Kingdom Living

Snuggle Weather

It seems strange to think that this is “snuggle weather” as I sit outside in eighty-degree, sunny weather surrounded by palm trees, but something about this season ushers in a desire to snuggle up with soft blankets, hugs, and hot cocoa (or a pumpkin spice latte perhaps). The days are getting shorter (does anyone else feel like they should be hibernating too?) and the lower humidity coupled with advertising images of fall leaves or snowy white holidays plays with my brain. Any time I walk into a store and smell nutmeg or cinnamon, or catch a whiff of a burning fire on a cool night stroll, I am transported away from the sticky, hot, ocean climate where I live, back to days spent jumping excitedly into mountainous piles of leaves or bundled up enjoying the snow-covered ground or warm and cozy at home falling asleep to the gentle glowing lights wrapped around the tree. 

Today’s thought about snuggling up at home was not inspired by these familiar sights or smells, rather, it was simply the lazily sinking afternoon sun and lower humidity that had me immediately ready to grab a blanket and find the comfiest part of the couch to curl up with a classic movie. Perhaps I am ready for the holiday season to be in full swing (confession: I have already watched 3 Christmas movies with my kids). Maybe it’s because I’m looking for some holiday cheer and some much-needed days off. Or possibly I’m missing some hugs and time with loved ones. Whatever the reasons, I was unexpectedly struck by this “snuggle weather” feeling today. 

As I contemplated where this feeling came from (especially given that I do not live in a cold climate), I recalled a verse I read recently from Deuteronomy 33:12 that mentions resting between the shoulders of The Father. “Between His shoulders” gave me such a great word- picture of what to me sounded like snuggles. Recalling that phrase, I am flooded with imagery of peace, comfort, security, and warmth. I just want to stay in this moment for a bit. 

I feel The Father’s arms wrap around me, snuggling me into His chest. Sitting quietly and still for a little while, we watch the lights rhythmically glow and admire the decorations all singing their “Joy to the World”. Some of my favorite smells waft into the room, and closing my eyes, I breathe them in deep. The Father and I both smile joyfully as we recall memories of this season through the years of my life. My heart is full. I am grateful for these sights, smells, and shared memories of joy sitting here in The Father’s embrace. I eagerly listen as The Father re-tells the story of Christ’s long awaited arrival. My heart celebrates His birth amidst a chaotic and terrifying world–it reminds me of my present waiting for His return. Though the cares of the world all around me are great, in this transported moment, I rest peacefully, wrapped securely “between His shoulders” in His loving arms. I remember The Father’s heart for me is this: comfort, peace, security, love, and joy. While the crazy world around me may bring none of those things, I know The Father does and will just as He always has before.

Conversations

Still Loved

So many nights I have sat here, curled up, confronted with darkness – a darkness I invited. Some days my to-do list is enough to keep my mind occupied and feelings of shame at bay, but only for a time. 

I work hard to remind myself of the truth over and over. Sometimes it works and feelings of condemnation are alleviated. At those times I am overwhelmed with gratitude as I  recall what The Father sacrificed for me. I am filled with awe considering His love for me… 

So why do I repeatedly feel distant from Him? Why does this theme of feeling unlovable continue its cruel cycle through my mind?

Life creeps in again. Things need to be tended to. Sleep is hard to leave each morning and easy to wander into. I don’t remember being this tired before. Here now, even sleep ends with the feeling that I’ve failed, failed to do more and see progress. Once again I welcome shame to the doorstep and usher it in… 

There must be something I am doing wrong… or something I messed up a while ago. If The Father has left me, I can understand why. I am a mess and I have let Him down so many times. 

Here I am again, face buried in my knees, quiet tears forming a ring around me as if to block me into the guilt I feel. The truth that I knew yesterday about His love and sacrifice for me seems distant and besides, surely I actually voided it long ago anyway. He is quiet and I am not worthy of His presence or affection. Some child of His I turned out to be. 

 

From my position on the floor I smell a sweet fragrance. Not an overpowering smell… rather, its a pleasing smell, almost relaxing. I’ve smelled this fragrance before… Before I lift my head to see where it’s coming from, I hear His tender voice.

 

My precious little one, I have never stopped loving you. I know you are hurting, thinking that I left you and that you drove me away, but that is not true. I desire to be with you more, not less. Don’t you know, I knew all of this was going to happen but I still made that sacrifice – for you. Because I love you. I have always loved you. Nothing you have done or will ever do will remove or cancel my love for you. Those things that you have done that you think have disappointed me enough to drive me away, those are the things that led me to such a great sacrifice for you. Yes, I hurt and weep for you but nothing you have done or experienced has separated you from my love. You love your own children regardless of what good or bad they have done – don’t you know it is even more so with my love for you? I want you to want to spend time with me. I have always been here, waiting for you to make time to speak with me. I am only quiet because you haven’t invited me to speak, you aren’t ready to listen. I am and have been at the door knocking, waiting for your attention and affection. I love you as I always have.

 

I am having a hard time lifting my head to look for The Father’s face as He speaks to me. A flood of gratitude – no, gratitude isn’t the right word… it is a tidal wave of love for The Father has overtaken me. My whole body shakes with tears of relief and joy and love. As He lays His strong and mighty hand gently on my back, I turn and fling my arms around His neck. I have known this fact of the truth of His love for me before, but now my heart has experienced it deeply and personally. 

 

Picking me up off of the floor easily (as my strong Daddy God does sometimes when He comforts me) He says, “Little one, remember that the sacrifice I made for you cannot and will not be undone. It is fully for you. Remember that I mean everything I say and my Word is worth trusting. When I said that you are redeemed and forgiven I mean it fully and completely, with no exceptions. I don’t love you in pieces and parts. I love you all the way, fully. What once millennia ago kept me from my beloved children, I long ago made certain it never would again. My love for you is stronger than anything you have ever done, right or wrong. I will never leave you. I am here. I am singing over you. I am healing your brokenness. I am your Father, your Strength, your Shield, your Forgiveness, your Redeemer, your Righteousness, your Source of Enduring Love.

 

I lay my head against The Father’s chest once again. My crying has been calmed by His tender mercies and the demonstration of His truthful and everlasting love and grace for me.

Kingdom Living

Cornerstone of Hope

Hope.

Hope seems to be unattainable at times. When the road of difficulty rises to meet me, where is hope? When things don’t go as I’d planned, where is hope? When the world writhes in pain around me, where is hope? When I’ve made a mess of things, where is hope?

Hope is here. Hope chases me down, turns me around, and lifts the blindfold showing me that Hope has been here all along. 

Once I’ve seen and experienced Hope, why is it so easy to wonder again how to find it? I was reminded today that it’s when I start trying to do things without Jesus, I am blinded to the work He has done for me. When I “trust the sweetest [most fragile] frame”, when I do something in order to add to Christ’s work of salvation (which is the ultimate thing to hope for), I am really hoping in me. I am hoping that what I do is good enough to complete what Jesus already did. There’s just one problem: that inevitably produces anxiety instead of hope because I begin to question if it really is enough. I need to remember that I don’t need to search for or manufacture hope; Hope has already found me – and that Hope is what I need.

There is a beautiful hymn that I recalled while thinking about this hope: “My Hope is Built on Nothing Less” by Edward Mote.  

My hope is built on nothing less

Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness

I dare not trust the sweetest frame

But wholly trust in Jesus’ name

 

Perhaps you can relate? What is something you have hoped for or have been hoping for? A better job, a family of your own, a better place to live, a better life? Maybe there are times when it doesn’t seem to matter what you do, that thing you’re hoping for always seems out of reach. Or maybe you thought you had it once and then the unexpected happened and everything crumbled. Or maybe you’re arguing right now, insisting that you did build your hope on Jesus but now here you are, feeling hopeless. What gives?

I suggest that you do as I had to do: take the time to truthfully examine whether or not you fully and completely gave all of that to Christ? Ask yourself (and be honest) whether you even once expected that by doing the “right” things, you’d have what you hoped for?  If you even once thought that, then there was some point that you didn’t “wholly trust in Jesus’ name”, just like me. 

Hold on! Don’t walk away just yet. You need to know that you are not without Hope! There is absolutely still Hope to be seen and experienced by you just as there is for me. The even better news is that all our doing (or not doing) doesn’t change the fact that Christ is still our Hope. He works every day, in a thousand ways on our behalf, though we may not notice.

When darkness seems to hide His face

I rest on His unchanging grace

In every high and stormy gale

My anchor holds within the veil

 

2 Corinthians 4:8-18 encourages us that even as we feel stressed and pressured, Christ who is called our Cornerstone (1 Peter 2:4-6, Psalm 118:19-24) never lets us be crushed or destroyed. We may face a challenge that threatens our vision of the Hope we have, but truly when we anchor ourselves in Jesus, He does not disappoint. In fact, when we are feeling our weakest, that is the best for us because it is then that we step aside and are able to let Him strengthen us. When we are chasing hope constructed by our own hands, we are too busy to see the Hope that has already walked into our lives: Jesus is our Hope! What’s great about this Hope that is ours is that it is not hope for temporary things that will change, age, or become obsolete. This Hope is eternal and is for a purpose that will long outlast today’s bad choices and tomorrow’s trial. 

Hillsong worship writers put it this way:

Christ alone, Cornerstone

Weak made strong in the Savior’s love

Through the storm

He is Lord

Lord of all

 

Jesus, your Hope and mine, has done the work of coming to us when we were unable to find lasting hope of any kind. He is able to strengthen you for what has been, and what’s to come. When you recognize and accept Jesus as your eternal Hope, the Father will use Jesus to build a life for you that isn’t threatened by the storms swirling around you. Rather, the life the Father builds for you will stand strong all the way into eternity with Him. 

Do you feel like you “missed” Hope or that you can’t find it? Stop right there and give it to Jesus. “Rest on His unchanging grace” – it is for you. He is Lord of all. You need not search any longer or try any harder – He is all the Hope you need.

 

Kingdom Living

Rediscovered Thanks

 

Being truly thankful every day seems to be one of the biggest challenges. My temptation is to forget the abundance I have. I tend to get comfortable with abundance and I forget to lead a lifestyle of daily gratitude. But this year more than ever I am learning how vital that daily gratitude is, and how it can sometimes be the only thing that helps me to move. 

 

How frequently do we take account of our abundance? This year I wanted to remind myself to be thankful every day so I followed Ann Voskamp’s example and started a gratitude journal. It is conveniently located right by my door on the kitchen bar counter so that I won’t forget to do it. Unfortunately, as I get busy or comfortable, inevitably I do forget about it. I find that sometimes I am so comfortable with what I have, that I don’t see all that I truly have.

 

Even in this month that is a reminder for us to be grateful, if we pause for just a moment, doesn’t it feel like this is perhaps a counterfeit effort we make? If we only give thanks but once a year, at one meal, we are out of practice and studies show that we are living with less peace and happiness. But perhaps you didn’t need a study to tell you that. If we make a list of all the things we want to have or be or do it would likely be a long list and probably would leave us at least a little tired. That list communicates what we don’t have and aren’t being. On the flip side, if we make a list of every small thing we could possibly be thankful for, right down to blades of cut grass, ducks crossing the road, the giggle of a young child, the text from a friend that made us smile, or the music we enjoy, that list has a different effect on us. There is contentment in that list and that gives us a sense of rest. Doesn’t it?

 

My kids and I have somewhat of a “game” that we play: when someone is expressing a lack of thankfulness someone will call out “Tell me three things you’re thankful for!”. It is truly amazing how that little reminder produces a huge shift in our attitude. In an instant we go from stressed to small giggles. 

 

I’ve needed those giggles in my own heart this year. Sometimes there are some really tough things in our lives – things we would never have thought we could or would endure. This season has been harder than I expected. I was trying to voice thankfulness for what I have, but it was counterfeit. It was thankfulness on the surface but had an undercurrent of discontentment. I felt my words feeble in comparison to the weight of disappointment and grief running wild through my mind. My gratitude was weak in chaotic battle with my grief instead of confidently rooted. 

 

I feel The Father reaching out for me, spreading His arms wide, calling me to give thanks from the depths and to come rest in Him… but I’m waiting for the pain to be over, for the depths to stop drowning, for the hustle and bustle and world spinning around me to quiet…

 

The Father knows I won’t make it on my own. Grabbing through the darkness, down to the depths where I’m sinking, I feel His hand take hold of me and I hear His soothing voice speak:

 

Light shines out of darkness. I know these are hard times but my faithfulness and sovereignty is not established by your deeds nor is it shaken because of them. No matter what you do or have done, I AM still here and I AM able to use it for more than you can see right now. I waste nothing – not the good nor the bad. I AM already working and though you cannot see the end from the beginning, you can trust that I care for you too much to leave you here. My desire for you, my dear child, is good, not bad. I AM your good Father and I want to give good things to you. I am not here to take or demand things from you. I know this doesn’t feel good right now little one, trust me, I have not finished my good work in your life yet. Turn your eyes to see me and your ears to hear my voice. You will make it through because I AM here with you. See? I AM carrying you when you can’t lift your foot to take a step. Listen to my voice and not the lies binding your heart in heavy chains. I have long since unlocked those chains and thrown them off. Let me lift you, carry you, until you can walk again on your own, right beside me. I love you dear one, as I have always and always will. You are My precious child and no one and nothing can come against you that I AM not right there with you to win the battle and help you through. So come now, rest in me. Remember Who’s you are. Remember my real, deep, strong grace that is constantly and consistently sufficient.

 

For today, I am steadied again. I can see more clearly again. As gratitude tears roll steaming down, I find the real words of thanks that I had been missing. Thankfulness begins to spill forth with my tears… Thank you Father for these reminders … gradually drops become small streams, and then rivers of grateful joy pouring forth all the things coming to mind: the smells of the season, my favorite seasonal drinks (cider…yumm), kindness of the truest of friends, smiles on my children’s faces, fall leaves and cooler weather, music to soak in, planning new traditions, choruses of people singing, festive lights chasing the darkness away…