the path through the valley

#madeinthefold

the path of pain leads us to a path of hope. this is true because it provides a chance for the Creator, the One who loves us most intimately, to simply show us who He really is. in all His goodness.

for the past few years, i have frequently read psalm 23. verse 4 is poignant and causes a moment to pause.

“even when His path takes me through the valley of deepest darkness fear will not conquer me, for You already have! forever close to me, You will lead me through it all the way. the strength of Your authority is my peace, my reassurance. the comfort of Your love takes away my fear. i’ll never be lonely when You are near.”

sometimes He calls us to walk through the valley of deep darkness. it is in this time that there is only one thing for certain. His presence is with us and will never leave us. if we allow it, it can be the place of truest redemption. where our pain and heartache are poured out like dark liquid to Him. He then absorbs our pain and grants healing to our hearts offering life and hope–truly making the valley of trouble (achor) into a “gateway of hope.”

not all pain is damaging, nor does it scare Him. instead, He comes closer to us when we are the most honest with Him, bearing our souls in the truest vulnerability. some pain is necessary. only clean wounds are ones that heal correctly and fully. so instead of despising the pain and causing it to burn with anger and contempt, may we allow it to open the pathway to quicker access to Him and to quicker healing and life.

it will take everything we have to walk through this valley, this path. it will require radical obedience and trust in His character and intentions for our future.  He does not ask us to travel this path alone. instead, there is a chance for a powerful exchange. His presence to us becomes greater than our fears because we are confident that He is with us. it is our reassurance to continue traversing the difficult ground ahead. this perspective helps us lay aside everything we have ever counted more dear to us (to our soul), than He himself. it truly restores right order. we could be left to hold onto all the things our hearts have set up above the place He rightfully deserves. things that we have crafted with our own hands and then began to give glory. instead, He chooses this path to be a path of stripping and tearing away. His closeness becomes our supreme desire. we cannot imagine living without it.

so may the courage be present to strip away all that is unnecessary and fully bare our hearts to Him. may the trust in His character be present to be fully known by Him and to make known fully to Him all that we have kept away from everyone else fearing the rejection it might bring. when we have come to the other side of the valley, our hearts will no longer be held captive, but instead set free. it is then that He will grant us our own song to sing and testify to the goodness of His work in us, telling of His faithfulness and great care for our well-being. (hosea 2:15)

may we be confident of His presence in this valley and find true peace and healing.

in the loneliness

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we cannot know our need until we are in want. i am becoming convinced of this.

sometime in the middle of last summer i quickly journaled a passing thought that threatened to go as quickly as it came – to be alone is to be in want of another. yes, we cannot fully embrace or even acknowledge our desperate state until we realize we are in need. for some this is easier than others. to admit my lack has never been an easy thing.

maybe that is why He is now choosing to strip me of most of what has been known for a time. to allow the brokenness to spring forth and be embraced. to be in a place of vulnerability. to be in need. of Him.

He has a way of doing this (especially when we ask it of Him). to come and break through our barriers so that there is no longer anything between Him and us.

i came across this quote in a random sort of way, but it has struck me deeply. it puts words to the relentless cry that is in all of us. the space in us that can only be satisfied by Him is still left up to our choosing. one that has to be made over and over again. it requires us to say no to all the other things that scream at us for our attention and for our affections. the things which seemingly provide us relief last only momentarily, yet He is the only One who can provide true rest and freedom for our souls. (if only my soul could really take hold of this.)

the loneliness is more poignant on some days. it sticks out like a neon sign. this happened for me the other day when i went exploring in the snow around my house. i turned back to see where i’d come from and snapped this picture. only one set of footprints. i felt alone, but i wasn’t. even though i have felt it more strongly in this season than any other, the truth of the matter is – His presence is always with me. whether i feel it or not. it was that very night i reached out for encouragement and a friend’s reply reminded me that “He is right there with you. He has never forsaken you.” my heart needed to hear that, it still does. how quickly our hearts can forget sometimes.

so i long to seek after the crevices, the ones where glimmers of His glory shine through. the evidences of His grace and presence, whether seen, felt or heard. the unresting and tragic loneliness that will, if i allow it, push me towards Himself to be fully satisfied. to remove all hindrances from finding the deepest fulfillment for my being – only to be found in Him. to be rooted in the truth of who He is. because He is truth, and He will stand true for our hearts. always.

so, i am learning to become thankful for the loneliness. because in the loneliness, i find Him.

every story has a beginning

beginnings

a few months ago, i went back to a well-known beginning. the story of moses.
struggle, doubt, and confusion surrounded the beginning of his calling as a deliverer of the children of israel.

in looking at exodus 3 and 4, i came to several conclusions about moses.

he hid from the Lord and was afraid to look at His face. (3:6)
he questioned his own worth and value by asking “who am i?” (3:11)
he was hesitant to obey because it was uncomfortable. (3:13)
he doubted the Lord’s word to him. (3:13)
he wanted proof and questioned God. (3:18)
he disagreed with God by stating “they will not believe or listen to me.” (4:1)
he made it about his insecurities. (4:10)
he resisted his new identity as a deliverer of people of God. (4:12-13)

in the conversation between God and moses at the burning bush, He was clearly calling moses out of a life of the mundane to do something great. in one of his pleadings, he told the Lord that he was not eloquent or good with words, that he had a tendency to become tongue-tied. yet, God acknowledged He created his mouth and tongue and He told moses “i will be with your mouth and will teach you what to say.” (4:12)

but moses again pleaded with the Lord. (v. 13) he still didn’t want to go.

the One who identified Himself as the God of abraham, isaac, and jacob spoke personally to moses to call him out from the circumstances he was in, to bring about the deliverance of the people of israel. despite the clarity of the call, unbelief and doubt still flooded his heart. he chose fear instead of trusting in what the Lord was saying to him. moses was unsure and untrusting of the words that were spoken over him. continual excuses were how he combatted the powerful call he was to step into.

then the Lord became angry (vs. 14), and said He would send aaron with him.

even though moses struggled and didn’t fully believe at the beginning of the journey, God still delivered through him. He showed grace towards moses and ultimately he (with the company of aaron) led the people of israel out of egypt. when he and aaron came and told the people of israel what the Lord had spoken, and how He had seen their distress, they fell down and worshiped God. (4.31)

what is He saying about us? the very thing that moses battled with the most fiercely was what God had destined him to be from before the foundations of the world. the chance for Moses to be dependent and always attuned to the Lord’s heart was critical. each step he took and each sign he was to perform was only able to be accomplished through obedience to His voice. moses’s dependence upon the Lord was the only way he accomplished his call. it was the Lord’s power, His plan, His purpose and He desired to use moses (and aaron) to do it.

what does the Lord desire to do through us?  where is there opportunity for Him to display His purpose in our everyday? how can we lean into His heart for those around us?

in what potential ways could we begin to walk in more freedom to be able to see the face of God (and not be ashamed), to believe that our value and worth is from Him alone, and have that knowledge empower us with the freedom to be our most full selves? in what places is our obedience being tested, and what does that reveal about the beliefs in our heart? where can we increase our faith and action even when we don’t have the proof that we may desire? what is He saying about us and our identity?

it is these questions that i have been wrestling with in this current season. even though i don’t know exactly what the call on my life is, i do know it is one that is fashioned for me uniquely, and i desire to pursue it with all of my being. even among the weaknesses and times of struggle, times of fear and disbelief, and times of uncertainty and doubt, my desire is still to hear the words that He is speaking over me and take steps (however small) in that direction. to intimately pursue the Lord’s heart. to begin my story.

increasing praise in community

psalm 34

my own paraphrase of the first 7 verses of psalm 34.
in each of my days, at every time, i will choose to make Papa God high because of His character. all throughout the day, i cannot stop ascribing worth to who He is.
my mind, heart, and will find their value in His being. who I am in Him brings me worth. let those who lift Him higher than themselves be glad and full of peace.
come, let’s make much of Papa God and all that He is, let’s give praise to Him together.
i searched Him out, and i found Him waiting to answer me. His presence brought peace and calm from my fears.
when i seek Him for what I need, He gives me joy and happiness that cannot be hidden, there is never a need to feel shame because His love continually overwhelms me.
He hears the hearts of the poor and gives attention to their needs. He saves them from whatever they may be facing.
those who are sent from the Lord make a dwelling around them who are in awe of Him and they are rescued.

verse 3 in the ESV says, “oh magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together!”
we continue to build up His name and increase Papa’s value with one another when we exalt and/or magnify Him and His character in the presence of other believers. we have an opportunity not only to ascribe worth to Papa, but also to help build up one another and encourage the body when we speak praises about who He is. sometimes we need to be reminded of His works and what He has done, sometimes we can’t remember for ourselves.
let us not only choose to be intentional with giving Papa praise individually from the innermost places in our own hearts, but also when we come together. whether at home with family, at work, or with friends around the dinner table, let us make much of Him and all of who He is together, in community. let’s choose to give praise to Him. together.

out of desolation

out of desolation

some words seem to be magnified in different seasons. for me, in this season, the word that i seem to be circling back to is barrenness or desolation.

the Lord responds to barrenness. we see it with sarai in genesis 16, rachel, hannah and more throughout the old testament where the Lord chooses to open the barren womb of these women and allow them to conceive. not only does this word describe these women and their condition, but many times the word is also used to describe israel’s condition, especially in isaiah. in chapter 51, verse 3, it says, “the Lord will comfort Israel again and have pity on her ruins. Her desert will blossom like Eden, her barren wilderness like the garden of the Lord. Joy and gladness will be found there. Songs of thanksgiving will fill the air.”

the unimaginable happens in this verse. the Lord sees the desolation and fruitlessness of the desert and barren places and desires to restore them back to beauty and life, not only that, but as one writer states, His intention is “to restore the waste places of Judea to more than their former beauty and prosperity.” only He could take what is considered to be lifeless and unable to reproduce, and bring more than even physically possible from the sterile ground.

desolation can lead to desperation in the heart of one who longs to see the newness of growth. it is in these times that we must, i must, choose to cling to the author of all our seasons. the ones where winter seems to stay and no budding of the trees seems present. desperation can birth trouble, as in the story of sarai. instead of trusting in the promise that she would give birth (even in her old age), she chose to take matters into her own hands. the result was ishmael and much bitterness towards the one who was able to do what she could not, hagar (genesis 16). the same can be said of rachel (genesis 30). both women, did conceive. in the time He chose was appropriate. His word came through, as it always has and always will.

may we learn something from these women. may we follow a path of choosing to trust in His words and character. may we instead allow our desperation to lead us to a place of submission, of our own will and desires, to the One who gave us the promise. may our choice be one of surrendering. foregoing our timeline and what we think should happen and instead trusting the times of desolation will result in beauty, joy and gladness, in the appropriate time. His time.

in isaiah 54:1, it says “Sing, O barren one, you who did not bear; break forth into singing and cry aloud, you who did not travail with child! For the children of the desolate one will be more than the children of the married wife, says the Lord.”

may we trust His words and plans for us, and that His care for our hearts is unlike any other. may we choose to wait and endure the barren times to see what beauty He will bring forth and restore unto us. for it will be more than we can even imagine.

reflections on fullness

yesterday was easter, and for much of the week my thoughts were centered around one question. whether or not i realized the depth of the situation in which i find myself, and also is my heart reflecting the gratitude for it that is appropriate?

colossians 1:19-20 says that, “for in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.”

those of us who have chosen to accept this extension of grace are now considered completely reconciled to Him. it is this immense gift that i have been pondering this week. the act of what Christ did on the cross, for me. how many times have i not given this a second thought? how many times have i demanded something from someone else in my life only to plead mercy from the One who could rightfully enforce the law on me?

may this be more than a moment to pause and ponder. may this be a call to understand the deep grace for which i now am covered with. may this understanding be one by way of experience. may i learn to the uttermost what this river of Life and peace and grace is like more fully and begin to offer it freely to those around me, because i can’t contain myself with its goodness. may i begin to live with more gratitude for that which His blood made peace.

reflections of fullness

reflections on fullness reflections on fullness reflections on fullness reflections on fullness

learning to abide

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what does it look like to hear His heart for us in every situation we come to in our path?
as i wrote this question in my journal a few weeks ago, something in my spirit knew that the answer was by way of a single, simple word. abide.

it’s a familiar word to those of us who have grown up hearing john 15 recited many times. verse 5 says “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.” when i looked deeper into this word, i found this meaning to be multi-faceted. to abide literally means to remain as one. to stay connected with intentionality, to not become separate or different. a few synonyms for this word might be to dwell, continue, or tarry. continual relationship. one that flows in and through and around our entire day.

one of the most basic truths in this for me is He desires to be in unbroken fellowship with me. He desires my very heart. not for what i do or what i accomplish, but simply because He created me for His own enjoyment. in my days, this would look like asking Papa what His heart is for those in my family, the ones i am in relationship with, the drivers sitting next to me at a red light, the ones i pass in the grocery store, the ones i make art for. it means tapping into the very thing that should be our source for the truest sense of life we will ever experience. it means coming to Him for the big things, but also the small things. it also means ministering to His heart, because He ultimately created us for Himself. it means believing He knows, and He cares about everything going on around me. it would change everything if we operated out of that truth.

in john 14:10, it says, “don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I speak are not my own, but my Father who lives in me does his work through me.” in this verse, it means to be “continually operative in Him by His divine influence and energy.” So, it is not just our source for what we know and how we know, but it is also the very place where we gain strength to do what we are called to do. a conscious choice to join ourselves with His mindset and mission and the very essence of how we can accomplish what He whispers to us. choosing to ask, listen and then act on the things He does say. because the Spirit is in us, He reveals the deep things of God’s heart to us. (1 corinthians 2:11-12)

a similar word is found in psalm 91, verse 1, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.” operating out of a place of true exchange with Him provides all that we need. the choice to stay, or remain in the place of His dwelling allows us to abide in His protection and presence. to remain in something speaks to being faithful, steadfast, and unfailing. so, remaining in a place of connectedness to the Spirit will help us to know who we are not only in Christ but to Christ. bringing value to us in a way that nothing else can.

may we go through our days with the knowledge and the experience that He loves us more than we can imagine, and desires our very being to be with His and from that place we can learn His heart. Then, He can leave His mark of love on the core of our beings so that we can show His love to those around us.

a search for beauty

beauty in its right time

i was listening to someone speak about a month ago, and heard this phrase from a well-known verse in Ecclesiastes. being a familiar passage about seasons and time, it’s often read at weddings or even at funerals, but this time, something about it struck me in a very deep place in my heart.

it wasn’t until this summer that a friend pointed out to me how uniquely i do certain things, like arrange food on a plate, or drink in details of a sunset, or take my time to savor a special moment. her recognition of these things caused an awareness in my heart that i have been pondering for a few months. one that i have come to a conclusion on.
i have always been on a search for beauty.

beauty is a word that strikes deeply. even in our culture. the word beauty has been marred, i believe because of what our culture says it is. the true definition of beauty has not been completely lost, just severely altered. the truest sense of the word is “a combination of qualities, such as shape, color, or form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, esp. the sight.” culture says it’s one thing. our Creator says it’s something entirely different. i want to find the latter. to join with Him in this redemptive process and for Him to use me to help others see the beauty around us. because it truly can be found in the most unlikely of places.

i have also been on a search for beauty in my own life. it was the adjective that seemed to describe everyone else around me, but myself. the ever elusive word that always hung empty when it was never spoken. the lies that came in made it easier and easier to believe that the lack of what was spoken was indeed true. maybe that is why this verse in the last month has had such an impact. i have realized that His timing is good, right and perfect. that He has been in a process of changing things in some of the deepest places in me. He has been tending to those areas like a gardener with great care. the soil of my heart was not rich or welcoming of seeds or the plow, or even trusting of His hands to plant them, but they have become more so within the last year. i have begun to recognize and accept that His timing is “fit and proper” as the word in the verse truly means. so i will no longer resist. i will embrace the process and trust who He says that i am, His beautiful daughter. believe that His thoughts and plans for me were rooted in beauty from the very beginning. i will let Him define my sense of beauty, without being pulled by what others say or the silence that sometimes speaks louder than even the best words. i will trust Him and His heart for me, that He will make me beautiful, in His time. as He sees fit and hope that in my journey to find what He deems beautiful, that i will assist those in my life to see the beauty that He shows me, through my hands, words or whatever way seems best to do so.

the practice of recording blessings

this word, originally from the greek language, literally means, to give thanks. i didn’t know much about this word until a year or so ago when i picked up ann voskamp’s book, one thousand gifts. a book that i read with a group of dear women that i walked alongside for a season, this book and this one simple word, began to re-define so many of my thoughts on what being thankful looked like.

although it is a simple word, it is not an easy word. to give thanks in the midst of all circumstances does not always feel desirable or good at times, yet, in doing this, even in the midst of hardship, i’ve found will bring a constant awareness and a perspective that there are always things for which we can give our gratitude. it helps to re-shape our world again and realize that we are small, He is big and we are not powerful enough to do anything but yield to Him and let the truth that is in us, deep inside, rise up and agree with what He has spoken. it’s a practice of discipline, one that i feel ann describes as a treasure hunt. we can continually look through a lens each day of anticipation, waiting to collect treasures that He gives us.

this may not seem like it makes much sense, and at times, there really isn’t a logical reasoning to explain it. however, i know that in my practice of this, that in choosing to see that “all is grace,” it brings a reassurance in times where my heart begins to doubt and wonder. sure, there are things in my life that are not as i thought they would be. deep longings and desires that He hasn’t seen fit to meet yet. promises that have been spoken to my heart, but certain things have still not come to pass. this does not change the fact that my heart chooses to place trust in His character and His heart for me. the discipline is in the choice. the choice to believe that He is still good and is not holding out on me.

sitting in the midst of my circumstances and looking at everything around me that i don’t have or promises that have not been fulfilled will not do anything for my heart (and soul) but feed the doubt, worry and anxiety. when, in reality, i am not the one who can make any of those things happen on my own. i, instead, recognize who He says He is, and what He says about me, and from there, i can see what He has given to me, what abundance there is in my life. the practice of gratitude can then turn what we have into enough. i can begin to look for the sweet gifts that He will give to me through the day, things that will speak deep to my heart and the core of my being that He created and knows better than anyone else. He knows what will bring my deepest fulfillment and joy, so why would i want to look anywhere else? the butterfly that decides to land on a leaf and flutter its wings can speak to the place in me where i know He has spoken a specific promise a few years before. that His presence was near, that He saw me and my pain, and would not leave me alone. the gentle whispers that come through those small gifts can touch deep places if we stop and choose to recognize them.

so, on this day, where so many go through the “ritual” of giving thanks, may we also stop to recognize the blessings that He has given, but may it be a call to live a life in a recording of blessings. that in whatever we find ourselves in the middle of, abundance, barrenness, joy or sadness, may we still choose to give thanks to Him, the author of all good things, the one who delights over us and who quiets our hearts with His intimate and life-giving love.

an experiential way of knowing

our hearts are not only fragile, they are also disloyal. we continually sway back and forth to the things that take our highest affections – for that moment. i wonder sometimes how the Creator must feel to have created us – in His image – and then for us to almost constantly choose something different than Him. time and time again. we were created for intimacy, and in the truest since, intimacy with Him is all that will ever satisfy the deep longing in our hearts, but yet we choose countless other things, or people before we choose relationship with Him.

i am starting to see, that i think this goes back to the way we perceive. in my actions, i am living out my beliefs (my internalized truth), and these beliefs are what motivate me to do things a certain way. so, in a sense, my perceptions are what drive my actions. if i perceive something will be able to offer me life, hope, joy, etc., then i will probably pursue it. this helps answer the question, what is uppermost in my affections? our perceptions, motivations and our desires are all so inter-connected.

i was recently reading an excerpt from a book, and the author posed this question, “why is there a war against how we know and what we know? Because if our perceptions are distorted, then our desires can be swayed.” how true, and how imperative, then, is it for us to have the correct truth in our hearts and in our minds. david says it this way in psalm 86, verse 11, “Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; Unite my heart to fear Your name.”

so our perceptions are our truth, and that truth is based in our experiential knowledge. things we sense that have given us a taste of life in the past. this is where the enemy comes in. being a deceiver, he tries to offer a new “truth” that certain things can promise life. he tries to sway us and our desires for the lesser things. the fight is against dividing our heart into parts, where only certain sections are seeking after righteousness, and others after the flesh.

while gaining knowledge in information is good and right, we must also remember that we must gain experience. we must have both the mind and heart in agreement for something to really become a part of us. information of grace can come into the mind and be processed, but the experience of grace comes into the heart and is then internalized. both the mind and the heart find a rhythm and the information seeps into the core of who we are. the same author says, “the kind of truth that makes people free is when our minds and our hearts begin to agree with God and we begin to see things the way He does. it re-makes us. it transforms us.”

may we grow in the knowledge and experience of all of who He is and has promised us, and may it transform us in the deepest places of who we are so we can extend it to those around us.