In with the new?

As believers, we might easily quote verses and pictures proclaiming “Beauty for Ashes”, holding to the image that God can bring anything good out of something hard. Or, we find encouragement in a song like “God’s not done with you” – clinging to the fact that our unfinished stories can still hold purpose and promise in the years ahead.

I honestly believe this is true, yet the reality is that until you have had this truth tested, it only feel so real to you. It’s not “yours” – until you walk it, own it, and come out the other side. Then… its no longer just a cute little picture. Its a deep truth, burned into your life, built into your theology.

I will share this as a precursor to the post: I look back, and have to admit there was a day where I once felt like a piece of my heart died with my marriage, and I wondered if it would ever return. I trusted God would bring me back to life. I thought for sure all of my heart would be resurrected…. Then I would hit a day every now and then and wonder if I could ever experience delight and joy in a relationship like I had before. It was on a day where those feelings were right on the surface that I wrote this.

I share this just as a testimony to how much the Lord heals our memories, how much he can shift things for us that need to be shifted, even when we seem stuck. Because in reading this over again – I guess I was stuck. I hope it will be an encouragement for some of you that may be stuck in your own way.

P.S. In case you’re wondering.. Joy has returned and I am floored at quite a number of things right now 🙂

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Today I ran for the first time in a while. Spring finally in full display, from the trees to the flowers blooming, to the scents that mark a holiday weekend floating in the air (everyone was grilling out for Memorial Day cookouts). It was beautiful. It reminded me of when life was simple, and all I cared about was life and loving Jesus more and more. Sometimes I wish I could go back – back before the scars, before the hurt of life marred the way I see the world. Before I had to start over all again.

I keep thinking of a verse the Lord gave me a while back:

“Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing; Now it springs up, do you not perceive it?” Says the Lord (Isaiah 43:18-19, NIV)

It’s hard for us as people, not to look back, isn’t it? Back to before when we were younger, or when we were single or married, or before we lost our job, our loved one, our whatever we built our life around before it got so complex. Before we gave into the addiction, before our body started breaking down, before we left the life we had and moved across the country. Before we started asking questions or …. before whatever.

You know we’re not alone in thinking that way, right?

The Israelites did the same thing. Over and over, when God was bringing them to freedom in the wilderness, they longed for the things of Egypt. They longed for when they had meat in abundance and luxuries, obviously forgetting their great slavery. They forgot that the idols they worshipped were powerless, that the gods they served were but figments of their imagination.

I’m not saying things in our past were idols necessarily. After years of fearing anything I enjoyed was an idol, I have set down that way of thinking, and I’m not about to take it back up again. Yet what is it about looking back and longing for things that were?

Sure, sometimes its because we are afraid of change, but that’s not always it.

More often, I can’t help but wonder if its because its what we know, and the new seems unfamiliar and strange. There is no map, there isn’t a pocket guidebook for what’s next or what to do when we get there.

Later in this same passage in Isaiah, the Lord reminds them that the foundations of Jerusalem will be rebuilt. He will move on their behalf, even though they don’t remember him

Isaiah 45:2-3 (NIV)

“I will go before you

and will level the mountains;

I will break down gates of bronze

and cut through bars of iron.

I will give you hidden treasures,

riches stored in secret places,

so that you may know that I am the Lord,

the God of Israel, who summons you by name.”

Poetic. Mysterious. Something to make them wonder. He never tells them what the “hidden treasures” will look like, or how He will move, but he says He will.

Even though they still forget him.

Maybe we are more like them than we realize, unable to see or even perceive what He is up to in our years to come. Maybe we wonder, how could what is to come ever be better than what was?

Oh… but if we remember the heart of our God… He is a God that always keeps His promises. His love is true, it is faithful and never gives up. It was offered to us over a sacred meal with a cup of wine, a new promise.

We question how the new could ever be better….yet if we are able to dwell in the mystery that is the Lord, and swim in the love that He offers us, somehow I think we will find it that the new – however different – is still just as full of joy and delight in ways we could never imagine.

Are you willing to keep pressing into the One who loves you, to let Him do this for you? I hope so my friend….I am praying for courage for you for the journey forward!

Oceans reflection

Today I ran out at lunch to get a few things for dinner tonight, my mind spinning as to how I would get everything done in time. Yet, I chose to see those few minutes as time to fill the space with worship and really pay attention to the lyrics on the radio. The song “Oceans” came on, a song I haven’t heard in a while, and it took me back to the last time I sang it in a worship service. I was at the last women’s retreat I led at my church back in Illinois. I knew at that time I was going to be moving (even though I hadn’t told anyone yet but my best friend and the elders at church)… and the words were pregnant with truth for me. I knew I was headed somewhere I didn’t know, that God was calling me out on deeper waters with Him… the great unknown where my feet certainly could fail.

I knew I would find Him in the mystery of change. I had no doubt my faith would stand. After all, What could go wrong?

Ah. Those of you who have been reading my blogs for a while know what I’m talking about.

I had no idea just how much I would have to trust Him. How much life would prove that He would never fail me. I look back at that song now with different eyes, and see how far He has brought me, how much I have had to hold to the truth that I am His, and He is mine.

Things are so different now, yet so very, very good. I can confidently say I never thought I’d be doing the things I’m doing, walking the paths I’m walking, and loving the people I am loving.

This time, though, it was the chorus that got to me:

Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders

Let me walk upon the water

Wherever you would call me

Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander

That my faith would be made stronger

In the presence of my Savior

Do we really know what we are asking for when we sing that song, pray that prayer?

Do we really long for whatever will strengthen our faith to come to pass? I’d venture to say that sometimes we may not realize what life will bring that draws us closer to Jesus.

What does it mean, really, to have trust without borders? (Wow, even as I write that, I know its a loaded statement, given the current crisis at the border of our own country….)

For me, I see this playing out in some of the people the Lord has brought into my life. I am now friends with and mentoring a handful of young women in their 20’s and early 30’s. Every single one of them stretches me to have grace in ways I never imagined possible. A club dancer, a young girl that has just come out as bi, one living with her boyfriend, one getting divorced and amazingly alive after a stroke and a ton of blood clots in her lungs…. and one that is married and happens to also be the one that cuts my hair 🙂

I know after reading a journal entry from my 20’s I prayed for this. There isn’t much of a script I have to go by, and I question nearly every day if I am really doing enough to love them and help them to know God better…. but it has given me a front row seat to seeing God transform their lives and I am literally blown away every time I talk to them. One is growing in her prophetic gifting. One is growing in leadership and her passion for reading the bible, one is seeing so many ways Jesus is setting her free from the things of her past. One talking to God but not sure she wants to really be in relationship with him yet. It leaves me realizing just how much I may have trusted how transforming God’s word is for me, but I have somehow listened to a cynical mindset too much and forgotten how transforming it is for others.

How I have doubted

The work He longs to do in us is real, he starts wherever we are and calls us forward. All of us.

So my question to you is this: who is in your life that God may be asking you to come along side of – not to worry about how far away they seem, but to believe that God wants to reveal His goodness, His freedom of soul to them, no matter whether their life looks like you think it should or not?

Can you risk going where your trust in God is without borders, and let Him show you just how big His grace really is?

Just a little discontent

So I’m going to be honest about something. There are days when I look back on my faith even a few years ago, and I wonder if I had a polly-anna view of life? I have always been someone who can see the bright side of things, have hope when all seems lost, and find joy in hidden places. I have struggled to understand why people walk away from God and faith when things get hard, or when prayers go unanswered.

It’s not that life has been easy for me. I have dealt with hard things, just like anyone: two miscarriages, lots of church hurt, moving and losing friends, feeling alone and hopeless. I have navigated life with an ex and a daughter with mental illness. Seasonal depression of my own. Loss of dreams and starting over. Sure, my stuff might not compare to yours or someone else’s, but we all have our own journey, right? Yet in all this, somehow I still never understood why people questioned God’s faithfulness or love. I just didn’t get it.

Now I do.

I put the house on the market three months ago. I figured it was the best way to be a good steward of my finances, seeing as how I didn’t need a huge house just for me. Maddie had moved out, Maia was up at school, and it was a chance to slim down and save money. I prayed, I trusted God would provide a buyer. My parents had finished their basement, so I had a small apartment I could move into until I figured out the next step. That never happened.

I had all sorts of conversations with God about how I needed Him to provide – not just in this but in other areas as well. Nothing. No offer… even after reducing the price. Oh – its not that the house isn’t beautiful. I got GREAT reviews. Then folks either decided to build their own (I should get commission for that from the builders I think.. LOL) – or had complaints about the parking or yard. Ugh. So, needless to say, the house is off the market now and I figure God must have something else planned.

But it was in this process that I began to understand why people question God when things don’t go the way they prayed, or how they wanted them to go. Mind you, I have heard a ton of sermons on this over the course of my life. How sometimes the answer is NO. Sometimes the answer is NOT YET. God always knows best.

None of this brought me any peace or change in my perspective. I know it should have, and I should have graciously said in faith “ok God I trust you, do whatever you want”. Don’t get me wrong: I could acknowledge this externally. I knew in my head this was true. It was my soul that wasn’t quite letting go, and I couldn’t figure out why. My guy (yes.. I know I haven’t told you much about him yet. Keep waiting) kept asking me if I was patient. I kept saying yes. Obviously all my verbal process/fretting/questioning betrayed that!

I finally realized it wasn’t an issue of patience for me.. it was that I had stopped being content with the way things were playing out.

Yes, yes …. I know the verse in Philippians where Paul says “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation”. But I couldn’t just throw that verse at my life and then say “see Tama, you should be content”. I am a planner. I am a logical person. I am the kind of person that organizes for vacation. I schedule fun. Weeks out. (Yes I am a type “A”… go ahead and proceed with the mocking.. I can take it. … ). So when what seemed to be a really good plan wasn’t working, I struggled to understand why. All the praying in faith that the Lord taught me about years ago just felt like I was trying to manipulate God now. I finally had to just stop asking and pay attention to the reality, and accept that maybe MY plan wasn’t exactly what HE had in mind.

Wow. Imagine that. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been at this place before.

I am also sure some of you are laughing or chuckling at this very moment.

But I get it now. Why, when for our best laid plans, sometimes people walk away from faith. God, you didn’t provide. God, you ignored my cries. God, you didn’t rescue me or save my child or my relationships or my job. God where are you? So we walk away out of our misunderstanding and frustration.

Do we realize we are not the only people in the world who have those questions? We are not the only generation that has asked that. Look at the Psalms. Look at stories of people whose countries are at war, who are in hiding for their lives because of their faith. We have it easy here folks. Our world is broken, we are weak in keeping promises and being faithful and we do a really good job of trying to make things go our way even when we don’t realize we do.

But GOD’s character never changes. He is good, He is faithful, He is near, even when we miss him, don’t get it, or are blind. Jesus gets it. Heck, look at how often his own disciples didn’t get what he was doing, didn’t understand God’s plan, and struggles to make sense of what was going on in life.

Is your faith strong enough to hold on? Can you remind others who are struggling, and help be their anchor when they can’t any more?

Around Christmas, I had blogged a bit about not seeing what God is doing until we look at our lives AND the lives of others around us, and only then sometimes it makes sense. I have a feeling that is what is going on here for me, and I’m finally starting to be curious about what that might look like.

Don’t give up friends, your faith is worth more than gold. There is so much more to know about our God, and your life has just begun!

Standing on the mountain

Don’t you just love it when you read a story in the bible that you have read over and over and you know by heart, yet when you look at it again, there is something you missed? I love when that happens. It always seems to bring new insight, and, most likely, speaks to where you are in life at that very moment, doesn’t it?

There is a story in Exodus I re-read recently, the one where the Israelites have crossed into the promise land, and they are about to go into battle against the Amalekites (Ex 17). Moses tells Joshua to gather his fighting men and then the next day, he would stand on the mountain holding up his staff. So, Moses does just that, and the story tells us that whenever his hands were up, the Israelites were successful, and when they were down, they started losing.

If you have ever heard this story – you know that at some point, Aaron and Hur come up and sit Moses on a rock and hold his hands up, thereby securing the victory for Israel. I have always heard this preached about how important it is to have people that can hold up your hands in a battle, or stand with you when you go through difficult times. I belive that to be true. We can all probably look back on times in our lives when we are walking through something that we never could have without people by our side.

Yet this time — this time I saw something I have never seen before.

It occurred to me that God didn’t tell Moses to go stand on the mountain. Countless other times, God tells people go here or there and I will speak, or do this and that and you will win the battle. That is NOT what we see here. God did not tell Moses that night that his battle plan was for Moses to go up on the mountain and hold the staff . Granted, yes back in Exodus 4 God gave Moses the staff and told him he would use it to perform signs – but there wasn’t any particular guideline that told Moses the Israelites would succeed just because he held up the staff.

In the face of impending battle, with their livelihood and their future at stake, Moses did something we can all learn from:

He stood on the mountain, arms raised….and waited to see what God would do. He trusted in God’s power and in His promise to them.

It seems so simple, doesn’t it? But we fret and worry, we spin our wheels trying to figure things out or try and understand all the possible outcomes or choices, because we know that to sit still feels like doing nothing. Sometimes its not even a battle we are fighting, it’s just life circumstances that are too overwhelming or we can’t see a way out.

God might not give a battle plan. He might not lay out the next steps.

Our act of faith is to go stand on the mountain and know our God is there… and then watch and see how He moves.

You might be surprised at what you find.

Pea Soup

IMG_4694Earlier this week, I woke up one morning at 4:30. I had not planned on waking up that early, but I was wide awake – and for some reason I could not wait to get out for a run.

It was a cool morning – in the 50’s – and still completely dark, save the few street lights in our new neighborhood. As I turned the corner and headed out towards the new high school being built nearby, I realized it was foggy. Very foggy. It was so dense that all I could make out was the muted glow of the lights around the high school.

It was glorious.

Silence, all around, save the sound of the wind whipping the flag on the flagpole as I ran by.

I felt like I had entered sacred ground in a way, because across from the new high school was a huge plot of land that was not yet developed. There was a sidewalk on the outside edge, but behind that – nothing.

I had to stop and look at it for a minute, and stare into the thick nothingness that I could not see. This is the perfect picture of where I am and where I am headed, I thought. Fully confident of the presence of God, yet fully unaware of what waits beyond the next few steps in front of me.

I have come to love fog for that very reason – because it is such a perfect visual of what the presence of God is like – what it can seem like, I guess I should say – at different times in our lives, or even just at different times in worship. It is a reminder that we can breathe him in and stand in His very presence. It’s beautiful, mysterious, satisfying…and promised to us, if only we will pursue Him and do the work of waiting.  

The only thing I could see in the midst of the fog was the white line of the bike lane on the road, so of course I kept my eyes on it the whole time. It kept my footing sure and my path going the right direction, even though I still couldn’t see much.

Isn’t that just like faith? There are times in our lives where things get foggy, and the next steps are not always clear. Maybe we can barely see the road in front of us – or maybe we cannot see it at all – but as we all know, life doesn’t just stop. Neither does faith.  In fact, that’s the point of faith, to keep walking with God, knowing he is your plumbline, even when you don’t have directions and can’t see where you are going or what’s up next.

I like how The Message puts it: “… this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living…” (Heb 11:1) Other translations use words like “evidence of what we hope for” and “substance of things unseen”.  But you see, this isn’t just vague faith that eventually things will get better, or that things will work out.

Faith, grounded in the work of Jesus love for us on the cross and his ability to raise our lives from the dead even as we still walk this earth – that kind of faith is trusting He will never abandon you, even when things seem foggy. It’s holding to promises God has made of his provision, ability to comfort and counsel, even when evidence might seem to speak to the opposite.

Faith sometimes involves walking forward in the next thing without the daily reassurance that you made the right decision… but resting in the One that called and promises to go before you.

So today, I leave you with one of my new favorite songs, it’s called “Steady Heart” by Amanda Cook….. (but you can search for it yourself on YouTube or Spotify) 🙂