Beauty in All Seasons

Beauty. We fight desperately to keep it. We seek it out. I stared up at this tree in front of our house a couple weeks ago. I swear it gets prettier every year. The leaves were so red, and the sky was so blue.

Even as I took in its beauty, I realized that it would last for mere days and then be bare and colorless. Beauty fades all too quickly. My mom’s favorite flower is the lilac. She had huge bushes of them in our backyard growing up. Lilacs are in bloom for about two weeks, and I always wish it lasted so much longer.

I wonder if God made seasons in nature to parallel the seasons in our lives. Nature isn’t always bright and stunning, sometimes it is cold and brown. What would happen if no winter existed? Could crops grow all year long? When would the land rest? The dormant seasons are not pretty from the outside, but the work God does in our hearts when things are cold and bleak is essential. It shapes and forms our character, who we are when no one is looking. And when the beauty returns, it stuns us in a way we could not see before. The deep gratitude and appreciation for the beauty would not be there without the dark, cold days where the deep work is done.

I have never been good at appreciating the dark night of the soul when it is present, but as I get older, I have seen the amazing work that God does when no one is looking. There is nothing flashy or beautiful about it, but it is necessary to bring about the beauty that is to come. I am not thrilled about the seemingly early arrival of winter this year. But I trust God that He can bring me through the winter no matter how long it lasts. He will see you through as well.

“For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:18‬ ‭

Black Raspberry Vanilla and Maggie May

I love this black raspberry vanilla shower gel. It reminds me of fall 2004 when my friend Maggie moved to Waverly to intern at our church. We packed so much into the few months that she lived here. We were two single girls in ministry, having the best time together for that season.

For Pastor Appreciation month, a wonderful family from our church gave me a free night at their amazing bed and breakfast. I took Maggie with me, and we watched movies and did puzzles all night. We road tripped to a conference, we watched election results while doing puzzles and eating Rolos. We did Weight Watchers together, riding on the bike trail to earn points for our dinner. She sang “Breath of Heaven” and I did a human video for it. I’ll never forget that or her incredible voice.

Every time I see this shower gel that Maggie and I both loved that reminds me of her amazing life. I have written about her in the past. Maggie was one of those people who was so joyful, so full of life, and everyone loved her. After she left Waverly, she was diagnosed with breast cancer a year or two later, and she went to be with Jesus in 2012.

The fact that God decided to take her home but left me here baffles me sometimes. I don’t expect to understand God’s ways. I do know that remembering my friend is a regular reminder that I only have one shot at this life, one chance to live a life that will make a difference in eternity. Maggie did that so beautifully. I am so inspired by her joy no matter what circumstances she faced.

I can’t wait to laugh with her in heaven and see her beautiful smile. Until then, the changing leaves and Black Raspberry Vanilla shower gel and so many more things will remind me of my incredible friend and how short our time is on this earth, but how amazingly beautiful it can be.

Firm Foundation

I haven’t cried all my eye makeup off in months, so I guess I was due. It still took me by surprise. A good cry can be really healing, and other times it is accompanied by pain and despair that linger on long after the tears have dried from my face.

I tend to dive into a soothing worship song when I need God’s presence, and my favorite line from today’s song is, “Jesus, Your presence is the comfort of my soul.”

I love things that are black and white, right or wrong, good or bad. I love the clarity, I want answers and facts when I come up against a problem. Unfortunately, I have learned repeatedly in the past ten years that many problems are cloudy and unclear. When my oldest was a toddler, I picked up book after book searching for help, looking for answers to figure her out and find out what I could do to be the mom she needed. She didn’t (and doesn’t) fit easily into a box. And I struggle with that more than I wish I did.

One thing has become clear in the past decade of my life, though. God stripped away many, many things in my life that had given me a false sense of security. I have come to realize that He wasn’t trying to hurt me. He wanted to help me see that I was building on an insecure foundation. When the storm rages, that foundation crumbles and everything falls apart. But if I rebuild on Jesus, the only sure foundation, I will have all I need for the next storm.

And for some reason, they keep coming. Life doesn’t let up in some seasons. Maybe it’s months, it could be years. God has shown in His Word that time is not a consideration when He is molding and shaping His people to do His work.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”

‭‭Psalms‬ ‭73:25‬-26 ESV

I might not “feel” much better after a good cry, but I know the One on whom I stand is holding me through it all. Here are some of the beautiful lyrics from the song in my heart and mind right now.

Beneath the surface
Of my anxious imagination
Beckons a calmness
That is found in You alone
It washes over
Every doubt, every imperfection
Jesus, Your presence
Is the comfort of my soul
There’s nowhere I’d rather be
When You’re singing over me
I just wanna be here with You
I’m lost in Your mystery
I’m found in Your love for me
I just wanna be here with You

We Don’t See Clearly

I told Isabella (9) a few weeks ago that I would be taking her on a weekend trip with my mom and my sister and niece. She was really excited to see Natalie Grant and hopefully get her books autographed. Jack (6) started asking me all kinds of questions about the trip, so I got a calendar and wrote out the information for September so he could see when it was coming.

A few days later, Jack come out of his room a while after bedtime. He began to cry and said, “I don’t want you to be gone for three nights!” This happened a few days in a row. I could not convince him that three days would go by quickly, that daddy really is as nice as mommy, and that he could do something special with Dad and Evie, too. None of my brilliant mom thoughts seemed to soothe him at all. We did have a little date before I left, playing some games at Chuck E. Cheese and eating dinner together. He finally went a few nights without crying about the trip.

As the day arrived that I was leaving with Isabella, I picked up the kids from school. I was finishing packing the suitcase, and Jack said, “Mom, when you go, should I stand there and cry and wave until I can’t see you anymore? Or should I ask dad if we can go to McDonald’s and play there and try to forget that you’re gone?” I told him I vote for McDonald’s. He said, “Maybe I’ll do both.”

I left. He didn’t cry. He didn’t even call or FaceTime me all weekend. My little buddy did fine.

One night after I tried to convince Jack not to worry so much about this “huge thing” that I knew would not be as bad as he thought, I realized that I do the same thing with God. I complain, I cry about the circumstances that I don’t understand. I worry that I won’t be able to handle what is coming my way. Jack is 6, and his perspective is so limited compared to that of his 41 year old mom. He can’t see what I can see, he doesn’t yet know what I know.

Yet I try to make sense of what God is doing when I don’t have His view. Me and my 41 years…He and His eternal, beyond time perspective. There is no comparison. I look at a tiny, individual circumstance and wonder why God allowed this to happen to me. Meanwhile He sits outside of time with a view of eternity, and everything looks completely different from such a view. I can’t see it. I won’t see it while I am here on this earth.

So when tears of disappointment run down my face because an opportunity I wanted passed me by…

because I feel stuck in a lonely or exhausting season of life…

because I had a great plan worked out for my future, and the reality looks nothing like what I hoped…

I can choose to sit in my pain and be miserable, or I can be honest with God and then rest in knowing that He is greater, His ways are greater than mine, and He is working all things for my good and His glory. It doesn’t mean pain won’t come, it means that He works through the pain to draw me closer to Him. Sometimes the pain we never expected becomes the way to deeper understanding, greater grace, peace that transcends our finite grasp on the things of this world.

Ingredients

I hate choosing favorites. I am so indecisive, and I have the hardest time just choosing one “favorite” of anything. So I won’t say this is my favorite message of all time, but I have never listened to a message more than this one.

Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church in Flower Mound, TX, preached an amazing series on the book of Ecclesiastes. In 2009, I spent a few weeks working for the 2010 United States Census. I spent hours canvassing around Iowa to map residences and update their maps from the previous census. I listened to the entire Ecclesiastes series during that time, and I still can picture walking down streets in Waverly and Denver when I hear these messages.

The fourth message, Ingredients, was just what I needed at the time. Ten years have passed, and I have listened to this over and over and over as life keeps happening and I regularly turn to this beautiful reminder of how God orchestrates all the ingredients of our lives so perfectly. I have shared it with a lot of friends, and I decided to share it here today.

My heart is a bit heavy as some people who are close to my heart are facing tough cancer diagnoses, challenging courses of treatment, and questions about what their future will hold. Many of life’s circumstances can cause us to wonder if God is paying attention or if He cares. Oh, friend, please listen to this beautiful word and be reminded of His deep love for you.

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:37-39‬

Abundantly More

Creative. Artistic. Dramatic. Talkative. So, so talkative. And this week, I decided relentless. Not just persistent, but absolutely relentless in pursuit of what she wants (usually something from me).

These words describe Isabella, my 9 year old. She has some great strengths that will serve her well in life. She also has to work harder in some areas…like math. This year, she had some extra help and still she was not caught up to where she should be. The school recommended that we pursue math tutoring for the summer. As soon as they mentioned it, a little pang of anxiety struck me. Isabella is unique. Many adults adore her, some don’t know quite how to take her. I prayed that we could find someone in the former category as she would be meeting with this person 4-5 times a week all summer long.

Isabella’s wonderful 3rd grade teacher suggested a name, a woman who had taught music to Isabella when she was in kindergarten and possibly first grade. I didn’t know her well, but I remembered her as kind and always smiling. I asked Isabella, she didn’t have any problems with it. So we made arrangements and waited for school to end.

Isabella has been meeting with her for 3 weeks now. A few days ago, I remembered my early anxiety in anticipation of the whole scenario. I teared up as I immediately recognized God’s great faithfulness. This woman has been the perfect teacher for Isabella. Isabella works well one on one. She responds much better in that environment, and this whole arrangement is so good for her. Her teacher works hard on math, and she has told me that she is very happy with the progress they have made so far. She also cares for Isabella as a person, and she works with her personality and cares about the things that matter to Isabella.

I honestly could not have hand-picked a better person for this task. If it had been up to me, I would have labored over names, wondering how they would work with Isabella and if they could handle her intensity. But it wasn’t up to me, I prayed and left it up to God. He picked the right woman, and I send off a happy child every day to work with her tutor. She has never once complained about going.

The answers to some prayers take years to unfold. I must confess, I sometimes grow weary in waiting for the answers to some of those prayers. But in the meantime, God answered this small prayer that meant a lot to me, and He did it so beautifully. I am reminded of His great love for Isabella tonight. He chose a perfect tutor for her, and in the process He also deepened my faith in His ability to provide for her in the future.

And He reminded me that He hears all the cries of my heart. All of them. The wonderfully worded ones, the groans and cries without words, the ones I don’t want anyone else to overhear. He hears them all, and He knows the heart behind each word. One of my favorite verses to remember when I think I am asking too much of God is Ephesians 3:20-21.

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” (Ephesians‬ ‭3:20-21‬ ‭ESV‬‬)

He can do more than we can even think to ask. He can and He will. Keep believing, and I will, too.

Things That Do Not Exist

Romans 4 talks about Abraham, a man to whom God made an amazing promise. God spoke to a man who had no offspring at the time and promised to make him a great nation. God told Abram that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars in the sky.

A 75 year old man with no children.

This is the God who creates something out of nothing. ‭‭Romans‬ ‭4:17‬ ‭(ESV) says,

“as it is written, ‘I have made you the father of many nations’—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”

‬‬He calls into existence the things that do not exist. This is not an ability we possess. If it were, I would most certainly call dinner into existence every evening about 5:55. And a maid to clean up afterwards.

But really, some of the deepest desires of my heart have left me with questions that don’t have answers I can see right now.

There are relationships that don’t yet exist that will continue to shape me as a woman, a minister, a writer, a mother. There are sources of funds that do not yet exist to provide for the needs that keep me awake at night. My dear friend is pastoring a church that did not exist a few years ago, but God spoke life to the dead and called it into existence. Now it is ministering to people who didn’t have any idea of God’s plan to use this church body in their lives.

Some of you can easily identify the empty places that you have desperately begged God to fill. Me too. I can think of at least a handful of them. I have been in seasons of ministry and motherhood that do not look anything like what I expected, and the questions have outnumbered the answers for years.

Proverbs 13:12 (ESV) says that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life.”

If you have experienced hope deferred, you know this heartsick feeling. I have had a some periods of great hope in the past decade, believing that I could see a new thing on its way or could predict how God was planning to move in my life. One by one, those opportunities fell through and I was left with a sick heart. I am well acquainted with the pain of deferred hope.

But I worship the God who has no questions and knows every answer. When I am weak, He is strong. I can pray and ask Him boldly to provide in ways that seem impossible.

Romans 4:17 has given me great hope over the past few weeks. It has refreshed my soul and put my focus where it belongs – on the One who speaks life to the dead and calls into existence things which DO NOT EXIST. He can do that, and I serve Him! He loves me and wants to do exceedingly, abundantly more than all I could ask or think.

If you are struggling with hope deferred, I would love to join you in prayer for God to move, to call into existence things that do not exist. Comment or send me an email so I can join with you and see what God will do!