Independence Day

Happy July 4th! This is the first year I have ever had two sets of fireworks. One last night and another tonight. I’ll take em!

Today has been relaxing (one of the perks of working for a bank is that you get holidays like this off. I can’t complain). So I went on a nice long hike up in Boulder and exhausted myself… yes, I know I’m weird like that. I have always held that to physically exhaust yourself is the easiest way to put away your “flesh” and find your heart more open to God. And so the writing begins. This is short, but I didn’t really feel like copying over my entire journal entry :-).

As I hiked up the mountain, looked over the entire valley, and then walked back down through a field full of wildflowers, I was reminded of Jesus words of how we are cared for even more than the lillies of the field. I wondered how many people hike up there and instead of just think “wow what a great view” – their minds go to the verses in Psalms and other scriptures that speak of how the whole earth is the Lord’s. That the rocks will cry out if we don’t.

Do any really listen?

Jesus used so many analogies of life around his world to show people what the kingdom was like.

“He who has ears to hear, let him hear”

Let him hear what?

That there IS deeper. There IS more.

And you know what else occurred to me today? There is so much of Jesus life we don’t know about. Not just his childhood and 20’s but much of his 3 years. We hear the stories that prove he is God-in-flesh. We hear the stories of his triumph over sickness and death, of how he loved and raised up people others ignored, and challenged the idea of religion and faith and what God really cares about over and over again.

But so much we don’t know. What did he do when he and his disciples just sat around the fire? Did they tell stories? Did they laugh at the things their kids did, the things they did in their own childhood? He lived everyday life just like we do, and it was the moments that grace broke through, that the kingdom life sparked that were written down.

I am surrounded by people just like the rest of you – some who love Jesus with their lives, and some who are not yet awakened to the life He offers, the forgiveness and mercy we need. Some of my favorite moments are when I can speak of that truth, of the ways I sin and miss the mark oh so much – and am reminded over and over of mercy.

Today, as we celebrate our Independence as a nation, I am reminded that yes it means we are free to think and believe what we want, But I am also reminded that I am dependent on this story of faith, the story of the cross that I cannot let go of, this truth, this reality that most may not care about – but one that reminds me I can never achieve the perfection I crave, the rightness in life I long for. Yet its been gained, the beauty is in the everyday moments where this perfection, this beauty and mercy breaks through.

So enjoy the time with friends and family. Realize the richness it holds, and keep your eyes open for moments that grace breaks through.

The old is gone, the new is come!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!

I rarely post pictures of myself, but I couldn’t not post this one. My folks just recently relocated to Colorado Springs, so we have had more time together the past month than we have probably the past few years combined. It’s been fun! It’s also been a privilege to help them get to know the area and watch them experience Colorado (again) with new eyes (since they used to live here when I was a kid).

For New Years Eve day, Maia was flying out to see an old friend in Ohio. Given that I’d be that far north, I offered to take my folks with me and continue on to Boulder, so they could see yet one more new place. In spite of their concern of how cold it was (4 degrees) and a pending winter storm, we hopped in the car and headed out. After dropping Maia off at the airport, we headed to Lafayette to have lunch with… ummm…. my guy (gulp, yes, haven’t blogged about him, I know…. but that will have to be shared later!) The weather was getting slightly worse, but was still no match for this Chicago-grown girl and her trusty Volvo :-). Mom and I dropped Dad off at the house to watch the college football game (he was in heaven) and she and I headed into Boulder to trapse around Pearl Street Mall. It was GREAT!

So other than this being a bit about me sharing about time with my mom.. why do I mention it? Because watching my folks experience all this new stuff reminds me of what I’ve been stewing on for a while…. that is… the new start we get every year, even if we are in the same place as last year. I know, I know.. you have probably read enough about turning over a new leaf, starting new habits, or committing to ending bad ones. I’m not going there. Not really.

I do, however, tend to take stock of lessons I’ve learned in faith, and things I long to grow into in the new year. The past few weeks the verse from 2 Corinthians 5:17 kept coming to mind, and so I took time the other day to look at it again.

“If anyone is in Christ, the old is gone, the new has come”

You have probably heard this before.

What you might not know, though, is that in the Greek, the word “new” is KAINOS. The clarification of “new” blows me away: “as respects to substance: a new kind, unprecedented, novel, uncommon, never heard of”

And I was also reminded of what my pastor in Illinois spoke of, that in the original language, “the new has come” isn’t really there. It’s more “if anyone is in Christ – new creation!”

In other words, something new, never seen before, steps onto the world stage in YOU, as you follow Christ and His path for you.

Think about that for a minute

We know that as we mature as people we grow – from life experiences, from things we are taught, things we pursue, hardships we endure, and good things we celebrate. But this? This brings a whole new side to consider.

What is happening in your life, as you bend and move and change and learn who you are FOR REAL… as you reflect mercy and grace and hope in the world – looks so unique on you in a way that the world hasn’t seen in the past.

I believe it isn’t something that happens just when you are captured by God’s love and forgiveness the first time. This happens over, and over, and over as we are re-created by every death, every birth, every sorrow, every joy as we walk this life.

You are still becoming something new, something never seen in this world. You have a place on the stage this year, and because God is always at work, I can promise you there will be things this coming year that will challenge you, change you, and make your life richer and deeper than you could have ever imagined.

So no matter how you start this year – with hard things you are facing, with uncertainty, or with exciting things to look forward to – I’d encourage you to pay attention.

This year’s YOU will still be-coming KAINOS.

Let it come!

It’s nearly December???

Gosh, I can’t believe its been over a month since I have posted anything. I haven’t been very “inspired” if you will, or thinking very deeply I guess. I miss that. But, life keeps going whether we dwell in the deep things or not, doesn’t it?

As of tomorrow, I can rest. I know that might seem strange to say as we head into the holidays but… it is sure going to feel like rest to me! The past two weeks have been full of writing, studying, and house purging/cleaning. By tomorrow at 10am, I will be DONE!! My 30 page paper is turned in for one class, and tomorrow is the final for my other class. They took pictures to put the house on the market today, and I just finished doing the little bit of decorating that I am going to do this season. So… to kick off the Christmas season, tomorrow night I’m headed to Denver to see “A Christmas Carol”. Let the festivities begin!

I will warn you, this is more of a stream of thought kind of post tonight… I can’t say I have any great theological thoughts right now. My brain is a bit mushy after all the studying. But here goes.

I remember someone telling me last year that the first year after a loss is the hardest. I have been watching my life, paying attention to the markers and waiting for that first year to be over. I have found that, as many of you already know – grief shows up in the strangest places – and all you can do is give in, let it run through your mind and emotions and feel what you need to feel – and then you can move on. I have done that many times since last October, over some very odd things. That being said, I am keenly aware that as I head into December, I have to choose joy and remember how thankful I am for the small things – like the fact that my girls are doing well: Maddie has moved to her own place and just got hired on as an EMT (yes!!!!), and Maia will move into her own apartment in Fort Collins after break. Needless to say, the house is more empty than it has been in a whle. It feels weird sometimes. But I will choose Joy.

I can’t not think about how different this Christmas will be from last. This time last year, I was having panic attacks. Jon and I were trying to figure out how to make the holidays “normal” when we had just told the kids about the divorce. It was hard to hold onto traditions and keep joy in anything. The one thing I remember that felt normal is that he and Maia and I all drove to look at the Broadmoor lights and blasted the Christmas music in the car. They harmonized all the way, we laughed, and it felt normal for about an hour. In my head, all I could think was “Lord, I’m sure we have just ruined Christmas for the girls for the rest of their lives. You have GOT to redeem this holiday for them.”

The irony of that statement is not lost on me.. of course He can redeem the holiday. It’s his anyway. But what do I mean by redeem? The Collins online dictionary says that if a situation is redeemed, it makes it “not so bad”. I think this has a piece of what I’m getting at, only “not so bad” isn’t my idea of something being redeemed at all. I mean restore to wholeness. Take it back to what it was, or make it new, with new joy, new traditions. New everything. That is what I want for them.. for all of us. And I am not naive, I know this Christmas will be hard in a lot of ways. We’ll all have to face that – but I am not afraid.

“The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” (Matt 4:16, Isaiah 9:2)

I know sometimes this is quoted at Christmas to talk about the light that came into the world when Jesus was born. It’s actually used by Matthew when Jesus begins to preach in Capernaum, but the truth still holds. I’m sure its also no coincidence that it is used in preaching when we are headed into the darkest season of the year either. That somehow, in the darkest of times, we want to remind ourselves at Christmas that its the reality and light of God-in-the-flesh that brings hope for our lives. Hope for what? That things will all work out? That we won’t hurt any more? That we can finally get a job, or mend a relationship, heal from our sickness or find healing of our hearts? Hope that we are actually loved by a God that is bigger than us, whose mercy and grace is even more than what everyone has told us?

Yes to all of that. Yes.

Yet if you think of the usage of the word “dawned” – its not a light switch type thing. It’s a slow recognition. Something that takes a while to open our eyes to… that the God of this universe of ours has not forgotten His promise to live with us. That He is not far off. That He is faithful in his love in a way no human can ever be.

So as you head into your Christmas traditions, no matter whether they are old or new, whether you have a ton of folks to celebrate with or you are alone – I encourage you to take time to let something about God and His love for you dawn on you this season. There is holiness in the quiet if we will listen, there is mercy all around us if we will just open our eyes. May the One who walked this earth be strong for you this Christmas, and may you let him hold your heart, no matter where it finds itself.

Now.. guess I better finish studying. 😊

When there is no prophet

In my Old Testament class this semester, we have been reading through Kings, Chronicles, Daniel, and Esther. Great books, and I am learning so much of how to read them that I never knew before (like did you ever notice that lots of people are eaten by lions… which is kingly imagery…and the author uses that to remind the reader who is king?). One of the key things we keep going back to is how often, during the reign of the Kings of Judah and Israel, God was trying to teach them to listen to the prophets to get his directions.

Yet, when you move to Daniel and Esther, you are watching people in exile … where there is no temple, no levite, no priest, no remnant of anyone to tell them how to live in obedience to God. They had to live according to what they knew was right. It was just them, “doin’ the stuff”, as my professor said, and giving God space to move.

What struck me the most though, is when our professor kept pressing us on the book of Esther. I could tell we were not quite getting what he was trying to understand, until we landed on this: Even when there is no prophet, and people have to make decisions that are made out of their own wisdom and prudence, God is still moving on behalf of his people.

I know that is not a ground-breaking thought, but it hit me right where I have been thinking about some stuff lately. You see, I became a believer in the charismatic/pentacostal side of the church. Hearing from God, asking for the gifts of the spirit, specifically to be able to hear from God FOR others, was a big deal. Although it introduced me to the presence of God and helped me learn how to tune my heart for his voice, it left me always wondering why I never heard much. What was wrong with me? If this was how I was supposed to be “led by the Spirit” is to always have a word from God, how was I supposed to move forward? How would I know I was not offending him somehow? Its not a great place to live, and I think it truncated a part of my own spiritual growth in certain ways.

Over the years, I have learned that being Spirit led is SO much more than just hearing words from the Lord. I have also been exposed to sides of the church that think all that stuff is hogwash for one reason or the other. Whereas I can’t go that far – because I do believe God speaks to us in so many different ways and for so many different reasons – this reality of doing wise things that is present in scripture suddenly became very, very obvious.

It’s all over proverbs. Jesus talks about loving God with your heart, soul, strength, and MIND. But why do we never focus on this? Perhaps this is more a focus of the Protestant side of the house – and for that, I am grateful and hope to learn from my brothers and sisters. But where is the preaching on this? That is something I have to mull over. Preaching on wisdom probably sounds very “not Jesus-y” I guess, yet Jesus certainly seemed to be a man of great wisdom, if you ask me.

I have struggled with how split the body of Christ is in this, where we either seem to be ONLY wisdom seekers or ONLY word-of-God-prophecy-type people. Yet I know there is room for both, corporately and in our own lives as well. So the challenge is to hold both equally… because the richness of the voice of God is something of which I just cannot let go. Neither can I stop being amazed by the wisdom of people I have met and continue to meet that are deep thinkers, lovers of God and others….

So today, I leave you with one of my favorite verses from Proverbs 2:

My son, my daughter, if you accept my words

and store up my commands within you,

turning your ear to wisdom

and applying your heart to understanding —

indeed, if you call out for insight

and cry aloud for understanding,

and if you look for it as for silver

and search for it as for hidden treasure,

then you will understand the fear of the Lord

and find the knowledge of God.

For the Lord gives wisdom;

from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. (Prov 2:1-6, NIV)

Rocky places

Back in my early days as a believer, I read the book “Hinds Feet on High Places” by Hannah Hurnard. An allegorical story of a young woman and her journey of faith, it is a story that reminds us that, as believers, our journey to maturity in faith is often accompanied by sorry and suffering – yet it is precisely those things in life which cause us to realize our need for, and true home in the Shepherd of our souls. It’s based on verse 3:19 in Habakkuk:

“The Sovreign Lord is my strength; he makes my feet like the feet of a deer, he enables me to tread on the heights”

I am sure the book had a deer on it, but in my head it looked more like the mountain goat pictured above.

Yesterday a few from my hiking group and I went to climb yet another 14r – Mt. Evans. On the way there I was talking with one of the ladies who is also divorced, and was sharing how much God had taken care of her over the years when things were ugly and hard and she was scared, raising three young boys by herself. Although our stories are vastly different, we both shared the commonality of tackling mountains to conquer our fears. Seeing as how she has hiked probably more 14rs than I can count, to hear that she was scared the first time gave me courage.

For those of you who have never hiked a 14r, and maybe wonder what they are like – they vary based on starting elevation, distance to the summit, and type of ground you cover. Some start you in the forest, some you start above tree line. Inevitably at the top you are always traversing rocks of some kind, whether big boulders that are pretty fixed, or smaller ones that move with your every step.

Stories of hikers who have died (being stupid taking pictures on razorback ridges), combined with a friend who died rock climbing when Jon and I were in our 20’s, has sat in the back of my mind as I have hiked my first two 14rs. I am keenly aware of how stable I need to be, how cautious my footsteps have to be calculated. Rest assured, its not like one wrong step would make me fall off the mountain or anything! Trails are well marked by cairns, and we are never alone.

On Mt. Evans, the last 1000 feet are huge boulders. I had to rely on watching the footsteps of others, as well as listen to the advice of seasoned climbers, to know where and how to get through the rock field. You would think you go up one and down another – but no! You walk on top of them. “Trust your boots, they’ll grip” they kept telling me… and after two 14rs now I am realizing they do indeed allow me to walk on the rocks without slipping. I think yesterday I probably looked more confident than I was, but my “scrambling” was less clinging to them and more hopping from one to another with ease.

Make no mistake – my inner dialogue was still “take it slow, look for the cairn (a stack of rocks marking the path), head there, look for the trail where others have gone. Trust your boots. You got this.”

Just as I was hitting the spot that looked the hardest, we saw some other hikers pausing, holding their dogs in check. Why? When I looked up, I could see the mountain goats looking down at us from the rocks above. It was…stunning. And spiritual in a way that brought tears to my eyes. Why, you ask, other than the really cool fact that I was face to face with a mountain goat.. on a MOUNTAIN????!!!

You see, God keeps showing up for me in the strangest of places, reminding me who He is and that He fills my whole life. I know this, yet it blows me away every time. Yesterday was no different… and it added another voice to my innner dialogue. That kind of inner knowing where peace takes over and you can look back at your circumstances without fear.

The more I thought about it as we took our pictures and headed down off the mountain, the more I thought how my inner dialogue had its own spiritual parallel:

In the life of faith, there is no question that you will face boulders, and you might even lose your way as you navigate them.

But like a cairn on a 14r, there are markers that can help you find your way back. Sometimes they are people that lovingly come along side you to remind you God hasn’t abandoned you. A good friend that just won’t let you hide. They might be a song, something you see in a movie or TV show, or a post on Instagram…. but they shine some light on the trail that’s been hard to see.

Like good hiking boots that grip the boulders, when you lift your head up, you find that the core things you have found in God are still true. People may have disappointed you, situations may be taking the wind out of your sails, but God is still faithful to see you through. His love doesn’t fail. He won’t abandon you. You are forgiven. And He is bigger than you understand right now.

Holding onto those truths sometimes are like the grips that keep faith from falling completely. Yet even when it does, I know He still won’t let go of you. You can get to the top of the mountain… and when you do, let the truth of it sink in. You’ll climb the next one with a lot more confidence.

Who does your thinking?

I have this little post-it note sitting on my standing desk beneath my monitor, mainly so that I can see it front and center. Right now, it’s about as close as I am going to get to God hand-writing a note to me… but lately it’s something I have needed to remind myself of more than I’d like to admit.

In case you can’t read it, it says “Who does your thinking for you?”

Have you ever had a season in life where maybe you were in a rough spot, you were working through things, and eventually you get to a place where you are feeling ok, and then something happens and your mind gets thrown out of whack?

Yeah.. I just caught myself in that place this past weekend. You see, I would like to think I am a pretty positive person, always looking on the bright side of things. Even when life gets hard. I dig in, trust God will get me through, and keep plugging. I guess you could say my default thinking kind of runs like this:

  • Default: I’m doing well!
  • Default + hard stuff = I’m doing ok, keeping my head up and believing for the best
  • Default + hard stuff + outside voices = well maybe I shouldn’t be ok? Am I missing something here?

It’s this last part that I want to talk about today. Somehow I have this weird guilt feeling that I shouldn’t be doing so well when things get hard because everyone expects certain types of reactions from us when we hit hard things in life. Sure, sometimes we DO feel the “expected reaction” – like if you lose someone you love, you are going to go through some serious loss and grief that only others who have been there get the depth of. Or if you are betrayed by a friend, or you lose a job or house, or you are diagnosed with an illness of some kind. Anger, denial, numbness, hopelessness, disillusionment…. you name it, any of those would be considered “normal” in cases like this, right? So you work through them. You process with people, with counselors, with God.

Eventually you start to see rays of hope, pieces of joy that seemed just a bit too far at the start. Then maybe you start to feel better – like really better!

At some point, voices will surfaces that will lend their thoughts, wanted or unwanted: people who didn’t know what was going on, social media rants or blog posts, books or articles or songs that speak to whatever hard thing you are dealing with. Now, sometimes voices can sometimes be good and help you along – challenging you with hope, kindness, patience, forgiveness….. or they might give you permission to feel something you were afraid to feel.

Then there are the times that these voices might make you question how well you are doing. You sure you are ok? You’re not just hiding/avoiding/ignoring? (Which sometimes is totally ok, don’t get me wrong!)

The reality is that when you serve a living God, whose very breath fills your lungs and spirit lives inside of you… there is something that is net different as you walk through difficult seasons.

A few weeks ago I was reading again in Isaiah and ran across this verse, which I had not read in a while:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand….”. (Isa 41:10)

And I sat and thought about that for a minute. This doesn’t have a qualifier on it like “I’m with you only in the big stuff”, or “ I’m with you when you don’t know what to do”.

Iam with you, so do not fear, God says. Period.

What about God being with us should make us not afraid? The easy answer is that, well, he’s big and he’s God so … there. But the reality is that we have to dig pretty deep to be aware of that presence and let it change our experience, don’t we?

Just knowing this in our heads doesn’t necessarily crowd out the voices that tell us we should be afraid, or make us recall the past, or that what others think makes more sense, or even a zillion other things that our mind might concoct to instill fear….. because to just tell ourselves “don’t listen to that voice” is like saying don’t look at the elephant in the room. Sometimes it makes us think about it more!

We have to move beyond head knowledge alone to more of a deep knowledge in our soul, one that is born of His Spirit, reminding us of God’s actual presence and power with us to get us through.

As I have been studying the Old Testament, the very presence of God is one thing that we keep coming back to. Every battle, every hard thing – God always reminded them “I’ve got this”. It didn’t mean they didn’t have to fight or chase the enemy to keep or capture land. But God being with them was huge. His presence was the deciding factor on whether they won or lost the battle. For us today, our battles are different. Often we don’t know the outcome, and what we want isn’t always what happens – but God’s presence with us SHOULD change how we experience whatever we’re going through. It’s time to stop thinking just “yep, I know God’s with me BUT…. “

No. “God IS with ME”. Not just the world, not just everyone when they are together in church. Me. You. Personally. Right there as you walk through whatever you walk through.

Are we still going to go through seasons and have hard times? Of course. Jesus says we will have trouble, but that his peace is real for us in the midst (John 14:27) of whatever we face.

Dear ones, this active knowledge of God with us takes practice. We don’t always get it right, but we have to start somewhere. I challenge you today, to ask the Holy Spirit to make you more aware of the truth that God is with you, so that His presence changes how you experience what you are going through.

After all, if he can hold the world together, don’t you think he can hold you together too?

Finding Family

My family, we have this crazy tradition. Jon and I started it when we were dating, and it has only continued as the years went by. The general rule is this: If you spend Easter with us, you are going to end up having blue lips, and you are going to have your picture taken!

Who knew that malted milk ball easter eggs could be so fun??

This year, I flew back to see my family in Virginia, and Jon and the girls celebrated Easter together in Colorado. I must say, I went in stealth mode, because although we have tons of friends back in Richmond, I really needed family time. (So if you wonder why I didn’t call you…. please forgive me. I will catch you next time. I promise).

Coming back from that trip, I realized again how absolutely blessed I am to have such close family. I know not everyone does. I don’t take it for granted either. But given the time in life that have entered, things are changing for me too, and so is what my family looks like, especially with both girls going their own direction! That plus finding new friends out here, I have been doing a lot of thinking on what family means, and how we define family for ourselves.

If I am honest, because I have always had such a close nuclear family, I am not sure I really understood it when people said they created family out of whoever was close to them and they trusted. Not to sound shallow – we had friends that were like family back in Illinois – sure! But I mean – they all had core families too. So it was like a secondary family in some ways.

Out here, I have had the privilege of being invited into the world of some 20-somethings, and I watch them with wonder. They are away from their core family, starting out on their own, going through their own trials and hardships of getting started – and they are family for each other. It’s really quite beautiful. And yes I know this is what we do as people – right? We look for those we can trust, people we can be ourselves with and who will be there for us when we need them. We build relationships with others, and many times our friends can become closer to us than our biological family – sometimes due purely to time in life or geographical location – and sometimes due to broken places in family that make it too hard to be together.

This last part – this is where my mind wanders to a verse kind of stuck in the middle of a bunch of random throughts in Psalm 68:6

God sets the lonely in families” (NIV)

The actual Hebrew is ” God [yashab] sits down, dwells with, sets a [bayith] home, place, family with the [yachiyd] solitary ones (aka…lonely ones)”

Sit and think about that a minute.

That is HUGE.

Why? Because it says God is right there with you when you are lonely. It means his heart is to create a space for you when you are, a space that has people, a space that feels SAFE…. one that represents family for you: the good kind where you are loved for who you are, where you are wanted and welcomed. The way it should be.

Now, depending on whether or not you LIKE this idea – the desire God has to sit down with you in your loneliness and provide for you in it – may or may not sound good to you. I hope you can see it’s good. But even when He does, even when you see people around you welcoming you in, hanging out with you, pursuing you – it’s up to YOU to be willing to LET them be family for you.

That, my friend, can be a challenge, can’t it?

Sometimes its just easier to put up walls and circle the wagons and say you don’t need them, that you can do this life by yourself. Just you and God, you got this.

Are you so sure about that?

I know I’m learning a lot about that now. God was pretty clear with me that I needed to get connected out here, and I am still learning to lean on the people I have met that tell me to call them when I need something. I realize I am still hesitant to let them be my “family”.

But like I tell them, I don’t really have a choice. I need them. I plan on being here a long time, and yep, building from scratch is hard, but I need family out here. So I’m taking the risk to believe that for what I have seen of them, they are trustworthy. I’m choosing to believe that God is meeting me in my loneliness and providing people that will be a family to me.

How about you?

My challenge to you today is to take stock of who God has put around you. I know there are probably hurts from the past (or present) that seem too surmountable. Why risk relationship again when all they are going to do is let you down? Maybe you have been burned too many times, or maybe you have given up hope. It’s never too late.

Yes, its risky. I can’t promise anything about how people will react. We’re all imperfect and we all have our scars. But I can promise that if you take stock and find there aren’t many you can call family….. if you ask God to open your eyes to see who can be that for you…. and keep seeking… you will find the clarity you need. Then take the risk to believe that yes, you are worth bringing all that you are to your new “family” 🙂