Moments before she had been a chatter bug, talking about this and that, about dreams and aspirations as well as evaluating how far she had come from her lowest days not so long ago, where death seemed the only alternative to the demons gnashing their razor-sharp teeth at her every turn. The world had not been kind to her and her thoughts attacked her– violated her without pause. Her downward spiral was years of furious plummets, jolting halts, and unexpected drops—kind of like the Haunted Mansion ride at Disney World–always downward, always without warning. Continue reading
I’ve been thinking a lot about mercy lately and how desperately I need it; how much I’ve come to rely on it. I know that when I humbly approach the Mercy Seat and allow my wretchedness to be exposed before the Creator of Heaven and Earth, I am welcomed, accepted, and loved with a love that is infinite, patient, and indulgent. It is a love that exists for us who may not have been disposed to receive it, those of us who continually struggle to be accepted in family, in the job place—in the world in general; those of us who cannot seem to “catch a break” and battle addiction in one form or another, those of us who wrestle with demons of every kind and cannot, even when presented with a way out, cannot or will not accept it because we believe we are un-savable; that our sins are too great; that we deserve the hell we live in.
The mercy I’ve not only come to know, but to adore with every fiber of my being is one where “words are important, but the gesture is explicit.”
The God of Mercy keeps showing up, keeps listening, keeps fighting for me. He meets me where I am. He speaks to me in a language that I understand. He doesn’t give up on me. Times when I have been unfaithful to Him, He has remained faithful to me. Times when it would be fitting to chastise me, condemn me, punish me; He, instead shows me grace and mercy—forgiveness.
At some point in my life, I came to believe God was a God of love and mercy, one of grace and forgiveness, but I never felt worthy of Him and struggled to accept the very things I craved and needed most in my life. The church I grew up in was one characterized as a “Fire and Brimstone” Baptist church. Judgement. Wrath. Hell. Punishment. I heard these words pounded out week after week in hopes that my guilt and shame would lead me to the Cross. Instead, it scared me. It actually scared me into salvation. And… it paralyzed me from approaching the Mercy Seat because I thought that if God really knew me, He would change His mind and pull a lever that opened a trap door in heaven’s floor sending me straight to hell.
Two stories keep coming to mind and although the place, time, and characters differ, I keeping melding them together in my mind. The story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) and the story of Jesus Forgives an Adulterous Woman (John 8).
The story of the Prodigal Son is perhaps one of the most revered stories in all the Bible probably because we can related to one or both of the brothers in the story. You may remember that the younger brother asks his father for his inheritance so he can leave his responsibilities and pursue a life of fast and wild living . His crass insensitivity indicated that his father was worth more to him dead than alive. And though this must have grieved the father, he complied and gave his son his share of the inheritance. The son leaves, goes off to a far off place and lives an intoxicating life of sin while the older brother remains, toiling the land; fulfilling his responsibilities and his father’s every wish.
At this point of the story, we may find favor with the older brother, have sympathy for the father, and believe that whatever comes upon the younger brother, he probably deserves. We’re prone to the “eye for and eye” mentality.
But when the younger son, poor, broken, and humbled, crests the hill back to his father’s home to ask to become one of his servants, the father sees him and RUNS to him.
I have to pause here for a brief second to point out that the father sees the son when he is a long way off. The Father, after all these years, was still watching for His son’s return. He remained faithful. He didn’t give up hope.
The son tries to apologize and plead for a job as a servant, but the father won’t hear of it. Instead he sends for his best robe, calls for the fattened calf, and throws a celebration fit for a king. His son was home.
This father didn’t allow the son’s past to interfere with the present. This father did not reject his wayward son. This father celebrated his return and loved him just as he had loved him before. I am certain there were conversations, consequences even, but even in that, there was merciful acceptance.
(I’d love to write from the perspective of the older son, who struggled with forgiving his younger brother and developed a heart of bitterness toward his father, but this post is long already and I have many more words to say.)
We find comfort in this story because we have all be the wayward son in one regard or another and the picture of us returning to family loved—loved as we need, but don’t expect or necessarily deserve is nothing short of gracious mercy. We may not call it grace; we may not even call it mercy; but that is what we crave. Some of us have been fortunate enough to have received such grace from friends and family, while others have returned humbled and forever scared only to be rejected again.
That is not the heart of Christ.
And if it is not apparent yet, I will clearly state that mercy is the central theme of the gospel and we, as Christ-followers, play a vital, critical role in administering this saving medicine for the soul.
The other story that comes to mind is the one of the adulterous woman; the story where the Scribes and Pharisees had brought a woman caught in adulty (and had a reputation for such) before Jesus and asked him what they should do. They were tricksters, those Pharisees, because they knew the law of Moses like the back of their hand, which stated that anyone caught in adulty was to be stoned to death. They were hoping to catch Jesus breaking the law, but instead Jesus calmly said, “Whomever is without sin may cast the first stone.” One by one, the men left and when all had left, Jesus turned to the woman and asked, “Is there no one to condemn you?” she replied, “No, my Lord.” He then looked softly into her dark eyes and whispered, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
Did this woman sin? Yes. Did this woman deserve to be stoned to death? According to the law, yes. Although the Bible doesn’t disclose how the woman was caught in the act, we can assume that because of her reputation, these Pharisees had been watching and waiting for her to slip up, to sin again. Some people in our lives do the same thing; they wait to pounce, to condemn, to say, “I knew you’d mess up.”
But on the other hand, we have been in a similar position as this woman, as the prodigal son, where we know we deserve condemnation, punishment and hope against hope for mercy.
What if the father had rejected the son? What if Jesus had encouraged the Pharisees to stone the adulterous woman? What if God withheld His mercy? The prodigal dissed… I weep, literally weep when I consider what I would lose—a love so great, a mercy so rich, a saving grace. It’s my everything. It’s my all.
Christ hears our heart’s plea for mercy and though our words may be choked by our tears and may fail to come to life as we approach his Mercy Seat, He tells us that a repentant heart (an explicit gesture) is all that is required. As Christ-followers let’s not ask more of others than Christ asks of us.
It’s been eight years since I’ve seen you, but I hear your voice all the time. Sometimes I replay some of our past conversations in my mind; conversations that, at the time, didn’t always hold a lot of value—conversations about waxing your car, who you ran into at the fishing hole or how the “big one” got away. Conversations about what book you were reading, what plants you want to buy at the next plant sale, or your dreams for your retirement years.
Dad, you talked a lot—and sprinkled into each of those conversation were words of hope, wisdom, friendship, love, and humility. I don’t know how you did it, but you managed to make conversations about seemingly little things feel big. Somehow, you could make me feel special and like the most beautiful person on the planet as you were telling a story about fishing. I seriously don’t know how you did it! I rarely left a conversation without contemplating something, without begging for answers to the deep questions of life, or without the desire to grow more as a woman in Christ. You made me want more; not more material things, but authenticity, hope, truth, wisdom. I wanted those things and I wanted to become those things—the very things I saw in you.
And although you talked a lot, Dad, you showed me how to love without any words at all. I saw what broke your heart when tears fell from your grey-blue eyes. I saw what lit them up and how you’d bite your lower lip in hopes to contain a squeal of delight. I saw you hold mom’s hand when you’d watch T.V. together and how you’d hold the door open for her wherever you went. I saw how you’d rush out the door to help fill sand bags when the dam broke in our town or to a friend’s house when he called in need. I saw you write letters to men in prison as well as to our politicians. I remember you even lent my date to prom your dress shoes, when he showed up, embarrassed, in tennis shoes! You gave the gift of time and love to everyone; friends and strangers alike.
I haven’t seen you in eight years, but I feel your presence every day; I still hear your voice, see your face. I still feel your hand in mine, smell the lingering waft of your aftershave. You are gone, but you are anything but absent. Forever, you live on in my heart, mind, and soul. And although days like today, the day you left this earth for heaven, pierce my heart, I find that I am grateful for the pain because it means I had a love so, so great. I’ve tucked it deep within my heart and hope that I leave little remnants of it wherever I go, just like you did.
I can hardly wait to hug you again. I have a feeling when I do—I won’t ever let go.
I love you
I love to love. The feeling I get when that deep seated emotion rises to the surface of my being and encapsulates me in its powerful, unharnessed wave, pulling me in and pushing me out. It lingers, saturating the shoreline for a brief moment before it is sucked back in and its strength renewed. Love is powerful. It has a source. It has boundaries, and it can be extinguished. Without a doubt, love is a complicated thing.
Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, a doe-eyed baby girl kissed with dimples and sprinkled with heavenly prayers was placed in the arms of two naïve “kids”. They loved one another and this princess with every ounce of their being, but had no idea just how much this princess would teach them about life, love, and happiness. Today, twenty-one years later, they continue to find themselves completely honored by the privilege and gift of her in their lives.
You see, this is not just any ordinary princess dressed in pink and donning a crown; this one has no need for such grand flare and dismisses such things as “silly”. She’s a blue jeans kind of princess who unknowingly leaves behind glittery sparkles wherever she goes. Her smile alone lights up an entire room and is more than contagious; it has the ability to lower guards and invite others into friendship because somehow it communicates what words struggle to do and accepts others no matter what. It is grace-filled and loving.
As you might expect, this princess is both witty and sassy. She is strong and speaks her mind–fully unaware that the Truth that lives within her is a light to others. Her unique perspective is a breath of fresh air because although she speaks her mind, she doesn’t realize the depth her words hold. In the chaos, in the mundane, where most others stop at the surface, she dives deeper searching for meaning and soul. She has a desperate need to know and to be known. She is respectful and honoring to others for who they are and where they are without judgement.
Her creativeness is abstract, witty, and innocent, which reflects the jazzy rhythm of her heart and the way in which she takes on each and every day. She goes with the flow, holds no agenda, and yet lays her head down each night completely filled–sometimes filled with happiness, while other times overwhelmed by the injustices and pain surrounding her. She longs to do and be more. She is discontent to leave things as they are and knows she has a responsibility to be part of the solution–if she, if we, only knew what that was. She wears her heart on her sleeve.
Her parents were convinced early on that she was given an extra scoop of emotion because her passion is truly unmatched. Unmatched! Sadly—naively– her parents used to want to harness some of her wildness—often mimicking recklessness– tame it, make it more presentable to the world, help her not to feel so deeply that at times she was incapacitated. The thing is, this princess is a warrior child and even in the moments where she was brokenhearted, her heart was also constructing a plan for how to take action. She prays, writes, yells, cries–and at the end–she picks herself up and warriors on.
You see, her now middle-aged parents dreamed of their princess from the moment they knew she would soon enter the world and be their responsibility. They dreamed of lazy summer days picking flowers. They dreamed of cuddles on the couch reading Jane Austin or learning side-by-side in whatever life threw their way. They pictured a delicate, well-behaved princess dressed in pink and fitting into their well-crafted dreams for her–for them. They knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but they believed the Son would still shine over them in the difficult times.
Never in their wildest dreams did they envision the hurricane that stormed into their lives 21 years ago, forever altering their lives, forever etching memories–some being hilarious–such as the time she clung to a scantily dressed, headless mannequin in the window of Victoria’s Secret screaming at the top of her lungs that *this* was her mother, which alarmingly alerted all strangers and security in the mall to believe, briefly, that her “real” mother was a child abductor as she tried prying her delightful 3-year-old from the bare leg. (this was not funny at the time)
While some memories are hilarious, others have left chinks in Princess’ armor, which cannot be buffed out, nor does she want them to be because they serve as a reminder of where she has been, what she has learned and why she is loveable as she is. Her value and worth have nothing to do with those chinks, but everything to do with the hand of the One who held her through each and every trial, the One who forgives and gives grace, the One who lavishes love without regret or the expectation of repayment. Her scars now serve as a well-worn path to the rugged cross where she is reminded that she was born for so much more than all of this—that this life is temporary—and that she is still the object of His affection no matter what she does. She is His. In these great battles, she didn’t realize that she was teaching her parents to trust God, rely on Him to protect and guide her.
Those initial dreams the princess’ parents had, had been incomplete, lacking the depth and life that princess has added in an array of unexpected ways. The couple was blissfully naive. No one dreams of fighting, tears, heartache, death…and yet, the Son still shines, love lives on–strengthening, evolving, with each new lesson.
It’s the princess’ twenty-first birthday today, a day that floods her parent’s minds with memories of old and dreams for the future. Ultimately, it’s a day that fills their hearts with so, so much gratitude for the gift of her–and all, all that she is to them, to the world. She probably has no idea the impact she makes when she walks into a room let alone how she has literally made her parents’ lives richer, fuller, happier. She probably has no idea that she has taught them to love more.
I know it’s her birthday, but I kind of feel like it’s mine because without a doubt, we were given one of the greatest gifts in all the world the day she was placed in our arms. Wishing you the happiest of all birthdays Dear Abigail. I love you with all I am and all I ever hope to be.
The truth is the majority of people are wasting their lives. Admittedly, I’ve wasted a good portion of mine. Because of pride; and some out of ignorance. Some spend their entire lives seeking fulfillment or happiness and though they find it in an array of areas, it is fleeting. Always. And when joy fades, the search begins all over again, but this time with a chink in our armor that reminds us that we failed somehow, somewhere. Sometimes this takes a toll on our identity because we no longer know exactly where we fit or what we need (or should) be doing; we just know it’s something beyond us.
We desire to be a part of a bigger, grander plan. It’s not that we think we have to do big things, but we want to be a part of something. We want to belong. We want to know our lives account for something beyond our expiration date.
Today marks the sixth year since my Daddy entered Heaven’s gates, the sixth year since he ran into the loving, outstretched arms of his Heavenly Father, the sixth year since he last felt pain, cried, worried, planned, dreamt…. It’s been six years—and not a single day has passed that I do not see his crooked smile in my mind’s eye or hear his voice encouraging me to keep going, to keep perspective when life feels so chaotic, uncertain, or overwhelming. Sometimes I still think I smell his aftershave or feel his rough and calloused hand in mine. I think it’s because I want to more than me losing my mind. I’m easily swept up in the memories of him and have lost moments of time to grief and tears—sometimes unexpectedly. I miss him Every. Single. Day. And every single day I think about both what his life and his death has taught me.
My dad died a young man; he was only 61! He did not get to see many of his “fifth quarter” hopes, dreams, and plans come to fruition. And boy, did he have a great retirement planned—He talked about it for years; literally years. He financially planned, ravenously read about various places and things he hoped to go and do…. To say, “he was giddy with anticipation” is a gross understatement because I’m pretty sure I caught him drooling a time or two when he’d share his next great idea! And although he was filled with so much joy in his dreaming and scheming, he was also counting down the days until its reality. I can still see the way his pale blue eyes danced as he dreamt out loud to anyone willing to listen.
My Dad was a man who lived humbly. He was a dairy farmer for more than half of his life, then a custodian. He didn’t care about worldly possessions, but the ones he had he counted as blessings…gifts from the Lord and would have readily given them up to help someone in need. To the world looking in, he would appear to be a regular Joe, a man who perhaps didn’t achieve as the world pressures. He did not chase after the mighty dollar; he did not seek after prestigious positions, or dress to impress. He was meek, dedicated to his work, devoted to his family and friends and eagerly looked forward to helping others. He longed for little and gave everything. He was humble. He was sacrificial. He was fulfilled. He did not live to the world’s standards and it didn’t bother him for he did not strive to look like the world.
Over the course of his last few years, it was not uncommon for him to crave communion with Christ. He longed to be in His physical presence and would weep as he tried to envision the glory that he would soon encounter. My dad knew he’d run to Jesus if he ever had the chance. He got his chance– and I know he is on his knees singing his heart out to His Lord and Savior.
At his memorial service, where over 450 people attended, I heard countless stories of how my Dad touched their lives in remarkable ways…mostly through his attitude and his servanthood. As someone who knew his heart well, I can say I believe he had the right idea about life for he was a man fulfilled, longing to bring glory to Jesus in everything he did. He did not waste a single day…not one! If my Dad were to read these words, he would shake his head and with tears in his eyes say, “No Beloved, I have barely scratched the surface of living a life worthy of the calling”. “The calling” that he would refer to is a life basked in the hope of Jesus.
As I have spent much time reflecting these past six years since my Dad passed away, I have been repeatedly reminded that life is not about mastering or attaining many things, like the world reflects; it is about being mastered by one great thing! My Dad’s life counted for something eternally…I want to be consumed by that same fire! I don’t want to leave anything left unsaid, anything left undone. I want to use ALL of this life I’ve been given to give God complete glory and honor. Nothing else matters. Literally. #wastednomore
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” Matthew 22:37
My Dad loved to fish. No, I mean, He really looooved to fish. It was more than a hobby for him, it was his time of respite, his time of drawing near to the Lord. He needed this time as much as he desired it. He made time for it, even if it meant heading to his favorite fishing hole while dark claimed the atmosphere for a couple more hours. The tranquility beckoned him and throughout my entire childhood and even into my early adulthood, I witnessed his response to such peace while standing hip deep in his patched up waders in the glimmering swift waters: pole in one hand, the other lifted heavenward. I witness his face flush with gratitude and his eyes glisten when words failed him. I witnessed his heart outside his chest and learned of a love basked in utter peace amidst raging waters. I did not realize the gift this was until many years later.
Each weekend, my dad towed us kids along on his fishing expeditions–probably so he could keep an eye on us more than actually teach us any real skill. I won’t pretend we liked it. He fished year round, winter (Steelhead season) seemed to be his favorite–and my worst! As a young girl, getting out of bed when it was still dark, dressing in layer upon layer to go sit in wet, smelly sand for hours at a time, while Dad fished felt a little like a punishment. However, my younger brother, sister, and I always managed to find mischief along the sandbar or create massive sand murals with pieces of driftwood–and inevitably, each excursion to Gold Bar or the Stilly River ended with all four of us, dad included, swinging our legs off the tailgate of Dad’s ‘66 baby blue Ford, while eating warm bologna sandwiches (how we didn’t end up with food poisioning is nothing short of God’s grace!). Smiles and giggles filled the truck as we drove back to the farm. And as wonderful as these Saturdays turned out to be, I still resolved that nothing could be more boring than to sit and watch a pole for hours on end in hopes to get a “nibble”. I believed that until I was 26 years old. (Therefore this is an old story!)
Though I had not gone fishing with my dad for many years, I had decided that when I traveled home with my then 9 month old daughter, Meg, I would go with him. I don’t know why I thought it would be any different or why I was now subjecting my baby to this seemingly torrid event, but something drew me.
I suppose I wanted what my dad had found there all those years, whatever it was.
Sipping strong coffee from the lid of Dad’s green dented thermos, I sat with Meg on the slight incline of the sandbar, watching my dad. I loved everything about him in that moment, especially his crooked smile or the way he would bite his lower lip while putting fresh bait on his hook. He waded out into the river a little further and cast his line again. I watched how the river glided swiftly past him, over fallen trees, and boulders; continuing downstream, narrowing in places, skimming the sandy bar, and eventually spilling into another body of water. I loved watching his line plunk into the river, creating a series of expanding rings, until they disappeared. I was enthralled by the interlacings of regal simplicity and splendid authority.
I had sat on the banks of this river more times than I could count, but not until this day did I pay any attention to its fluid movement and how it formed itself to the shape of whatever object stood in its path. The river was never without motion. I had seen it bursting with energy as its upstream source aggressively pushed its mass into this stream. I had seen it flooded as well as low enough to count the speckled rocks littering its floor. I have seen it nearly still, just ripples carelessly riding on its surface. Still, always in motion.
I turned my face to the early morning sun, letting its warmth seep into my soul. The thought-provoking words of Horatio G. Spafford (1873) came to mind in that moment, a precious hymn I sang as child, growing up in a small Baptist church: “When peace like a river attendeth my way…” I hummed the song repeatedly as the melody soothed my wounded soul and the words caused me to contemplate what peace really means. “Peace like a river”, I whispered to myself as I sought out the characteristics of the river only 15 feet before me.
“Peace like a river”. The book of Isaiah uses this analogy twice, though the Bible addresses the topic of peace 251 times. It is the thing that we seek, bend over backward to meet. However, peace is not only as Webster’s defines: “A state of tranquility or quiet”, but experiencing this while meeting many bumps and unexpected twists and turns on life’s journey. Peace is not something that we can attain on our own merit, despite our best effort.
If you are like me, you may have attempted to eliminate activities or remove yourself from certain draining situations in hopes of finding peace. For many of us, we reason that we’re too busy to really have peace in our lives and that perhaps once we make it through this season, then…we can have peace–that restfulness that we seek. However, we are not meant to live life in the stillness of a…a pond! Think about that. How would we demonstrate our character, our faith, our reliance on Christ if we lived within the safety of ripple-less waters? Peace can be found within the raging waters of life if we continue to go back to the Source of peace, the Prince of Peace
Christ is the upstream tributary, or source, that feeds into the river. Rivers are constantly being renewed by active, ongoing motion. It is not filled once and left to fend for itself. Christ encourages we who are thirsty, we who are in need, to come to the fountain (Is. 55:1) Here, He fills us with His life-giving water.
This filling enables us, like the river, to spill out into another body of water, overflowing into the lives of those around us.
Sitting on the wet sand banks, holding my sweet Meg in my arms, kissing her plump cheeks and inhaling her sweet baby fragrance, I understand the analogy of “peace like a river”for the first time ever–and in that moment, I released my preconceived notions that life should be easier, without so much pain, and heartache and embraced the fact that my seasons of adversity have actually led me into the arms of the Prince of Peace.
Undoubtedly, storms of adversity will wash over us, attempting to steal our attention from the One who gives us peace. Beloved, don’t let them. Keep going back to the source.
Christ desperately grieves for us when our hearts and souls are in unnecessary turmoil (Luke 19:41-42).
I can’t help but to think of the parable about the disciples out at sea when a terrible storm began to rage; violently tossing their boat about the outrageous waves, completely and unequivocally terrifying them. I imagine as they saw Jesus walking among the perilous waves toward them, they believed He would save them by calming the storm. They knew He could; they’d seen Him perform miracles before. However, their thoughts were interrupted as Jesus called out to them, “Take Courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid”. It is here that you would expect Jesus to calm the storm. He did not. Not until after he climbed into the boat.
I believe we can identify with the disciples here: believing that peace is equated with rescuing—from calming the storms of life. “The point is not that we don’t have anything to fear, but that [Christ’s] presence is the basis for our courage” (Beth Moore). His peace is the fruit of His spirit at work in our lives.
With the “winds still raging, He said, ‘Take Courage. It is I. Don’t be afraid’”. We can have peace when we authentically surrender to the trustworthy, sovereign authority of Jesus and keep going back to the “well”, while chaotic uncertainties and exhausting stressors surround us. (Sigh! Can you possible grasp this?)
I set Meg down in the sand and encouraged her to play, when I discovered a brutally weathered and beaten oyster shell. It revealed a life of being carelessly tossed about in the continual motion of the waters. I flipped it over, rubbing my thumb along its smooth, iridescent inner shell, thinking that perhaps an irritation the size of a grain of sand had made its way into its life, forming a pearl, a treasure of great value.
I had been wounded to my very core 18 months earlier when I had been raped, conceiving a child, my Meg, as a result. To say my heart had been hemorrhaging all those months as I attempted to understand where God was in all of this, is a gross understatement. I went from blaming Him for the situation– because He allowed it to happen, angrily accusing Him of not loving me; to a place where I fully embraced Genesis 50:20, “What Satan intended for evil, God intended for good”. In this moment, holding Meg, my precious pearl– a seeming reminder of incredible pain–she was/is infinitely more of reminder of the peace that God grants us when we surrender to His authority.
My chin quivered and my nose began to run as I contemplated this beautiful, tangible lesson I believe God orchestrated specifically for me this day; this day that I had gone fishing for peace with my Dad.
I bit my quivering lip, trying to compose my emotions as I ran out to my Dad. With Meg in tow in one arm, and the oyster shell in the other, I called out “Hey Dad, look what I just found”! We paused for a warm bologna sandwich, while sitting in the warm cab of his truck, and through heavy, gut wrenching sobs, I shared with him what I believe the Lord had taught me there on the banks of the Stilly River.
Meg’s name means “pearl”. She was named Meg for that meaning. She was brought into this life through a horrific situation, but without a doubt, she is my pearl of great value. So great in fact that a Merchant I know so very personally sold everything He had for her…and for you…and for me (Matthew 13:45).
Our identity is not in the bumps and bruises that we accrue; rather our identity is the One who freely gives us peace in the trials of life. He sees you as His pearl, nothing less!
The oyster shell, 16 years later, still sits on Meg’s dresser and serves as reminder that pearls weather storms of life and peace can and will accompany us when we surrender to our sovereign Lord’s authority.
I went fishing with my dad that day and caught a whole lot of peace!
My heart has been thirsty lately–and when I say, “thirsty”, I mean parched. I’ve been distressingly pained with a desperate longing; anticipation of a fullness– or a completeness– I know exists because I’ve experienced its sense of peace and belonging –and often euphoric effects sporadically throughout my entire life.
We’ve all experienced this inconsolable thirst. When it isn’t stifling us, it drives us. It drives us to pursue external things or experiences that represent life to us or distinguishes our carefully constructed identity–material things, career ambitions, skills we possess as well as how we look, sound, and attract others to us. We try to fill the longing in our hearts with external platitudes—the part of us that everyone sees—and though they have their place in importance, they cannot, cannot fulfill the deepest yearnings of our hearts.
We cannot solve an internal issue externally and yet we try over and over again. When one thing doesn’t fulfill or sustain, we try something else.
In a world where performance and efficiency are everything, it is easy for many of us to stuff away these heart desires and focus on what we know to do, what the world tells us to do, and what has proven to gain some satiation. We’re good at replacing our internal needs with external things, like principles and programs; like work and church activities; like organizing and planning.
“Busyness replaces meaningfulness. Efficiency replaces creativity. Functional relationships replace love” (Brent Curtis).
We live from what we “ought to do”, rather than from what and how we desire to do it. I believe we are all born with this thirst, this longing, this internal quest for adventure, intimacy, and beauty that, when pursued, lead us to discovering meaning and fullness in our lives.
Perhaps, we think what our heart longs for (even if we cannot pinpoint what it is) is unattainable–and we just have to live with unsettled feelings. Perhaps, we’ve come to believe this longing is some disorder, or we’re asking too much from life; or we’re dreamers, so we ignore the gentle ever-present whisper beckoning us, calling us to so much more than all of this, to so much more than external joys and pains and everything in between. Those who stuff, ignore, or discount these desires eventually lose heart–which in my opinion, is both a coping mechanism as well as the greatest loss of their lives.
No matter how you describe this thirst, it is the most important thing about us.
It’s important because the longing–the ever-present pull of our heart-strings toward something more is in actuality the voice of Christ—because it is “in the heart that we first come to know and learn to live in His love”. The heart–though many may discount its place or its role in our day-to-day activities, is crucial. It is here, in Christ– found in the deepest longings of our heart– that we find fulfillment.
Our exterior actions for Christ begin in the heart.
“The heart is the wellspring of life” and its fount overflows with our faith, hope, and love (Proverbs 4:23). It is where we resolve to live sacrificially, to be a servant, to love in action and not merely in words alone, to be present. I cannot help but to think of Isaiah 29:13, where God laments, “These people…. they honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”. This verse alone tells me that our hearts are important to Christ. It is where we—our identity—begins. (Side note: I have spent a fair share of my life paying lip-service to Christ, rather than living completely sold out for Him. I have also spent a good share of my life looking for Him in the external).
I’m not sure how I didn’t stuff the longings of my heart during those years of external searching; during those years of utter shame and brokenness. I suppose somehow I knew (or learned) the longing I had always felt was in actuality Christ whispering my name, calling me Daughter, Beloved, Forgiven. I remember as if it was yesterday, and not 23 years ago, the afternoon I literally fell on my knees and begged the Lord to allow me a sip of His life-giving water. He surpassed what I deserved, what I desired. He filled my cup, and once it was full, He kept pouring. It spilled over the edges, soaking the ground, saturating my soul. As my buried my face in my hands, sobbing, “thank you, thank you, thank you”, I realized He was the desire of my heart!
So struggling this week, really struggling, with this unquenchable thirst, my initial reaction was to call my friend, go for a run, read, garden, open my hives (I’m an amateur beekeeper–so thrilling I can hardly tell you) in hopes to lull this unnerving thirst–and admittedly, I did do some of these things (OK, all of those things!)–but it donned on me (I’m so slow sometimes), while on my knees in my garden that I was going about it all wrong. I wasn’t going to the source of my joy, my life, my love. I was trying to find joy and contentment (the desires of my heart) without Him.
Why do I do this? Why do I fall away from Him? I resonate with Paul, who cried out “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do, I do not do, but what I hate to do” (Romans 7:15) I am so prone to wander, it’s ridiculous.
Here’s the thing–that thirst—that constant pull on our heart-strings, that beckoning whisper that reminds us that there is more to this life—that’s God calling us back to Him, reminding us Whose we are and who we are in Him. I have a lot of favorite verses, but today, my favorite is Hebrews 13:5, which reminds us that He “will never leave us or forsake us”. I am grateful for the thirsty times as well as the moments of utter saturation for God is in both.
It never ceases to amaze me how many young mamas, friends and strangers alike, ask me for parenting advice. I don’t think it necessarily has anything to do with the fact that my girls have grown into delightful, God-fearing women, but more so because as women, we want to learn from one another; we need one another. In terms of raising children, we want to know what worked and what didn’t work so we can adjust our course, if need be.
Sometimes we’re so desperate for answers, direction, or just need to feel we’re not in this unpredictable venture alone, that we’ll even heed the advice of perfect strangers. Such was my experience yesterday. A woman I had never met before and I found ourselves thrown together for a short period of time. Naturally, we struck up a conversation—about our kids. When I told her my girls were now nearly 21 and 16, she peppered me with questions, wanting to learn any inside information I might have, about what she should be doing differently or better or what she could expect in the future for her much younger son. Later that day, I found myself chuckling over the fact that I had shared the good, bad, and ugly of my parenting with a stranger and vice versa! Admittedly, I didn’t catch her name and I doubt out paths will cross again, but boy, was that an awesome conversation. It solidified to me just how much we need one another. We need to share our experiences, to build one another up, and walk this often tumultuous road shoulder to shoulder.
When I was pregnant with my first daughter over 21 years ago, I read every parenting book I could get my hands on. I underlined, highlighted, dog-eared, and thoroughly studied those books in more depth than I did any of my college text books. I prayed. I pondered. I daydreamed. I cried. I stressed. And I completely underestimated my ability and God’s sovereignty—but I didn’t know that for years to come.
All I ever wanted to be was a mom. However, I felt unprepared no matter my studious ways. Being a parent is one thing, doing it well is another thing entirely. Like most moms-to-be, I desperately wanted to raise my kids well. I wanted them to be well-adjusted, have the ability to think critically, communicate effectively, love all people, be givers, not takers, follow directions, live humbly– while at the same time understand they are treasures that exceed value. I desired with all my heart that my girls would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they belong to Christ and desire to live first and foremost for Him—not because we want them to, but in response to His love for them.
I envisioned being that spontaneous mom that would pull over to the side of the road when something in nature called our attention to it, so we could explore it in more depth. I dreamt of making thousands of wishes together as we blew tiny seeds from dandelions across the park week after week. I knew we’d dance in the rain, and splash in mud puddles until we were soaked through– and then do it all over again. I imagined oohing and ahhing over treasured creatures found in tide pools and eating sandy sandwiches while at the beach. I anticipated watching thunder and lightning storms late at night while huddled together under woolen blankets, just like I did with my own mama. I dreamt of telling stories around campfires and gorging on too many s’mores, not caring that bed time passed by an hour ago. Perhaps what I looked forward to most was cradling my girls in my arms after a long day of play together—and singing and praying over them as their heavy eyes found their way to a peaceful night sleep. I don’t think my dreams are unique to me. I think most mamas-to-be dream great dreams. We smile as we get swept away in thought. We run our hands over the soft cotton baby clothes, close our eyes and can practically picture our angel. For many of us, our DNA screams MAMA!!! It’s what we’re born to do and we know we’re going to be good at it.
Until we’re not.
Until our thoughts start bombarding us with questions like: what if I don’t know how to teach her all the things I’m supposed to or want to? What if I break her? What if I can’t nurse her? What if she doesn’t stop crying? What if she doesn’t sleep? What if she fails in school? What if she’s rebellious? What if she does drugs or gets pregnant or hates me, or… I had these questions and more. I didn’t obsessively worry about them, but the more I thought about them, the more I want to know the answers. I wanted to prepare. I wanted to plan. I’m just wired like that. (I like to think of it as being pro-active; my husband likes to think of it as being hyper-alert—tomato, tomatoe)! I wanted to know if there was anything I could do to combat certain behaviors or ensure I would raise a great, healthy, and happy child? So I called my mom—sobbing– because now I wasn’t only feeling unprepared, but feeling as if I might actually mess up a human being. I shared my concerns and short-comings with my mom, asking her how I was possibly going to manage to raise a child. I remember her words as if she had spoken them yesterday:
“You’ll figure it out as you go”—Not what I was looking for, but she was right, I did.
Admittedly, our parenting has often looked like a plane sputtering along, thirsty for fuel, wearily doing what needs to be done, while other times, it has looked terrifyingly reckless and out of control– nose-diving toward jagged cliffs. This isn’t to say there haven’t been moments that feel very much like riding on the wings of clouds toward a setting pastel sunset, but there are fewer of these moments than I’d like.
It doesn’t mean my parenting is broken. It means my initial idea of parenting wasn’t complete.
Parenting is an act of enduring, sacrificial love and though I might have known this on one hand before my baby girl was placed into my arms, I understood it on a whole other level on the nights I cried myself to sleep because the day was so horrible. I beat myself up too often and didn’t ask for God’s help often enough.
Some days I am a stellar, on par kind of parent and others days I royally suck. Truth! So when people ask me for parenting advice, I tell them that I am perhaps the last person to ask because I am still learning.
However, if pressed, here are MY TOP 20 PARENTING TIPS: (Disclosure: some of these were learned through years of sweat and tears, others I am still actively learning)
1. Submit yourself before the Lord. This is not about you, but about Him through you.
2. Make self-care a priority. When you are filled up, you are a better version of yourself to share with your kids.
3. Parent intentionally, be present every single day.
4. Set realistic expectations for both you and your children—make them known to your kids.
5. Consider their learning style—not just what comes naturally for you.
6. Listen, even to the rambling and the inaudible words of their youth. If they don’t see us listening when they’re younger, they’ll assume we won’t listen when they’re older.
7. Whispering gets just as much attention as yelling. It quiets our stressed out kids (eventually) because they’ll want to know what we’re saying. My girls said they knew when I whispered it meant serious business!
8. Pray over and with them constantly. Some of my fondest memories are of my girls and I blubbering our way through some of our prayers.
9. Give them over to the Lord and allow Him to have His way with them. (This is hard and often painful—especially in their teenage years)
10. Allow them to fail, fall, and make mistakes.
11. You can be an authority without being an authoritarian.
12. Don’t rescue them (enable), but be there to help pick up the pieces afterwards.
13. Don’t do their homework, even when it’s obvious that other kids’ parents are—Kids need to take pride in their work, not yours.
14. Model godly character; and forgive yourself when you don’t.
15. Don’t stress about the little things. For example: It’s OK if your child’s outfit doesn’t match or if they go to school with two different shoes on. If they feel uncomfortable, they’ll fix it on their own. Allow them to be creative, even if it’s not your style. (When my daughter was in second grade, she decided to go to school in a pajama top, skirt and rain boots with her hair resembling a rat’s nest. And to top it off, she used her “Mary Poppins umbrella as a cane!) I cringed on the inside, smiled on the outside. She kept up with this creative dress for about a week. Now, she is entirely into fashion and make-up and has an amazing eye!)
16.Remember love is hard work. It’s not always stories and snuggles. Love means saying you’re sorry. And it means forgiving your kids when they mess up.
17. Allow your kids to see you cry, laugh, struggle, problem solve, pray.
18. Remember you are parent first, friend—later, much later!
19. Respect is earned, not just from them, but from us to them as well.
20. Treat them as little people—don’t underestimate their thoughts, questions, and ideas.
My girls…I cannot say enough about them. God’s fingerprints are all over their lives and boy, does that ever make my heart swoon.
Today, marks the sixth Father’s Day, the sixth year of heart-to-heart conversations gone by, the sixth year of missing my Daddy’s big bear hugs and whispered, I love yous. I can still see him as he was, however– in his baseball cap and Levis, with that familiar side-to-side walk. I can still hear his calming voice and see his crooked smile as he’d cock his head to one side when he’d greet me, “Hey-ya Karyn”. When I close my eyes, I can almost feel him–his gruff hand in mine, smell him–his Old Spice soap, hear him–his laugh–ahhh, my heart smiles and weeps with the memory.
I wish I had held onto more of him when I had him here. I wish I had listened more intently to his words of love as well as admonishments; loved more deeply; given more freely. I wish I had hugged him a little longer; visited more often. I wish I hadn’t taken him for granted.
I wrote the following post a year after he passed away. And although it is not the anniversary of his passing, it seemed fitting to share it today, on Father’s Day. I miss you like crazy, Daddy and love you abundantly more. Abundantly!!!
Written July 13, 2011
One year ago today as the warm sunshine poured through the large windows of room 335, I laid next to my Daddy in his hospital bed kissing his cheeks, his hands, his forehead… a million times over, embracing a precious memory with each kiss, saying good-bye, I’m sorry, and thank you with each remembered story. Though my mind has been swept over with these memories as of late, I do not write this morning from a place of sorrow so much as I write from a place of gratitude. Just a few thoughts and memories…
I kissed and nuzzled his cheeks a million times that day, feeling as though I couldn’t stop, not wanting that kiss to be the last one I ever gave him. His cheeks were rough despite hospice’s attempt to shave him. I found it endearing however, as my mind wandered to the days when I would sit on the bathroom counter and watch him shave after he’d come in the house from a long day of milking or working in his yard. I always loved watching this ritual. Still, to this day, I can see him shaving two or three upward strokes, then rinsing the blade in a sink of warm, sudsy water. I can still hear the tap, tap of the blade against the side of the sink and smell the distinct fragrance of his shaving cream. He sure got mad when I’d steal it to shave my legs as a teenager. I can still hear his voice as he’d yell from the bottom of the stairs, “Karyn Lee…bring it down here”. He didn’t even have to clarify what “it” was. We both knew.
His shaving cream wasn’t the only thing I would “steal” from him. To this day, nearly 20 years living outside my parent’s home, I have a reputation for stealing Dad’s flannel shirts. It didn’t matter if they were the “good flannel shirts” or ones he wore for milking or yard work. I just adored them and everyone knew it. Often, I would hear my name being called from the bottom of the stairs but it had a different ring to it. He wasn’t mad, like he was with the shaving cream. It was more like “I’m flattered, but honey, you gotta stop doing this”. Once he called me, a year or so after I had moved out and gotten married to ask if I had stolen his new flannel shirt! I didn’t…honestly… but still to this day, I cannot live down the fact that I would take his shirts and make them my own. In fact, my youngest niece calls me, “Aunt Flannel”, which makes me laugh because I only wear flannel shirts when I garden. I guess I still want to be just like my dad. I don’t have any of his shirts now and that crushes me. There was just something about his shirts that no one else, not even my dear husband’s shirts have. I guess I felt safe wrapped up in his over sized shirts, close to him somehow. Sure wish I had stolen just one more.
One of his absolute loves was working in his yard. He had an amazing gift that dazzled people who would pass by. Though, like a true gardener, we never call it “work”, for it is something that feeds the soul in a way that nothing else does. I had the privilege to have my hands in his yard this week, to pull his weeds, to prune his Rhodies, edge his flowerbeds… The most difficult thing for me to touch were his roses…yellow, vibrant roses…these were his pride and joy. I saved them for last. And wept as I breathed deeply the sweetest scent…a scent I didn’t realize I associate with my dad no matter where I smell it.
On my knees already, I buried my nose into the spent pedals I’d just pruned and allowed the Lord to wash over me, to touch me with his tender grace once again. His mercy touched my brokenness and I knew I was safe and loved completely even without the touch of my dad’s hand or being wrapped in an oversized flannel. My Heavenly Father swooped down and held this broken heart of mine and reminded me of words I had read just that morning, “However serious we believe Good Friday is, we are confident that Easter Sunday lies ahead of us.” Meaning, that no matter what disappointments, frustrations, hurts, injustices, or loss come our way because of our faith, our hope in Christ, we KNOW Easter Sunday—the day of Jesus’ resurrection—and the fulfilling of His promise– is right around the corner. Christ did not promise an easy, painless life. He did promise however, that Heaven would conquer all in the end (Easter Sunday).
Death will be overturned and the fragrance of yellow roses will fill the air, I am certain of that!
My Dad’s heart desire was to meet Jesus…boy, did he ever speak often of this desire and believed as my favorite author, Brennan Manning, does that “Death is not the ultimate, but rather the final breakthrough into the waiting, outstretched arms of the Father.” He could not wait to see Jesus face to face. I often picture my dad on his knees before the emerald throne singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty” with tears of great joy streaming down his cheeks and with a heart that swells with such love, such gratitude for ur Heavenly Father. I miss my Daddy terribly but I KNOW Easter Sunday will come for me too– and one day, I, too, will run through heaven’s gates. I will embrace my Lord, my God first, but then I am hugging my Daddy!
Until that day, I am hugging him in my heart.