Grace in the Wilderness

I get a little uncomfortable hearing people’s “wilderness stories”. It seems to me a spiritual way to complain about having to wait for something we really want. Really…who isn’t waiting for something they really want?

We all go through periods of waiting, or painful stretching. Of feeling disconnected. Watching others play while we sit on the bench. It’s not a fun process…but with the right perspective it can be exciting. Don’t check out when it hits! Instead, press in to see why you are there. It usually means you are growing, need a little adjustment, or are on the verge of a breakthrough.

Sometimes we are taken there for instruction or discipline:

So I took them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them My statutes and informed them of My ordinances, by which, if a man observes them, he will live.
Ezekiel 20:10-11

Sometimes it’s meant to show us who we are:

“Just as I pleaded My case with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will plead My case with you,” says the Lord God. “I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; I will purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me…”
Ezekiel 20:36-38a

Sometimes we take ourselves there and he rescues us:

He found him in a desert land,
And in the howling waste of a wilderness;
He encircled him, He cared for him,
He guarded him as the pupil of His eye.
Like an eagle that stirs up its nest,
That hovers over its young,
He spread His wings and caught them,
He carried them on His pinions.
Deuteronomy 32:10-11

Sometimes we are there to be tested and taken to the next level:

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Matthew 4:1, 17

Sometimes it is simply to rest:

Thus says the Lord,
“The people who survived the sword
Found grace in the wilderness—
Israel, when it went to find its rest.”
Jeremiah 31:2

Sometimes we are invited there for protection and healing:

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,
Will bring her into the wilderness,
And speak comfort to her.
I will give her her vineyards from there,
And the Valley of Achor as a door of hope;
She shall sing there,
As in the days of her youth,
As in the day when she came up from the land of Egypt.”
Hosea 2:14-15

When I was given a new heart, I’m happy to say I was given (and am still being given) a new perspective on a lot of things. I think it helped that I had so completely blown it for almost 40 years on my own. I was more than ready to trade my ways for his. You know, I’ve been on this walk for three years now, and I’m starting to realize that entire time has been spent in the wilderness of protection and healing that Hosea spoke of.

That helps me understand the cringe I feel when I hear people complaining about the wilderness. It’s such a beautiful place to me! Even there…no, especially there…he is right beside. We are in it because he loves us…and will be in it as long as we need to be. It’s paradise compared with being anywhere without him. I found a little connection this morning that has been really encouraging for me, and I hope it is for you as well.

Here’s what happens in Hosea’s wilderness:

The earth shall answer
With grain,
With new wine,
And with oil.
Hosea 2:22

And here is what is coming:

“They will come and shout for joy on the height of Zion,
And they will be radiant over the bounty of the Lord—
Over the grain and the new wine and the oil,
And over the young of the flock and the herd;
And their life will be like a watered garden,
And they will never languish again.”
Jeremiah 31:12

In the spirit of being honest with myself, I feel like he’s walked me to the edge of the wilderness – I am just afraid to step out of it. Ah, another transition and another breakthrough on the horizon. You know, I write these blogs for myself – they help me hear from him and align my skewed perspectives closer to his. But one of my greatest joys is knowing that they encourage friends along the way. Whatever wilderness you may find yourself in, I pray you walk through it (quickly!) wrapped in his peace, love, and grace. And, as crazy as this sounds, I pray for strength and courage to step out of mine. I mean, if this is what the wilderness is like, I can only imagine what the rest of life will look like!

I’m Not a Humbug – Revised!

This has been an interesting holiday season for me…

Before I knew Jesus, I only liked Christmas for the traditions, the presents, the gatherings, the lights. The last two Christmases, I have loved him and everything about this season. But this year, I’ve been really uncomfortable. I’ve been feeling like a humbug.

It’s the story of my life, that things other people revel in are generally not that pleasant for me. I usually have just enough knowledge to spoil the whole thing. In fact, (I’m sure my parents are nodding right now) it might be true to say that I actually look for things to ruin the moment. Sigh.

I came at (and originally published) this blog from a pretty low point. I was feeling sad and confused about the whole thing. This morning, I have a completely new perspective!

Yesterday I basically slammed churches for celebrating the birth of Christ in December. For celebrating a man-made holiday that was added to the Lord’s Holy Days. That was stupid and missed the point…there was no birth of Christ in 1450 BC when Moses wrote down the festivals. We cannot know the exact day Yeshua was born and, for now, I will be happy that for over 1600 years there are people around the globe that unite to truly worship him on a day in December.

What is really bothering me is that we have stopped teaching those other Holy Days and only focus on Christmas and Easter…and especially that we have (blindly or not) embraced the pagan and worldly aspects of them. Seriously, I don’t think there should be a Santa Clause in any church’s Christmas celebration. I don’t see anywhere in Christ’s teachings a willingness to compromise truth or conform to the world in order to bring people to him. It’s not necessary and, in fact, it’s really confusing!

I refuse to wallow in confusion and sadness, especially over the birth of my Savior!

For God is not the author of confusion, but of peace. 1 Corinthians 14:33

Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” Luke 2:10-14

Last weekend, my son was in a Christmas-themed variety show with a local theater. I was excited to see his performance, but actually dreaded sitting through the rest of the program. Oh wow. I very soon realized what a genuine, sincere expression of worship to the Lord it was, for a few of us anyway! While I wish we had the courage to celebrate his birth publically in every month and season, I am so thankful for the free reign and the freedom to worship him in this one. That is really such a gift!

It’s been an uncomfortable season for me this year, but I am learning to walk through it with grace and desperately trying to live righteously. I do hate the chaos we invite into our lives when we approach it from the wrong perspective, when we slip into the cycle of greed and expectation that surrounds us. I’m learning that with a little effort, we can step out of that stuff and really enjoy the season. No longer will I look for fault in hearts that are genuinely seeking to bring honor to him, including my own.

Finally, there is that peace and joy I knew he would deliver when I brought this to him. He is happy to hear our praise, gratitude, and adoration, no matter what day it is. Let’s remember his gift every day.

Lamplight

I hate the dark…especially when I’m going somewhere. I’m always afraid I’ll walk into a spider web, or a hole. Into danger.

This has become irritatingly clear to me lately, as the winter days get shorter. And I see it is very much a reality in my spiritual walk as well. I really hate walking in darkness.

Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path.
Psalm 119:105

His words are truly lifesavers for me, but they aren’t always as bright and clear as I’d like them to be. There are times I feel like I’m stepping into the darkest night. With only the tiniest clue that I’m moving in the right direction, I get frustrated with the lack of illumination.

I like to know where I’m going, what I’m walking into.

I have been known to take his words and shake them, try to squeeze meaning out of them before their time. Manipulate them to fit the plans I have in mind.

So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.
2 Peter 1:19-21

The room can seem pitch black but, in time, our eyes adjust to the available light. This is where I am now, learning to walk without panic in the light I’ve been given. Learning to trust that his words are enough without my interference. Resting in the truth that he is walking ahead, and behind, and right beside.

For You are my lamp, O Lord;
The Lord shall enlighten my darkness.
For by You I can run against a troop;
By my God I can leap over a wall.
As for God, His way is perfect;
The word of the Lord is proven;
He is a shield to all who trust in Him.
2 Samuel 22:29-31

I Love Me Very Much

…and I really hope you can say the same!

I’ve spent three years moving steadily away from a self-centered, self-motivated paradigm, so this growing love for myself has caught me a little off guard. I mean, I say it almost apologetically! Almost.

Every time I get quiet and listen to my Father, he reveals his love for me in a new way. It’s more than a head-knowledge that God loves me. I’m talking about jaw-dropping touches, each one delivering a deeper spiritual understanding. It’s life changing, and it happens every single time I give him my ear. Each of those touches confirms that, though I may have just been throwing a temper tantrum or drowning in confusion, I am more than tolerated by the one who has the answers, peace, clarity. I am found worthy, valuable, and deserving of his time, his effort, and his steadfast unfailing LOVE.

The longer I know him, the more he tells me that I am ME for a reason. He handcrafted me, a special-blend concoction created just the way he wanted. My traits and giftings happen to perfectly align with my life’s circumstance and special purpose.

I struggled with this new self-love for a while, thinking it sounded a little too close to pride and arrogance to be righteous…until he helped throw it back into perspective. I am his design! How much more prideful would it be NOT to love it??

It’s finally hit me that loving myself the way he does isn’t thinking I’m better than or less than you, in any way. It has nothing to do with comparing myself to others at all. It’s just relishing who and how he made me to be.

This new perspective has definitely produced reciprocal waves of love and gratitude back toward him, but it’s even bigger than that. He keeps walking me toward loving you better. There are certain phrases that repeat their way through scriptures, and this one jumped out at me this week:

You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
Leviticus 19:18

That phrase is written at least eight other times in the Bible. I think we need to get it! The implication there is that we first ought to be loving ourselves…WELL. Not tearing ourselves apart, focusing on the flaws and weaknesses and the ways we are different from each other.

I can only love you as well as I love myself! We learn to love ourselves well when we learn how well he loves us.

“I have loved you, my people, with an everlasting love.
With unfailing love I have drawn you to myself.
I will rebuild you, my virgin Israel.
You will again be happy
and dance merrily with your tambourines.”
Jeremiah 31:3-4

This makes me smile!

A friend recently shared that she is going through the same process. That she has finally allowed her eyes to see herself the way God sees her. Down to the body and personality she has always considered too this and too that. She realized in a new way the futility of trying to be a person she was never meant to be. She has fallen in love with the girl he made. Friends, we live for now in imperfect vessels, but we are wholly lovable. Perfectly loved. This understanding is key to loving him more fully, to seeing and loving ourselves through his lens, to loving each other well.

“The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” ~Jesus
Mark 12:29-31

I love the Lord with all I am, I finally love me, and now I can love you too.

Goodbye, For Now

Would you believe there was a time that I thought I wouldn’t, no, COULDN’T, ever be so heartbroken over a loss again that I would cry? Yep, it’s true, and it was not long ago that I said and truly thought that.

Silly, silly girl.

To be fair, at the time it was in the context of feeling rejected by men, and that’s profoundly different than saying goodbye for now to a dear friend.

I am new to being a friend. I don’t think she had any idea what a huge gift it was for her to let me come over and offer a tiny bit of help to get her house ready for the listing photos. In fact, it’s just now hitting me! But in that act, she showed me that after eight years, we did it; we actually made it to being real friends.

Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down.
Romans 12:15 (MSG)

Yesterday I spent most of the day in tears. Heartbroken, not just that I am losing an awesome neighbor, friend, touchstone, encourager, and car pool buddy. Not just that I will miss our girl chats over wine in my living room or watching the kids swim. Not just that my daughter’s best friend is about to move far away.

Not just at the weight of years lost, before I could be a friend. Or the days taken for granted, after I was. I ache to have time back to do all the things I pictured us doing together!

That is a lot to cry about, I’m just saying… but do you know what broke my heart more than all that? The unbearable fact that she was hurting.

This may sound really pathetic. You have hopefully not lived in such a self-focused, self-protecting realm as me. But this is a miracle for me. In the middle of all that sadness, pain, and personal loss, I was actually more conscious of and concerned about my friend’s feelings than my own.

What a beautiful gift from above. My heart is glowing with gratitude at the outward manifestation of true agape love. Friendship.

Oh Lord, she and her family will be missed terribly! But I am reminded. This is not goodbye forever, it is just for now.