people; the Lord blesses His people with peace.” Psalm 29:11

I trust that He carries me through all things and at all times “The eternal God is your refuge, and His everlasting arms are under you.” Deuteronomy 33:27a

I stand firm on the foundation that He has a purpose and He is here. He is Immanuel, God with us.

The service closed with a song I love (you can listen to a version by Casting Crowns below). I stood in a packed congregation of believers singing as loud as they could with their arms raised, and I had that startlingly clear glimpse of what heaven will be like – pure joy as we worship the one true God.

During this week of Advent in which we focus on joy, may you find joy and hope in knowing that God has a purpose for your life. He is with you, through the good and the messy.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

In the Waiting

The world felt so quiet and still. Light was just starting to break through the dark and fog danced across the water. I was the only one around, and all I could hear was my own breathing and the crunch of the snow beneath my boots. It was peaceful.

I waited for the sun to peak above the mountains. I’d trekked down to the water each morning to take photos; not even eight to ten degree temperatures could keep me away.

That last morning I almost stayed inside though. The warmth of the fire felt far more inviting than the cold. But my dedication (or obsession some might tease) with sunrises/sunsets pushed me to make the final trek of the trip down to the lake. I stood alone in the quiet, waiting for God to show up. Because my love of the sky is rooted in Him — I see His fingerprints in every sunrise and sunset and it reminds me of His infinite love.

And that morning the wait was well worth it ... He painted His glory across the sky with breathtaking strokes. 

The sense of anticipation felt fitting on this Sunday. It was the first day of Advent — a season of waiting and longing for the coming of Christ. It’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve begun to discover how Advent can help ground me in the truth of the season.

I remember as a kid how the month of December felt unbearably long, and Christmas Eve night felt like an eternity. Each year I eagerly worked my way through the advent calendar, excitement growing as I drew closer to that wonderful 25. I wanted each day to go quickly so that Christmas morning would finally arrive.

I grew up and out of the childhood impatience for the big day, but my love for Christmas hasn’t dwindled. I enjoy all of it, from the decorations to the baked goodies to the gatherings with friends and family. Although in the grown-up rush, it’s still easy to get wrapped up in the hurry of the season and lose sight of why I’m celebrating.

As I stood in the snow Sunday morning, I realized that while I’ve grown out of my impatient eagerness for Christmas morning, I haven’t quite grown out of my impatient desire to move forward to the next thing or step. I’m discovering this can cause me to miss out on a beauty that can only be discovered in the waiting periods.

I’ve sensed God lately; this beckoning to find Him in the now, to slow down and trust Him to work out His plans for my life. To wait hopefully, not impatiently, on Him. He has shown me joy and peace as I lean into Him.
Nearly six years ago I heard Him say “trust me,” and I’ve felt that same encouragement recently. I didn’t know then what that would look like, but now I can see how He walked with me and created beauty from those ashes. Again today, I don’t know what lies ahead. But I know that He is good and can be trusted, and because of that I have nothing to fear.

So this December, and moving forward, I wait expectantly . . .
To celebrate the greatest love story that began with a tiny baby (John 3:16)

For the day when He will return and set all things right (Hebrews 9:28)

Knowing that He is at work in all things and through all things (Romans 8:28)

Trusting He has amazing, hope-filled plans for the future (Jeremiah 29:11)

This Christmas season and in the year ahead, what are you waiting on God to do in your life? May I invite you to wait with a sense of hope as you trust in Him.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Hold Onto Hope

Tonight these two kiddos of mine sat curled up on the floor watching a movie. There is a parade of stuffed animals lined up alongside them, “set up like it’s a movie theater.” They’ve even made their own movie tickets and sold popcorn.

She begged for a Christmas movie; she’s over-the-moon excited about the holidays. So we’ve popped in Elf (one of my all-time favorites).

The TV screen lights up their faces and their faces light up my heart. I want to keep them little, safe and protected forever. I want to change the world before they enter it on their own so they know something different than what we are facing today.

People are scared and hurting, and when those people have no hope, it is a combination that often leads to more hate, pain and fear. The news tell us of the atrocities happening all over the world, every day. Across social media, people fling accusations of whose fault it is and offer suggestions on how keeping others out will ensure protection. Don’t let them in because they’ll cause pain and death.

My soul aches for this hurting world. I want to do more, and I feel like God has called me to do more. But at times I also feel too small to do anything to change such a large problem.

So I have been pouring over His word and praying. I ask Him to . . .

show me how I can be His light and love to those I know and those I don’t.
use me for His glory.
heal this broken world right along with the brokenness in me.
give me wisdom to know how to help.

In His tenderness towards me, He has spoken to me in the quiet moments, “Keep praying, love deeply and Never. Lose. Hope.”

“Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassion never fails.” Lamentations 3:21

I let His light shine through me by always holding onto hope.

Hope grounded in knowing that God’s love is so deep and wide that He willingly gave up heaven to come down to us. He took on human form and allowed his body to be broken so that He could heal all of our brokenness.

And as we approach the Christmas season, I am reminded that this hope was born in the smallness of a baby. I may at times feel too small to make a difference, but God uses our smallness to reflect His infinite love and grace.
I don't know how to stop the spread of hate and evil. But I know how to love deeply and I can hold firmly to the hope that will never disappoint. I can love more, fear less. I can offer others the grace and kindness He lavishly offers me.
So as we approach Advent and Christmas, remember and hold onto the hope we have in Him.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The Light Will Not Be Overcome

"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it."
John 1:5

My son, my oldest — the one who tries to be brave and strong for me and often reminds me he’s almost double digits — he recently confessed that he's still afraid of the dark sometimes.

I understand him. Sometimes the darkness can seem scary to me too.

The headlines loom large on Friday. They shout of a world that seems to be coming undone at its seams. Shattered lives broken apart by evil, and people across the globe mourn. 
I understand that fear can take root if we let it.

I FB message back and forth with a girl who reminds me so much of myself. She types out fears. She has read that the danger is creeping closer to home and that scares her. I encourage her not to give into the fear, to remember we have hope. 

I understand her too though. If the headlines are our truth, then darkness is knocking on our door.

Yet this weekend as those who wear the mask of darkness take credit for instilling terror, I can still trace God's fingerprints and His Light.

I am reminded that greater is He that is in me than he that is in the world, and that darkness does not have the last word.

As darkness settles in on Friday, I snuggle with my kids, pull them close, listen to their giggles and feel a love beyond words.  

I am reminded that there is still innocence and goodness, and that our God has a Father's love for us that is far greater than any other.

As darkness settles in on Saturday, I stand in a church full of believers as we raise our voices and prayers to the God who promises that nothing is wasted.

I am reminded that we are His hands and feet, His light to a hurting world. I am reminded that where two or more are gathered, He is there and there is power in prayer.

As darkness settles in on Sunday, I sit in a condo flooded with warmth and laughter, friendship and love, sharing stories and dinner. 

I am reminded that darkness and fear will not win when we hold onto hope, joy, each other and most importantly, our Savior. 

So each day as the sun goes down, I remember that there is nothing to fear because my hope is firmly set in the One who created the light. And light will not be overcome by darkness for He is the light of the world.

While the world may seem like it's falling apart, I put my faith in the One who I know holds it all together.

Lord, help us to be your light and love to a hurting, broken world. We lift up those who mourn, and we thank you that you are close to the brokenhearted. In Jesus' powerful name, Amen!


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Living Life Together

I recently watched the movie Burnt. It was alright, not worth the theater price, but I liked the underlying theme. In one scene a character remarks to Bradley Cooper, "there is strength in needing others."

The line has stuck with me. The movie is not Christian-based, far from it in fact. But if you can get past the frequent f* bombs, there are a few good take-homes and I believe there is Biblical truth in that statement.

We are created for community, and most of us long for that authentic connection with others. We have a desire to be truly known, and we want to believe that even at our worst we can be loved and accepted.

However in this broken world, we also know that living life with others can be both rewarding and heartbreaking, joyful and painful, exciting and scary. Most of us have been hurt at the hands of others, sometimes unintentionally and sometimes intentionally.

I have dealt with the wounds inflicted by others by keeping people at arm's length, trying to control the relationships I have, or a variety of other ways to protect my heart and avoid future pain. When I'm honest with myself though, I know that these attempts are based in fear and fear-based choices reflect a lack of trust in the One who places each relationship in my life for a purpose.

We are created in God's image and His character - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - is one of perfect harmony and community. We are built to walk through life together, to love others deeply, to give and receive help and to reflect His light to others.

It is in doing life together, imperfectly, that we allow God to work through us. We can only be His hands and feet here on earth if we open ourselves up to others.

So I am learning that being strong doesn't mean proving I can do it on my own. Anyone who knows me can agree this isn't an easy lesson. I can be very bullheaded and try to prove I don't need help.

But as the character in the movie pointed out - strength comes in needing others, loving despite the price it may cost and having authentic relationships.

Thankfully the strength to do that is rooted in love, God's immeasurable love for us. His perfect love has the power to cast out fear, ground us in truth and enable us to freely and selflessly love others.

We are only able to love because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).