God’s Gift

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will call him Immanuel.”

Isaiah 7:14

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace; and with his wounds we are healed.”

Isaiah 53:4-5

I love Christmas cards. I always have.

I have held onto every single one I’ve ever received, ever.

Including this one pictured above. This is a new card believe it or not. I received it from my Bible study leader a few weeks ago.

Of course, it looked a bit different when I first received it. It was perfect, actually.

Then one night the piece of tape displaying it failed me and in the time between it’s falling and my discovery- Reyna found it. (For those who do not know Reyna, she is a just turned 1, 86 pound, fluff ball/ puppy.)

And my beautiful card was crafted into a mess of confetti.

But as I disappointedly picked up the shredded pieces of my lovely card, I came across this final bit.

And I kid you not, I almost threw it away. To be honest I threw it away.

But as I turned away, I reached back and I picked it up, wanting to read the words one more time.

The whole time my world driven vision told me it was a piece of trash. Tarnished. Embarrassing. It would be absurd to hold on to it. Let alone put it back up. Forget the fact I had just grabbed it from my trash can, Lord help me if anyone ever found out.

But… that still small whisper. You know the Christmas story is a lot of things. And if we are honest, those things are tarnished and embarrassing.

Mary was pregnant before she was married- let’s talk about that reputation.

And then she gave birth in a barn. I’ve noticed that never caught on as a trend.

Yet… that story, that beloved and holy Christmas story, is beyond the definition of perfect.

There’s not a single word to fully express the magnitude and the glory of that tarnished and embarrassing story.

In fact, you could string a thousand words together, and just of clipped the iceburg.

We are a couple days past Christmas Day, and I hope yours was perfect. However, if it wasn’t perfect according to Hallmark standards (and I get it- I love Hallmark), I hope you can see that gifts, time and life aside- the victory of that day is never failing.

On a side note, I know many returned to work today, some worked Christmas Day, and those who are off are probably counting down the days subconsciously before they have to return.

Some may have balanced the checkbook today, did school work or cleaned the house.

My point is, as we move past Christmas Day, I pray we will remember to carry it with us.

It’s so hard when it feels as if so little has changed. The world acts as if all is as it has always been.

The angel spoke to Mary. Joseph had a dream. The shepherds heard the angels sing. The wise men saw the star. And the world… the world acted as if all was as it had always been.

As I was in town yesterday running some errands I felt I could see the world acting as if nothing had changed. The store lights, in contrast to Wednesday, were back on. (Never mind some stores did not bother to turn them off at all).

And it dawned on me. We try so hard to bind Christmas to one day. We make it a box, hand it over and say “get in,” forgetting that the reality of Christmas is beyond our comprehension, let alone our box making skills.

Christmas is the time we celebrate when Jesus stepped out of the box, and into the manger. And that celebration continues all year long. It’s a priceless gift freely given, and no sale price can cheapen or negate it. No deal can sweeten it. No amount of time can tarnish or lessen it.

It’s already everything, and then more than we can imagine. As we live in a world that acts as as if nothing is changed; we hear the angels sing, we see the star and we know- that everything has changed. We see it in the pile of dishes, the chaotic filling of email inboxes and in our chewed and torn Christmas cards.

❤️ Merry Christmas friends! My prayers and thoughts are with you all as we finish one year, one decade, and head into the next.

Living Legacies

“I thank my God upon every remembrance of you,”

Philippians 1:3

It is strange, the coexistence of love and grief.

To experience such pain, grounded in the purest joy.

The sound of your voice on a recording, a picture with your smile from a happier day…

My heart fills and is full as my stomach drops and feels sick beyond measure.

Sweet memories tinged with bitterness yet now more valuable than any treasure imaginable. Regardless of the pain, remembering you is one of my favorite things.

I believe there is a part of us that will never fully accept that you are gone. I believe there will always be a piece of us that is shocked at the sentiment that you are no longer here.

And I believe it is because deep down you are not gone- deep down our soul knows that this life is not the end and that one day we will be reunited- in a place with no more tears and no more death and no more goodbyes. In the core of our being we have the vaguest inclination of eternity and while we cannot fully grasp it and all its wonder- we know.

We know that this is just part of the journey home.

We all have been sent on our journey and will take different roads home. The duration of our journey may vary, some will take longer and some will arrive sooner- but we all seek the same destination.

And we will collect our souvenirs. Our experiences and blessings we have acquired on the trip, some welcome and unwelcome. More importantly though, we will leave some pieces of ourselves behind.

We will sow seeds and give from what has been given to us; our talents, gifts, words, hope… These things given freely are given in love. And seeds sown in love grow into legacies. Legacies of light, hope, compassion, care… all grounded in love.

And long after one is home, their legacy continues to grow- more often than not in ways unseen, too small to notice yet too large to measure- carried on by those they left to continue on their journey. The seeds they had planted beginning to take full affect as their loved ones seek to fill this world with as much love and joy as the sower afforded them.

Mom, we miss you. We were not, and still are not, ready for your journey to be over. How we wanted you to stay.

You are home, at the home, but it is not the home that we know- it is not the home we have shared.

We hear the echoes of your laughter in our memories and home videos though no longer in the room. We hear your comforting words of wisdom buried in our hearts but no longer on the other side of the phone. We see the physical evidence of the beautiful life you led here on your journey, though we no longer have your physical presence.

And it hurts, God, it hurts so bad.

But Mom, though it was too soon, it is universally acknowledged that generally one cannot have too much of a good thing. The reality is that given five more minutes… we would always want five more minutes. And you mom, you did not leave us with nothing, but with the greatest of somethings, your legacy. Your light. Your laughter. Your smile. Your heart. The seeds were sown and they took root and we remember.

As we prepare to celebrate you today I pray that we can carry your legacy proudly. That we can love and serve as you did. That when we finish our journeys and reach the final destination, we can look at our adventures and point at some of those moments and say “That, that I learned from my mom” and in which God will respond “I know and I knew. For I always have a reason.”

Though our earthly hearts cannot always fathom divine reasoning, I continuously thank God for you at every remembrance. There are days when the memories are harder to weather than others. Days when the grief saturates every memory and turns laughter into tears. However, behind those tears lies the greatest of joys, for those tears only exist because of what was once so wonderfully happy. Truly happy.

No, I wouldn’t change a thing. For the happiness of one moment with you far outweighs the unbearable pain of the days ahead without you. Always my heart remembering, that this is not the end just our final and temporary goodbye. And what is time compared to eternity?

Until then, we will walk our journeys, your legacy firmly rooted in our hearts and in the love you gave to us.

 

A Story You’ll Use: Scars Part I

 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

John 20:17

Listen for The Voice. Not a voice.

These last couple of weeks have been a blur, on a personal level my schedule consisted of finishing my current degree program, making arrangements for the next steps in my new degree program and discerning God’s will pertaining to the direction in which I needed to walk this summer concerning internship and career opportunities.

And of course celebrating Easter.

As I was going through the processes listed above my first and foremost thoughts were tempted to revolve around what I am not. I am not qualified. I am not done. I am not ready. I am not sure.

I had and have these great dreams of doing these great things. (Not earth shattering great things, but personally world shaking great things). The things I have deemed would be great to do. The purpose I believe God may have created me for, what motivates and inspires me. My dreams.

But there is something about those next steps.

Taking the next step is absolutely terrifying.

Taking the next step is all we want to do, all we plan for, all we patiently train and study and move toward…

But when we reach that threshold there is this moment.

A moment of complete vulnerability as we realize this next step will not only reveal the strengths we have carefully crafted, but the weaknesses we have yet to uncover and develop.

The path has changed so many times before. I have no doubt that it will continue to take unexpected turns. Unfortunately I have not been able to convince God to hand over the map- not even to let me get a quick glance.

So in the middle of the chaos of life and choices and unworthiness and vulnerability-

Easter broke me.

Easter shattered everything. Easter shatters every prerequisite, every sensible and rational doubt or reasoning.

Easter is the epitome of the impossible, improbable and impractical. Defined by love more powerful than the depths of Hell and by a mission not even satan could foretell.

Easter reminds us that we don’t have to be qualified. We don’t have to know the answers. We don’t have to be ready. And we don’t have to go alone. He will qualify us, He knows the answers, He is ready and He is already there and right beside us.

Standing in the threshold is like the dawn of Easter morning. Coming out of the dark into the light. Behind you is where you’ve been and ahead of you is what is next.

And you may not know exactly what that day is going to bring and you may feel as if you had all the wrong answers and you may be fighting doubt and fear and despair and remembering “better” (aka safer) days but…

What is on the other side is so brilliantly and dazzlingly worth it, something that you yourself never could have imagined in your wildest dreams.

How do we know this? Amid everyday, ordinary life, how do we know that something as simple and complex as taking the next step will ultimately lead to something so awe-inspiring and wonderful?

Because He has called our name.

Just as He called Mary’s. Mary who had just come through the darkest night.

Mary who I am willing to bet was surrounded by voices telling her all she’d believed, all she held true, all she’d trained for was wrong. Mary who was surrounded by those waiting to crush her.

Can you imagine? I am sure that between Friday and Sunday morning, more than once the enemy had come against her, that the enemy had attempted to put visions of all the stones being picked back up in her head. As she clung to Jesus words, I do not condemn you either. I love you. You are worthy, not because of what you have done or who you are, but because of who I am and what I have done.

Easter reminded me to look closer when I was tempted to look back.

Because amid all of the failed paths and unexpected turns, I can see how it has all shaped me and brought me to exactly where I am now. I can see the story that they’ve crafted and I can recognize that had those paths gone the way I had planned it may have been good, but the story would not be nearly as great as the one I am in now.

And as much as I love a good story, only God knows what it means to me to be part of His Great story which we have only yet begun to grasp.

There is a song by I Am They titled Scars. The beginning includes the lyrics:

“Cause my brokenness brought me to You/
And these wounds are a story You’ll use”

God used Jesus’ scars to tell the greatest story. And that story has not ended…

As I set aside all the doubts and questions and replace them with the memories of the times He has done all He has promised…

He qualifies me. He strengthens me. He enables me. He calls me.

And the scars? Those twisted paths? Those thresholds?

They’re apart of the greatest story, one we have not yet fully imagined.

 

 

But Can He?

“If we are faithless, He remains faithful; for He cannot deny Himself.”

2 Timothy 2:13

I shouldn’t have, I should have.

I know that, I feel this.

The sky’s falling versus the pieces are falling into place.

Those moments when it seems as if the “to be done” list is always longer than the “done” list and it feels as if time is flying yet it is taking its time to heal. Every day you wake and look forward but cannot help and catch a reflection of yesterday. Remembering some of the wins, recounting all of the losses.

Filled with faith but yet… not always convinced.

Not that I doubt God’s faithfulness of course, but my own.

At the end of the day when I recall those moments when I know I could have said something better or done something more. Those moments of weakness when I broke the promise to myself to wake up at this time or to not do that. Simple tasks such as eating better or sticking to my budget or to a schedule of any sort (such as writing this blog post).

And those are just the “small” things.

How can I profess to be faith filled when I struggle daily with being faithful? If I can’t make it through an overall mild Tuesday, what would make me believe I could survive the earth shattering and heart crushing days when more than my daily resources and time allotments are on the line?

Laying down at the end of the day and wondering can a God that good really love a person like me?

All of the doubts.

All of the fears.

All of the sticky situations.

When I knew better and when I didn’t.

When the tears come and despair knocks and the waves rise and the wind howls.

And I am thanking God again and again for every blessing, although… all the while knowing I have more to say. The reality being that He also knows I have more to say.

In this world it feels as if we are continually encouraged and tempted to hide whatever faults we have, whatever troubles we are carrying. Grin and bear it, if you will.

Don’t tell anyone that you struggle with that. Don’t suggest you’ve messed up. And don’t you dare admit you’re scared. Just leave it, it’s fine. Meanwhile, whatever it is grows bigger and eventually its darkness starts to envelop your life, primarily internally and eventually externally.

I didn’t see this coming. How did this happen? Who would have guessed?

God. God knew. God saw it coming. And?

He’s not surprised.  He saw the storm coming before it was on the horizon.

He reached out to catch me before I began to fall.

And He is kneeling beside me as I get up the courage to look up.

Because the beautiful, outrageous truth is – even when I am faithless, He is faithful.

You see, the problem is a part of me at times forgets that God- the Creator of the Universe and everything in it- is able to handle my honesty. From the little bits to the boulders.

He can handle the fact that at times my heart hurts, that sometimes I struggle and still sometimes I fall.

He can handle the fact that even though I know who He is and believe in all of His promises and rely solely on His truths, I do not always act accordingly.

He can handle the tantrums and the scars and that I am not perfect.

Because He is.

And so long as I am willing to bring it all to Him, every messy piece I’d rather hide, I can handle it too.

There is a song and one of the lines in the chorus reads, Show me that You can handle my honesty. The whole song is wonderful, but that line sealed it for me the day I heard it.

Those words, that question, at first hit me and opened a prayer. Words I wanted to scream at the top of lungs in the moment and at the same time hesitated to whisper. I wasn’t sure I could handle my own honesty most days.

However, as quickly as that prayer opened so did several recollections of the times God in fact did show that He could handle my honesty. He who is always faithful had never turned His back on me, not even once, no matter how reluctant I was to let Him in and let Him see just how messy it was.

Those words reminded me that not only can God handle my honesty, but He embraces it.

And I hope this post serves as a Public Service Announcement because He can handle your honesty too. Every hard question and unspoken horror and hidden sorrow.

You will find that when you let go and spill everything to God – you can handle it too.

She spent time with God and that is what made her lovely.

It wasn’t that she was perfect, always made the right choices and never had a single doubt or fear.

The secret has always been that she spent time with God… and unloaded every hurting and ruined bit. She gave Him the ashes and in turn He built them into something more beautiful than could ever be imagined.

The take aways from all this:

He created me.

He loves me.

And He can handle me.

In response to the question posed by Mikeschair- Grace was made for people like me.

** Song by Mikeschair, Title: People Like Me

On the Road to the Greatest

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:13

I love driving. I will make a 7-hour one way round trip in a day. If I were completely honest, I would drive just about any amount of hours one way for a round trip if I felt the destination was worth it. Typically, I do.

Generally when I am behind the wheel of a vehicle, I am on a mission. That mission may be to track across country nineteen hours for one of my dearest friends weddings, or to run to the grocery store to grab whatever necessity it seems I am out of (generally ranch salad dressing, if being completely honest).

I love driving.

Which is good, because I spend a great deal of time in my car. He even has a name- Hobbes is pictured above, and yes there are Calvin and Hobbes reading materials (aka comics) in the backseat.

Hobbes and I have been on several missions. Some which I volunteer for, some which are mandatory (aka work) and some which, well quite frankly I just want to go on.

But sometimes I just jump in the car and drive, with no physical destination in mind. No physical mission.

I am searching for something, trying to get somewhere but Hobbes, in the traditional sense, is not going to get me there.

I have sung worship songs at my loudest and cried to God my hardest behind the wheel of my car. (PSA: always safely, maybe pulled over, but safely, promise).

I have driven in circles as I spoke to God in circles.

I have gotten lost on back roads while trying to back God into a corner.

I have driven the roads I know best while I felt God had left me wondering in completely unknown territory.

Where are we going?

I will tell you when its time.

I think its time.

That’s great, but it’s not time yet. 

Next turn, next exit. Trees, hills, highway.

I have heard him speak at sunrise as I drove through the mountains.

I have watched His glorious handiwork welcome in the twilight.

I have followed the brightest star on country roads and watched cities turn their lights on as darkness tucked them in.

Yes, I love to drive. I love being on a mission. And sometimes that mission, is just to lose myself on one road and find God on another.

And now while I am undertaking whatever the mission is at the moment, I can relentlessly declare hope everywhere I go- literally.

Faith, Hope and Love.

And the greatest of these is love.

Hope is the bridge between faith and love.

> Faith in the impossible, established in hope.

> Love continuously overflowing, through the gift of hope.

Perhaps that gift of love can be declared in hope. Using your turn signal, paying for the person behind you in the fast food line and always having a snack on hand for those who may need one (like myself, I admit I often need a snack).

Declare Hope. Or DCLR HPE.

So much more than a blog or a phrase. So much bigger than anything I could ever write.

Declare hope it is a state of mind it’s a lifestyle, it’s what we do, it calls us to action.

Faith, Hope and Love the greatest of which is Love.

And relentless Hope, through genuine Faith, always leads to immeasurable Love.

What we all have to decide, is if we will take up the mission, and hit the road?

*Side Note: The credit for the license plate spelling goes to my Mom.

One of the days we spent together in January I was discussing that I had thought about getting a personalized plate and I wanted to use Declare Hope in some way. She looked up as we were writing options and she said the above. And we immediately knew it was perfect. We were right.  Thanks Mom.

*Photo Credit: Thanks you too Dad! For putting on the plates and snapping the picture, even if it was bit damp out!

 

The Impossible Dream

“The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”

Proverbs 16:9

He doesn’t call the qualified, He qualifies the called.

Thank God, because I am a lot of things but in most endeavors I am not qualified.

And qualifications aside, they never stop us from dreaming. At least I do not believe they should.

I cannot recount the amount of times my dreams, goals or plans were outside the realm of “possible”… well I could but that would require more words than usually associated with blog posts, mine of which already run long.

In all honesty, according to someone’s scale somewhere, I am probably not qualified to write blog posts.

Unfortunately for them, I have always dreamt big. Always wanting to reach a little further than recommended. I can’t give you the exact date, but for as long as I can remember two quotes have continuously shaped me. They are not incredibly profound, at least not at first glance. They are not necessarily compromised of many words. They’re short and simple really.

“We walk by faith, not by sight.” – 2 Corinthians 5:7

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.” – Norman V. Peale

Three sentences, twenty words and in my head they might as well be direct orders. With the faith they depict in the God I know, there is simply no additional conversation needed aside from which direction. Point the way, I am all in all the way.

Granted that doesn’t mean I always get my way.

You can ask my father, I have never been exceptionally talented at directions. So it’s no surprise that more often than not I think I’ve got the final destination all figured out – putting it in cruise control, full speed ahead – and then there happens to be a curve I didn’t quite see coming. Or curves. Much like the Appalachian Mountains really.

One of those curves hit this past week. Last Wednesday actually. I must say, God had been preparing me for it, but Lord knows it was still sharper than I had calculated. My heart tensed, momentary confusion and disorientation set in and a crashing reality flashed before my eyes.

And then Jesus took the wheel, He slowed it down and we took a moment to pull over. Because this wasn’t just one of those slight curves. You know the ones on back roads you mildly underestimate but still can manage to glide through with really no incident aside from the two extra heartbeats a minute.

No, this one changed our whole direction, it turned us onto a road I had known existed but wasn’t on my map as the way I had pictured us taking. No, this wasn’t my way at all. And we needed to take a minute, Jesus and I. Mainly because I needed to be still a moment and reassess what absolute truths I knew in contrast to what I no longer knew. Three truths emerged:

  1. God is good and He loves me and He has a plan.
  2. His plans are better than our best. Period.
  3. I still believe and have full faith in all of the above.

Quite frankly, I have a lot of plans. And a lot of different ways to get there. But ultimately it’s not my plan, it’s His. He is the way, the truth and the light.

He is the way.

So we are on a path which I hadn’t planned and which He had prepared. I am still all in, all the way. And I am still reaching further than “possible” allows, because with God anything is possible and I still dream one day to do the impossible.

**Thank You Sam Beasley on Unsplash for Photo