Spring

Colors dot landscape

hills wake from

winter nap

pale green to purple

and patches of barren brown

accentuate life returning.

Leaf upon leaf

bloom upon bloom

each unique in hue and form

individual intentional design

a grand gestalt

drawn in by senses and Spirit

ushers in deafening declaration of praise.

Rocks, meadows

mountain peaks and valleys

lakes, rivers, oceans

sun, moon, stars

ALL

cry Holy! Holy! Holy!

is the Lord God Almighty

Who was, and is, and is to come!

May we

see, smell, taste, touch, hear– experience

Him

and cry, along with all Creation,

Holy! Holy! Holy! is the Lord!

 

 

 

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He Came for Me

I walked to the track across the street from our home in Johnson City, skates in hand…the terrain of the street between the driveway and the track too steep for me to cross on skates…but I have traversed the near-level track on skates before without difficulty – well maybe a little difficulty. As I sat on a nearby bench and laced up my skates I could feel a swell of uncertainty rising in me… “This is just silly. It’s time I recognize the number of my years, listen to my body and do the things I know I can do without faltering.” I continued to lace. The voices of accusation and tom foolery continued as I made my way around the track once, twice, three times. Two children and their father were also on the track, the children riding bikes, the father jogging. They looked quizzically at me as I moved cautiously past them. Two women soon joined the track population, walking and talking, enjoying their pace and each other’s company. “On your left,” I shouted as I approached not far behind them so they would know the path I planned to take past them. Swoosh, my body comfortable in the rhythm my skating pace. Suddenly, I lurched forward then, as if in slow motion, watched the ground come ever closer to me, left leg straight out in front, right leg in a half split behind me, knee dragging, palms scraping the asphalt track with the fall. The two ladies rushed to me, “Are you OK? Are you hurt?” “No, just embarrassed!” As they helped me up I was very aware that I could not make eye contact – the shame I felt blanketed me. Why? “Oh, don’t be embarrassed, I couldn’t even be on skates!” Maybe I shouldn’t be was my thought as I thanked them for their kind rescue and addled off in the direction of the bench near the entrance to the track. Almost home, I thought. Can I make it? I was fighting nausea and the very real pain of a pulled hamstring muscle on the left leg and a very sore right hip and knee…almost there. My legs felt like lead, all but impossible to pull up from the pavement and forward one more sliding step…almost there. Then I felt it, the ground was fast approaching again and down I went – for a second time, same battered knee and hip, same palms, but this time I avoided the split left leg and further pull to the hamstring. Thud. I couldn’t believe it. Twice. I fell twice! It took all I could muster to pull myself up and drag myself the few more feet to the bench, safety and flat shoes.

The father and his children on their bikes walked past, looking at me. They didn’t say anything but lingered near the entrance to the track eyes in my direction. I continued to pull my skates off. The ladies approached fully involved in conversation and relationship. No eye contact, no question, no consolation. My body language probably said I didn’t want any. The father continued to linger and look in my direction. Nausea persisted and begged for an exit – the pain was growing, my knee, leg and hip throbbing. To further avoid the young father’s gaze, I lay back on the bench to get my breath and collect my pride. I could feel a blanket of condemnation descend and seek to smother me. “You are such an idiot. You knew this would happen. Now look what you’ve done!” At last I sat up and looked around. Thankfully, the man and his children had left, the women were about to come around again. The bench on which I was sitting hid my driveway and home just a few steps away. I think I can make it now with skates off and shoes back on. My whole body was shaky. Then I saw him. My husband, who had been glancing out the living room window from time to time to watch as I made my way around the track, was approaching. He no longer saw me skating around, or coming home, and was concerned. He came for me. My husband came for me. Waves of relief flooded over me. It would be well. I would be saved. There was no condemnation in his greeting, only concern. “I didn’t see you anymore and I got concerned…” He wrapped his strong arm around me and steadied me as we addled, together, across the street and home.

My husband’s love is so like the love of Jesus. We venture out unsure of ourselves, trying new things (or retrying things that have been fun and successful in the past). At times age tells us it is time to put away some of the pleasures we have enjoyed in days and years past. Our bodies grow frail and injury takes a greater toll than when inflicted on younger, healthier bodies. It is the process of aging. It is a natural and holy privilege to accumulate years, grey hair, and with these, wisdom. Jesus watches as we wrestle with the realities. He does not want us to stop living, to give in to the voices that say “you shouldn’t” or “you can’t” but to use the wisdom we have accumulated to make decisions that are wise and try new things. Jesus not only watches, but he stands ready to put strong arms around us, guide us home to the safety of His provisions and care. He will never leave or forsake. He will always come for you, for me, for us.

I am so thankful today for a husband’s love that cares to watch, covers me with his provision and comes for me. I wonder if you need someone to come for you? Jesus will come for you, He promised. Call out to him today.

Am I Enough?

It is a question that has been bombarding my mind these last few months. A new set of responsibilities at work — responsibilities that carry a weight of evaluation for good or bad performance. Things ride on my performance. How will I do? Do I have what it takes to lead this group from inception of idea to completion of project? It has been 9 months and the accusers of my soul still scream a resounding no! I want to do well. I hear Jesus and fellow flesh dwellers tell me I can…but the accusers’ screams so often outweigh the still small voice of affirmation. I am reminded by the still small voice to “lean on me…lean into me…trust in the Lord with all your heart and HE will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5&6). The desire to listen and follow the still small voice gains strength as the blaring, jarring grind of the accusations drown out the gentle command. I strain to hear but lose the pitch of His whisper as I’m swept into the frenzy of doubt the accusations usher in.

I need Him to come for me.

Lost or Alive?

I recently read a Seized by Hope post entitled A New Year, that challenged me to the core. The theme of the post is losing yourself: “The losing that says something about the best of who you are has been lost somewhere along the way, the you that God intends to have impacting the world, the you that deeply fellowships with Him, the you that leaves people hungry for the next time they will be with you” (Jan 3, 2013).

I have only recently begun to recognize the parts of me I’ve “lost somewhere along the way”. It is a difficult and costly exercise that requires repentance, and, when begun in earnest, may cause family and friends who are used to you behaving a certain way not quite know what to do with you.

I am not easily seen. I hide, protect, deflect, and flee. I know how to show you what I want you to see — the dross of who I am — not the gold. I fear you. I fear you will see the idol of self that I protect with all the contempt I can muster.

I am good at cooperating with evil to destroy the beauty God created in me. To relinquish the idols I hold so close means I must risk; you might crush my desire and kill hope; I might experience joy; you might arouse the longings of my heart; I might actually feel something. The alternative, of course, is walking dead. Not risking, not trusting, living without curiosity or desire — shut down — lost — in the fog of forgetting.

Repentance agrees that walking around lost in the fog is not living. Repentance asks God to scoop the dross away so He can show you and me who He created us to be. We can begin again — each new moment of every day. Repentance means I can risk taking the hand of Jesus embodied in the flesh of a spouse, friend or group of friends who is/are willing to walk with me back to the scenes of my childhood where evil began to destroy the beauty God created, where agreements were made with the lies I heard — “You will never amount to anything…”; lies that have shaped the ways I hide, deflect, protect and flee. Repentance opens my heart to the sheer delight on the face of God when He thinks of me, the tenderness in the melody He sings over me, the love with which He covers me — always — the encouragement that never disappears, disappoints, or fails. Repentance invites me to risk and trust, to be inviting and curious and twirling with joy on the arm of the King. Repentance invites me to be — alive.

With these thoughts fresh on my mind, the words of Pastor Richard’s sermon settled deeply into me this morning, “Where have you lost Jesus in your life?” The question made me wonder: Where have I shut out the King? Where have I thrust a nail into the hand that reaches for me with unconditional love, that invites me to joy, that offers my dying-of-thirst will THE Living Water? Where have I hidden, protected, deflected or fled from Christ?

In both instances of loss, repentance is our call to stop, turn and return. I am curious to know where my steps away from the me, “God intends to have impacting the world,” have taken the course of my life away from the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

I invite you to be curious with me and to ponder your life with thirst quenched, twirling for joy and alive!

Father, may I learn to follow You with footsteps of repentance by taking the next right step, every moment of every day for the rest of my life. Amen.

Sisterhood, husbands, bridge pillars and God

It had been a week filled with looking in, self-discovery and sisterhood; times of God’s presence and times of deep doubt; processing, talking through and earnest warfare prayer; graciously prepared gourmet meals, words of encouragement, digging into story (mine and others’), solitary moments and community; long walks, hot baths, and region-famous ice cream; paralyzing fear and boldly facing the vast unknown. Most of all it was an invitation to hope in the kindness and goodness of God. One early afternoon toward the end of the week, I laced on my walking shoes and headed out to pray and to process the truths taken in during morning sessions. My mind was full and my heart flayed open, pounding with a desire to make sense of the incomprehensible.

Just past the first few houses on the block I began to pray aloud so the strain in my throat would relax. The bottled emotion exhaled with words of doubt, fear and confusion–lament. Peace struggled to settle over me as I walked with heavy steps over the Kalamazoo River bridge, turned right at the edge of the park and continued down the path that curled under the bridge and alongside the river. The view was stunning. A growing peace coursed through as my thoughts silenced and my senses registered the river rippling over rocks. A beaver, mouth purposefully filled with debris, struggled to swim upstream against the current. A surge of empathy staggered me. I walked past a grandfatherly-aged man clapping for two little girls dancing on a stage near the river’s edge. Depravity quickly pried open peace as I wondered if he was good or evil. I prayed he was good and earnestly thanked God for my husband, Tom, his integrity, kindness, and love for our grandchildren.

As I climbed the hill and rounded the pillar at the end of the river bridge, still thinking about the goodness of my husband–the gift of him, thoughts of his illness suddenly sprang up to wrestle with God’s healing warmth and peace. My peripheral vision registered something out-of-place–a note? A sticky note? It was a yellow square of paper secured to the pillar. On it was written one word–a name–my husband’s name. My heart almost stopped as I looked around to see if any workers were near. A road construction crew labored a block away. Was one of the workers supposed to work on this pillar? It was cracked all through and a large chunk of concrete was missing.

At that moment, God’s tender words flooded over me: “Yes, he is sick. The many cracks throughout this pillar signify his illness; there is even a large portion of his strength fallen away–like that missing piece of concrete. But, just like this bridge pillar, he is strong, he is steady and he is sure. I have him, Christine, and I have you. Trust me”. Tears rolled from my eyes and ran down my cheeks unhindered. Tension drained, peace invaded and thanksgiving poured from my lips. This noted pillar, a gift–a visible reminder of God’s love for me–for us.

My quickened steps were effortless as I headed back across the river bridge to base. I was less than a house away when sinister words pelted, “You are crazy! A note with your husband’s name–really? Insane!” I tripped and nearly fell on the uneven pavement. Accusations of insanity gathered, lingered and completely clouded joy.

The dinner table was full of female energy, smiles and words of life, questions about what the day held for each. I sat silent. I had decided not to share my discovery but when directly questioned and pursued, I relented with a disclaimer: “I am probably crazy and just imagined it but…” As I continued the tale, one of the sisterhood broke in with words of exclamation, “I saw that note, too…on the rail of the bridge, right?” At dinner’s end, they joined me on a walk back across the river bridge to the pillar on the opposite side. The note was still there. If you look closely, you can see my husband’s name.

The sisterhood–forever linked by our journey together that week, and by moments we share of the love He continues to pour over us as we walk alongside other travelers–carrying burdens, sharing joy.

As you ponder my experience and the picture, dear one, remember this truth: Evil does not win.

Image

2012–Growth

2011 was a very busy year. With a new position (Department Chair), new responsibilities, and an already busy conference schedule, I knew the 2011-12 academic year would be a challenge. By late September, 2011, I had already attended three conferences–all in different cities and states. My brain was not only weary, it was so full of great words, lessons and things to apply to myself, my counseling and my teaching, I thought it wise to sit down and write out some of those in order to remember them. Thankfully, I saved what I wrote because I am finally, in this new year and at the beginning of a new semester, committing them to a post.

The first conference I attended was in San Diego, CA, at which I was privileged to present a poster session, Hope in the Aftermath of Trauma. While in San Diego, I was able to meet with two of my four siblings for lunch and spent some priceless and precious moments with my critically ill brother, Bill. San Diego presented me with the gift of siblings.

I was home from the first conference just long enough to spend the night and accompany my husband to an important doctor’s appointment the next morning before driving to the second conference in St. Louis, MO where God kindly lifted the veil with which I had cover my eyes to ignore my sin. I was legitimately shamed to discover how much I curse others–not swear at with four-letter words, but with a geyser of foul and violent, silent curses that spew contempt on drivers, mall shoppers and innocent folk out for a nice meal in a restaurant. Because it is silent, the victims are unaware of the horrible, vile, corrupt thoughts that leap into my mind and calculate curses on everyone and everything. In fact, I realized I seldom bless others unless I am purposefully seeking to do so, asking God to pour His kindness into me so I can offer some semblance of Him to others. The realization of how totally bankrupt I am of any expression of agape love was staggering. At the conference in St. Louis, blessings–not cursings–were spoken over me, and the experience changed me.

My husband accompanied me to the third conference in Nashville. The American Association of Christian Counselors was held at the beautiful Gaylord Opryland Hotel–a city of plush rooms, hallways and walkways through beautifully manicured and maintained gardens of trees, flowers and shrubs that accent streams, waterfalls and fountains. There are also restaurants and pools (indoors and out), and exquisite exercise room, sauna, whirlpool and spa. It is a wonderland. In this hotel city the climate is a constant 72 degrees during the day but lowers to mimic a “chill in the air” when the sun sets and the lights of the city emerge to twinkle with delight. It was magical. The conference presented a rich feast of speakers, symposiums and book tables that threatened to leave attendees stuffed with knowledge to absorb and ideas to implement. What one thing could I possibly take away?

Our God is a wise connoisseur of wisdom who intimately knows my heart and fed me in perfect proportion to my spiritually deprived palate by calling me to eat and drink of Him. The spirit of cursing clamored for my heart in the very first meeting when a woman boldly asked to sit in the chair right next to me onto which I had carefully set my Christian conference bag in a way that screamed, “Do not sit in this chair!” She wasn’t listening so I reluctantly moved my bag. I think I might actually have snarled. I silently bowed my heart, “Lord, I can’t do this without You…not a single session. Please come Lord.” In an instant I felt the Father’s strong arms lift me to a seat at the King’s table where I could feast on His bread and wine.

The bread was in the form of a message from a speaker whose name I don’t even remember. The subject was pruning. He had recently researched horticulture in preparation for authoring a book about our lives being pruned so that the best buds of the plant can grow. A rose bush can produce more buds than the plant can sustain, he explained. Although they are all good buds, they are not all the best buds. Without pruning, the flowers of the plant will never open and blossom to their fullest potential. Comparatively, he continued, the best buds in our lives are the passions that wake us in the middle of the night and call us to action. These are the prize-winning buds in our garden and, in order to fully flourish for the Kingdom of God and His glory, all other buds of involvement or interest must be snipped away so our lives will produce the fragrance God uniquely designed us to produce–the fragrance of Christ through us to our particular world of influence.

One power sip of wine was extracted from the list of speakers and presenters–but it quenched the deep thirst in me. God offered me this sip from the life and wisdom of Dr. Diane Langberg. The taste was indescribable and the courage and resolve it radiated as it slid down the palate and into the belly invited me to drink deep of the Spirit of God. Dr. Langberg offered one scripture, John 21:, “Peter, do you truly love Me?” (John 21:16). Her emphasis was not on LOVE as I have often heard its exegeses. Rather, her emphasis was on the pronoun ME. God used Dr. Langberg’s brief words to put a question directly into my heart, “Christine, do you truly love ME?” I was reminded that it is only in Him that I find the love, wisdom, courage and resolve necessary to love and feed His sheep. I have nothing in and of myself to bring others that feeds. I fact, you will recall, I only have vile curses. But as I turn my face to Him in adoration and praise, He provides all I need to love and feed His lambs. We are only sheep leading other sheep. We, therefore, run the risk of eating the lambs to sustain our efforts to produce what only He can provide. The question, “Christine, do you truly love ME?” still resonates.

As I reflect back on the important lessons of 2011, I choose to tarry this year in the garden while the Master prunes away the busy buds that keep me from growing into the full fragrance of His design for me. I want to love Him more completely, follow Him more faithfully, and live for Him more honestly. My word for 2012 is growth–not growth that produces busyness, but growth of soul love for God, the Master Gardener. It is this love for Him alone that produces the sweet fragrance of Christ. I truly love you, Father God. Please teach me to love You more.

Forgetting/Happy New Year!

A couple of weeks ago I posted some grand instructions about how one might read through the book of Psalms in 30 days. Great information. It has served me well through the years. I felt very good about posting those instructions and sharing with others the encouragement, blessing and challenges I have known.

Yesterday I read a post that offered a new Bible app…fingertip plans for reading through the Bible in a year–multiple languages, devotions, look-up chapter and verse capabilities, etc.; I was pleasantly surprised to find out that making an intentional plan to read the Bible is now easier than it has ever been–any kind of book, series, word search–the possibilities are endless. A true blessing of modern technology!

At church this morning, I was challenged to forget. “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13b & 14). Forgetting in this context, the speaker explained, does not mean to be without memory; rather, it implies the ability to let go of past successes (as well as failures) and to have eyes set on what is ahead–and Who is ahead–Christ–because He is calling us to more than we have known before. He wants to stretch our boundaries, enlarge our tents and expand the limits of our safe and comfortable boxes.

I realized that my safe and comfortable devotional Psalms box is all but obsolete. Although still a good way to read through the book in 30 days, my plan keeps me safe and comfortable within the shallow walls of my little box. And let’s face it–safety, comfort and little boxes are not part of following a radical God. He is not safe, he does not care about comfort and he is definitely not about remaining little.

As I am sure many where, the sermon I heard this morning was about a new year and new beginnings…but it was about so much more than that. It was about forgetting…about letting go of the movement of God in my life–past tense–and pressing ever forward to worship Him more fully, adore Him more passionately, follow Him more completely and live in His presence more purposefully. In other words, to want Him more than I want anything. “But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord…that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith” (Philippians 3:7-9).

And so, I have made a commitment this New Year’s Day to forget what lies behind me and to reach forward for more of Him. For those of you already walking that way, I’m joining you! For those of you who want to come along, welcome to a grand adventure! Happy New Year!