Hope

Advent is a season of hope which takes my faith to new heights each year as I celebrate Christ’s birth and anticipate His second coming. Life is filled with ups and downs, but hope brings a beautiful place of balance. I wrote this poem years ago, but it still resonates with my heart. I look forward to all God has in store, and that is what hope is all about.

Hope is the spark that lingers

Long after the fire seems lost.

He remains to remind us

To go on, He paid the cost.

 

We are prone to forget Him

Until nothing else remains,

But He sits waiting patiently

To ease our heartaches and pains.

 

 

Leisure Born in Stillness

Isaiah assures those seeking deliverance that God has delivered before, and He will deliver again. That brings a sweet stillness to my heart.

“Listen to me, all who hope for deliverance—
    all who seek the Lord!
Consider the rock from which you were cut,
    the quarry from which you were mined.
Yes, think about Abraham, your ancestor,
    and Sarah, who gave birth to your nation.
Abraham was only one man when I called him.
    But when I blessed him, he became a great nation.”

The Lord will comfort Israel again
    and have pity on her ruins.
Her desert will blossom like Eden,
    her barren wilderness like the garden of the Lord.
Joy and gladness will be found there.
    Songs of thanksgiving will fill the air.

“Listen to me, my people.
    Hear me, Israel,
for my law will be proclaimed,
    and my justice will become a light to the nations.
My mercy and justice are coming soon.
    My salvation is on the way.
    My strong arm will bring justice to the nations.
All distant lands will look to me
    and wait in hope for my powerful arm.
Look up to the skies above,
    and gaze down on the earth below.
For the skies will disappear like smoke,
    and the earth will wear out like a piece of clothing.
The people of the earth will die like flies,
    but my salvation lasts forever.
    My righteous rule will never end!

“Listen to me, you who know right from wrong,
    you who cherish my law in your hearts.
Do not be afraid of people’s scorn,
    nor fear their insults.
For the moth will devour them as it devours clothing.
    The worm will eat at them as it eats wool.
But my righteousness will last forever.
    My salvation will continue from generation to generation.”

(Isaiah 51:1-8 NLT)

We’ve all heard a pep talk that begins with, “Remember who you are! Remember where you’ve been…You’ve done it before, and you can do it again!!”

Isaiah is saying, “Remember Who God is! Remember what He has done! He’s done it before, and He will do it again!!” By reminding Israel of the Rock from which they are forged, he brings calm to their troubled hearts.

Isaiah knew the earth would wear out and the people would die. Christ knew the same. His righteousness lasts forever, and His salvation continues from generation to generation. If I really believe that, I can live my life in a different way. I can be still and recognize God.

January has been a time of stillness. Being still hasn’t been easy, but the results have been amazing. I have a new sense of direction that doesn’t involve a new plan, agenda, or project.

I’m not sure what’s in store for February, but I hope to carry the stillness of January into it. Isaiah reminds me that the world isn’t all there is, and I have a loving God watching over me. That helps me find peace in the chaos and do what God places in my path with a leisure born in stillness.

Stillness in a Busy World Photo Credit: Joan Jerkovich
Stillness in a Busy World
Photo Credit: Joan Jerkovich

Rest in Peace

Change is never easy, but pliability brings peace to the process. When mama died five years ago, my heart was a pile of shattered clay that I tried, in vain, to put back together. Mama’s death was an expected one, but that didn’t make it any easier. We longed for her pain to end and even questioned her lingering for so long. My heart hung on to her even though I knew she longed to be with her beloved Lord. Part of the problem was that I wanted to go with her. Mama and I shared a special bond that began at my birth and continued after her death. I still feel her loving presence, and I’ve learned to rest in it.

Lillyann was born the day before mama’s last birthday. Mama thought she was born on her birthday because that’s when she saw the first pictures of her. She also believed she was named after her mother Lillie Belle. We all let her believe both. Three months after Lillyann entered the world, mama left it. She never saw her sweet great-grandbaby in person, but she loved her all the same. Mama loved with her whole heart, and that caused her a great deal of grief. She told me over and over that other people weren’t like us and that would break my heart one day. I carried her fear of being hurt into all of my relationships. As a result, I connected to those who could not, would not, or did not love me the way my heart needed to be loved. Over the past five years, love has entered into my life in new and beautiful ways that have allowed my heart to rest in love. I know I am loved and see myself as God’s beloved daughter.

The powerful lessons this week have been about trusting God to change the desires of my heart and then resting in His love. I’ve never been one to rest or trust, so it has been a challenging week. I’ve prayed fervently for God to make the desires of His heart the desires of my own, but I realized this week that I have to trust and rest before that can happen.  I’m not sure when or how it happened this week, but my heart rested into a pliable peace that was very much like the feeling you get when you notice a terrible headache is gone.  I knew in October that resting and relaxing were going to be an important part of the learning this winter, but I wasn’t sure how God would get me to do either. I was thinking hibernation, but that isn’t at all what God had in mind.

Resting in peace is associated with death. I prayed fervently for mama to find such rest when she left this world. One rarely finds peace in this world; but just as we can walk in God’s Kingdom now, we can also rest in His peace before dying. It never occurred to me that rest was related to obedience until a friend reminded me that relaxing into obedience is part of the journey toward holiness. I learned this week that I can rest in obedience, rest in hope, rest in peace, rest in grace, and rest in love. In fact, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I can rest in all things. Once I allowed my heart to rest, I felt the pliable peace of Philippians 4:7, and it changed everything.

“And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (NASB)

Christmas is the season of peace on earth, and there is still nothing that brings peace into our hearts like the pure unconditional love of a child. God knew that when He devised His plan for peace on earth. His Son’s precious love captivates our hearts as we remember His birth. May the pure love of Immanuel bring pliable peace to all our hearts this season.

The Potter

Clay

Muddy

Messy

Sinking

Trapping

Self

Lust

Love

God

Lifting

Transforming

Gracious

Beloved

Potter

Still, God, you are our Father.
 We’re the clay and you’re our potter:
 All of us are what you made us.”

Isaiah 64:17-18 (The Message)

Advent begins this week with a beautiful message of hope from Isaiah. The image of God, the Potter, is one that gives me great hope. My heart, on its own, is a muddy mess; but in the hands of my loving God, it becomes a vessel designed to hold and share His Son’s precious love. God never forces His transformation. He waits for me to relax in obedience and let His embrace create a new heart in me.

Psalm 51:10 goes perfectly with Isaiah’s beautiful image.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
 and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (NIV)

Isaiah 64

 

Joyful Unison

Isaiah 52:7-10 is a song of joy that is appropriate for Christmas Eve. Isaiah looked forward to the coming of the Messiah. We shout in joyful unison as we look forward to His coming again.

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger bringing good news,
Breaking the news that all’s well,
    proclaiming good times, announcing salvation,
    telling Zion, “Your God reigns!”
Voices! Listen! Your scouts are shouting, thunderclap shouts,
    shouting in joyful unison.
They see with their own eyes
    God coming back to Zion.
Break into song! Boom it out, ruins of Jerusalem:
    “God has comforted his people!
    He’s redeemed Jerusalem!”
God has rolled up his sleeves.
    All the nations can see his holy, muscled arm.
Everyone, from one end of the earth to the other,
    sees him at work, doing his salvation work. (The Message)

Joyful unison comes when we proclaim the good news of Christmas. Christ is at work in our hearts, and He’s coming back. That makes me sing and shout joyfully with those in my path and helps me give and find sweet comfort in times of need.

Joy isn’t happiness, and that is a problem this time of year. Lust is powerful; we grab, get, and go at a rate that leaves us spent, disappointed, and tired after lust settles. Like dust on the floor after a big party, lust leaves a mess that is swept away or under something. It causes a downward spiral. Joy follows loving obedience and fills me with peace. Joy is free, and I don’t have to stand in line or go in debt to get it. It lifts my heart and brings me nearer to God and others. Greed surrounds this beautiful season designed to offer something better than what I want or expect.

Joy, love, hope, and peace are what Advent is all about. As I look forward to Christ’s return, I am able to wait patiently because I understand that love is all that matters. The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s lust. Wanting what I want may get me a little temporary happiness, but it keeps me from finding true joy and peace and leaves me wanting more. Trusting that God’s love is more than enough and obeying His call leads to love which leads to joy, peace, and hope. The world may not understand the difference between joy and happiness, but Christmas celebrates the birth of someone Who lived out the difference beautifully.

God’s gift of Immanuel brought, brings, and will always bring love, joy, peace, and hope to the world. It’s what creates the joyful unison Isaiah foretold. May it be fulfilled in our hearts this year.

Love Joy Peace Hope

Justice of the Peace

As I read Isaiah 11:1-10, I get a beautiful sense of peace and hope. The poem promises justice and peace to a world filled with injustice and discord. I love the way Eugene Peterson translates the verses in The Message.

“A green Shoot will sprout from Jesse’s stump,
    from his roots a budding Branch.
The life-giving Spirit of God will hover over him,
    the Spirit that brings wisdom and understanding,
The Spirit that gives direction and builds strength,
    the Spirit that instills knowledge and Fear-of-God.
Fear-of-God
    will be all his joy and delight.
He won’t judge by appearances,
    won’t decide on the basis of hearsay.
He’ll judge the needy by what is right,
    render decisions on earth’s poor with justice.
His words will bring everyone to awed attention.
    A mere breath from his lips will topple the wicked.
Each morning he’ll pull on sturdy work clothes and boots,
    and build righteousness and faithfulness in the land.

The wolf will romp with the lamb,
    the leopard sleep with the kid.
Calf and lion will eat from the same trough,
    and a little child will tend them.
Cow and bear will graze the same pasture,
    their calves and cubs grow up together,
    and the lion eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child will crawl over rattlesnake dens,
    the toddler stick his hand down the hole of a serpent.
Neither animal nor human will hurt or kill
    on my holy mountain.
The whole earth will be brimming with knowing God-Alive,
    a living knowledge of God ocean-deep, ocean-wide.

 On that day, Jesse’s Root will be raised high, posted as a rallying banner for the peoples. The nations will all come to him. His headquarters will be glorious.”

I hear a beautiful correlation between justice and peace. When true justice reigns, there is peace such as the image of animals living in harmony and children not knowing fear. It is a reminder of what life was like in the garden before sin entered the scene and brought a terrible discord to God’s world.

Christ’s righteousness and faithfulness changes everything. He is the green Shoot that promises a new world as His justice becomes the instrument through which peace returns. I never thought about Jesus being the Justice of the Peace before reading Isaiah this morning, but it is a fitting title for a king Who is unlike any this world has every known.

Advent is a time of hope that brings with it a promise of peace. When Christ returns, He will bring justice that reveals the living knowledge of God that is deeper and wider than all I can imagine. Until then, I pray we will seek justice for the poor and the needy and love others in a way that brings all of us a little closer to one another and His Son’s precious love.

isaiah_11_6_9

Love Blossoms

The blossoms in the yard yesterday were sweet smelling harbingers of spring that lifted my spirit and filled me with hope. Easter is my favorite time of year because it comes at a time when I need a lift. I enjoy winter, but I am always happy when the cold gives way to spring. I love the flowers of each season, but those blossoms of spring are more than just flowers blooming. They give me hope and inspire me, as I’m sure they do many, when it comes to both the temperature and my heart. God says in each bloom that love is coming. The beautiful truth found in Christ’s resurrection is like the blossoms of spring. Each Easter, I celebrate that resurrection and the sweet knowledge that I am loved.

I have a beautiful succulent houseplant that blooms during the winter. It’s tiny blossoms bless me in a special way because they come at the darkest time of the year and are all the more precious because of their timing. They remind me I am loved when I most need to be reminded. The plant is dear to me and flourishes in a window which gets the afternoon light. It’s delicate in one sense, but it also refuses to die. I’ve come very close to tossing it out on several occasions, but it always comes back to life in a way that amazes me. It’s determined to thrive, and I love that about it. Love is the same way:)

Flowers remind me of love whether they are blowing in the open spring air or sitting quietly on a windowsill. Love is expressed in different ways, and God used flowers to remind me of that. Love, like flowers, will not be taken for granted. If they stayed the same year in and year out, I would soon not pay any attention to them. Love and flowers bless me when they bloom, especially when they catch me off guard. I almost killed the sweet little houseplant by expecting it to be in full bloom all the time, and I will kill love if I expect the same.

Love blooms when it is time for it to bloom, and flowers do the same. It is best to let them both be what God intends for them to be, a beautiful reminder of the hope we have in Him. He is there in the window, the yard, the meadow, and everywhere I am. Love is always there, and it will always be. That’s the sweet hope of Easter that makes it the most blessed time of the year to me. As the flowers on my little houseplant begin to die, the daffodils and star magnolias begin to flourish. When the last of the fall flowers fade, my little houseplant will be there to remind me to hang on until spring:)

Spring blossoms

On The Way Up:)

I love the Psalms of Ascent, and Psalm 121 is especially dear to me.

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
From where shall my help come?
 My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.
The sun will not smite you by day,
Nor the moon by night.
The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your soul.
 The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in
From this time forth and forever. NASB

I love to look at the mountains as I pray. Unlike the ocean, they do not move. I like that about them and could stand and stare at them forever. They are one of the few things that cause me to stop and be still:) My strength does come from God, and the mountains remind me of His majesty. This beautiful psalm reminds me of Who God Is. Asleep or awake, day or night, sun or shade, going out or coming in, God is there protecting and loving me forever. What blessed assurance of His sweet presence!

The mountains I love so very much will eventually wear away, but God always has been, is, and always will be the same. My faith falters, and my obedience is inconsistent; but God is faithful and patient. I beat myself up when I get off course because I waste precious time that could be spent with Him if I stay down when I stumble.

I will stumble and fall as long as I am living. It keeps me humble and reminds me I am human. Lillyann insists on pretending she is a puppy, and crawls all around the house. Her poor knees bear the bruises of her imagination. My heart bears the same skins and scrapes when I insist on my way instead of yielding to His.

I am so thankful God loves me and tends to my heart just as my mama tended to my many bangs and bruises. As I told Lillyann today that her poor knees couldn’t take much more abuse, I thought of my own heart and the punishment I put it through as I insist on my own way. God bid me to treat it with the same care He does and asked that I stop putting it in harm’s way. Hearts and knees deserve loving care; Lillyann and I both need to remember that.

I’ve been sleeping on the floor for two weeks as I’ve waited for the wonderful new mattress I ordered. I found out yesterday that it’s been ready for for me to pick it up for three weeks now. God made it clear that He has provided a new home, new furniture, and a great mattress, but I am still sleeping on the floor. I’m also still settling for less than He desires when it comes to my heart. God provides abundantly, but my stubborn insistence on my way keeps me from experiencing all He has for me.

The Psalms of Ascent are about moving up an drawing near to God, but I cannot move up to where He wants me to be as long as I’m satisfied where I am. Fear keeps me from ascending, and a lack of trust keeps me satisfied on the floor. I’m slowly learning to step out and up and put my trust in Him. Psalm 121 along with the amazing mountains I see at every window of the new home He has provided remind me that I am surrounded by hope and help:)

Until Then, Pray:)

I get very frustrated when I cannot have something I want. I’ve had a week of wanting that left me crying out to God. I am grateful for His patience and deep love that allows me to cry out honestly and freely. As I said before, I needed the children’s story this week:)

1 Corinthians 13:12-13 brought sweet comfort this morning just when I needed it. God always has just what I need, but I’m usually too busy trying to convince Him to go with my way to notice.

“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

I am and shall be eternally grateful for God’s love and for the love He has placed in my path. Love changes everything and is the greatest gift on earth. Separation brings a level of suffering unknown by those who refuse to open their hearts in honest communion and love. That suffering reminds me of my humanity, humbles as nothing else, and gives a small taste of what hell is like.

Trusting God should be simple. He is God after all and knows what He is doing. The problem is never trusting God; it is wanting what I want when I want it and wanting Him to understand that. He not only understands, He also suffers with me. He knows what is best for me and knows the joy that comes when I do His will.

Two years ago, God called me to a life of prayer. Rather than celebrating and embracing the call, I continued to ask, “What else?” Prayer didn’t seem like much of a call to me. I wanted some thing to do. I admit that with humility and embarrassment. God patiently let me wander around with my ‘You have more for me to do, but until then, I will pray’ attitude.

This weekend, I repented my dismissal of His call and embraced it as I should have two years ago. God loves me and knew I would eventually come around to His way of thinking. The prayer retreat this past weekend reminded me that praying is not an aside. It is the work to which I have been called. I asked God to forgive my dragging feet and guide me to pray as He desires.

I learned a lot during my “until then, pray” stage, and I’m very thankful God uses all things for His good. I am called according to His purpose and love Him dearly, and I am ready to have the praying life His Son so beautifully modeled for me. I nudged a little closer to His precious side this weekend, and the frustration in not getting my way was an important part of the lessons in love He had for me.

I’ve looked at praying as something to do until something more important comes along, but I’m learning it is a way of living that comes as naturally as breathing when I let love lead the way. It is a call I plan to answer humbly and gratefully.

Joy Is Ours to Keep:)

This is the Season of Advent, and today’s candle represents joy. Joy is ours to keep, and no one can take His joy from us. The season began with the candle of hope. Hope is always present and is God’s promise forever. His peace surpasses all comprehension, and His love is assured. Philippians says it beautifully.

Philippians 4:4-7 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!  Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. NASB

The Lord is near! That gives my heart hope, peace, joy, and love. I can allow Satan and others to steal any one of these precious gifts of God, and weeks like this one certainly open up the door and give those thieves access. Jesus will close that door of grief and heartache and sit with me until the pain subsides. He knows that pain weakens and leaves me vulnerable. It’s why He came to make a better way, one where hope, peace, joy, and love abound and are mine to keep forever. If they are stolen for a time, He will help me retrieve and hold on to them.

Obedience leads to joy, and that’s the key to finding and keeping joy alive in my heart. Joy isn’t ha ha happy, and it isn’t Pollyanna optimism. It is His presence in the midst of disaster, sadness, and whatever else befalls me on this journey. He won the war, and I can shout from the depths of my heart because of that victory. He is coming again, and that is what Advent is all about. He has not left us and assures that He will be with us always. There’s joy in connection. There’s joy in knowing I am loved. There’s joy in knowing that this world isn’t the final word.

Obedience requires trust, and that means stepping out in faith and believing that God is who He says He is. When I do that, fear flees and worries wither away. I don’t have to understand as I obey; I simply have to trust God. Proverbs 3:5 says it best:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart
And do not lean on your own understanding.”

The teacher in me wants to understand before I obey, but the Christ in me says trust in the Lord. I argue at times and fall prey to worry, but Christ’s sweet voice keeps whispering softly in my heart. When I get still, those gentle words calm my spirit and bring joy to my soul. Singing praises allow joy to flow down and up and all through me. It’s tempting to weep and wail, and I’ve done my share of that this week, but songs of joy lift. Hope, peace, and love join in, and the chorus becomes a heavenly one:)