Lent, Refine Retreat, Surrender

It’s Time, Announcing: Refine {The Retreat}

June 20, 2016

Two years ago, 24 women bravely followed God into the woods of Ohio for a weekend called Refine {the retreat}. We showed up at the Lodge on that Friday afternoon, expectant. We came with a hefty mound of baggage between us–all of us eager for a drop of Living Water. These years later, what we agree on collectively, is that God’s presence was palpable in that conference room, and deeply personal. What we can manage to say about the weekend is that we left changed.

For 2 days, The Holy Spirit ministered to us exactly where we were in that moment, and sent us home transformed by the overflow of God’s goodness and mercy that He had poured out over us.

Refine 2014

In the weeks and months after Refine, the chatter among the group of attendees, came always with the question, “Will there be another Refine?”

For a long time, I couldn’t say. What God had made abundantly clear to me, during the preparation and planning for the first Refine, was that the entire event had been His, from seed to sprout. It was only by His hands, that every detail came together. Refine had been God’s weekend, we all knew it. And so I couldn’t say initially, if there would be another one. Refine was never intended to become a thing–the decision to host another Refine, as far as I have been concerned, has always been God’s call. I refused to step into that space without His prompting.

This year, as the 2nd anniversary for Refine passed, the question surfaced again, “will there be another Refine?” I offered my usual response,

“I don’t know, pray about it?…”

Despite the outrageous surrender it took to host it the first time, and the fear I battled in the months leading up to it, I’ve always been willing to host Refine again. God’s help and blessing was so abundant, I know I can trust Him wit this. But up until recently, I didn’t know if God was opening the door again or not. I needed something to go on, some kind of clear nudge. But over a period of 3 weeks, the question came repeatedly from different voices. The topic of Refine cropped up in multiple, unrelated, unprompted conversations.

One afternoon, while listening to a message from a friend, asking about Refine, it occurred to me that perhaps I ought to pay better attention to this. (God often gets my attention through repetition.) I had to seriously, prayerfully consider it.

I did, and God answered.

It’s time.

A week ago, early one soggy morning, a friend and I got in the car and made our way to check out a nearby retreat center in person. As soon as we pulled up to the gate, I felt a flutter in my chest. It felt like hope.

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As we slipped out of the rain and into the building, I knew immediately, this was the answer we’d been praying about for the last 2 years. I felt God’s answer in my spirit–it’s time. As we continued to tour the house, every carefully thought out detail about the space, every room we walked into, felt like a crashing confirmation to the long-unanswered question.

One of the considerations for the retreat has been the location–if we did do it again, would we go back to the same place as before? I knew as I passed through the chapel and down the long corridors of this house, that we would not go back to the lodge.

There will be another Refine {the retreat}, with a fresh vision.

God is doing a new thing.

Within 2 days of seeing the space, I signed a contract to host the 2nd Refine on March 24th-26th, 2017.

main bldg

Little details

This space where the women of Refine will gather is a space that I had wanted to use 2 years ago, for the first Refine. But at the time, when I had called, they were booked 2 years in advance, and so there was no availability for the time frame I had open in 2014. But this year, smack in the middle of Lent, the retreat center’s busiest season, they happened to have a weekend open.

Of course they did.

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In numerous little ways, God has been answering the question, “will there be another Refine” for weeks, I just hadn’t seen it until now. And in His faithful way, He has already been orchestrating the beautiful details without my help or effort. He is doing it.

As I have prayed about Refine, the passage of scripture that comes repeatedly to mind is Psalm 66:12b

we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.

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What will Refine be like?–the vision continues to unfold. The plan continues to evolve as God reveals the pieces of the bigger picture. What is already clear, is that this is not a repeat of the last retreat. While some of the original attendees may return, there is room this year for new faces. I know without a doubt, God is making space for some of you to attend. Refine is not a conference. There is no long, pro speaker line-up, or agenda book for the weekend. The heart behind Refine has been, and continues to be a weekend “designed to encourage women to seek the Lord more intentionally, that they might better live out His unique call on their lives”. Refine is about making space for God to renew us, refine us, restore us and rejuvenate us to live the lives He has called us to. This is a weekend for restoration, that we might experience the abundance of God.

Joining me as guest hosts at Refine, are artist and Spiritual Director in-training, Christine Hiester and author and poet, Laura Boggess (Playdates With God, Having a Childlike Faith in a Grown-up World). These two women bring tremendous gifting and generosity with them wherever they go, and I have no doubt attendees at Refine will be inspired and encouraged by what they have to share.

 

What do you need from God? Is He calling you away to meet with Him?

Are you in?

Read more about Refine {the retreat} here, and grab your ticket.
There are just 38 spots open. 

Eventbrite - Refine {the retreat}

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Hope, Prayer

When You’re Starting To Think The Sky Is Empty

June 8, 2016

 

I’ve prayed hard prayers for years and when the ground scratches dry under my feet and the dust of bitter emptiness swirls thick, some days I think I might just give up.

I know He’s always listening but when the months span and the years stretch out too long and the silence deafens, my humanness snarks that He’s not going to budge.  The hiss that condemns, whips me with antiChrist words–“your prayers fall on deaf ears”.

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Sylvia Plath said “I talk to God but the sky is empty” and on my worst days, I almost swallow this lie. But my heart, cracked up as it is, knows better than to subscribe to hopelessness. I tuck His truths in deep and they sustain me over the long desert of waiting.

Then, without warning, I hear thunder in the distance. It’s just a handful of words–a banner of hope strung up, flapping in the wind. It’s an unexpected phone call, a precious letter that I didn’t see coming–lightning rips through the heavens and one overwhelming droplet the size of a monsoon lands in my mailbox.

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I want to measure its’ impact and set my rain guage out to determine if it’s enough, but who can measure the magnitude of answered prayers?

It’s not the deluge I’m praying for but it’s more than enough, because that’s what it always is when it slips down from heaven. Heaven and earth split for one moment and this one drip nourishes the prayers I’d nearly stopped praying. He reminds me, “never give up on Me”. 

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His word is good and unfailing–He moves in His time and not to the impatient time table of my own over-eager clock, He can be trusted with our hearts–I’m learning this anew daily.

The sky is anything but empty–I know this as I read and re-read the words printed there in black and white.

We pray because in praying there’s hope. We look for the unseen and trust that He not only hears but answers according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19).

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He knows what you need.

The sky bulges with answers yet to come. Prayers begin to roll out of my heart–marbles let loose from a bag.

 

 

 

 

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Surrender

On Baptism And Absolute Surrender

May 24, 2016

Baptisms always make me weepy. For that matter, so does reciting the Nicene Creed, and whispering the confession of my faith, and kneeling at the communion rail. My inability to let things go, keeps the nearness of my sin always at the ready. I am quick to recall my own depravity. I’ve seen the depths of it, and after that awakening, I have never been able to un-see myself, in my truest form, though I am fully aware of God’s mercy that covers me. The creeds, public confession, baptisms–these all remind me of my own constant need for salvation, and this, recalling of my brokenness, in light of redemption make makes me weep. It’s grace that springs the tears loose.

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It’s the covering of Christ that bows my head.  Because this wasn’t always my story, because there was most definitely a B.C. period of life for me, the gift of redemption is not one I hold with careless hands. And so, these things–redemption, mercy, and grace, are the crack in my armor, the place where the light leaks out, in my own continual saline washing.

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A couple of weeks ago, I observed, and corporately participated in, the baptism of an infant in our church. But this baby. Though his mother cradled him tenderly, it was as if he knew she had ulterior motives in mind. We all looked on as his little bare head bobbed angrily against her shoulder, intentionally, and unintentionally, as he was so small, and lacked the neck muscles to directly control his own objecting efforts. All the while his mother cupped him tenderly, while his little storm raged on. The hand off to our pastor only elevated his pitch, as all 12 pounds of him squirmed and twisted in horror at the thing that was being done to him. He squalled and wailed right through his washing, as we all looked on in wonder and amusement.

He wasn’t having any of it, not on his own terms anyway, and in this moment, I felt a kinship with this little boy at the font. I too, received my baptism with struggle.

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When He wants to give us that Holy Spirit whom He has promised, He brings us first to the end of self, to the conviction that though we have been striving to obey the law, we have failed. ~Andrew Murray

I think for many of us, this is what our own coming to Christ looks like. Though we may be aware of our need, we don’t always come willing. Sometimes, when we’ve not yet realized our need, the Holy Spirit ushers us forward for our own good, but still somewhat against our will, because our bent is not naturally inclined towards the Holy.

We need the washing, though we may resist it. We need the words of repentance and grace spoken over us, though we may recoil out of pride, and fear.

Our souls require what sometimes stings the most. Deliver us from evil, we pray and in so doing, ask that God would deliver us from ourselves.

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Humble yourselves in His sight, and knowledge that you have grieved the Holy Spirit by your self-will, self-confidence and self-effort. ~Andrew Murray

During a baptism, our congregation joins with the family of the baptized to both confess our faith but also in commitment to helping the child grow in faith. As a body, we recognize the call of Christ to help one another in their own journey towards holiness. We are the cloud of witnesses here on earth, tasked with holding each other’s hand and holding each other accountable. Not in judgment, but in genuine friendship and with a true conviction that our journey in Christ is not entirely our own.

We are members of a bigger body. When one member struggles with redemption, we are all called to assist. We don’t cut off the leg that has been wounded, or the arm that hangs slack in it’s weakness, we turn to it, and we say, “how can I help you?” And in doing so we are Christ to that member.

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B.C., I spent the majority of my life exercising my own self-will, self-confidence and self-effort. Self. Self. Self. I insisted on doing life in my own strength, and for my own glory. My prayers may as well have ended with the words, my will be done, because at the heart of it, that’s what I thought I wanted. But like this little baby, God ushered me to the font against my own desires, while I gnashed and wailed and pushed back against what was best for me. I was afraid. I didn’t yet understand how it is only when one is hidden in Christ, that one is most truly alive. I didn’t trust resurrection.

How can it be? How can life come from death?

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Years later, I still recall the hour of my death with a sharp vividness. I still smell the dust of the carpet where I buried my face in my first true repentance. I remember the bitterness that filled my mouth as I fumed against grace. And I remember the unexpected sweetness of it too, the tenderness with which my Father carried me to Himself, cradling me firmly with His love, even as I begged Him to make it easier than it was.

I still don’t understand resurrection, but I know it is true. I live, and so it is as real to me as the air that I breathe, but cannot hold in my hands. I have no proof but my own story.

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I don’t know where you are on your journey. Maybe you’re that baby, hollering for escape, unaware that what God has for you to receive, is more precious than the perceived sanctuary of  your self-built life. Maybe you are in the body, unsure of how to help a fellow member whose been washed but still sputtering in the wake of redemption. Maybe you’re the one choking on your own baptism, drowning in trying to reconcile your old ways to your new life in Jesus.

Wherever you are, wherever God is for you, I know that there is room at the font for you to be. There is space for your struggle, for your joy, and sorrow and wrestling.

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All these searchings and hungering and longings in your heart, I tell you they are drawings of the divine magnet, Christ Jesus…He desires to help you to get a hold of Him entirely. ~Andrew Murray

 

*Sharing this post in community with Jennifer Lee and her weekly Tell His Story link up.

 

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Hope

Learning To Hope, Finding Home

April 22, 2016

The timing seemed impossibly wrong. Who decides 3 days before Christmas to put their house on the market? Instead of sitting by the tree listening to Christmas music in our pajamas, my husband and I packed boxes, and cleaned out closets Christmas afternoon. We prepared rooms for painting and began the necessary repair work before listing our house on the market.

Front hall

The house we called home for 11 years.

By January 3rd we’d met again with the Realestate agent and begun the process of marketing our home. Just two weeks prior, friends had asked me if we were serious about moving. Indeed we were. To those outside, the decision seemed sudden, but we’d been talking about it for a long time–for years, actually.

Every night as I stepped over painting tarps and boxes, piles of trash and various items cleaned out from the corners of the house, I flopped into bed exhausted, heavy with a mounting anxiety. We kept moving forward with the process but the restlessness in my spirit drained the joy and hope from my heart. Doubt can feel like a black thunder cloud that follows only you around. The mounting “what-if’s” left my stomach churning.

What if the house doesn’t sell?

What if we can’t find a new house?

What if we can’t get a decent offer on this house?

What if we have to live in limbo for months on end?

What if we sell our house and can’t get financing? 

What if interest rates rise too high during this process? 

What if we move and end up wishing we’d stayed put?

These doubts are only a tiny fraction of the fears that tormented me when my head hit the pillow.

kitchen_2

The tiny kitchen where my babies were fed and friends and family nourished for 11 years, and where the dream for GraceTable.org was birthed.

Every question felt like an impossible mountain to overcome. Instead of seeing these concerns as opportunities to watch God work, I saw them as obstacles we could not overcome. I wanted to believe that God had the whole mess in His hands, but my hope stretched like a gossamer thread across a canyon of doubt. Every weighty decision stretched me further than was comfortable. So desperately frail. I could not perceive with eyes of faith, what God could and would do.

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11 years of meals shared around this table.

I don’t believe that we deserve to have nice things. If I choose to believe that all that I have is a gift from God, then I am reminded that I don’t deserve it–I receive it purely out of His good grace and kindness. Everything is a blessing.

Living room2

The old school room.

I reminded myself daily that God doesn’t always answer our material prayers with material things. He gives what He sees fit, what He knows we need, what is best–despite the truth that sometimes His answers are painfully received on our end. He always gives what is best.

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The afternoon we first stumbled into our surprise home we were not prepared for the emotional ride it would turn out to be. Buying and selling homes is no joke. It’s complicated by layers of conversations about needs vs. wants, location issues, financial decisions, zoning laws, home owners association rates, traffic patterns, accessibility and on and on and on. Almost every decision requires hard conversations and even more prayer. We knew we wanted to use our new home for practicing hospitality, but what would that look like?

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I instantly loved the way the light cascaded down onto the floors and warmed the walls. This house had space that we’d been craving, after years of being on top of each other in a house that seemed to shrink with each  additional baby we’d brought home to it over the last 11 years. The neighborhood offered the small, quiet respite we’d been wanting. We’d grown so weary of living on a busy road, watching careless drivers tear past our home at dangerous speeds.

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A quiet view, and space to breathe.

Walking through the surprise house I fought the urge to like it. Oh I loved it, but I didn’t want to. I was afraid to want it.

Later that evening my husband and I discussed it, dreamed a little about it, and then decided to keep looking. It didn’t seem it would ever be a viable option. But from then on, every house paled in comparison. Still, I could not let myself love that house. I didn’t think I could bear the disappointment of not being able to call it home.

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A new space to gather friends and family.

The next several weeks were a roller-coaster of multiple offers on our own home, hopes rising with potential, only to ride the downward spiral of deal disintegration, as potential deals fell apart in negotiations. I fought to steel my heart against the emotional tumult. Hope was not my friend. Rather than waiting and trusting God to direct our steps, I imagined Him as a grumpy Father, too tired at the end of the day to embrace his children, to hear their heart-needs, who sends them away with a wave of His hand. I imagined that we were a nuisance to God.

I forgot how much He loves us.

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More than the house issues, it surfaced that I have bigger issues that need addressing, heart issues with how I see God, how I view hope, the ways in which I wrestle with desire and fulfillment and receiving from God.

Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone?  Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? (Matthew 7:9-10)

Even as the pieces began to fall into place I continued to doubt God’s gifting. I couched every conversation about the house in doubtful language, a lame effort to protect my hopes from rising. “I won’t believe it until we have keys in our hands”, I said on more than one occasion. To be fair, there had arisen several hiccups along the way, each one making the potential of the sale seem precarious. These hiccups were opportunities to practice our faith, to be stretched, to lean into hope. Instead, I leaned away, I doubted. I refused to believe without proof.

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him! (Matthew 9:11)

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I repeatedly reminded myself that what we wanted may not be what God wants for us. God, in His omniscience and love has repeatedly withheld things from me that I thought were best. In time, He has graciously revealed His best, which always makes my own desires seem so narrow and flimsy. I have tasted the goodness of His fruit and forgotten the sweetness of it time and again. I told myself, the ache for this new home could be just like that.

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Five weeks later we found ourselves at the closing table, signing the papers on our new home–the surprise house that had never been on our list of houses to see in the first place. God looked me square in my doubting face and handed me what I do not deserve, and did not believe I could have.

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A month in, and I walk around in here completely humbled and in awe of God’s goodness. I am acutely aware of the ways in which I disparage His faithfulness with my continual doubt, the ways in which I assign Him characteristics  that look more like me rather than believe that He is without the stains that mar my own soul. Where I doubt, He is faithful. Where I fear, He loves. Where I imagine Him to be small and incapable, He overcomes with His Holiness that cannot be contained or understood.

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He did not have to bless us with this home. I am daily aware of this. He could have orchestrated something entirely different. Heaven knows I don’t “deserve” this space. I diminished His offerings at every turn. I looked for the storm brewing behind every small hope He provided along the way.

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As I sit here, I am reminded that God is not as small as I chronically frame Him to be. I am reminded that He loves to give good gifts to His children, and that our desires for a new place for our family were not born out of selfish ambitions, but out of a growing urge to practice hospitality, to open our doors and make space for others–an urge that He has set in our hearts.

I am reminded that when God calls you, He also equips you. This generous space is part of that equipping. This is not our space, but God’s to use as He pleases.

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The first neighbor we met told us that she’d been praying for the people who would buy this house. She’d been praying for us. The last month has been filled with breadcrumbs of God’s faithfulness unbeknownst to us. Daily we stumble onto pieces of the trail that brought us here.

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I don’t know what you’re hoping for right now, friend, but I can assure you that God is moving in ways you cannot see. I can testify to His faithfulness in spite of your faithlessness. I can encourage you, that if he has given you a vision for something, a dream for something that seems impossible, that He will also bring it to fruition in due season. It feels bold to say this, but I have seen it countless times in my own life. God has never failed me. Not ever. He is the willing Father who never tires, who never needs time away from His needy children, the generous Father who delights in giving his children the desires of their heart–and the Father who puts His desires in us, that we might glorify Him with the goodness He provides. You can believe that however He provides and withholds, it is for the absolute best.

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This space is an altar. Here we will continually surrender all that we are, for the sake of His glory.

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A view of the new neighborhood at sunset. A stunning reminder of God’s glory.

 

*I’m taking the next few weeks off of social media as I lean into listen for God, and complete a project, as such I may be slow to reply to comments. I love hearing from you and am so grateful for your prayers and encouragement. Thank you for reading. 

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(in)courage

Fervent

March 25, 2016

“He’ll divide old and young, traditionalists versus progressives, private school kids from the public schoolers. Instead of people being able to freely exercise and emphasize their various spiritual gifts for the good of the body, he’ll cause folks to see one another’s personal ministry as being a direct competitor of another’s. Division, disharmony, friendly fire. They’re breaks in the line of our peace.”  –Fervent, pg. 175

Recently on Facebook, I stumbled into a comment thread between people whom I know to be Christians, arguing, making precision cuts with sarcasm, over their differing theological opinions.

It’s not only online that these divisive exchanges happen. Some of us might experience this in conversation around the dinner table, or in the break room at the office. Sometimes we experience “friendly fire” through email or private message. The enemy knows the power of a subtle, suggestive comment. However it comes, it cuts at our hearts and the wounds left behind can lead us to feeling isolated, dejected and divided.

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Wherever it happens, you can be sure it’s got the stink of the enemy all over it. When he can tempt us to turn on each other, our witness fails. While we’re busy reeling from the blows of our friends, we’re at a standstill in our calling.

I’m hanging out over at (In)Courage today–Come finish reading this post there, and join me at 12 EST for a live Blab chat about Priscilla Shirer’s book, Fervent.

 

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Love good books and conversation about them (ME TOO!!)? Subscribe to the (in)Courage book club HERE and daily encouragement in your inbox HERE.
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Hope

Get Your Hopes Up

February 17, 2016

I knew when my daughter pulled her coat back to reveal the brand new stuffed dog peeking out of her pants pocket that this was not a good idea. But because I say “no” so often, I simply couldn’t bring myself to deny her this small pleasure of carrying her little fabric friend into the store with her. So, I mentioned the potential danger of it falling out while she walked, but didn’t press the notion. Patting her bulging pocket she assured me all would be well.

At bed time later that evening, my girl is franticly looking for her small treasured toy. In irritation at the mounting delay to the end of our day, I go out in the snow to double check the car, just in case her little toy is out there freezing alone in the dark. I glance inside the car quickly, eager to be back inside where it’s warm and get on with bed time.

The toy is nowhere.

I apologize and put her to bed, assuring her that we will find it–it will turn up, I say, with no real hope of this actually being true. (Cue the “I knew this was going to happen” track that plays in your head when you watch your kids do something foolish.) “Pray that God helps you find it.” I suggest. She asks me if I think it’s possible. I skirt her question by answering, “anything’s possible”.  I didn’t think it was possible. I had no shred of hope.

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I’m not usually so negative. It’s not my nature to be such a pessimist about things, but I knew she was going to lose that little dog. I wasn’t surprised at all when it turned up missing that night. I imagined some other child finding it in the aisle of the store and claiming it as their own. I imagined it tucked in the sheets of some other child’s bed. I imagined it in the parking lot smashed beneath snowy tires. I imagined everything except the toy actually turning up.

Even when they had made for themselves a golden calf and said, ‘This is your God who brought you up out of Egypt,’ and had committed great blasphemies, you in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness.(Nehemiah 9:18)

My daughter woke up the next morning still forlorn over the loss of this $2 stuffed dog toy. “I hope we find it” she frowned. In attempts to sooth her hurting heart, I offered to drive back to the store and ask after the dog at their “lost and found”. Her eyes lit up–hope sparking afresh.”Say a prayer” I suggest. My lips betraying my mounting doubt. I offer my own prayer, which really, was more of a challenge to God to use this opportunity to prove Himself to my girl.

Inside the store, at the counter we inquire about this lost toy. I’m anxious now. Afraid honestly, of what my girl’s response will be when the lady returns empty handed. I’m worried that her budding faith could be crushed by God’s “no” to her prayer. I am not hopeful. I am only afraid and riddled with doubt.

Yet when they turned and cried to you, you heard from heaven, and many times you delivered them according to your mercies. (Nehemiah 9:28)

The associate, who was probably an angel, reaches her arm around the partition revealing just the dog, and waves it at my girl. A warm smile spreads across the sales associates lips. Her whole face lights up, mirroring my daughter’s reaction. I am seized with the surprise of this, overcome by God’s generosity, fully aware of how little faith I exhibited–and how He answered my daughter’s prayers anyway.

But you are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love…(Nehemiah 9:17)

I blink tears back as the store associate celebrates this small joy with us. My girl practically floats to the car. I remind her that God heard her prayers, that this is His doing. I’m reminding myself. “I know.” she responds. “We prayed in the backseat on the way here”. It seems while I’d been lost in my thoughts and anxieties while driving, my girls were praying their hearts out for the lost to be found.

I’ve been thinking a lot about God’s faithfulness, about His “yes’s” and “no’s”, about how He grows faith in us, and how hope is not a lost cause. When we want for things that are uncertain, we sometimes say, “don’t get your hopes up”. But as I have been thinking about this, I see the foolishness of this way of thinking.

Yet you have been righteous in all that has come upon us, for you have dealt faithfully and we have acted wickedly.(Nehemiah 9:33)

Don’t get your hopes up, we say. But why not? What do we risk missing when we refuse to get our hopes up?

As people of the resurrection, we are told to have hope. Isn’t the very life of Jesus the promise of hope fulfilled?

I’ve been in a season flat out refusing to hope. In refusing hope, I imagined that I was somehow protecting my heart from disappointment. But in my refusal to hope I also lost my joy. In refusing to “get my hopes up” I wallowed in doubt and discouragement. Buried beneath a mountain of doubt and disbelief, I cheated my heart out of recalling the goodness of God, out of believing the best about God.

You gave your good Spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst. Forty years you sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell. (Nehemiah 9:20-21)

I went home from the store that day thankful for how God chose to answer my daughter’s prayers, and how He used that $2 toy to remind me to get my hopes up–to believe in His capability, to remember His generosity and recount His faithfulness. He is the God of lost hopes, the God who forgives mercifully, repeatedly.

Get your hopes up–your hope comes from Him.

Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from him. (Psalm 62:5)

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Lent, Prayer

A Prayer for Ash Wednesday

February 10, 2016

It’s the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday. As I let the weight of this season settle on me, I return to the words of this Psalm. And so it’s all I have today. With my filthy hands, my muddy heart, I hold out these words to you.

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Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.

Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are proved right when you speak
and justified when you judge.

Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
and sinners will turn back to you.

Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.

O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise.

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart,
O God, you will not despise.

Psalm 51:1-17

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Hope, One Word

Where Hope Grows

January 27, 2016

My shovel cut through the plastic bag of top soil, I couldn’t lift the weight of that bag for all my trying. Obviously it wasn’t air-tight because the soil inside was so heavy, saturated from recent rains. The weight of all of that water–I couldn’t even get it up on it’s end. I cut in and ripped back the white sheath expecting to see just brown, just soil.

I hadn’t expected the life inside.

I hadn’t expected the shock of green against the black.

Of course I see the metaphor in this. I see the message bold and blazing–hope growing quietly in the dark. Hope biding it’s time, breathing, spreading roots in the quiet, unseen.

Moss

This year came in with her fists up, her shoulders squared, her feet in fighting stance. I’ve been stumbling alongside friends and family through trial after trial. We live through suffering seasons, that overwhelm us and snuff out our joy,  blinding us to beauty that lives just beneath the surface.

But just because we don’t easily see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Who are we to assume we know what lays beneath the thick blanket of struggle, that the seeds of hope aren’t already sprouting, taking root, in spite of the blows life deals us.

I have kicked at dried leaves in my path and scuffed my heels in low, muffled exasperation at life. I’ve poured out my heart in prayer and angst, shoving my hands deep into my pockets and feeling nothing but my own fingers, and wished there was something more to grab onto.

All the while He hovers above and around me, God, blowing through the trees and stirring up the seasons in transition. Meanwhile hope grows unassumingly, unexpectedly, always where I least expect to see it. Under wraps, in the dark, in what seems to be the least hospitable place for life, hope unfurls in the soft, bright colors of spring in the dead of winter.

As my friend Christie writes, “Gardens are born in winter”. (Roots & Sky)

Why am I discouraged? Why is my heart so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again— my Savior and my God! (Psalm 43:5)

moss2

In a garden where everything lies dead, ripped up by the roots, in a space laying rest for a later season of growth, right there among the scraps and cast off bits, that’s where hope lives. Hope thrives in corners unnoticed, in spaces deemed unfit for any proper use.

This isn’t an old, dying world. This is a world in the process of being made new. This is the truth that has always been hiding in plain sight. (Roots & Sky)

Those dark places that bog us down, that cause our feet to slip, it is along those muddy passages of life where hope grows wild, those are the spaces where we find Him, gloriously making a way .

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Hope

Prisoners Of Hope

January 20, 2016

I read this morning that they’ve stopped actively searching for any survivors of last week’s Marine helicopter crash off the coast of Hawaii.

My heart has been a mess of sorrow since last Friday morning when I first heard about it from a dear friend, whose brother-in-law is among the men missing. He was here, and now he isn’t. Just like that. Miles of ocean have been covered in the search, but nothing substantial has been recovered.

The discovery of 3 empty inflated life rafts feels like a particularly brutal find.

hope

As I’ve been praying and weeping over this horrible situation, my one word has come repeatedly to mind. I’ve hung my head muttering, asking, how does one have hope in a situation that seems hopeless? How do you pray for the best possible outcome when you can’t imagine there’s the potential for anything reminiscent of a silver lining?

lights_KC copy

Christie’s first book will be on bookshelves in a couple of weeks, and as I was reading it the other night, I came across this quote,

“God walks with them, always already in the darkest places. He is especially present in the very places we imagine he cannot be.” ~Christie Purifoy, Roots & Sky

Roots And Sky_KC

The silver lining I’m looking for isn’t the possibility of a positive circumstance, but the ever-present person of Jesus Christ. Even in the folds of despair His presence still shines. This morning, the words of Zechariah called we who believe, “prisoners of hope”.

 

Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope. (Zechariah 10:12)

These words arrest me. What is a prisoner, but someone confined or kept in the custody of another. God keeps us in His custody, we are confined by the Holy.

When the weight of hopelessness presses in, when fear and doubt and trepidation wrack our hearts, we are told to return to our place of strength, our place of refuge and protection–to be kept in the custody of the ONE who is Hope.

Return, O Prisoners of hope. 

We who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf… (Hebrews 6:18-20)

Return to your stronghold.

The stronghold is where we surrender, where the prisoners of hope receive a life sentence for eternity.

Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope.

Let your comfort be in your Keeper, your Stronghold who has gone before you, and goes with you into the darkness even now.

 

*A Meal Train has been started for the Campell family (Christie’s sister, and children). If you’d like a tangible way to show some love and hospitality to these hurting souls, CLICK HERE.

 

Sharing this story in community with Jennifer Dukes Lee #TellHisStory
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Hope, One Word

On Fear And Hope

January 13, 2016

And here’s how desire becomes corrupt: wanting derails into selfishness, greed and demanding ingratitude when we’ve failed to reorganize and receive the good that God has already given. Trust is at the center of holy desire: trust that God is good and wills good for his people. We trust in asking; we trust in receiving. Holy trust believes that whatever God chooses to give is enough. (Jen Pollock Michele)

I was sure the sun was mocking me, the way it blazed so bold and bright all day. I felt as gray and bleak as most midwest winter days usually are, my heart, overcast, threatening to storm.

hope

My one word for the year, “Hope” flaps hard these days, like a flag in the winter wind, snapping and popping in sharp bursts, demanding my consideration. I’ve wrestled with resentment over its call to attention. The truth is I don’t feel all that hopeful, and by lunchtime yesterday, I felt near certain I would toss that word to the curb and choose another.

But it doesn’t work that way–not with me, anyway.

While reading in Ephesians I stumble across this prayer from Paul, master of the run-on sentence:

I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, …

I write it in my journal as a question: What is the hope to which He has called me? I chase that one line down with 4 handwritten pages of sloppy confessions, dumping the whole heap of my frustrations and irritation out for God to read. By the third page my sin practically leaps off the page. My desires derailed into selfishness, as Jen so aptly wrote. It takes all that frustrated scribbling for me to see that ingratitude is at the root of my irritation, well, that and fear.

When I’m afraid I don’t trust God. Fear erects itself like a blockade between me and the Almighty. It sends me into hiding, ashamed, untrusting, like Eve in the garden. This word, Hope, is the very voice of God calling to me in the midst of the thicket–Where are you? What is the hope to which you have been called? 

dining room2

The greek word for hope in Paul’s passage means to anticipate, to have expectation or confidence–the confident expectation of good. I purse my lips when I read this, feeling a bit of mockery for how I feel the exact opposite of this. The ugly truth is that when life rocks me with uncertainty, fear swells like a wave and I forget how to swim. I toss and twist myself exhausted in the fear that what I can expect from such uncertainty is not good, but bad. I give uncertainty the power to derail the truth. Fear snatches the throne of my heart and reigns with hostility, anger and despair.

What is the hope to which he has called you?

Upstairs hall

After lunch I relent and let the kids play video games for a few minutes. I’m desperately tired but instead of sleep, I sit on the floor with my journal and continue my confessions. I’m certain I could confess for days without end. Tears brimming, I hear the answer to Paul’s question–What is the hope to which you have been called?

HopeStudy

Fear begins to recede. Of course I know this: my hope is in Jesus. The hope to which I have been called is IN the one who IS hope. Jesus, the hope of glory. Hope requires trust:“Holy trust believes that whatever God gives is enough”. 

Ingratitude opens the door for fear, and the unwelcome guest crushes gratitude. Fear plants seeds of doubt that God is enough, that Jesus is the hope of glory, and that God fulfills His purpose for me. (Ps. 138:8)

It seems the first hurdle I am learning to leap over in this new year is fear. This stands in direct opposition to embracing the hope to which I have been called.

fear

God does it. He fulfills HIS purpose. I can be grateful in this hope, thankful for this promise that does not fail. If I believe this, I can rest in the unknown, trusting that God will do (and is doing) what He has in mind. When I remember this, when I snatch back the pointed scepter from fear, and invite Jesus back to the throne in my life, hope becomes not something to bootstrap my way into believing, but something that I can embrace with joy and expectation.

God has already given. Jesus has come and died and was raised.

Hope lives.

May He teach me what it is to live in Him.

 

*Katie Orr has released 3 fantastic bible studies intended to help you dive deep into scripture in just 15 minutes a day. Check out her HOPE study HERE, and find the others HERE. Here’s how funny God is, I received my copy of Katie’s new studies after I had received my word “hope” for 2016, and low and behold, HOPE was among them. 

 

 

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