advent: hope in the darkness

This semester, I have been studying the book of Amos with the college girls I meet with at UCA. I really enjoy the Old Testament, so I was excited when they told me they wanted to pick one of the minor prophets for our discussions, since they were books they didn’t know much about.

I’m going to be honest, though. There were a couple of weeks where I was a little doubtful that this material was helpful for them. I mean, I 100% believe the entire Bible is inspired-by-God. I believe it is useful for “teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). I believe that God’s Word does not return void – that it will accomplish His purposes for which He sends it (Isaiah 55:11).

But, all that to say, maybe Amos was just a little too far removed from our everyday lives. I mean, Amos is full of accusations of Israel’s sin and God’s impending judgment. The nation of Israel has continually rejected God’s attempts to get their attention, with famines, with droughts, with pestilence… in the midst of all of these devastations, “yet you did not return to me” (Amos 4:6-11). God’s sovereignty is made known, but so is His wrath, and that’s a little uncomfortable (and not to mention depressing).

Things are dark for the nation of Israel in the first 8 and a half chapters… but that last half of chapter 9, the last few verses of the book, is the turning point of redemption and promise.

“Behold, the eyes of the Lord God are upon the sinful kingdom, and I will destroy it from the surface of the group, except that I will not utterly destroy the house of Jacob,” declares the Lord… “I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel, and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine, and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit. I will plant them on their land, and they shall never again be uprooted out of the land that I have given them,” says the Lord your God. (Amos 9:8, 14-15 emphasis mine).

When we sat down to discuss this passage this week, we all excitedly said the word FINALLY!

This promise of hope, which was partially fulfilled when the Israelites returned from exile and which will not fully be fulfilled until Jesus establishes His kingdom here on earth, snatches my breath away.

Hope shines most brightly in the darkness. By that, I mean that promises of coming redemption mean the most when you recognize your need for that redemption, when you have been waiting for something to change, when you need comfort that everything is going to be okay.

Hope is not something people generally talk about when everything in life is going fairly well – no one’s life is perfect, but in the seasons of calm, you can acknowledge that God has brought you to a place of rest; your hope feels fulfilled, and you aren’t looking towards what’s coming.

But when things are difficult, and you are tired of carrying your burdens, you need hope more than ever. You are desperate for the reassurance that God is still in control and God is still at work in your situation. You need something to cling to, a reminder that even if things are about to get darker, they will eventually get lighter again.

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as they are glad when they divide the spoil… For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:2-3, 6)Version 2

Advent is upon us, and I am reminded not simply that Jesus came, but Jesus came as the fulfillment of a promise. He was the hope that the nation of Israel was clinging to, even if they didn’t know exactly Who or how that hope would be fulfilled. He told them in the beginning that Someone would come to crush the serpent (Genesis 3:15), that there would be victory, and Israel had to cling to the fact that God had not forgotten to be faithful.

The above passage in Isaiah is surrounded by prophecy of a coming invasion and the reasons the nation of Israel is facing judgment. Not even all of chapter 9 is a feel-good passage. But woven in-between the messages of the struggles ahead, God gives His people promise that He is still in control, and He is sending relief.

Hope becomes more valuable as you are immersed in desperate situations, places where your only option is to cling to God.

If you are walking in darkness (literally), you unconsciously strain your eyes in hopes of finding light. And as I walk through season of darkness metaphorically, I find I do the same thing, continually looking for something, anything that shows that there is purpose, or there is hope, or there is a relief ahead. I am eager to find that light.

This Advent season, I am reminded that Jesus is that light.

Not a relief from daily struggles. Not an answer to the uncertainty ahead. Not a change from unmet expectations. But Jesus Himself – He is the light in the midst of the darkness, and the more willing I am to acknowledge my desperate need, the more beautiful it is that He is the answer to that need.

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4-5)

when you don’t feel like it

“I haven’t read my Bible in awhile.”

In a student center on campus, this college girl was updating me on her life, and in response to my question about her walk with the Lord, she confessed her lack of initiative and continued, “But I don’t want to be legalistic about it, so I am just going to wait until I have a desire to open up the Word.”

I am going to be honest, I don’t remember who this girl was, because I have had this conversation numerous times. In fact, I am sure I felt this way at a similar stage in my own life. As someone who loves the checklist and thrives with clear expectations, I found myself often viewing my faith through the lens of what all I needed to do, and it became a legalism in which I thought my good-girl-following-the-rules position was what God wanted most. I worried that He was disappointed in me when I skipped a quiet time or got distracted in church. The thing is, I so badly wanted to please God that I used my list of rules to measure whether or not I was doing “well” spiritually – and while this did help me evaluate whether or not I was prioritizing Him, it was a constant burden that kept me from experiencing joy and freedom in Him.

. . . . . . . . . .

Gnats in the dusk light of a November evening have always reminded me of fairy dust.

It’s the magic hour, that 4:30 slot when the sun slants low enough to catch my shape, shifting the shadows across the pavement so that a slow and easy jog looks like I am chasing my own form.

I’m not a runner. I wish I were one. I used to be, in high school, before the foot surgeries and the complacency of no longer needing to be in shape for year-round sports. But I am trying to start a new habit of running around 4:00 a couple of afternoons each week.

Once I am out on the paved trail that winds through town, I enjoy it. Our border collie pup Ridley typically accompanies me, and together we crunch over leaves, and he wags his tail at every passer-by who comments on how pretty he is. Somehow, he knows what they are saying, and he eats it up. We only run about a mile and a half to two miles, so don’t get any ideas that I am training for a distance race, but it’s enough to increase my heart rate and soak in the crisp autumn air.

I have been trying to develop this discipline since we moved into our new house three months ago – we are across the street from the town bike path, which makes it almost too easy to get out and go. But the times I have gone for a run have been few and far between, which makes it difficult to establish a habit, or to increase my distance I can run.

Disciplines take time to build, and they aren’t necessarily easy or enjoyable in the beginning. I get out and run not because I am excited to, but because I am chasing that feeling I get when I finally slow to a walk at the end – the tingly skin and tight muscles and deep breaths. And I often find that one healthy decision, like a run, leads to another, like eating an apple instead of the candy corn I still have stashed away from Halloween.

. . . . . . . . . .

The nation of Israel regularly found themselves in a period of decline and distance from the Lord, despite their attempts to rigidly keep the law. Often the issue came when they were incorporating the customs and religions of neighboring nations, continuing to “serve the Lord” but also serving their selfish desires and pagan gods. As you can imagine, this did not go over well with a Holy God who demands full allegiance to Himself alone.

“What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats.” (Isaiah 1:11)

“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them;
and the peace offerings of your fattened animals I will not look upon them.” (Amos 5:22)

God is not simply after our rituals and our religion. The sacrificial system and the law were put into place as a continual reminder of the peoples’ need for God, and their inability to live in the way He commanded pointed them to their need for a Savior. Romans 4:20 tells us that “through the law comes knowledge of sin” – not “through the law comes our ability to be saved.”

“For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it; you will not be pleased with a burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:16-17)

I was talking about this yesterday with a couple of girls. When you stop to think about it, how incredible is it that God doesn’t just care about us going through the motions? He wants our hearts! He wants a relationship with us. He’s not after us being able to keep the rules. In fact, He knows we can’t keep the rules, and He loves us even in our mistakes and our shortcomings.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)

God is after a relationship with us, and we have to remember that as we seek to live a life pleasing to Him. It’s not just about following the rules. We cannot accomplish salvation or maintain our deserving of it through our own abilities.

However, if we believe the truth that we are all broken, and none of us have a right heart, we will find that we don’t always want to live the way He commands.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9)

The point of spiritual disciplines (prayer, reading the Bible, worship, confession, etc.) is not to give us a list of rules to follow. They are designed to help us connect with God and deepen our relationship with Him. Similar to a friendship in which you talk and hang out and do fun things together to help you grow closer, spiritual disciplines help us grow closer to God.

And while He doesn’t want our numb routines, I’m not sure that the answer when we don’t feel like it is to wait until we feel like it. Because, if our hearts are broken and sinful, we aren’t going to always “want” it.

Rather, spiritual disciplines are more like working out. I don’t always want to run, and I don’t always want to read my Bible. But the more often I get out and run, the more I find enjoyment in various aspects of it, such as experiencing the angle of the sunlight and the crunch of leaves beneath my feet and the chance to clear my head from the day. The more often I run, the more easily I can breathe through the pounding of feet on pavement. It will (hopefully) become something I crave, something routine but something good for me that is producing results in my life, physically and mentally.

And the more often I open my Bible, even when I don’t “feel like it,” the more I will find enjoyment in the experience of quieting my heart, holding thick leather and heavy pages, searching for truth about God, and allowing Him to speak to me. Sometimes He does, and it’s joyous and convicting. Sometimes, it’s just sitting there, sacrificing that time for Him and trusting that He is present even if silent.

It’s a discipline, and while I don’t do it just for the sake of checking it off a list, I read the Word daily and trust that through it God is producing something in my life.

Even if I can’t see it yet.

“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)

accepting an unwanted storyline

These days, I am trying to form a new habit of looking for redemption despite a lack of resolution.

We live in a less-than-perfect world, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better. It’s not hard to find disappointment or discouragement, both in the world as a whole and in our own worlds, the day-to-day realities we individually face.

In my story, the brokenness I am facing is infertility. For you, it might be unhappiness in a job, or a rocky marriage, or recent loss of a loved one, or a difficult move to a new city, or the weighty uncertainty of what the future holds.

And, perhaps even more difficult, these struggles reveal our lack of control in our lives. The inability to work hard and, as a result, make things okay is frustrating, especially in a society which communicates that hard work typically equals success – anything from a promotion in your job to a cleaner house to a skinnier version of yourself. There are so many tangible things that are successful as a direct result of our effort and our skills. But when it comes to the big life issues, it doesn’t work the same way.

So what do we do, then?

How do we deal with the dissatisfaction we face in life? How do we live in the middle of brokenness and find contentment in what we cannot change? How do we trust a God Who is able to cause change, but Who often doesn’t meet our expectations, since His ways are not ours and His thoughts are not ours?

If we really believe He is working all things together for good, but if we accept that we won’t understand His methods of bringing about that good, how can we find peace while still in the middle of the story?

Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. –John 12:24

This paradox has grasped my attention. Death is not the end – death produces life. And not only does it produce life, but it has the potential to multiply life.

In this season of infertility, how can I see it as fruitful, yielding life despite the lack of such within my womb?

How can you reshape your perspective to see not just the trial in front of you, but what it is producing in you? How could this be part of God’s story, even if it’s not the storyline you hoped for?

And not only that, but we also rejoice in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope. Romans 5:3-4

Suffering and affliction is the beginning of the route to hope. Crapdangit.

Our God uses pain to produce hope, and as much as I kind of hate this process, I am learning that it is necessary. Without pain, why would we need a hope to cling to? If the world worked the way we wanted, would we long for the Lord? But as it is, we falter and faint until we lean on the Lord’s strength, finding our needs met in Him even when (especially when) they aren’t met by our tangible reality.

I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten, the hopper, the destroyer, and the cutter, my great army, which I sent among you. You shall eat in plenty and be satisfied, and praise the name of the Lord your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. And my people shall never again be put to shame. You shall know that I am in the midst of Israel, and that I am the Lord your God and there is none else. And my people shall never again be put to shame. Joel 2:25-27

The locust has eaten the years – but the locusts were first sent by God. He gives locusts, then He gives relief and He gives life. How do we handle that He is the One Who both sends the locust and Who rescues us?

As of now, I am perhaps left with more questions than answers. But I have been pondering this concept for the past several months, and I want to find the life in the midst of death, the fruit in the midst of barrenness, and the hope that pain is producing in me.

It’s a beautiful absurdity, that God takes such an unlikely path, and while I confess being over the pain and the confusion, I am grateful that the brokenness doesn’t mean hopelessness. In fact, the more I find myself despairing over life circumstances, the more I am grasping for hope that deliverance is soon.

And in that grasping, I am gripping onto God instead of a change in my circumstances, as I more fully recognize His control and my lack thereof.

in the quiet

It’s been just over three months since we packed up a Uhaul, a truck, a CR-V, a motorcycle, two bikes, and a dog, all to move two and a half hours south to my growing-up town. The transition itself has been like a party with the music turned up just a little too loud – fun and exciting but also exhausting and deafening and slightly chaotic.

There are days when I feel settled, and days when I feel homesick, and days when I feel generally confused at how I actually feel.

But overall, we are beginning to stabilize into a “normal,” and we are very thankful for new friends and a new house and new jobs and this town. We are thankful for how God has shown up in the midst of the transition and how He has begun to quiet things in a sweet, settled way. It’s a lot of work to have almost everything change, the major components of your life running ahead of you and hollering for you to catch up. I think we are finally catching up.

While the majority of the details in our life changed, though, there is still something that hasn’t, and I confess being more than a little sad about it.

That’s the way it always goes, isn’t it? You ask for something, and the Lord works and moves in all of these incredible ways – but instead of focusing on the things He is doing, we find ourselves asking “Why?” in the area He doesn’t seem to be acting in.

Are you shaking your head at me, or with me? Is it just me, or you too?

I’m never content. I’m more like the fickle, needy, selfish Israelites than I am comfortable admitting. God provides manna and quail, but I complain about wanting water (Exodus 16-17).

So what do you do when the thing you are hoping will change, doesn’t?
How do you handle the silence when what you are craving is the beat of the drums and the rhythm of the guitar?
How do you believe that God is at work when things are quiet, when He is quiet?

He’s not absent. He’s very much here. But when it comes to my prayers for change, my unfulfilled desires, He gives no indication and no promise of what’s to come. He listens and comforts, but honestly, He isn’t providing any answers.

I don’t feel abandoned. I don’t sense distance or His disapproval. But I am struggling to reconcile the why. And the when. My head knows He is good, but my heart is hurt by what I am experiencing as a lack of action on His part, despite Him being all-powerful. If He’s able to do anything, why doesn’t He do something?

Honestly, I think I have begun to give up in my prayers. I don’t know that it has been a conscious decision or a choice stirred by frustration or bitterness. It’s been a slow decrease, a weary reaction, a little at a time until I begin to think that prayer wasn’t accomplishing anything, anyway, so why keep it up? Maybe God’s just not going to answer it, or maybe His timing is to make me wait, so my prayers are useless right now because He’s going to do what He wants. That’s His prerogative, but I’m sick of getting my hopes up.

As I type that, I know it’s not true. I don’t actually believe that. But it’s how I feel, and I think I need to admit more often what I am feeling so that I can see it and remind myself of what actually is true.

Really, that’s the only thing I know to do right now. To repeatedly and continually fill my mind with truth about God and His character, asking Him to develop in me true hope that is fulfilled in Him and not in my requests being answered.

  • HE SEES ME IN MY PAIN. Genesis 16:13 – So she called the name of the LORD who spoke to her, “You are a God of seeing,” for she said, “Truly here I have seen him who looks after me.”
  • HE IS GOOD, AND HIS ACTIONS ARE GOOD. Psalm 119:68 – You are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees.
  • HE GIVES PEACE. John 16:33 – “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
  • HE IS THE FULFILLMENT OF OUR DESIRES. Psalm 145:16 – “You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.”
  • HE BRINGS HOPE FROM OUR PAIN. Romans 5:3-5 – “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”
  • HE IS OUR COMFORTER. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 – “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. “

Even in the quiet, He is there. Even in the quiet, He is at work. His ways are not our ways, so maybe what looks like still and stagnant to me is part of the process to Him.

Maybe He has pulled me into the quiet to teach my soul the art of contentment, the joy found in Him alone. Despite my kicking and screaming and desire to get up and leave. Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, having no stability or place to call their own, but they had God, Who called them His own. Is that enough for me – to be His, and not be looking for what to call mine?

autumn’s easter celebration

While I’ve been somewhat silent on the blog front, I haven’t stopped writing. I’ve been storing up words and phrases, piecing them together and keeping the pretty little things like a child storing pebbles in her pockets. The purpose of this collection is more for my own personal joy than for putting into prose and publishing here.

I am savoring fall bit by bit: the fog frosting the fields, the fragments of pink scattered across morning sky, the street lights dimming one-by-one and reminding me of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Lamplighter.”

I’ve been reading a lot, too – mostly rereading, I suppose. Emily Dickinson and John Donne collections have been thumbed through and lingered upon, even as a spiritual discipline of sorts to spark my prayer and my praise. My annual adventure through Avonlea with Anne continues to captivate me, and my heart thrills to anticipate how “September [will slip] by into a gold and crimson graciousness of October.”

October is the most delightful month, in my opinion, and as today is October 1, I am savoring each and every glimpse I catch of God, more treasures to add to my pockets. The crisp morning air collides with warm afternoons to produce both layers of clothing and layers of thoughts about the coming changes. There’s a spiritual depth I find here, and my heart is more sensitive to the Lord as the world around me slows and cools from summer’s simmer of heat and activity.

There are moments when I instinctively feel that we should celebrate Easter in the fall. I wrote last year about how odd yet beautiful it is that we celebrate death during the autumn months, as opposed to the life (or coming life) celebrated throughout the rest of the year. And I get that Easter in the spring is sweet because new life is springing up, and it correlates with the joy that Christ is risen.

But I have a hard time celebrating death in March or April. I don’t want to focus on that part of the story when life is teeming all around me – yet that is a critical part of Easter’s celebration.

In fall, I am more able to process the change that death renders, the somber air of what’s taking place in the changing world around me as it lets go of the life it has previously been growing. It may seem like a backward step, like a defeat – I am sure Christ’s followers felt defeated as they watched their Messiah take His last breaths. But His dying is what produced everlasting and ever-fulfilling life.

In fall, I am struck with how God uses pain to produce hope in our lives.

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:3-5)

Last year I mused on finding beauty in death. This year, I am wrestling with the fact that hope is produced through our suffering.

I am not so sure I like that pattern. At least, not as extended as it has felt in my life. There are days when it feels like the suffering never ends, so where is the hope in that?

But I suppose God’s timing is never our timing, and His plans are never what we would choose – thus, our hope must be in Him and not in our trials ending. This world is broken, so there will always be something that’s not working right.

In seasons of discouragement, I find myself looking for stories of others who have walked well through their own pain and who have come out on the other side still able to say, “God is good!” I soak in their words. I think, “I want to write like that! I want to have that perspective in the midst of my own confusion!” I try to decide what I should say about my own circumstances, but when I sit down to write, I draw a blank.

I more often find myself agreeing with my dear heroine Anne of Green Gables: “It’s all very well to read about sorrows and imagine yourself living through them heroically, but it’s not so nice when you really come to have them, is it?” And I suppose part of the difficulty comes in not seeing the full picture yet, as many of the writers I am reading or the women I am talking to are now able to do.

Why must the Lord use suffering to produce hope? It can feel like a constant battle to let this hope remain in my focus instead of the trial that continually blocks my view.

Yet hope does not hide until we are out of the fire. Hope must be present when we can’t see what’s ahead, because we can be confident in a strong God Who is able to handle our uncertainty. Hebrews 11:1 states, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”

As leaves redden and crinkle, as days shorten, as layers pile up, we do not lose hope. We do not despair at the coming winter. Instead, we savor the delightful but ever so brief middle ground of autumn, knowing that winter will come, but so will spring.

And in the midst of trials, may our hearts cling to the hope that prevails in Christ – a better hope, as Hebrews 7:19 proclaims. Because of His death, we have life. Because of His sacrifice, we have an intimate relationship with God, Who is producing good through the sin and brokenness in us. He has not abandoned us. Rather, He is purposeful in our seasons of sadness, and He promises to continue that work in us until it is completed (Philippians 1:6).

Happy October 1 – may you find yourself celebrating this season with a joy that goes deeper than pumpkin spice and flannel shirts. May you identify with Christ’s death and rejoice in the life He gives, even if things here on earth continue to disappoint.

Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:19-23)

stuck on the tilt-a-whirl

Change is a tilt-a-whirl, hurtling you not just up and down but spinning and lurching and side-winding. Unpredictable motion means you can’t stay on your toes to anticipate what’s next – it wipes you out, leaves you wondering when the ride stops and how you got so stuck.

And that’s how I would sum up the past eight and a half weeks, for those of you wondering how our transition to Conway has been.

As with any carnival ride, the tilt-a-whirl has its fun moments. Otherwise, it would have disappeared from the fairground circuit. There’s the excitement and the almost-sick-but-surprisingly-delicious feeling in your stomach when you come up in the air just so. There’s the blur of colors of the world around you, t-shirts and trailers and cotton candy kaleidoscoping your vision. There’s the eager anticipation of what the next turn will entail.

But no one wants to stay on the tilt-a-whirl. After what seems like a 45-second ride (despite that 20 minute wait), you get off. Your jelly legs adjust to life on firm land. And you scamper off to check out another machine, which will carry you in a different pattern of motion.

Stuck in perpetual and unpredictable motion. Hello, moving to a new city and starting new jobs and making new friends and moving twice and missing what was left behind.

I’ll cut the metaphors and tell ya straight – it’s been a wild ride. (Okay, that wasn’t planned and now I’m done.)

There have been some exciting and affirming moments throughout our time in Conway. We have felt welcomed at church and within a small group. It’s sweet being close to my family and specifically getting to see my sister daily as we now teach at the same school. Once we finally closed on a house and moved in, that feeling of “home” came quickly, even in the midst of boxes (that are almost gone!).

As a side note, while moving is plain irritating, and moving everything you own twice in six weeks is not recommended, we felt so loved by the number of people willing to give up an afternoon or an evening to help us load Uhauls and unload Uhauls and rearrange furniture, even in the rain. We ended each endeavor exhausted but ever so grateful for the presence of people, many of whom didn’t even know us very well.

But there have also been some really discouraging realizations as it sinks in that practically every part of our life is something new, something to learn and grow in. It’s been like our first year of marriage: difficult not necessarily because of continual conflict or annoyance with someone else sharing my space, but mentally and emotionally exhausting from constantly encountering a new situation to work through or make a decision for. All of life has changed, and Eric and I are trying to reset any semblance of normalcy.

And on the days when we fail to grab hold of the Lord and truth about Him, we are running on empty, individually and in our marriage.

Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights; with Him there is no variation or shadow cast by turning. (James 1:17 HCSB)

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)

Because I, Yahweh, have not changed, you descendants of Jacob have not been destroyed. (Malachi 3:6 HCSB)

While the change in my circumstances might tempt me to doubt God’s path for my life and ministry, and while it has changed the trajectory of where I thought He was using me, I am comforted that He does not change. He is the giver of good gifts, even when I don’t understand His ways and selfishly wish for other gifts. He fulfills His promises to me to be with me and to equip me, just as He fulfilled His promises to preserve the nation of Israel.He remains on the throne, and He has the authority to move me in any which direction He chooses.

Because I trust His goodness through a kaleidoscope, despite the tilting and whirling of life.

He walks beside me, guiding me through the blur and into a deeper dependence on Him.

waiting out the storm

For Ridley, it’s been more than a terrible-horrible-no-good-very-bad-day. It’s been that kind of week.IMG_7022

 For starters, he had to move away from his home in Fayetteville – the one with the screened in porch where he could nap in the sun, and the front porch where he could watch for kids on their skateboards. I don’t think he quite understands yet what’s going on. He arrived to a new house, and out of the nine nights he has been here, a thunderstorm and/or fireworks have driven him to panic just about every night. Two pit bulls in the yard behind him jumped the fence one day and, whether in play or in aggression, cornered him against the back doors. They haven’t been back since, but every time he goes out into the yard, they menacingly bark at him, taunting him I’m sure.

Last night was bad. Thunder started around 3 a.m., and he just couldn’t seem to find a safe place. He fidgeted constantly under the bed, so we put him in our bathroom. He scratched at the door, so we put him in the guest bathroom. He tried jumping into the clawfoot tub, but I guess couldn’t get in, so he knocked things off the sink counter and made so much racket that I couldn’t take it any more. He has a rug in the hall that he loves, so I tried just letting him roam the house in hopes that he would settle on his rug, but he scratched and jumped at the door so much that by 5 a.m., I just got out of bed to sit with him. I wasn’t getting any sleep anyway – the owner of the pit bulls leaves the dogs in the yard even in storms, so one of them was (understandably) whining and barking.

I got out of bed, started brewing some coffee, lit a candle, and settled into the couch, assuming that Ridley would snuggle at my feet and sleep while I spent some time journaling.

No such luck.

All he wanted was to go back into the bedroom and wake up Eric. Never mind that Eric can’t stop the thunder and the rain; Ridley simply wanted to paw at him and pant in his face. So I tried everything I could think of to keep Ridley away so that at least one of us would get some sleep.

I fed Ridley breakfast, one of his favorite parts of the day (dinner being the other). He ate quickly then went back to scratching at the bedroom door.

I put kitchen chairs in front of the door so that he couldn’t scratch. He wedged himself under the chairs, finally scooting them aside.

I blocked him in the living room with me by closing the French doors to the dining room then scooting the armchair into the hallway opening. First he slipped past the chair, so I pushed it back in further till it was too wedged to move. Then he climbed on top of me (sitting in the chair) and attempted to jump over the back of the chair into the hallway.

Finally, I grabbed my mug of coffee and just sat in front of the bedroom door, knees to my chest, physically blocking his paws.

It’s been an hour, and I am still sitting here. In the past ten minutes, the storm has quieted. The sun is starting to come up. And Ridley has finally laid his head down in my lap to rest, his breathing still quick but not as anxious.

Throughout the storm, I tried to explain to him so many times that he just needed to wait it out – storms have an expiration date. They don’t last forever. We were protected and safe in the house, but there was nothing Eric nor I could do to make it stop. He’s been through so many storms before, and I tried to remind him that he had always been fine in the past. But of course, his sweet dog brain can’t understand what I am saying. Even if he could have, he was too panic-stricken to slow down and listen to my voice. He didn’t seem to understand that I got out of bed super early just to sit with him; he kept rejecting my attempts to soothe and cuddle him.

As I was sitting here, I confess that I was having my own little freak out with the Lord.

I am excited to be in Conway, and I am excited for what the future holds, but, to be honest, it hasn’t been an easy week, even beyond the lack of sleep most nights.

We moved into the sweet old house we were planning to buy, but hit a snag in the process and are no longer able to buy it. The sellers have been gracious to us, and they are allowing us to rent it while we look for another house (and while they look for another buyer). However, I am ready to start making Conway home. And having half of my life in boxes sure doesn’t help. I woke up this morning so frustrated with the Lord – frustrated that this house situation worked out the way it has. Frustrated that we haven’t seen anything else on the market that we are interested in. Frustrated that the market is so different down here, much slower and with fewer choices. Frustrated that Ridley has been daily anxious in this house. Frustrated that the pit bull behind us has been barking almost every night.

So I sat in the hall against the door frame, my butt growing numb against the hardwood floor, knees to chest to balance coffee in one hand, free arm trying to corral Ridley, and tears streaming down my face.

I told the Lord I was so over it, that I couldn’t understand why He had pulled me away from an incredible community and a dream job and an awesome house in exchange for this. I told Him I was upset. I told Him, while I know He doesn’t owe me, that surely He would reward me for all I had given up.

And suddenly, He showed up. And, as it goes when He reveals truth to your heart, I felt like a child being both scolded and comforted at the same time.

Just as Ridley was anxiously pawing at the bedroom door, I was pawing at the Lord. I was freaking out at the storm raging outside, and all I wanted was a new house in hopes that everything would be better. I wasn’t appreciating His presence as He tried to comfort me. My only lens for relief was short-sighted, and I was panicking without regard to reason or to truth.

That’s the way it normally goes when we encounter storms, isn’t it?

The thunder rolls in to warn of what’s coming. The rain starts to beat on the roof, and even though we are protected and dry thanks to our security in Christ and our hope in His power, we think the world is ending. Irrationally, we begin clawing at anything and everything. Even when God attempts to hold us close in comfort, we start clawing at Him.

Too often we pray for peace, we pray for rest, but we reject it when the Lord provides it. We assume that peace means resolution, that everything is okay. Often, though, peace has nothing to do with our circumstances and everything to do with the state of our heart.

God came down in flesh as Jesus to sit on the hardwood floor with us, to be that peace for us, even though He didn’t have to. He suffered more than the numbness and soreness I will feel when I am able to get back up. I am sure He would rather have stayed in heaven’s perfection (just as I would rather have been snuggled under the covers to enjoy the rain). Yet, because of His love for us, He experienced life as a man so that He could provide peace for us with God once for all.

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

He didn’t come so that we would never experience hardship again. He came so that, as we walk through the storms that are sure to come (both as a result of a broken world and as a tool for our growth), we could experience a relationship with Him to carry us through the storms and ultimately make His Name great.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid… I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world. (John 14:27, 16:33)

So as I still sit here on the floor, Ridley’s head nestled in that little space behind my back, I, too, will slow my breathing, stop my clawing, rest my spirit in my God as I wait out the storm.

I’m thankful He’s more patient with me than I have been with Ridley, and I’m thankful that He is able to calm the storm – but He is also able to let the storm rage and calm me as we wait through it together.

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:19-20)

I’m praying that the truth of His love and peace invades your own storms and that you are also able to wait it out, finding that His presence is enough.