A Prayer for Today

But you, O GOD my Lord, deal on my behalf for your name’s sake; because your steadfast love is good, deliver me! For I am poor and needy, and my heart is stricken within me. I am gone like a shadow at evening; I am shaken off like a locust. My knees are weak through fasting; my body has become gaunt, with no fat. Help me, O LORD my God! Save me according to your steadfast love!
— Psalm 109:21-24; 26

Rescuer,

As I look at these words of old, words that not soon long after being spoken turn from despair into hope, I acknowledge you as the only One who can come and save. I have looked endlessly to other things to save me, concocting schemes, hoping to be spared from the suffering that comes with my many weaknesses and the broken world I am part of. I echo the psalmist, exhausted, weary, left as what feels like being nothing.

But God, your love. Your steadfast love.

When I am empty, when I am transient, when I am weak, you change everything. You are fullness and wholeness, you are eternal and everlasting, you are strength and weightiness, glory.

Father, I am tired.

I speak a lot of these “I am” statements, constant in keeping score of how I feel. This, the story of humanity, as I speak a lot of these to God, a reminder that there is some fixing to do. Still the same, unchanging, He responds the way He always has: I AM.

Show me your glory.

I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.
— Psalm 121:1-2
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Wilderness

I struggle to write today. Not that this week has been one short of lessons, learning, growth, but simply because it has been a slow process, this waiting period, full of desert, dryness, weariness. All things considered, I feel like a broken record, telling my three blog readers, two of them being my mother or my husband, that the circumstances simply haven’t changed so the wilderness continues to call.

Yet, I can’t help but continue to ask the question if the wilderness is not my circumstances, but instead, the darkness in my heart?

I have gotten a glimpse of that darkness this week in multiple ways. By the grace of God, a weed was finally identified, and now that the knowledge that it exists is present, it can be rooted out. Darkness creeps in ever so gently in the sins of greed and lust, sneaking in under the guise of even encouragement given from others. Not only, then, did the powerful words of those above me full of kindness fuel passion in my heart, but a distaste for what I was given here and now, a full blown massacre of discontentment breeding envy and hate. The wilderness was a different flavor of pride in my heart, disguising itself with words that make me believe I deserve something other than death.

And again, the darkness of my heart exposed itself in ways that I had prayed for, my scales to fall off, to have eyes to see. It takes less than nine full seconds to shift from Godward hope to believing with my whole heart the lies of the enemy. How did I allow for satan’s voice to be louder than the gospel I know to be true, even when things around me are speaking the opposite?

The wilderness that I have felt merely circumstantial, merely other people’s fault, merely a season that will be over once those who have supposed power change what I believe is wrong, is not only this season of unknown future, but also a mirror into the treasures that have been worshipped for too long in the depths of my soul. This heart, this idol factory, has grasped and grasped and is found wanting although its hands are full of greed, malice, pride, lust, envy.

Lord, have mercy.

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We ended our sabbath with a sermon we missed on Daniel 3, with of course, unannounced veggie tales songs from my childhood interjecting here and there. God is always faithful to speak what we need to hear, regardless of whether or not we think we need it. My heart has testified a similar story, bowing down to the idols of our day, even if there’s no music to cue my false worship.

You become what you worship.

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.”
— Daniel 3:16-18

But, if not.

Here’s where it comes full circle, to the time where we take the bread and the wine and both say to one another, “It would have been enough.” Whatever the outcome may be, wilderness or highway, giving or taking away, the saving grace of His contraditional love He has given at great cost has been enough. When I am faithless, He is unchanging and faithful. Taste and see, that no matter the circumstances around, that the Lord is good. There is rest in these glorious truths.

In Him, there is no darkness at all.

Free of Me

Nothing is left untouched, unconsidered. These are the words I wrote at the top of my journal as I was remarkably thankful that our pastor was walking through Daniel 4, highlighting the seductive pride that doesn’t just befall Nebuchadnezzar, but all of us, and that I had the newly released “Free of Me” ready to read that very night. It’s like God knows exactly what He is doing.

On the way to church, I was processing with my husband a lot of the turmoil I have been in these past few months. I had turned introspective, which in some instances here, is a healthy thing, but was asking a multitude of questions that I felt I lacked clarity on due to potential blind spots. James, my husband, met me with a blind spot I didn’t expect. He simply stated what seemed to be obvious: “you have placed your identity in a person, allowing her to dictate your emotions, your day, even your calling. You have an idol.”

Although it stung, it rang quite true. I was looking for approval from someone other than Christ, and I wasn’t receiving it. I had taken these many wounds received instead as a curse, a marker to further self-deprecate and question. I have taken this season, this desert, and looked forever inwards and camped out on begging God for signs, miracles, answers. This wilderness doesn’t have the appearance of haughtiness, and yet, I was dripping in it. Instead of seeing this as a sign that something may have to die, I have cradled it in my arms, covering it in gold, and prayed for it.

We walked through this passage where we are met with the ego-maniac that rules over Babylon, the downfall that follows his ridiculous pride, and the gift of restoration, resurrection, found in this mere man's life.

At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever,
for his dominion is an everlasting dominion,
and his kingdom endures from generation to generation;
all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing,
and he does according to his will among the host of heaven
and among the inhabitants of the earth;
and none can stay his hand
or say to him, “What have you done?”
At the same time my reason returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my majesty and splendor returned to me. My counselors and my lords sought me, and I was established in my kingdom, and still more greatness was added to me. Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, for all his works are right and his ways are just; and those who walk in pride he is able to humble.
— Daniel 4:34-37

It stuck out to me like a sore thumb, the change of this prideful man seen in the words, “lifted my eyes to heaven.” It’s a tendency to disconnect, when we see something that we can’t fully understand in Scripture, for instance, the Israelites and their constant complaints when we know nothing of actually being thirsty in a desert (and didn’t you just a chapter ago walk through the Red Sea?), to not see what the Spirit may have for us here and now. We are worlds and cultures away from understanding, and yet, these words were given to us.

The answer to Nebuchadnezzar’s pride was not to boost his self-esteem while this dream was saying something otherwise. It was I AM. It was no longer introspection, navel gazing, but acknowledging the God of the Universe, lifting His eyes.

God has a plan infinitely bigger than our self-esteem. Our healing is only one piece of the puzzle, so we cannot settle for a gospel that has ‘personal satisfaction’ at its core. It’s counterintuitive, but this me-centered gospel cannot give us what we want. It only makes the burden bigger and our faith smaller.
That’s why God calls us into a bigger story. And strangely enough, the bigger story will give us the joy we seek. When we stop living for ourselves and live fully focused on God, we will encounter freedom and lightness like never before.
Of course, this is about more than living an abundant life. It’s also about the world, which needs the gospel now as much as ever. As wars rage, children are trafficked, families go hungry, and darkness runs wild, the world needs people full of courage, conviction, and action. And the enemy knows this, which is why he does everything in his power to keep us out of the mission and focused on ourselves. He paralyzes us with lies and insecurity, and sometimes he even enlists the church into his scheme. As long as he can keep our focus inward, he enjoys a minor victory.
Thankfully, we don’t have to choose between fulfillment and self-forgetfulness, or between the abundant life and the obedient one. We can have both in Christ. So I invite you to embrace the freedom of this bigger story. Don’t settle for a focus that is partially about Christ but mostly about you.
— Sharon Hodde Miller

It is not as if tomorrow you will find me eating grass on all fours, but when I consider myself as in control, shaking my fist, full of pride, I may as well be. The answer is to look up, see Christ high and lifted up, accept the gospel in its fullness by dying. Praise Him, give thanks, whether through tears of pain or joy, and watch as He comes to make you whole.

Today is book release day for the above quote, “Free of Me” by Sharon Hodde Miller. It has been a joy to read her book, to be reminded as the Spirit continues to prod my selfish heart to see Him in order that I may see clearly. He is the clarity we seek.

Bind my wandering heart to Thee.

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Magic Spells to a Genie

A failed hike as we stumbled upon the beauteous marsh that took over the North Country Trail and then back again to Sand Point started the slight bickering between us. Two months in, and my husband was thankful, yes, that I was honest about the struggles, but not so grateful that I continued to carry them, heavier than the day pack I was carrying at that present moment.

I wasn’t too keen on being called out.

Part of that reason is because a lot of it rang true. I remember us walking around a clear spot in the trail and James spouting out story after story of God’s great faithfulness in my life. In those moments where you can’t get out of the mud, find someone who is standing on solid ground.

My mood shifted from sad to worse, even as he is forcing me to remember, to recall even these few short years where we have been together and we have seen the Lord work wonder after wonder. He knows I’ve shut down. He knows I am blind, dirt covering my eyes. So he simply asks the question:

“Why can you not trust Him?”

This question sticks to me deeply. I still cannot shake it as we make it back, cooling off as James jumps full into the freezing cold Lake Superior water, and I just dip my toes. I have not wanted to make my prayers simply circumstantial, yet I have really avoided praying specifically, “let Your will be done.” I had preferred to take the whole, “ask, seek, knock,” and “the woman knocking on the door persistently,” approach, something I don’t mock and certainly won’t stop praying for, however, the lack of trust was showing itself in that I was persistently knocking, but doing so absent-mindedly, assuming that He would never answer the door.

I was really hoping that I wasn’t simply seeking just the gift, but my prayers had ended up doing exactly that.

This is not to say that God is some magic genie, and if I can just nail my prayers next time, He’ll definitely get me that x, y, and z I was looking for; but to say that I had been approaching it that way. If I knock like a crazy person, then obviously, He’ll come through, right? Only my theology was definitely getting in the way of that false view, shifting to some sort of religiosity that says that God definitely won’t open the door, but He may open the bathroom window to the left of the door if you can reach it, so keep knocking because then at least you’ll get something opened.

No, I can’t carry that weight.

James came out of the water, holding a bunch of rocks in his hand, starting to build little baby ebenezers, rocks of help. My eyes were still foggy from simply mistrust.

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We landed the next morning to pray, taking time to finish our oddly timed sabbath together in our favorite coffee shop in Traverse City. I had no more magic spells to offer up to this genie god I had made in my head, one I could potentially manipulate with wonderfully spun theology, perfectly crafted lament, and superb petitions. I wanted to seek the giver.

My prayers shifted. My petitions didn’t change, but in all of them, I prayed I would trust Him in those circumstances, in those in-betweens, in the life played out in the middle of the gray. These were prayers I could stake something on, lay burdens down, and stop manipulating my way through the rest. I am lacking trust, I am lacking sight for both what lies before me and what He had already brought me through.

It is miserable to continue to walk in total distrust of someone you are begging to save you, begging Him to come through.

Yet, how can I not trust Him?

We wrapped up our day after unpacking, loads of dirty laundry, hot showers, and of course, Pad Thai, by taking communion, taking time to repent, to remember. As my Husband thanked God for glimmers of great hope, he said the words, “it would have been enough.” We read the portion of Psalms for our day and prayed together pertinent words in the middle of the chaos that can feel crippling:

Teach me to go to you, cling to you, repent, and depend on you in my times of weakness, so that through you I can become truly strong. Amen.
— Timothy Keller, The Songs of Jesus

I believe; help my unbelief!

Blessing My Limits

Celebrating our anniversary in Portland was one of the best ideas by my husband for us, especially being the two most coffee/food snobs with a small budget in the universe. We also love a good hike, and so we made that a priority on Eagles Creek Trail by Mt. Hood.

One of the amazing things that this trail has are called the Punch Bowl Falls. In the lower “bowl,” you can jump in off of a short cliff into the freezing waters that are the falls. For the thrill seekers we are, that’s a no brainer. Here’s the catch: in order to get back up to where you fell from, you have to balance across a large log at an incline.

I looked at this log for about a solid twenty minutes, in fact, while my husband made no qualms about jumping right in and balancing his way back up to safety. I watched how wonderfully fun it would have been to be a part of the adventure, and I did not want to sit this one out. However, I knew with every fiber of my being that with the tremors that I have and the inability to not be shaky (my downfall in gymnastics), the jumping wasn’t a problem, but getting back up would be.

This may have been one of the first times I felt the pangs of missing out, having to say the words out loud, “I know I can not do this.”

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Fast forward now to just a couple months later, and I am fourteen credits left into finishing my Masters of Divinity. It’s amazing, being able to officially look at the finish line of something I have poured my life into, however, after spending the summer involved almost full time at work, I find myself itching. I leave home in the morning not coming back until the day is done having not gone to work, but gone to school instead. I get emails on what is happening, the amazing meetings I am missing out on, and even some new opportunities that I wish I could put all my energy and yes into.

There is a great gift in being human and not being God, and some of them are found in knowing that you are not everything to everybody, that you are not able to do all things, that your no will potentially serve someone better than your yes, including yourself, that you are not able to be everywhere at all times, that you have limits.

I’ve thought a lot lately about what it looks like to live a reordered life, a life that looks like trust and peace in Christ and His work past, present, and future. As I have said a wholehearted yes too many times, as my husband's work grows, so does our anxiety and the night hours filled with work. We thank God, as these opportunities are also great blessings, the extra work an answer to prayer. However, the non-recognition of the disordered loves is revealing, so the new formation of our lives a necessity.

From Saturday night church on to our feast on Sunday night, we are now taking time to Sabbath. This was more difficult than we both expected, with the temptation lurking around every corner to quickly send an email we forgot to send or finally having that energy to do what needed to be done yesterday and not being able to do it. It also took a lot of thoughtfulness to not have our time together not working to be one where we were simply “lazy;” our time together needed to be marked not simply by not working, but remembrance.

It’s remarkable how God moves when you decide to follow Him. We too often take for granted simple obedience.

I have been lamenting this season, this season of what happens with that light at the end of the tunnel, this season of what happens when the student loans hit our family, this season of recognizing my limitations and wanting to do everything. I have been lamenting not being able to hear Him clearly, while also lamenting how often I forget, how often I am blind, how often I continue to depend on myself.

In our limits, He has been on the move.

Over our feast, we took the time to talk about how we remember God being faithful to us during this past week, how we are grateful, how God is good. Before I could utter many lamentations, words flooded out of me about how these many petitions I have piled up literally daily, hourly, before our Father in Heaven have answered my prayer of wanting Him to make sure I was dependent, of wanting a better life filled with prayer. It feels like I am missing out, like adventure is just around the corner and here I am in a classroom, or here I am just waiting on something to come through because it feels like God is keeping me down.

What God is doing is listening to my prayers, calling me to Himself, asking if I will continue to beg the circumstances to be my peace or if I will allow Him to be that shalom, shalom.

We took communion together, from the cup that two years ago we took from as we made a covenant of our wedding vows with the Lord. A new rhythm, a new reordering, that sometimes feels less than convenient. Yet, we remembered, not only what God has done this past week, but what He has done to redeem us to Himself. We took the bread and wine, albeit, two buck chuck from Trader Joes, and read aloud these words:  

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
— Psalm 103:1-5