I last climbed this mountain a couple of months ago with a friend and my dog, Charlie. Charlie landed on a jumping cactus high up the trail. A whole burr clung to his paw and I couldn’t remove it. Each time I tried I ended up with spines in my hands.
The weather was hot. Charlie was heavy (20 lbs is light until you have to hold it just so in order to keep cactus spines from latching to other parts of the body). I was so mentally, emotionally, and physically grieved over the recent loss of my brother that this seemingly inconsequential situation brought me to the end of my strength.
I couldn’t leave Charlie on that mountain, but I couldn’t carry him down either, and it would take at least an hour for anyone to reach us— at which point there was no guarantee they’d be able to remove the cactus anyway.
I didn’t want to speak. And I didn’t want to cry; I didn’t want to give room to any emotion that could run away with me. But I knew if I didn’t ask the Lord, I honestly could have lain down on that vacant mountain—just me, my dog, and my worried friend—and given up.
In a voice only loud enough for Him to hear, I paused, lifted my face to the sky, and whispered in four small words the sum of my soul and all that it carried: “Jesus, I need You.”
My friend crested the mountain. She saw three men. They had serviced the mountain tower and were packing up when she rushed to catch them. One of them was a former cowhand and had wrestled steer to the ground to remedy problems just like Charlie’s.
But while Charlie is the biggest coward to ever wear canine form, he’ll scrap for it if he thinks death is imminent. He growled and snapped and rolled out of my grip each time they came near him. I was afraid they’d give up. I was distraught over the thought.
This time I cried in my heart: “Jesus, I need You.”
The cowhand looked at me. “We’re going to take care of this for you,” he said. “I know people get attached to their dogs emotionally. Trust me, I won’t hurt him, I just need to manhandle him a little bit, and we’ll take care of this for you.”
And they did. They took spines in their own fingers, got dirt and Charlie’s unmentionables all over one of the heavy work jackets they pinned him down with. They labored over him until his paws were free of every spine.
I didn’t want to cry. I wanted to weep. But I still had a heart too fragile to let my emotions run away with me.
So I thanked them. I asked if I could repay them. Get the jacket cleaned at least.
“Absolutely not,” they said.
Charlie stood, tested his paws, then pranced about like a show pony with his head and dirty tail high. He has no shame.
We started our descent, the three men wishing us well. The wind blew on my face, cool against the sweat on my skin. I felt inside the way Charlie looked in his prance: lighthearted and with joy restored.
Grief, trial, trouble. These all have a way of making one feel forgotten. Unseen. Unimportant. And even though truth is not changed by feelings, feelings are a powerful distraction.
But on that day, during that trivial predicament of a woman on a mountain with her quirky dog—when I truly could not take another step beyond the culmination of things pressing me down— Yeshua reminded me through the presence and persistence of those men: “I see you. I love you. I am here.”
As you head into the week, whatever it is you’re facing and however much it hurts, take your feelings, your questions, your doubts, your scheming to make it all work out; surrender these to the Son who died to save you and embrace this truth:
He sees you. He loves you. He is here.
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A woman had a dream.
She walked for miles through fields and deserts, grasslands and marshes, following the sun. It warmed her face and shined in her eyes, making her squint as she journeyed.
She pushed aside tall stalks of wheat, trudged through wet sand. Her thighs strained up steep mountainsides. In every place the sun led her past countless people. At the river they fished and washed. On the plains they shepherded. In the cities they bustled. Each of them backs turned and busy.
All but the deformed ones.
Every face she saw was contorted in some way. Young and old, from snow-white skin to complexions of polished sable.
They looked at her as she approached, then beyond her as she passed.
Hope. Relief. Joy. These emotions changed their dull expressions at sight of the invisible presence behind her, but each time she turned for a glimpse of who or what moved them so, she saw nothing.
Then she reached the end of her journey.
She stood at the edge of a cliff overhanging the ocean. The waves danced and bellowed beneath her. She could feel the spray dust her face and settle in her hair, smell the water tinged with the scent of marine life.
She breathed deep, and the cool air coursed through her like a live thing. She gasped and fell to her knees, her body radiating inside as the sun beamed overhead. It rose higher, calming the waves as its rays stretched across the sea. The same stillness settled over her.
She turned. The deformed ones had followed. They gathered around a young man dressed in white, their excited chatter floating through the air like feather-light laughter. Something about the man struck her as familiar. His hands glowed. Beautiful. He reached out to each face, his touch healing and drying heavy tears.
Then on they went, one by one, faces lifted like blooming flowers, into the brilliance of the sun.
The man faced the woman, and she woke with a start.
Her husband sat next to her in bed, mouth gaped, eyes on her. “You won’t believe the dream I just had,” he said.
Their son rushed in, his five-year-old legs pumping, and landed between them. “Jesus touched my hands, Mommy. So I could touch the people.”
Heat spread across her chest, as if the sun from her dream hovered over her heart. She wrote these things on lilac-scented stationery and tucked it in her Bible.
Her son grew and finished his schooling. His mother came to the graduation, her husband with her in spirit. She had fished out the stationery for the occasion, held it gently between her fingers, the faint scent of lilac still present on the worn paper.
He laughed when he saw it. Surely she didn’t expect him to follow through on a dream nearly two decades old. His name was already renowned in circles, his future wealth guaranteed, the likes of which he couldn’t achieve if he didn’t choose his own path.
Stunned, she opened her mouth, but the accusing stares of his colleagues silenced her. She tried to remember the dream, how vivid it had been, how real. She wanted to convince her son of the urgency of his purpose. But like the scent on the paper, the dream had faded. The faces had wilted to a silvery blur in her memory. “But Jesus…”
He shook his head. She looked at her boy, into those bright brown eyes that shined with defiance yet yearned for her approval. Not wanting to push him away, she shunned instead the unsettling stir in her heart. She crumpled the paper. “Do what makes you happy, son.”
After he hugged her, he and his colleagues stood among throngs of people that had appeared from nowhere. A deafening rip sounded from the ground and a great chasm opened the earth. The woman stumbled toward the edge but someone caught her from behind. She looked and saw her husband there, his face grave as he gazed past her to where their son stood on the other side.
The young face that had just beamed with triumph and promise now twisted in fear. Her boy.
A bitter cold knifed through the woman’s heart, even as the light of the sun fell so that particles in the air glittered like diamonds.
A voice cried out, “Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth.”
The woman fell to her knees. The light increased around her like the touch of a soft blanket. He said her name, and she knew His voice. She lifted her head, but could not bring herself to look past the feet of bronze.
His hand touched her face, and she woke with a start.
Her husband sat next to her in bed, his eyes red and watery. “You dreamt it too,” he said.
Their son rushed in, his five-year-old legs pumping, and landed between them. “Jesus touched my hands, Mommy. So I could touch the people.” His little nose wrinkled. “He said I had to become beautiful first, so I don’t forget. But boys can’t be beautiful!”
Oh, worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness! Tremble before Him, all the earth.
The words filled the woman’s chest, like a whisper sparking a flame. Her husband pulled her close, and moved their son so that he sat on both of their laps. “Yes they can, son,” he said. “In their hearts and before God they can. We’ll teach you, both of us.”
Her husband looked at her. His eyes a letter of deep love, of memories and laughter and tears and forgiveness. Of peace. Of resolve.
He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it.
“We’ll both teach you,” he repeated. “And when you forget, Mommy will never let you be okay with it. We love you too much.”
The boy mimicked his father. He grabbed her hand with his small one and planted his soft, wet lips on her skin. His fingers thin and nimble. His bright brown eyes shining. His heart soft and open, like soil for blooming flowers.
“Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him.” 1 Peter 5:8, 9
The enemy is very busy with today’s Christians.
Busy getting friends to turn on each other because their opposing views become offensive and that offense becomes more valuable than the love they used to have for each other.
Busy getting us to one-up each other in sarcasm and rhetoric rather than outdo each other in love, mercy, grace, and kindness.
Busy getting Christians more concerned about issues than souls, more condemning of others than forgiving, more critical of others than prayerful, more determined to make a worldly point than testify of the goodness, faithfulness, and sovereignty of the Living God.
The enemy is very busy with today’s Christians.
Busy inciting fear, hatred, violence, injustice, retaliation, bitterness, separatism, vengeance, murder, and deception in the world, and busy getting Christians to join the ranks in picking worldly sides and buy into it from a worldly perspective, while we completely ignore his handiwork from the shadows.
He’s very busy there–in the shadows, recruiting the same souls for destruction that we should be turning to the Messiah. Recruiting us to rally for a candidate or a cause rather than look with compassion on the lost. Recruiting us to redefine “the lost” and to use our own judgment for determining who’s worthy of compassion and forgiveness. Recruiting us to look at skin or uniform color rather than the soul inside. Distracting our attention away from who and what we really wrestle against.
The enemy has convinced many of us to ignore that in our anger we should not sin, that the very sins we condemn others for we ourselves commit or have committed, that those sinning against us are in need of the same grace and repentance we have been given, that we are to love our neighbors and enemies, bless those who curse us, pray for those who persecute and spitefully use us, and not resist an evil person.
The enemy is busy getting us to live like desperate citizens of a lost world rather than confident children of the Almighty God. Children who have the wisdom that is from above, which is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy, without partiality and without hypocrisy.
He’s busy getting us so angry that we become unforgiving, and in becoming unforgiving we forget how our own sins ripped through Christ’s flesh.
He is busy convincing us that God is silent. And that if God is silent we should be shouting. At the world. Not crying out to our Father. Together. United.
The enemy is very busy with today’s Christians. He is busy keeping us subjected to the influence of media and away from the instruction of God’s throne. He is busy trying to make us look and feel hostile, sarcastic, furious, forgotten, forsaken, indifferent, uncaring, hard-hearted, and hopeless. He is busy trying to make us look and act like him.
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” Ephesians 6:12
“But if I have not love, I am nothing.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:2
My mother-in-law gave me wise advice years ago. She told me that when it comes to people you admire and causes you support, if you agree with every single iota of a person’s opinions or an agenda’s position, then you’re not thinking for yourself.
You cannot change the world, play your part in it, or make the difference you were created to make if you swallow every gulp of what your favorite pastor, political party, or network is pouring in your glass. The opinions and reasoning of men are flawed and imperfect because we are flawed and imperfect. Only God and His word are infallible.
I’m not on the bandwagon that cries racism every time there’s a person of color killed by a white officer. Neither do I duck my head in the sand and say “No way this is unjust. They must have deserved it” just because somebody posts a FB photo or Twitter post about the victim that shows disgraceful behavior. I don’t share blog posts that essentially say “I was treated okay, so that other person’s experience must be bogus,” when a person who was alive and well yesterday is gone today and have people who loved them fresh in mourning.
To do so is to show the world how non-objective and hard-hearted you really are; you’ve got your Democrat or Republican, Liberal or Conservative playbook and you’ll die before you break ranks or call an audible. It’s not about being right. Where’s your sense of humanity when you can watch a person die on video and the only thing that crosses your mind is rhetoric, debate, and “what’s a good meme to silence all these outraged people?”
Where is your sadness? Your horror?
Especially if you call yourself Christian?
Even if–in your limited and sorely mistaken opinion–every single police shooting is justified and the victims are wicked, how can you take pleasure in or be so indifferent to death when God Himself takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, when he took a man like the Apostle Paul, who had a murderous rap sheet, and both loved and changed him?
These two men had value in God’s eyes. His Son died for them. People loved them. Meditate on that for a minute and get down off your politically charged social media high horse and let your heart beat blood for a spell.
“But if I have not love, I am nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:2
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My cookie jar is empty.
It’s seen a batch or two–maybe–in the months since I returned home from Mount Hermon’s Christian Writers Conference; but for the most part it’s been unoccupied. Relieved of duty. Free of tenants.
And for a while I blamed my husband.
See, we had a plan. As you probably know from a previous post, my youngest daughter started kindergarten this year, freeing up my afternoons. And according to the plan I would take the first year to write full time with keys blazing and submissions flying.
But somehow in my short, five-day conference absence the plan changed. Just up and flew away somewhere. Out there. Over the rainbow. And in its place: “You need to finish your degree.”
My arguments against this new scheme raged vehement. Very artistic and author-ish too. Something about sensible suits and academic labels, the futility of human standards of achievement, the colors of my creative mind fading…you get the picture. When that failed I took the practical financial approach.
Nothing worked. God has a new plan, saith my husband, and a degree for the missus therein lies.
Well alrighty then, Misters.
That was six months ago. I saw evidence of God’s hand in the orchestration, including a ripple effect in other areas. Then I discovered I could finish much earlier than expected. I snatched that baton and sprinted off with it. On top of that aim I added honor student. And because a writer must always be reading and writing I made sure to check those boxes too. Super productive. No time for baking cookies.
I felt very much like degree people feel. Accomplished. Potentially important. But in what way? And to whom?
The answers came when my son returned home one night from Awana with a list of two things he wanted to do better. One of them read:
Leave Mommy alone when she’s doing homework.
Reading those words made me consider how many times I’ve said them in the past six months, and how many times I haven’t played Terraria with my son, or done Zumba with the girls, or watched My Little Pony, or baked the weekend’s cookies; all because I’d immersed myself in God’s plan–stretching it into something self-serving–instead of remaining immersed in God who keeps my priorities straight.
My kids are awesome little people. I’m proud of them. And if I graduated summa cum laude and became a bestselling author whose books hit the big screen they’d be proud of me too. And all of it would be a pretty package to behold.
But if the intimacy is not there, if I don’t remain a present, attentive mother who knows them and is known by them–who keeps school and writing and whatever else comes up out of family time–then what we’re headed for is no better than an empty cookie jar.
And that will never be a part of God’s plan.
My jar is still empty, but now it’s only because the cookies are cooling.
Your turn: Have you ever found yourself running ahead (or away) from what God’s doing in your life?
“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain…” John 15:16
My youngest is in the first weeks of her kindergarten career. After years of seeing her older siblings off to school and spending her days with me all to herself, the adjustment hasn’t been painless.
She greets Monday mornings with tolerance. Tuesdays with grudging acceptance. Wednesdays with stoicism. By Thursday her patience has run out. She flings back the covers, fed up to the full, and demands to know: “Again?!?”
Her annoyance amuses me, especially since she actually loves school when she’s there. It’s the getting there–and all that comes with it–that bothers her. The getting up, getting ready, getting denied the freedom to spend her day how she chooses, getting the task of bringing home work; work that she must get done.
She’d love to read as well as her siblings, make friends of her own, have her name on awards, have her great-grandma send her a dollar for each A. She sees what the twins have accomplished and she wants the same; she’d just rather skip over the journey and land at the destination.
I sympathize with her because I know what that feels like. I enjoy knowing I’ve done a job well. I just don’t always enjoy doing the job. Or I might like being in the midst of a good work, but I resist the need to get it started or experience pessimism before it’s finished.
Perhaps it’s the resentment of obligation, or the loss of freedom, or the overwhelming scope of the task that makes the individual steps seem insufficient, or maybe it’s a combination of those things. The Good Work seems so elusive that we lose faith in the constant work–the again, and again, and yet again work–it takes to get there.
Natural intelligence, which my daughter has, and the natural talent that so many of us possess is not enough in itself to get us where God wants us to go. We must work hard with diligence and patience, building on the unique gifts God created in us.
And we know by God’s promises that our work will be rewarded and our lives fruitful, if we couple our faith with works, and persevere in the labor He has given us to do on the journey He has called us to take.
“Search me, O God and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
I’ve had recent cause to suffer a great amount of indignation over a situation involving a loved one.
Though I’ll spare the details, I’ll share what I learned from the experience.
I think I know myself pretty well. When conflict arises I tend to avoid confrontation, pray about most things and ignore others. If particularly agitated I may vent, but otherwise I try to take the high road.
Not so in this case–in heart anyway. By the grace of God I kept my mouth shut, because there were a million things I wanted to say, a billion ways I wanted to react, few of them godly. I was furious–an emotion foreign enough to me that I smiled when I felt it.
I know. Crazy-lady scary.
The loved one is dear to me, but not someone I absolutely have to keep in my life. So great was the affront and pain it caused, I considered walking away completely.
Then I noticed my husband. He bore the offense with grace. Though it crushed his left cheek, he gave his right to be struck. He took it with dignity, and loved all the more.
When I married him I believed him a peacemaker. He lived up to that belief. The same situation showed me, however, things in my heart I didn’t know were there, and other things lacking that I thought were full.
And though I don’t like this trial–loathe it actually–I see its purpose, or at least the good that can come from it.
Some of us go through life thinking we’re Davids, men and women after God’s own heart. Then tragedy strikes and we learn our name is really Solomon. We started strong but don’t finish well.
Others think we have the faith of Sarah, who believed God’s word that she would conceive despite her old age. Yet offense appears and we find we have her vindictiveness instead.
And then there are the Sampsons who walk in God’s strength with boldness, but temptation comes and cuts them down where they stand.
I was vindictive Sarah that day, and many days afterwards. I wanted this person to suffer. I knew how to strike back, and I craved to do it. But in the end I relented.
Because, like Joseph, I fear the Lord.
God, in His goodness, is constantly shaping us, revealing the character of our hearts, giving us free will to do something about it.
Despite our temporary failures, we can still be Davids, Joshuas, Josephs, Hannahs, Ruths, Abigails.
We just have to choose to be.
Your turn: Who are you?
I am not ashamed of the Gospel.
Nor am I ashamed to love. But neither love nor encouragement equals unlimited concession or acquiescence. Love is truthful and patient. Sometimes encouragement is to encourage away from the bad and toward the good. Sometimes love is the courage to say “I’ll never leave you, but I won’t lie and tell you this is good.”
Love doesn’t support or congratulate self-destruction. It doesn’t sell the eternal for the temporal. I don’t correct those who aren’t in my close circle because that’s not my thing. But I wonder about Christians who say, “Do what makes you happy” instead of “Do what God created you to do.” Anything that leads away from Him and more towards self is a lie.
We weren’t created to glorify ourselves. We weren’t even created to be happy. We were created for His glory. Everything above that is a blessing and a gift. And if we put happiness before His glory, before obedience, before truth in love, before dying to self, then we’ve sold the Creator for the creation. It’s a cheap trade of tragic proportions.
All have sinned and fall short of His glory. That doesn’t mean we languish in sin because we’ll never measure up. It’s meant to turn our eyes toward His grace, His goodness, His love, so much so that we find ourselves lavishing in His glory. It’s about Him, not us. So when I feel tempted, by popular opinion or law or fear of being misunderstood, to conform to the world and not God, I remember. And I remain…