When Women Welcome

Romans 15:7  Therefore, [continue to] accept and welcome one another, just as Christ has accepted and welcomed us to the glory of [our great] God.

 

I did not want to go to a shower Saturday morning, and I especially did not want to hang out with a bunch of females at that shower. I tried to shake off thoughts of insecurity as I tossed my hair for the fortieth time and, stepping over the threshold, tugged on my blouse, which I realized wasn’t draping on my postpartum torso quite the way it used to.

 

Usually parties are a fun excuse for Patrick and I to exercise our muscles of inclusion. Without discussion, we both naturally scan a space for the person who needs to know that somebody sees them. We want to bring people who feel like they’re on the outside of belonging, into the inside.

 

But this morning, belonging didn’t seem to belong to me.

Maybe you know the scene I was walking into:

 

A room full of women who all know each other, but hardly none of whom you know. You’re a half hour late with newborn in tow, and the prospect of even one conversation is exhausting.

Am I underdressed? I’m pretty sure I’m underdressed. Wow, I look pretty frumpy, actually. Who let me out of the house like this?

Will they glance over their shoulders when I come inside and then just keep talking in their circle, or will their circle physically open up for me?

Will most of them just stare at me and half-smile because they’re too shy to say hello or will somebody ask me my name so I don’t look like I just crashed the party?

 

And I began to get into my default social batting stance. Leave the exhausted introvert on the front porch, and put on the extrovert. Show time. Yea, I’m at this party, and I’m going to navigate this room full of women like I’m Captain Blackbeard.

 

And then I began to deny my own need to belong.

…If nobody talks to me, who cares anyway? I’m sure the vegan chocolate cake is delicious.

 

I believe that every woman must strike the balance of belonging for herself.  Instead of holding your head high and walking straight to the cake because you’re scared to be left standing alone without a welcome, be willing to need to belong.  But while needing to belong, choose to be OTHERS-centered regardless of whether or not your need is getting met.

 

Yeah, I really hope I receive a welcome from this circle of people. I hope they make me feel like I’m allowed on the inside. BUT if they don’t, I won’t give up. I will ask their names. I will laugh along with them, sit among them, and accept them. Their stories are just as important as mine. I will extend a welcome to others, for Jesus’ sake.

 

So you might be wondering what happened at this party? Well, I guess I sort of struck that balance. Initially, I shrugged off my own desire to be seen, known, and called by name, afraid that I was no valuable addition.  The living room felt a bit how playdough that’s been sitting out for a few minutes needs a good warm fleshy massage to make ready for a new imprint. It took a few minutes until I felt like a welcome imprint. But I managed to relax and believe that I mattered there because I am God’s daughter and He brings me in and out of rooms for His glory and my good.  I shook hands and asked names and sought for stories and made friends, in a tired yet sincere way. In the words of writer Erin Lane,

chose belonging.

 

I met the founder and director of Front Porch Ministries, a compassionate woman with four biological children and a whole neighborhood of adopted ones. I met a future leader of Celebrate Recovery, a remarkable woman with stories of survival and strength. I prayed in a circle alongside women I didn’t know, at this baby shower I hadn’t even wanted to be at, and received the loving welcome of Christ in an unexpected way.

 

Women, if Jesus invited you to His table when you didn’t have any business there, then welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you!  -Romans 15:7

 

May our parties look different than the world’s. May our circles always open up. May our shyness take backseat to our identity in Christ, as welcomers.

 

 

 

A Divine Delivery

I described fear to a friend recently as a “wildfire”. She agreed, adding her own image: “Fear is like cancer”. The point we were both making was that fear doesn’t stay contained. It isn’t as localized as we think. Right before we turn out the lights on one fearing thought, ON flash the lights of another fear we hadn’t considered. And on and on it goes until you’ve been lying awake, lost in torment, for four hours in the dead of night.

When my recent, month-long battle with fear really intensified, a friend encouraged me to write down Scriptures and promises that I could memorize and meditate on and yield my mind to. That day, I began to hide God’s Word in my heart like it was my lifeline. It became to me like the strong cord that we harnessed our little boy Eli to when we took him rock climbing last week. I banked my life…literally…on God’s promises. I took that paper scrap of handwritten scriptures everywhere I went, for a month. I tried to learn the discipline of chasing down every thought until I caught it, and commanding it to yield to truth. “Take every thought captive unto the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5)

 

One heavy-hearted and teary morning, after waking up to a day that held some troubling uncertainties concerning our baby, I heard the Lord ask me: “Will you still worship me? Will you still believe that I am good?”

I answered, “Lord, I want to believe that You are good. Help me worship You… “

So I dragged my body over to the piano, just sat there with my hands trembling in my lap, and wept. I tried to sing, but I couldn’t get any words out.   Maybe that was all God wanted that morning, maybe that was my sacrifice of praise- just merely getting myself to the altar. The sacred altar (for me, a piano) at which I pray, I rejoice, I confess, I intercede, I worship, I surrender.   I threw myself upon the altar without so much as a word to sing.

It was then that I began to see that God was growing my faith in Him. This battle with fear was not a waste of time or a big spiritual FAIL on my part.

God will never waste your sin and your struggles, friend. Don’t you waste them, either.

That morning, a battle plan was birthed. As fear would unsheathe its sword, I would make haste to the altar and begin to worship God. The battleground was holy, not deadly. I was on the winning side, and I knew it… but I had to fight.

At 4 AM, a week before Abel was born, I journaled:

“All of this imagined grief, pain, loss, testing… is a beautiful, gracious gift of God to act out the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, and to tear robes in grief-stricken worship upon the altar of holy imagination.”

I didn’t pull away from the questions: “What if I am like Job? What if my Heavenly Father allows unthinkable suffering into my life? “ I leaned INTO these questions, shamelessly journaling through those long weeks and dark midnights of fear. I longed to claim the words of Psalm 34 as my own testimony:

 

“I sought the Lord,

and He answered me.

He delivered me from ALL my fears.”

Psalm 34:4

“Abel,”

I wrote in a letter to my baby three weeks before he was born,

“something about who you are, down to the core, down to your very name meaning ‘breath’, is already causing me to depend on God more. You’re not even born yet and the very nature of your name reminds me to look upward, to remember Who the giver and sustainer of life is; Who indeed is holding all things together.

Last night and this morning I have wondered: is it uncanny to name you ‘life is a breath’? Is it setting myself up for a lifetime of suspicion and worry?

Then I remembered Abraham and Isaac. I considered the holiness of God I long for, and the closeness I yearn for with Him, and I realized that if a son named ‘breath’ drives me to my knees more often, then that is a good thing.”

I won’t go into detail here about the particular type of suffering that is childbirth. But it is suffering indeed, as God said it would be. It is an “entering into death, to bring forth life”, as another friend puts it. It is interesting to see childbirth this way, in light of what Christ accomplished on the Cross. He truly did enter into death, to bring forth my life. (Galatians 2:20) He endured suffering for the joy set before Him. (Hebrews 12:2) He continued entrusting Himself to the One who judges justly. (1 Peter 2:23)

I didn’t plan on uttering “Thank You” during the final contractions.

But as we worshipped and prayed and I tried to narrow my focus and keep a tight reign on my thoughts during each contraction, that’s what came out. I’m so glad Jesus embraced the pain of the Cross for me, leaving those of us who labor to birth a child an example of how to embrace suffering for the sake of JOY.

“Thank You, Jesus, that You didn’t come down off the Cross when the pain got worse…Thank You, Jesus, that You stayed on the Cross

for me….

Thank You, Jesus, that You endured

For the JOY set before You…

Thank You, Jesus, for the JOY set before me…..”

A contraction comes like a wave. There is a warning that it is rolling in before the climax of intensity crashes over you. In those warning moments, you can get in a good position physically and brace your mind for the task of facing it. Our minds are the control centrals of our bodies- if we let our minds run frantic and wild, our bodies will follow suit. If we keep our minds under control, our body will follow suit. How does man live? By every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. I literally lived on His Words. By holding onto the Words of Life, I didn’t drown under the waves of unspeakable pain, but stayed afloat.

Why is it that so many martyrs are recorded as having died with their lips moving, as they quoted Scriptures, or sang hymns of worship? Because when our hearts and minds hold fast to God,

the reality of Truth triumphs over the reality of pain.

One of the scariest things I dealt with was fear of the unknown. We women don’t know what our labor will entail, and we don’t know the outcome. We don’t know if we will hold our baby right away, or even bring that baby home. Well, I can honestly testify that God brought my heart to a place of complete surrender to His perfect, trustworthy plan, despite the unknown. Of course, I prayed for mercy, for a short labor, for a particular midwife to be with me, for the baby’s head circumference, for a sound mind, for a heart of worship, and God answered every single prayer… but the best thing He did was deliver me from all my fears. He helped me CHOOSE trust, and reject fear, like the Psalmist in the Scripture below.

“You are with me, so I will fear no evil. Your rod and Your staff comfort me, even though I walk through the darkest valley…” Psalm 23:4

He disclosed His heart for me in my vulnerable state:

“You tend Your flock like a Shepherd; You gather the lambs in Your arms; You carry them in Your bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” Isaiah 40:11

…and He beckoned me to come to the Rock of refuge, during every single contraction, and in the moments of respite in-between contractions.

“Be to me a rock of refuge

to which I may continually come!

You have given the command to save me,

For You are my rock and my fortress.” Psalm 71:3

Now, with an abundance of homebaked goods gracing our countertops, a continual stream of loving visitors, painted pumpkins on the stoop, fresh decks of cards on the dining table, and crispy nostalgia weather down our collars, the best part of Autumn is this new sweet baby boy to cuddle and nurture and love. He is only 17 days old today, and he is neither wise nor experienced, but he has been used of God as a vessel of glory. I now know in the depths of my being that “NO weapon formed against me shall prosper.” (Isaiah 54:17) “What Satan intends for my demise, my Father intends for my good.” (Genesis 50:20) When I face what feels like defeat, God “surrounds me with shouts of deliverance.” (Psalm 32:7)

God commands me and you: “Do NOT fear, for I have redeemed you! I have called you by name… you are mine!” (Isaiah 43) and I promise you, if you think you can never be free from the bondage of fear, YOU ARE WRONG!   He would not have commanded something unless He intended to provide the grace to obey.

Match your imaginations with Truth, with Scripture, with worship, and just wait for your divine delivery.

A word for the Unaccepted

The hardest week of 2015 had just passed.  I won’t bore you with all the reasons and circumstances surrounding Why;  I’ll simply say that my soul hung heavy with despair and disappointment.  In Me.  Disappointment that ran down to my very identity.  We’re talking, identity disappointment.

Has your heart ever ached, as mine does, for an honest answer to this honest question: “God, do You accept me for who I am, right now?  No matter what?  Do you really take delight in me?

Once, a very well-known teacher, preacher, and evangelist was discovering and wrestling with the importance of distinguishing between love and acceptance.  One morning over breakfast with his oldest, grown son, he was moved to ask him 2 questions.  First: “Son, do you believe that I love you, unconditionally?”  His son answered, “Yes, Dad, I do.”  Second: “Son, do you believe that I accept you, no matter what, without any conditions?”  and as his son hung his head, tears filled his eyes, and what seemed like minutes later he replied softly, “No, dad, I guess I don’t.”

We humans can really screw up this whole acceptance piece of love.  To “accept” means:  to consent to receive something offered.  To receive with approval and favor.  To recognize as valid or correct.  To welcome.

God alone is a father who perfectly loves AND accepts his kids:  “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well-pleased!”  Matthew 3:17

Well‘, you might think, ‘Great for Jesus.  He’s Jesus.  But me….I’m a big disappointment.  AND I’ve really messed up this time.  People that used to like me aren’t even on my side anymore.”

Jesus was the most mistreated and unaccepted human to ever walk the earth, if you think about it.  He was the most deserving of love and honor and worship, and therefore the offenses against Him were the greatest ever committed.  How did He deal with the hurt of un-acceptance?

He did exactly what I’d never expect the God-man to do:  He gave us an authentically human example of needing the help of His Father to deal with his hurt.  He, in the seconds and minutes on the Cross, “continued entrusting Himself to the One who judges justly”. (1 Peter 2:23).  I picture Jesus, second by second, entrusting Himself (every nook and cranny of His heart, emotions, thoughts, etc) to the Father, who judges justly.  I can just picture Him whispering “I trust You, I trust You, I trust You, I trust You with ME, Father.”  It’s about trusting that God is holding your life and heart in His hands, and nothing assaults you which doesn’t first have to pass through His permission, as your guardian, shepherd, and father.

So I must continually re-entrust myself to God, who judges justly, and who shows no partiality.

God’s justice is strangely different.  Think about it.  He calls it JUSTICE to forgive and pardon guilty sinners.  (1 John 1:9)

God’s love is unbiased.  He is impartial.  Having a 10-year career plan or impressive investments and stocks won’t make this dad bat a more favorable eye at you.  Being able to converse with wit and charm about politics and sports won’t get you a closer chair around this dad’s table.  His heart beats with love, affection, adoration, and delight for all His kids- equally:  The intelligent and not-so-bright.  The educated and uneducated.  The rich and the poor.  The charming and the clumsy.  The extroverts and the introverts.  This dad can detect the deposit of His divine nature in each child.  (Isaiah 43)

You don’t have to work to make God proud.  It used to confuse and bug me when Patrick would tell our infant son, “I am so proud of you, my boy.”  I thought, “That doesn’t even make sense.  What a weird thing to tell a baby.  What’s there to be proud of? He poops, sleeps, cries, and that’s about it.  Eh, higher standards, please?”  But I was marked by a worldly definition of fatherly pride that requires a prerequisite.  This dad in Heaven takes pride in all who image Him, all whose very bones and blood and skin contain His Genesis breath.

yes, yes- I know that “He is completing that which He began in me” (Philippians 4:6) and that “faithful is He who called me, and He will bring it to pass” (1 Thessalonians 5:24), and yes I love that “He set me apart before He even formed me in my mother’s womb” (Jeremiah 1:5)… I know the promises of who and what I am becoming

…but what about right now?  The incomplete, unfinished, unimpressive, disappointing me?”

Joe Rigney described a tickle fight with his little boy as leaving a legacy:  Fatherly “delight and pleasure in him can leave a mark on him that will outlive the sun.”  Beneath and in and through it all, Trinitarian fullness is being extended. The Joy that made the mountains is concentrated in my home. Fatherly delight is at the heart of reality. “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased.”  This is the pitch of fatherhood. This is the melody line of motherhood. This ought to be the dominant note in the familial symphony. Delight, Pleasure, Joy. This tickle fight is high theology. This scene is a picture, a parable of a glory that existed before the world did. It’s a display and an invitation. Father and son are being beckoned into the divine life and joy…… God is fundamentally a Happy Father, a Well-Pleased Parent.”

Friends, this is not theory.  This is theology.  All over the Bible, we read that God delights in his children who love Him.  May we lift our unaccepted heads up from the letdowns of this earth, toward Heaven where we see the face of a Happy Father!

Faith-filled fatigue

Jesus’ conversation with me tonight, and my conversation with you, is simple.  So not seminary-level.  Jesus’ words are soul-level.  Just the kind my brain can handle.

I wonder, do you ever feel like you have to be fully alert to pray?  Do you wait for bursts of energy to gather your thoughts up to God or let your spirit soar among His graces and promises?  Do you, like me, wonder if you would have been awkward and foolish enough to grab the dusty tail of Jesus’ robe like that poor woman with a terrible chronic illness?  Or do you prefer to approach Jesus Christ with just a little more poise?

Tonight, I am too tired to stand on God’s promises.  So I am rather flopped onto them like a rag doll.  But I’m on them.  If Jesus were walking across this wooden deck I’m sitting on, I’d whisper too softly for Him to hear me (but I know He’d hear) or I’d raise my hand up to late for Him to catch it out the corner of His eye (but I know He’d see).  And then He’d heal everything.

“Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy-laden and overburdened, and

I will cause you to rest.  I will ease and relieve and refresh your souls.

Take My yoke upon you and learn from Mefor I am gentle, meek, and humble in heart and

you will find rest, relief, ease, refreshment, recreation, and blessed quiet for your souls.”

Matthew 11:28-29 (Amplified)

If you fall into the category of laborer, one weighed down with life, or one who feels overburdened, you qualify to win a quieted, rested, refreshed, relieved soul

right now.   

There is only one thing you have to do, dear, tired, exhausted, burdened, overwhelmed friend.  And it doesn’t require any work, but it is a verb.  “COME.”  Don’t tarry.  Don’t be above it.  Don’t be below it.

Come to the “Shepherd and Overseer of your soul” (1 Peter 2:25) and let Him care for it like a master gardener waters her thirsty garden.  His Promises are pouring over you now like grace rain, in this moment of mustard-sized, faith-filled fatigue.

The boy with the rolling backpack, and the rhythm and cost of Love

Friends,

Attempting to write fresh words for this poor, dusty, beloved blog page feels a lot like slipping back into that satisfying, rotten habit of fingernail-biting after growing unreasonably (for a pianist) good-looking length nails. At first you feel like you don’t belong in your own skin. You look around like, “Am I really supposed to be doing this?” and you’re pretty sure you’re going to regret it. But sure enough… every time, you wind up at: “Yes. Oh yes.” No regrets, just satisfying old turf. “This feels good”, you think. “I’m back to me.”

 

So. Thanks for allowing me to splatter-paint a whole rainbow’s worth of thoughts onto this page like a two-year-old. May they create something beautiful, and not the color brown. :-/  On my quest for daily faithfulness to God, I haven’t wound up blogging much lately. And just in case you-like me- really struggle with feeling NOT-put-together sometimes, hear this: God is calling you and I to faithfulness, not figuredOutness. He promises a crown of Life to this category of people: the “faithful” ones. (Revelation 2:10)

Faithfulness, NOT FiguredOutness.

 If FAITH, in essence, is “the assurance of things hoped for and the evidence of things NOT SEEN” (Hebrews 11:1) then we’re delusional to think that a life steered into God’s UNSEEN will simultaneously feel FIGURED OUT. Let’s keep aiming daily to live by faith, above aiming to look and feel like we have everything “figured out”.

That’s not what this blog post is supposed to be about, though. Moving on.

As part of my discipleship group this year, I’m asking my women to participate in an exercise of writing Life Goals. As I sat listening in the shaded woods last week, journal page empty, the Lord surprised me with an additional Life Goal:

“I have a goal that when I die, there will not be a single human being in my life’s path who I refused to love as Christ has loved me. I want to be open for Christ’s love to reach anyone, anywhere, through me. I don’t want to close my heart to anyone, ever. For the sake of Christ.”  

 

I should clarify. I know that in my humanness, I will neglect to show real, Christ-like love to many. I will immaturely love. I will imperfectly love. I will even falsely love, mistaking my own interpretations for Calvary Love. But this goal to NEVER REFUSE to love another human as Christ loves, will prove to be quite measurable, daily. It already has. I have already experienced a scenario in the last week in which I wanted to run away emotionally from someone who wounded me. Rather, Christ reminded me that Calvary Love spoke, “Father forgive them!” and did not close up heart. Calvary Love kept the heart wide open, soft, tender, and entrusted to God. (1 Peter 2:23)

I remember the first time I felt love costing me something.

I was ten years old. A boy named Neil was a real reject in our 5th grade class. He had buckteeth, a high-pitched voice, and pulled a rolling backpack (a BIG, HUGE social no-no in our 5th grade, FYI). He was simply unable to reconfigure himself into the EHS Class of 2005 Mold of Acceptance and Coolness. One morning during chapel, I heard the Holy Spirit tell me to befriend Neil. All it took was one walk from chapel back to class- literally 5 minutes of obedience- and the horrors of middle school girl cruelty were unleashed against me. I was called a name in the P.E. locker room that afternoon that I’ll never forget! I was laughed at and whispered about! I martyred myself into another social category that day, and middle school was never the same from that day on. It may seem like a small, childish scenario, but the lesson I began to learn that year continues to shape me:

Calvary Love, the only kind of true love, will always cost us.

I could have unknowingly neglected Neil all throughout middle school, but when the voice of God spoke to me… I became accountable.

Ah, then I was not a candidate for love-neglect. I became a candidate for refusal.

There are folks in your life, and in mine, who the Holy Spirit will happily bring to your mind if you ask Him this question:

“Am I refusing to love anyone the way Christ has loved me? Is there anyone in my life toward whom my UNLOVE is disguised as something less evil? Show me, God!”

The unlove might look like unforgiveness, or secret mockery or judgment (that no one but God sees going on inside of you). Unlove can take the form of withdrawal or distance, caused by intimidation, or envy, or jealousy. We have only to ask the Holy Spirit of Christ to help us love like He does, and the adventure begins!

This morning I exercised to some awesome, flowy choreography in a group yoga class. I love to practice meditation on God’s Word during any exercise that allows space for mind-body connection. So as we danced our arms toward our hearts in big, circular gathering motions, I meditated on God’s love flooding undeserved into my life: “Neither height nor depth…Nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:29) “See how a great a love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God.” (1 John 3:1) “The steadfast love of the Lord endures forever!” (Psalm 100:5)

Then, as we swept our arms away from our hearts in big circular movements, my meditation turned to the natural, outgoing tide of this great love. “For the love of Christ controls me.”(2 Corinthians 5:14) “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7)… and “We love because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) “By this they will know you are my (Christ’s) disciples: if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

This inflowing, outflowing tide of Calvary Love has rearranged the rhythm of our lives. And it only works in this order: Tide in, Tide out. We drink in, abide in, rest in the undeserved love of Jesus for us. We pour out, leak out, speak out the undeserved love of Jesus for ALL others. Tide in, tide out.

Lord Jesus, when it costs us time, when it costs us money, when it costs us emotional, mental, and physical energy, when it costs our pride, even our very reputation, may we who have been loved back to Life never refuse it to anyone.

I once ate a Fried Shrimp Salad Smoothie. (a post on Faith)

 

“The desert” is a common term for a state of spiritual and/or emotional dryness we can find ourselves in. We never choose the desert visit over fresh springs and shores, but yet somehow we land there anyway. It feels like spiritual paralysis. Emotional lockdown.
 
 

One teary night recently I laid in bed wondering when I’d leave the desert. I have women to teach, friends to encourage, a family to minister to, blogs to write, songs unfinished, and nothing….nothing at all….to give.

 
 
This particular night, my imagination (which has such a will of its own that I just get tickled or occasionally ticked off by it) escorted a memory to me:

 
 

I was 20. I was home from college in early summer, and I’d just had my wisdom teeth removed. Three hungry days had passed, embarrassing videos of my narcotic-drugged self had been taken (by my little brother), and I was still in pain and delirium. It was dark in the house, all my full-bellied family tucked into bed after a yummy dinner out at Chili’s, which I didn’t get to attend of course. I stumbled to the fridge, desperate for something substantive to put in my belly.
 

YESSSssssssssss. A styrofoam box of leftovers. YES… yes… no Smoothie ingredients in there. YESsss… it’s shrimp. Ooooooohhh, it’s fried shrimp. Mmm… cheese, croutons, crunchy things. YESssss.

 
 
And then the hungry, drugged me found the blender, pureed that junk, and sipped it all down.

 
 

Back to my bed where I’m laid, re-living that memory. If I remember correctly, there was no

passionate enjoyment

of the fried shrimp salad smoothie, though I drank it all.  There was no

inspiration

surrounding the meal- just desperation.  No songs were written about it (yet) and no

goodness

came from it.

What can I say… I really believed that I needed it, so I ate drank.

 
 

What is faith, but mere belief? True belief in my need for God. True belief in a God Who is alive, not dead. Loving, not emotionless.  Good and kind, not heartless.  True belief in a Word which is active and powerful, not inactive and powerless.

 
 

I ate drank the fried shrimp salad smoothie only because of belief.

I came/come/will keep coming to God only because of belief.

 
 

See, Without FAITH it is impossible to please God, for he that comes to God MUST BELIEVE THAT HE EXISTS, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

Hebrews 11:6

 
 
How such a weird metaphorical memory helped me is only divine grace.  It’ll be grace if it helps you, too.  You may feel as spiritually passionless, inspiration less, and empty as a shrimp smoothie sipper,

but do you simply believe?

 

“Abraham believed God, and it was accredited to him as righteousness.”  -Romans 4:3

 
 
Faith is not the act of moving mountains- there’s nothing further from the truth.  Faith results in mountains moved, yes.  But what IS faith?  It is the act of stretching out a weak, shaky hand to touch the hem of His garment.  It is lifting up a sick and feeble, insignificant voice to call upon His name.  It is climbing up a tree (and looking like an idiot) to see Him better.  It’s LITTLE. TINY. WEIRD. STRANGE. WEAK. IMPERFECT. movements made in true belief.

 
 

If  faith that pleases God is: “he that comes to God must believe that He exists, and that He rewards the seekers”- and if you do believe– then

why not just come?

 
 
Come to Him and tell Him the things on your heart, friend.  Open up His Word on your lap, read it, and just believe.  Come just as you are, empty and numb and foolish as a child, but do come.  He rewards those who seek Him.

 
 

“Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and you will find rest for your souls.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” -Jesus, Matthew 11:28-30

Start the year by listening

IMG_2208

Amidst carol-sings, traditional onesies (pictured above!), homemade Christmas sweaters, Advent readings, lights on the tree, peppermint-flavored everything, gift-giving, far travels, lots of Eli’s favorite songs lyric, “fa la la la la, la la la la!”, and endless feasting, we Lockwoods have never been so grateful for the gift of Jesus Christ, our Immanuel.
All December, I was singing an old song from my childhood:

“Immanuel
Our God is with us
And if God is with us, who can be against us?
Our God is with us
Immanuel”

As you probably know, in December the Lockwoods unsuccessfully attempted to raise our goal amount for a new album we have written.  Had we not known that God was with us, and God was for us, and working all things for our good and for His glory, we would have been full of doubt, disappointment, and maybe even despair.  I wonder if you faced anything in 2014 that God’s gracious promises carried you through?

Many of you emailed and called us with encouraging words: THANK YOU.
Some of you mailed us your pledge in an envelope and told us you believe in our ministry together and want to see this album happen: THANK YOU.

We feel loved by you, and by God, and we feel strongly about moving ahead in the music-recording process.  It will simply look different than we had imagined.  (Ha! What’s new?)

We’re putting all monetary gifts into a music fund and planning to work with one of three potential producers to get our new songs recorded.  The process will just take a little longer, as we prioritize musical decisions based on our available resources.

 

Pushing our two-year-old (whose middle name…fun side note!… is ‘Immanuel’) in his new little tyke truck caused me to ponder an important truth as we enter a new year.  Here’s the scene:  With toddler and truck at a dead-end street, I look left and right and ask “Which way would you like to go, Eli?”

“Dat way!” he says, pointing to the right.  We push/ride 3-ish yards.

“No, no.  Dat way!” he points behind him, turning his neck. We turn around and go 5-ish yards.

“No, mama! No, DAT WAY!” he points behind him again, turning back from where we came.  We turn around again and repeat.

This slightly annoying pattern- this whining and circling- continues until I finally explain that we are going to make a choice and stick to it.  I have him repeat “choice” after me.

Choosing a way can be really hard, because

Every way of a man seems right in his own eyes”.

Proverbs 21:2

and…

“Many plans are in a man’s mind

but it is the purpose of the Lord that will stand”

Proverbs 16:9

See, we are like sheep in need of a shepherd.  Eli needed a guide out there in the street to help him make progress and get to the destination, or he’d have made circles all day long.  How sad to feel like our life is spinning in circles, getting nowhere.
This new year, you have the opportunity to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, and to follow Him to the greenest pastures of

peace.

of

purpose.

The voice of the Shepherd is known by His sheep
We hear it and follow wherever He leads
It’s heard in the stillness, Accepted by faith
And it sounds more familiar each time we obey

 from “The Voice of the Lord” by m. lockwood

 “Your eyes will behold your Teacher, and you will a hear a word behind you, saying “This is the way, walk in it!” whenever you turn to the left, or to the right.”

A beloved promise from Isaiah 30:20-21

Why not ask the Shepherd to speak direction into your 2015 goals, hopes, and plans?
Why not
just

Listen?

I usually ask the Lord to speak a word or a phrase to me, to be a directional banner over my year.  I also usually write down my clutter of goals/hopes/plans on a sheet of paper, and kneel down on the floor with that hand-written list.  I pray Isaiah 30, and Proverbs 16:9, and ask the Shepherd to help me sift through the things on my heart, and leave just the things that are on His heart.  This may take some time.  The point is simply that I am a sheep, He is my Shepherd, and I don’t have time to waste staying busy and getting nowhere.  I need His loving, wise voice to point me toward glory.

I need His power to make actually glorious things happen this year.