Top 3 Posts of 2015

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“If we don’t tell our stories, our stories will tell us.” Dan Allender, To Be Told

If we don’t face our stories and ponder and process, well, then our stories will control us. We’ll be held captive by whatever drama is blowing in with the wind. But when we name and admit them, they have less power. Have you noticed that, too? I tell my kids that constructively talking about hard circumstances takes the power away from the hurt. When we willingly engage with our grief, we’re less controlled by it. And who wants to be controlled by anything? 🙂

I think we all want to be people who are aware and reflective and eventually smart in making future decisions. We learn from past mistakes, yes? The gray hairs which quietly boast of wisdom are grown from numerous regrets. They’re grown from redemption, too.

I’ve barely had a voice the past several months, and consequently, sometimes my day to day stories got the best of me. See, writing is my therapy. It keeps me in a good place. I did, however, find the courage to tell a few stories in 2015. These three here are the ones that resonated with you all the most.


 

When You're Scared to Write in Pen | hope, parenting, redemption | January 1
When You’re Scared to Write in Pen | hope, parenting, redemption | January 1

This story, When You’re Scared to Write in Pen, tells itself. It uncovers an an ever-common theme in my life: My children teach me more than I teach them. Anger, boldness, fear — this post touches on all of these themes. If you’re avoiding something or you’re blatantly angry and ready to unleash, this post is for you.

Happy Belated New Year and a Half | community, hope, parenting, redemption, surrender | August 1
Happy Belated New Year and a Half | community, hope, parenting, redemption, surrender | August 1

Happy (Belated) New Year and a Half is about being present and mindful of where you are rather than sweeping your story away and racing forward. It was born from a conversation with my then 13-year-old son in the car. Clinging to hope, this post admits I was all over the place last summer. Oh, and there’s touches of surrender, too… the hardest moments always seem to involve surrender. If you’re flirting with doubt — or it’s flirting with you — this post is for you. These words are also for those who want to believe but have lost their hope.

Goodness and Mercy Will Follow You. I Promise. | hope, parenting, scripture, spiritual formation, theology | January 29
Goodness and Mercy Will Follow You. I Promise. | hope, parenting, scripture, spiritual formation, theology | January 29

This post was born from hurts in my life and others’ lives. Struggling marriages, depression, chronic illness — these were all real-life circumstances some dear friends were submerged in last January. It’s for those crawling in the valley, for those who haven’t made it to the mountain yet. If you’re facing the loneliest of times, this post is for you.


So, based on blog traffic and post hits, these three are what struck a chord with you the most. Check back before the end of the week, for I’ll be writing about my three personal favorite posts of 2015.

Thank you for reading my blog. And thanks to those who told me to keep telling my stories even when I had walked away from the table a little too long. Thanks for your persistence.

photo source | John-Mark Kuznietsov

Choosing Substance: Fear (Day 8)

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As for me, I will wait for the Eternal, even though He feels absent, even though He has hidden His face from the family of Jacob. I will put all hope in Him. Isaiah 8:17

A Person of Substance knows who her real enemy is.

Oh, the irony.

When I’m scared, I withdraw deeper into myself, farther away from the mystery. My heart can’t bear the heaviness of the unknown or the weight of the worst-imagined brought to fruition.

I may be smiling if you see me out and about. Or, I may become more controlling with my kids and look anything other than fearful. But the smile and the ugly garb of bullying power — those are really just masks disguising my fear. I may look engaged, but I’m really hiding. Reality is just a little too scary, a little too unknown, so I hesitate to “go there” and put more distance between myself and the Prince of Peace.

And Satan is laughing and celebrating. It’s exactly what he wants.

Are you my companion in this? I see you and your scared eyes buried under smiles. I see you trying to control those around you.

And as I attempt to ignore reality, or control it a little too much, I wrap the chains of fear around me and my precious gift of life. I chain worry and anxiety around my friends and loved ones, too, for rarely does my sin only affect me. The enslavement to fear — oh, the bondage can last a lifetime. Fear of never rising from the past into a new identity. Fear of the spinning present that taunts with confusion.  Fear of what is not yet seen but distorted in our imaginations.

Since we, the children, are all creatures of flesh and blood, Jesus took on flesh and blood, so that by dying He could destroy the one who held power over death—the devil— and destroy the fear of death that has always held people captive.  Heb 2:14-16

And Christ descended into this mess with the plan of destroying not only our biggest fear – death – but the very source of this fear – Satan himself. Satan, the owner of doubt. Satan, the originator of confusion. Satan, the distorter of what’s real. Are you letting him have mini-victories in your life? His very purpose is to destroy you, but he’s oh, so very subtle.

My Redeemer, though, He comes and speaks truth louder than the lies that try to paralyze. He became flesh centuries ago to battle my fear in 2015. His Forever Story more powerful than the finite is my gift this Christmas. It’s your gift, too.

A person of substance knows who her enemy is. She knows who her Rescuer from fear is, too.

On the eighth day of Christmas my True Love gave to me deliverance from my chains of fear. He gave me truth that speaks louder than lies.

…*Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume
Breathes of life of gathering gloom
Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying
Sealed in the stone-cold tomb…
…Glorious now behold Him arise
King and God and Sacrifice…


Choosing Substance

  • How do you respond when you’re scared? Do you withdraw? Fight to control? A little of both?
  • When has your fear and sin hurt those around you?
  • Read Hebrews 2:7-17.
  • What fears are you needing to be released from this Christmas?

photo source | Andrew Pons

*song excerpt | We Three Kings

The Shield (When Fear Invades)

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Reunión de creyentes. Prayer meeting. It was an hour that would later become a favorite part of each day—a time before dinner to reflect on God’s goodness and beg for His glory to be manifested again. Our team of missionaries and Peruvian seminary students sprinkled the sanctuary in groups of two or three.

But I chose solitude. I needed a shadow. In South America only two days, I couldn’t face another person at the moment.

In recent months—even weeks—I was convinced God was leading me to mission work in Lima, Peru. I heard His call, sensed the Spirit’s confirmation, and prepared with culture and evangelism courses. A summer of ministering lay before me—street evangelism, testifying, and church renovation projects would join together as tools to share God’s Story. The message of redemption would come through our mouths and hands, but at the moment, my heart and body was what needed some restoration.

I used the prayer time that night to whisper fears into my folded arms. What was I thinking?! Did I really hear from God? Why did I leave all that was familiar to work among strangers? Many at home stepped out in faith, funding my experience and praying for a fruitful ministry. Doubts bred guilt over my ungrateful heart longing to be home, but my whispers would not cease.

An hour of self-focused prayer left me exhausted.

Gripping my shoulder, a hand interrupted my thoughts. I turned to face an older Peruvian stranger with an eager smile, a countenance not reflecting my own. Standing, I watched his eyes scan the room for a bilingual friend.

“The Holy Spirit gave me this message for you,” he said confidently through an interpreter. I had never talked to this man before.

Pointing to an English Bible, his finger moved down the page before stopping on words I memorized as a child from Joshua 1:9 ~  Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Stunned, I slowly nodded. “Gracias.” I could think of nothing else to say.

Did that really just happen? Did I really just hear from the God of the universe? And if I did, that means He heard me. It was unreal, but I soon accepted I had actually had a conversation with God.

My doubts were certainly quieted, and hope swallowed fear.

For the rest of the summer, that night served as a shield whenever Satan tried to discourage me. Sensing God’s constant presence, I approached my days with purpose, never to question again why I was in South America.

But time has a way of allowing you to forget.

And almost thirty years later, I need a shield for a whole lot more than loneliness. I feel misplaced way more than I did in Peru. And I question my adequacy more often than that teen missionary girl.

What do you do when you can’t answer your son’s, “Why?”

What do you do when your daughter’s hurting and you clumsily navigate her pain all wrong?

What do you do when middle-age leaves you doubting more than you ever have before?

What about when the ache is so great you can’t describe it to even your most intimate friends?

What then? Because honestly, I feel anything but strong and courageous on most days. The mandate to not be afraid almost seems like a dare.

But that promise, that wind of strength coming after the charge is what I cling to –- For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

And I believe Him.

What do you do when you can’t answer your son’s, “Why?”
I’ve seen His wisdom sweep in and form words in my mouth that resonate to my 13 year-old son’s heart.

What do you do when your daughter’s hurting and you clumsily navigate her pain all wrong?
I’ve felt His grace pry the idol of control out of my arms as His mercy softens her anger. I’ve tasted the sweet reconciliation that I couldn’t have created myself.

What do you do when middle-age leaves you doubting more than you ever have before?
I’ve heard Him invite me countless times to wrestle before landing on truth. He’s not threatened by my questions, and that fact alone brings comfort in my tendency to over-think. My wondering doesn’t mean I’m wandering.

What about when the ache is so great you can’t describe it to even your most intimate friends?
I’ve sat in the quiet as His Spirit really did help me in my weakness. I’ve sensed the relief of being known and have silently heard the Spirit interceding for me through wordless groans.

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Romans 8:26

Yeah, He’s that Shield that won’t go away because, frankly, the arrows don’t go away either.

Be strong and courageous? Some days. Do not be afraid? Sometimes. The Lord your God is with you wherever you go? I’ll take that.

I’ll hide in the shadow of that Shield.

Skiing Blind

Image “We would like to picture goodness as being synonymous with safety… We find ourselves caught up in an adventure of heroic proportions with a God who both seduces us with his boldness and energy and repels us with his willingness to place us in mortal danger…”  Brent Curtis, The Sacred Romance
A few years back we returned home from a week of skiing to find spring unfolded all over our city.  It’s amazing what time will do to the hope held underneath the hard, dark cold of winter.  And while it feels almost disrespectful to regress into snow and ice, beauty is sometimes born from the deadest of seasons.  And from the darkness.
The final day of our trip was spent with an old friend who stood beside us as we spoke our vows of forever at the altar.  Years later, he holds season passes at a mountain, so it was a natural place to meet.  But what I saw was anything but “natural”.  At least by my own, limited definition.
Throughout the day, I watched blind skiers conquer run after run.  Paired with volunteer guides, they made their way to “safety” through the paths of challenge.  And determination… and exhilaration… and, well, trust.
I saw grown women and men donned in neon “BLIND SKIER” vests.  I saw a little girl with braids, my daughter’s age, wearing that same vest.  They were skiing better than me, holding heaps of more trust that I ever could.  As I clutched my poles to ease the fear of steeper runs, blind people were tackling moguls. Seriously.
It was good, for sure.  But was it safe?  Not really. We crave novels and plays and movies with drama.  We yearn for a plot rich in meaning, for without tension, the story’s not worth our time.  We reserve the right to close a book or walk out on a movie when we can bear the boring no more. But in real life, we hate it.  We hate the drama twisting with unpredictability as it wrings our very hearts.  We scorn the uncertainty of what we can not see, and we’re ashamed of what we can’t control.

 

“His word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I can not.” Jeremiah 20:9

The Master Playwright, He woos the drama out of us, inviting us to paint stokes on His grand canvas like blind skiers adorn a fresh hill.  He beckons forth the fire to match the scene playing out in our lives.  Truth prevails in His Story, and He pulls the truth right out of our hearts — the painful truth burning like a fire within us.

As the winter dying is the unavoidable way to spring, our current mystery and pain will eventually join with now unseen paths.  Meaning, understanding, clarity — they await our current trust, but maybe not until the other side of eternity.

It might not be safe.  And it will definitely not be boring. And on that run is our Master Guide, conquering the swift, the steep, the fear with us.