Mining For More Than Rubies.

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If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not he who guards your life know it? (Proverbs 24:12)

If you’re looking for something fun to do on a hot summer day, why not spend fifty bucks on a pail of dirt and see what you can find? This was our thought process the other day as we discussed our options with kids in the mountains of Western North Carolina.

We had already floated down Deep Creek on tubes, twice. We had already eaten barbecue three times. We had already kayaked, swam, and floated in life jackets in a freezing cold lake. One thing we hadn’t done…ruby mining.

So we took the kids, doled out the cash, and hauled a giant bucket of dirt over to a wooden trough to be sifted.

Three miners lined up ready, as Tom and I poured one shovelful after another into their metal strainers. Dirt turned to mud, and gems were found. Each treasure more exciting than the next. And it was really, really fun.

Ruby mining in the mountains kind of reminds me of what it’s like to read the Proverbs. The entire book espouses the search for wisdom, the benefits of mining this vital life treasure. Yet the book itself feels a bit random to me, each little nugget entirely different from the one before. Like gems, rocks, treasures to be found, each one unique.

This morning, while sifting through yet another chapter of this treasure trove of a book, I came upon this gem…he who guards your life. There it sat. Hidden in the context of the verse before, which talks about rescuing someone being led away to death. Buried in the midst of mounds of others verses, five words to comfort my soul.

You see, I often pretend to have a lot of wisdom. I have all sorts of plans. I know where my life is headed, and exactly what I’m going to do, and it’s all sorted out. But the truth is, in my heart of hearts I know, I have no idea about my life.

I thought by now, I would really know. But life is a giant journey of figuring it out as you go. And there’s so much I have yet to figure.

About following Jesus. About parenting. About how to really love people. About how to be humble and selfless. About how to be a good friend. About how to love my neighbor. About how to really love and support my husband. About this life God has given to me.

When I’m honest with myself, I realize I know so little. I pray, I seek God, I try to listen to His voice. But most times I’m still guessing at His will. And I make so many mistakes. Way more mistakes than I’d like to admit.

And so I love these five words dug out of Proverbs, hidden within a rather obscure verse that says, I know nothing. But God perceives everything. And this One who perceives everything, guards my life. Guards your life. As we seek Him, He guards us. He keeps us, in all our not-knowing.

So I pray, God, I am counting on you. I am counting on you as a parent my kids, as I relate to my husband. I am counting on you to guide and guard and help me. I am counting on you as I interact with neighbors, friends, those that I love. I am counting on your grace to guard me with a love that protects me, even from my own foolishness.

I am counting on you, Lord, as I make decisions. Big and small decisions all the time. And I’m trying to hear from you, but figuring out your will and desire for me is tricky and sometimes I feel like I’m just guessing. But I’m so wanting what you want for me, so I’m counting on you to guard my decisions.

Oh, Lord, I’m counting on you to guard my life. I know nothing, Lord, so I’m counting on you.

I will follow the wisdom of Proverbs, and keep seeking out wisdom itself. For…

…wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her. (Proverbs 8:11)

But still, I’m figuring it out as I go. So I find comfort in these five gems I recently found, for they are wisdom themselves. He who guards your life.

As I figure things it, I’m so grateful there is One who perceives all, who looks out for me, guiding me, guarding my life. Because I know that He’s good. And a good guard is the very best kind.

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My kids did find some real treasures that day. Caleb dug out a good-sized ruby. Micah found a large emerald. And Sophie discovered a big hunk of sapphire. But, you know what was strange? They didn’t look like gems at all. They just looked like rocks, rocks that you could just trip over and never know the difference.

What makes them really valuable is the cutting, the polishing, the fine tuning of a jeweler who makes them shine with their true essence.

And that’s what I’m counting on for my life. Although I may be dull, and uncertain, and know very little. The One who guards my life is guiding, helping, shaping my story into something that will shine, by His grace, into its true essence. Exactly as He determined it to be.

What about you?

Where do you need wisdom in your life today?

Does it comfort you to know that God guards your life?

Is it a gem for your soul to know He perceives all?

A Smorgasbord of Mattering.

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When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” (John 6:12)

The members of my family are not really fans of leftovers. They prefer freshly made fare. I, however, am not a fan of wasting. And so I often become Chief of the Leftovers’ Police. Like my dad once did, I’ll declare, “It’s must go’s night!”

So our kitchen table becomes a smorgasbord of all the “must go’s,” many of which do not in the least complement one another. But there’s a certain satisfaction with finishing off leftovers and knowing nothing is wasted.

I feel the same way about my life. I don’t like the feeling that the things of my life are wasted. I don’t like it when my life feels random or meaningless or wasteful. I want my life to feel purposeful, meaningful, useful. I want to know that it matters. I wonder if you do too?

And so it’s a great comfort to me to read these words of Jesus, “Let nothing be wasted.” Because, apparently, Jesus didn’t like waste either. Here he’s fed a feast to five thousand, more than enough for each. And wants nothing to be wasted. Does that not astound you, as it does me?

I mean, this is the God of the Universe. Everything is at His disposal. He can pray 5,000 more loaves and 10,000 more fish into being in a moment. And yet, He says, let nothing be wasted. It’s as if He finds great value in what He’s created. His works matter to Him, and He wants them to be used.

That’s a great comfort to me when I look at my life. Because sometimes life feels like this big, messy smorgasbord, and nothing seems to fit together. It’s confusing and convoluted, and the ways of God are beyond searching out. And I just want to say, “What are you doing with me, Lord? What is your plan?”

And then I hear Jesus say, “Let nothing be wasted.” And I begin to trust that He knows what He’s doing. That somehow what looks like a  messy smorgasbord of a life to me is actually part of a divine plan that wastes nothing.

Life is full of seasons. Seasons of doing this, doing that. And in certain seasons, certain parts of us take first place. A mother of a newborn concerns herself with very little other than sustaining the life of this precious little one, and surviving severe sleep deprivation. All else is put on hold.

A student in college primarily concerns herself with cramming for exams and preparing for a career. A retiree sets all aside for the joy of traveling, enjoying hobbies, taking up their passions, like my dad landscaping his yard just for fun, not because he was once a landscape architect. Or my mother-in-law volunteering at three different local non-profits, only because she enjoys serving and meeting new people.

It’s rare to live a season of life where all of us is expressed, where every part of who God has made us shows itself. And so we take what comes with each season, in trust and gratitude, offering ourselves back to Him, wherever He has us.

I’m in a season of mommy hood. This long stretch of my life is devoted primarily to parenting and raising my kids. And that’s an honor. That’s a gift. That’s a great joy to me.

But there are whole parts of me that seem to be lying dormant. There are whole aspects of who I am that aren’t being expressed, and I wonder if they ever will be. There are experiences and education and passions inside of me that seem to be frittering away, wasted. And I long to be used.

So how do we patiently wait? How do we trust that in life’s varying seasons, it all still matters, even when certain parts of ourselves are not being expressed?

In one week, my grandmother will turn 97 years old. In this season of her life, there is very little she can do, and I would guess she’s feeling ready to meet the Lord. There is no one on this planet that has lived a more full life than my Grandma Bull.

She has done just about everything, too much to contain in this writing. She never held a formal job or had a career that I know of. Yet she did more than anyone I’ve ever met. She has been a firecracker of a woman.

She led the church choir, supported her husband in life and politics, traveled the world, raised two boys. Planted gardens, sewed, knitted, canned fruits and vegetables, made homemade jam, and hosted events for hundreds. She is smart and funny and so capable. There is truthfully little she did not do or does not know about.

So now, at 97, how does she believe that it all mattered, that nothing was wasted? Truthfully, the most she can offer this world, in this season, is a kind word, a simple joke, or a smile to the nurse who cares for her. She can offer a look of love and devotion to her Lord. In this season, this is all she has to give.

But I believe our creator God doesn’t just look at a moment or a season. He looks at the whole of her life and the beautiful story He’s created. A life that mattered and still matters. It matters as a whole, and it matters in each and every season. Nothing is wasted.

Do you ever wonder how God will use things He’s invested in you, like training and education and experiences and wisdom you’ve gained over the years? Do you ever worry that these things will be wasted?

Will you join me in taking heart today? Will you take heart in a God who gathers up all the pieces of our lives, collects them, and is able to use to all? Will you believe that though there are seasons in our lives where we may feel more or less useful, it all matters to Him?

Because He is a God who finds great value in what He’s created, and He’s created you, He’s created me. And He’s also created all the life experiences and training and wisdom He’s invested in us. His works matter to Him. We matter to Him. And He wants us to be used.

He didn’t invest in us for nothing. Even when it doesn’t seem to make sense, remember…

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:9)

He knows what He’s doing. And in the very next line…

As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:9)

The very word of God spoke each of our lives into being, and He’s a God of purpose. Our lives won’t return to Him empty, but will accomplish the purposes for which He created us, in each and every season.

Every few Saturdays as a kid, my dad had his own unique way of using up all the must-go’s in the fridge. He loved to cook using no recipe, only his own creativity. So he threw it all in the pot. All the green beans, hot dogs, tomato sauce, corn, onions, spices. Whatever he found in the fridge, it all went in.

And, at first, it didn’t seem to go together. It all seemed like a convoluted mess, and my siblings and I would protest. But over time, what started out as leftover soup, became “Dad’s Soup.” And we actually started to like it.

It no longer felt like a big mishmash of stuff from the fridge, it became a warm, comforting soup from my childhood, when it was all put together.

If my dad can do that with hotdogs and green beans, I really believe that God can make something of this mixed-up life of mine. Of this  mixed up life of yours. When it all seems like a mishmash, and the seasons of life don’t make sense, let’s trust together that our creative God knows what He’s doing in our lives. And He can bring it all together for good.

When seen as a whole, like my grandmother reflecting back on her many years on this earth, we will see that it is very good. It is very purposeful. It all matters.

With every season, there is purpose. It may not all be used at once, but He’ll gather up all the leftovers and preserve them for the perfect time. And all put together, we’ll take great heart in seeing what the Lord has created with these lives of ours. It will all matter. Because He wants nothing to be wasted.

What about you?

What does your season of life look like now?

What are the things in your life that you worry may be wasted?

Can you give those back to God, trusting that He will use all the parts of you He’s created, in His time?

 

 

 

 

The Best Kind of Raging.

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Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29)

Driving my daughter to volleyball camp one morning, I had my own personal encounter with road rage. I wasn’t quite sure where I was going, so I slowed down to look, and then turned right. The problem was, I forgot to signal.

My unfortunate mistake was quickly met with an extended blaring of a horn behind me, to which I responded with a conventional, apologetic wave into the rear-view mirror. Apparently, my wave wasn’t enough.

A car followed me into the parking lot, waiting for me to stop. As soon as Sophie and I got out, he let me have it. “Learn how to drive, lady!” “How can you drive like that with a child in the car?” “You almost caused an accident!”

No matter how much I insisted that I really wasn’t interested in his opinion of my driving–or my parenting–he wouldn’t stop. He just kept raging. Until finally, he made a u-turn, and headed off to work (or wherever he was going), offering one final expletive. And that was it.

This was how I started my day. Thank you very much, Mr. Man-in-the-Black-Car. Appreciate it.

In his book, Desire, John Eldredge suggests that road rage is a result of our unmet desires, when he writes…

The life we have is far from the life we truly want, and it doesn’t take us long to find someone to blame. 

I’m not sure if Eldredge is right, but Mr. Man-in-the-Black-Car definitely had the desire to give me a piece of his mind. And it left me feeling shell-shocked, trying to recover into a better day. Off-kilter, searching to find my feet again.

Now, before I go giving Mr. Man-in-the-Black-Car too hard of a time, let me be the first to admit that I’ve had some moments of rage myself. The straw that broke the camel’s back fell right in front of some poor, unsuspecting victim, and I’ve let them have it, much to my regret.

In a McDonald’s drive through line. On vacation in a hot tub. No, seriously, I got in an argument with an ex-Navy Seal in a hot tub. (My poor husband had to undo that one.)

Walking my dog. I screamed at a neighbor I’d never met, and her three dogs. It’s amazing the amount of rage that can come from dog-to-dog interactions. And then throw in my three kids, and I’m all fussed up. I came the next day with flowers and apologies, my tail between my legs.

Yes, I’m as guilty of rage as the next person. Hot-tub rage. Drive-through rage. Walking-my-dog rage. And I wonder, is it a result of unmet desire, as Eldredge posits? Or is it just a direct result of me being a broken person with a  sin problem, living in a world of sin, with a bunch of other broken, sinful people?

I’m a follower of Jesus, the One who said, “blessed are the peacemakers.” (Matthew 5:9) I believe in a God who is slow to anger and rich in love. (Psalm 145:8) And yet I find myself at times so poor in love and full of anger. What am I so fussed up about?

Jesus said…

A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart… For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Luke 6:45)

Which makes me ask, what is my heart full of? Frustration. Selfishness. My own agenda. Pride. Defensiveness. Self-righteousness. Arrogance. Ambition.

And the list goes on.

Brennan Manning used to say that with every encounter on any given day we have an opportunity. An opportunity to either build up or tear down. A chance to either encourage or discourage. With every, single person we meet, in every single context. Every single moment of every single day.

I’m always reminding my kids to build up, build up, build up. I’ll say to them, “Pretend there’s a trap door over your mouth, and it will only allow out the good things, the things that encourage.”

Yet I’ve had to go to those same kids and apologize for things I’ve spoken in anger and frustration. Apparently, my own trap door was malfunctioning.

I don’t really know the reason for my rage, for the rage of this world. I don’t know if it’s unmet desire, or sin itself, or a combination of the two. But I do know this. I want to change what I’m storing up in my heart.

Instead of rushing from one thing to the next, storing up frustration and living for my own agenda, I want to slow down. I want to gather up gratitude and store up joy. I want to let the peace of Christ rule in my heart, the peace that only He can give.

I want that trap door in front of my mouth to actually work. I want to leave people better for having been with me. My family, my friends, my neighbors, the guy in the hot tub. The lady in the McDonald’s line.

But I need help. We need help. Because we’re all broken people living in a broken world, bumping into each other all over the place. Raging against each other at every turn.

And so I pray for more grace. More grace that comes from having been with the Savior who actually lived with a real trap door over his mouth, never having sinned, never malfunctioning, never messing up.

And so I count on His forgiveness when my trapdoor malfunctions, and also on the fact that He’s not done with me yet, not done with you yet, not done with Mr. Man-in-the-Black-Car yet.

And He did His own kind of raging for you, for me. Knowing that we malfunction, He raged against sin itself. Yet He did it in a way that is totally other. He raged against rage by taking rage onto Himself.

All of our sin. All of our malfunctions. All of our bumping up against one another in anger. He took it all on the cross. He raged for the ragers, that we can have hope, that we can have forgiveness. That we can have life in His name.

He was a like a sheep led to the slaughter; yet He did not open His mouth. (Isaiah 53:7) His trap door never malfunctioned. He lived a perfect life and died a sinner’s death, all to rage against the patterns of this world, and redeem it all.

In power, He raged by not raging at all. And it was the best kind of raging.

(And, Mr. Man-In-the-Black-Car, if you’re reading this, I really am sorry.)

What about you?

Have you surprised yourself with moments of unexpected anger?

How can you leave others better off today for having been with you?

 

A Sack of Worries for Goggles of Adoration.

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That is our whole purpose, brothers, to adore God and to love Him, without worrying about the rest. ~Brother Lawrence

But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:33)

It was as clear a picture as if I were watching a movie. I sat praying and saw an image in my mind. In this image, I knelt on the ground, with a large, ugly burlap sack before me. And I was staring at it. Just staring at this sack. I had been staring at this sack for a long, long time.

It was a giant bundle, tied in several places, but it was so big that I couldn’t see around it. Until, in my mind’s eye, I felt compelled to reach out my arm and slide it aside. It was big and bulky and rough, so it took a lot of effort to do so. But, eventually I moved it from before me. Only to reveal the figure of Jesus awaiting me behind where it had stood.

Glorious. Beautiful. Welcoming. Lovely. Jesus.

Upon seeing His face, I thought, “Why would I ever choose to stare at this ugly, unappealing thing, rather than at the glory, the wonder, the beauty of my Lord? Why have I been staring at this unpleasant thing for so, so long?

When we stare at something, we worry about it. We fixate on it. We wonder about it. We re-route our entire lives to make it happen, to try to control it, to think our way through it. When we stare at something, it starts to own us.

And that’s why Jesus, when speaking about worry, says to seek first His kingdom and His righteousness. He says to seek Him first, because then we look at the things of our life through the lens of Him.

Through trust and faith and peace and all the assurance that He gives. Seek first His kingdom. And all else will be taken care of. This is the promise He makes.

But so often I get it wrong. I wonder if you do too? I have it so out of whack, and I’m looking at my life first, and all the things that matter to me. I’m staring at my worries, a whole sack full of worries, that become dull and weighty and bring me down.

So, I try to drag these heavy burdens to Him, but it’s too much to carry. And my worries own me. They consume me. They are a big bundle of ugly burlap that sits with me, occupying all my attention.

Before I know it, I can no longer see His face. All I see is this burdensome sack of my own making. So, I begin to wonder, how do I look at my life differently?

Last summer my youngest son discovered the novelty of goggles. These simple, little, underwater spectacles opened up a whole new world for Micah. He would beckon me to the pool, and then suggest, “Hey, mom, let’s look at each other underwater!”

He could do that over and over again without getting bored with it. Just looking at each other underwater. And, of course, we looked so silly. Hair swaying back and forth, cheeks all puffed up. But it was still so fun to look. He loved to just look.

Part of the wonder of underwater looking is the complete and total lack of distraction. It’s a silent world where nothing inhibits just the looking. All is quiet, apart from just seeing each other.

In some small way, that’s what it’s like to really look at Jesus. To adore Him in a quiet place, where there’s nothing else apart from the beauty of this Lord who loves and accepts us like no other. And it feels safe.

It’s what Brother Lawrence talks about when he says, “This is our whole purpose…without worrying about the rest.” Singular focus. An adoration and fixation that causes us to look upon Him alone, and let everything else take second place. That’s how I want to look at my life.

Now back to the sack. If I were to open that sack, I know exactly what’s inside. The thing is, the stuff in there has so occupied my mind that I’m actually tired of thinking about it. I’m sick of my own stuff.

And that’s why it’s ugly and unappealing and so unattractive. So, why oh why, do I keep starting at it? Why do I keep dragging it along?

I long to get away–like Micah and me underwater–to a quiet place and leave all the stuff behind. I long to figure out how to make Jesus so much the focus of my heart, that everything else seems to fade into the background, where I trust that he has it.

So, now, when I think of that image from my mind’s eye, I think of it differently. It’s me kneeling there before the wonder of Jesus, focused like Micah with his goggles. And there’s comfort and peace and safety.

And behind Him, there’s this big burlap sack. It’s a sack full of all of the stuff I’ve given to Him, as I’ve chosen to stare at Him alone. The sack holds all the things that I think give me life and purpose and joy.

But now I see it for what it is, just a sack of worries. A sack of ambition. A sack of dreams of my own making. And I’m tired of trying to make things happen.

So I’m doing a divine exchange. I’m giving over that sack for something so much better. I’m choosing to trust Jesus and seek His kingdom, His way for my life, believing that one by one, He’ll pull out the things in that sack and give them back to me, if they are truly what’s best for me.

And the things that are not best, He’ll discard. But that’s okay. Because looking into eyes of love, focused like Micah and me underwater, I can trust.

And those things He does return to me will be better for having been in His hands. My whole life will be better, as it is carried in His hands.

And like Micah, so enthralled with the novelty of this new way of looking, everything will look different. Everything, even the hard things, will look better in the light of this new One I’m staring at.

What about you?

What are the things that occupy your mind and your heart?

Can you choose to move them aside today and look first to Jesus?

Can you trust, with me, that He has all that stuff?

Guarding a Wellspring With More Than a Sponge.

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Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it. (Proverbs 4:23)

Flipping through the channels, over and over again. Trying to find something funny, something uplifting, something to help me unwind. Finally, I settle on a re-run of a sitcom I’ve seen at least five times. And I notice I feel sad and wonder why.

Until I think back to what I just flipped through…

Twenty-Day Fix, the latest weight loss and exercise fad. Botched, a show about plastic surgery gone wrong. Older Women Losing Weight, ugh. Just ugh. The Seven Year Switch, a program about getting bored or frustrated with your spouse, and choosing to switch spouses. Really?

Most of us, if we’re honest, spend  time watching TV. It’s the thing I do after I finally get the kids in bed, ready to relax. A whole day and I’m finally ready to relax. And I don’t want to think. I don’t want to expend even an ounce more energy.

I grab a glass of milk, a 100-calorie pack of cookies, put my feet up and look for something good on TV. I literally do this every single night. Because I like routine, and I want to shut my mind off.

But there’s a problem with the message that much of our culture tells us, a message that comes predominantly through television. And if we’re not careful, even the things we don’t watch can weigh us down. Just flipping past them is enough.

They tell us there’s something in us that needs fixing, and we better fix it, preferably in twenty days. They tell us if that doesn’t work, surgery is an option, but watch out, or it might get botched.

They tell us we better hurry, because every day we’re getting older, and older women really have a hard time losing weight. So, we’re getting older and heavier every day.

They tell us with each year that passes, we get more boring, or our spouse does, and so it’s time to move on. It’s really time to switch.

And suddenly our heart doesn’t feel like a well-spring of life. It feels like a weighed-down anvil. And the beauty and wonder and  miracle of who we are is reduced to something far less valuable. Something that needs fixing. And we become our own self-improvement project.

That’s why it says in Proverbs to guard your heart. Because there are all sorts of messages coming at it all the time, when we least expect it, and we just want to put our feet up and enjoy our 100-calorie pack of cookies, for Pete’s Sake.

Imagine setting a sentry before your heart that won’t let anything in that brings you down. He stands there at attention, inspects everything that tries to enter, allowing only the good stuff in. And that’s exactly what we need; it’s exactly what we’re to do.

So, why don’t we?

I don’t think I have a sentry standing before my heart. I think I have more of a sponge, like my kids’ favorite, Spongebob Squarepants. And he’s silly and goofy and just soaks up everything that wants to come in, until I’m sitting there weighed down with all I’ve soaked up.

And I should be so much smarter; I should know better. Because I know myself.

I have a history of struggling with issues of body image, since I was a very young girl. And though I have come so far, and God has healed so much, there are still remnants of this struggle in me.

Perfectionism in the form of body image is a harsh taskmaster. Because there’s no time  when you reach the goal, the weight, the fitness level, that satisfies perfectionism. Even the perfect body would not satisfy a perfectionist.

So, I have to guard this part of my heart. I can’t just watch anything and everything that comes my way. I have to know what triggers this struggle in me, and keep my heart safe. I have to kick Spongebob to the curb and tell the sentry inside of me to stop any intruder that pushes this particular button.

And so, I ask you, what are your buttons? What are the things you have to guard your heart from? What are the things that are not beneficial to you?

As Paul writes…

 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. (1 Corinthians 10:23)

For me, shows about plastic surgery and weight loss aren’t beneficial; they aren’t constructive. Sure, I have the freedom to watch them, but if I am to guard my heart, I should flip right past these.

Because you and I are more than a number on a scale. We are more than our dress size or the shape of our bodies. We are fearfully and wonderfully made by a God who knows infinitely more than we can imagine. And He likes how He made us. But you won’t find that message flipping through most channels.

I came across a quote when I was thirteen years old that I soon memorized. It goes something like this…

I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been thought about, born in God’s thought, and then made by God is the dearest, grandest, and most precious thing in all thinking. ~George MacDonald

God chose to make us just as we are, and He loves who we are. And that’s why He warns us to guard our hearts. Know yourself and what your buttons are. Don’t be a sponge that allows just anything in.

Today, will you guard your heart? Will you allow in the things that bring you life, real life in Christ? Will you ruthlessly kick the other things to the curb?

Will you tell yourself the truth about who you are and reject the lies that come your way? Will you choose a sentry instead of a sponge?

And I will too.

In fact, tonight I’ll grab my 100-calorie pack of cookies, pour my milk, and watch something edifying. When I don’t want to think, I’ll choose something that makes me laugh and is completely mindless, in a good way. I think I’ll choose something beneficial, something constructive. Something like…Spongebob.

What about you?

What are the things that push buttons in you and trip you up?

What are the things that bring you life and joy and make you the best version of who you are?

 

 

 

Quiet Life, Constant Conversation.

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But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. (Luke 5:16)

“This is a good place for a quiet life,” Tom remarks to me as we make our way down yet another winding road, sandwiched between green, open fields. Having spent the day visiting various waterfalls in the area, our rental van twists and turns down a seemingly endless stretch of open, still road. And I think about what it means to live quietly.

It’s a long way from Los Angeles to our vacation spot in Tuckasegee, North Carolina, where the nearest Wal-Mart is a 45 minute drive. It’s not really the distance from our rental home in the woods to the nearest groceries; it’s those winding, twisting roads that seem to take forever.

In LA, I’ve become familiar with freeways that seem to teleport you from one spot to the next, given there’s no traffic. And so, as we wind along, I can’t seem to still the restlessness in me.

I’ve grown impatient. My life is noisy. My days are rushed. And I’m having trouble slowing down. I’ve grown so accustomed to the rushing. I wonder if you have too?

I wonder if Jesus sometimes felt the same way. For He often withdrew to lonely places. When he was sad. Or in danger. Or mourning a loss. When they wanted to control Him, or make Him king, not knowing that He already was. When He wanted to be with His disciples. Or needed to pray. He withdrew.

There has never been, nor will there ever be, anyone to walk this planet with a greater mission, a greater purpose, a more important life than Jesus Christ. And yet He withdrew. He lived quietly. How then, can we not?

I’ve been re-reading a familiar classic written about a famous 17th century follower of Jesus named Brother Lawrence. A soldier turned monk, Brother Lawrence devoted the last forty years of his life to withdrawing. He withdrew in order to commune with God’s loving grace, and engage in “the continuous practice of the presence of God, which he described as a quiet, familiar conversation with Him.”

While doing menial tasks in the monastery’s kitchen, he conversed in his soul with God. He did all for the love of God. And every time he “left” the presence of God, he brought himself back. His singular goal, to remain in God’s presence. And the joy he felt was noticeable, palpable, radiant.

Writing of his own experience, Brother Lawrence said that in these quiet conversations, dwelling in God’s presence, “he has established such a sweet communion with the Lord that his spirit abides, without much effort, in the restful peace of God. In this center of rest, he is filled with a faith that equips him to handle anything in this life.”

Restful peace. Quiet. Yet constant conversation.

And I think again about Jesus retreating to lonely places and realize they weren’t really lonely at all. For He was with the Father. Quiet and alone, and yet in a constant conversation.

Before making our way to North Carolina, our family stopped at a present-day monastery in Conyers, GA. Another place to reflect on a quiet life. Here twenty-one Trappist Monks retreated in 1944 and built a massive, concrete church and a new community of faith. Today forty monks dwell together to live, work, and pray.

And make fudge, biscotti, and fruit cake. And design and construct stained glass. So simple. So desirable. So quiet.

As we walked the grounds, again it was quiet. (Except for my children, who also seemed to be in constant conversation.) And I longed to still the restlessness in me.

It seems that the Lord is calling me into quiet. Could he be calling you too?

The more quiet around me, the more I sense the restlessness in me. And I want to retreat. I want to retreat from quiet and get busy again. Because busy is comfortable. Noisy is pleasantly distracting. And activity feels productive.

But I feel God calling me to another way. Just this morning, surrounded by a canopy of trees as I prayed on the back deck, I sensed this invitation…

Don’t despise the quiet. Enter in.

Retreat–not to activity–but to me. Withdraw that you may enter in. Find a lonely place where you can commune with me, and know me as I know you. And it won’t be lonely at all.

And then begin a constant conversation. Like my kids who talk and talk and talk, yet this  conversation happens in my soul. So that no matter what I am doing, I am maintaining a dialogue with God. Asking for His help. Acknowledging His presence. Listening to His voice. Returning to Him. Always returning to Him.

And letting Him love me. In any and every moment, I can let Him love me. I can be with and in His love. And like Brother Lawrence, I can abide in the restful peace of God. Not a restless rushing. But a restful peace. And so be equipped to face what comes in this life.

I’m slowly learning to slow down. I’m slowly learning to withdraw to quiet, and then let myself continue in quiet. Not  “do my devotions,” check off my list, and then rush off to the next thing. But understand why Jesus withdrew, and how I can withdraw. And how I can enter in, and then remain quiet in my soul. Even as I’m active.

Today, let’s remain stilled by His love. Let’s start a constant conversation. Let’s let Him love us. Because, withdrawing to lonely places where the presence of God dwells, we’ll find they’re the least lonely places of all.

(And if you’re ever in Conyers, GA, stop by The Monastery of the Holy Spirit, and pick up some fudge. With walnuts. It’s worth retreating for.)

What about you?

Do you find it hard to retreat and slow down?

Is God calling you to enter into His quiet, His presence?

Could you start a quiet conversation even in the midst of a busy life?

 

 

 

Faithful, Impactful Droplets.

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His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ (Matthew 25:21)

Micah smirks at me as he plants himself underneath a single drip of water. A drip that splats onto his head again and again, eventually soaking his hair, his face, the entire back of his t-shirt. And he thinks it’s so funny.

We’re standing beneath a giant waterfall, cascading over us. Dubbed “Dry Falls,” this spectacular sight in Western North Carolina allows visitors to walk under an arch of water without actually getting wet. Unless you’re like Micah, and you think it’s funny to get splattered repeatedly by that single, striking drop.

Lately I’ve been thinking about small things, and how they can add up to really big things, like Micah’s single drop, which adds up to many drops, which results in a silly, water-soaked five-year old. Who would think that little drop, felt enough times, could eventually drench a person?

You see, my whole life I’ve wanted to do something big. I wonder if you have to? From a young age, I’ve bought into the idea that, “You can do anything you put your mind to…” And it’s become somewhat of a weight on me.

I’ve taken personality tests. Tests of my spiritual gifts. Even tests that assess my “strengths.” And all this has been very helpful, except for one thing. Tests like these and ideas like, “You can do anything you put your mind to,” can begin to make you feel like you need to be big, like some giant waterfall.

And if the impact you make on this world isn’t a gushing, giant impact, well, you might as well have not made an impact at all. You start to feel like you must, you have to, it’s pertinent that you do something really, really big.

But what if your life is little more than a drop in the creek? What if your life is really quite small? Then what? Do you really matter? Does it really matter?

And then I read the story that Jesus tells, about the master who goes on a journey and leaves his servants with certain talents or bags of gold, as some translations describe it.

To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. (Matthew 25:15)

The master entrusts the servants with his wealth, much like God entrusts us with our own talents, gifts, strengths, spiritual gifts. And the master asks only one thing, that the servants invest the wealth, not waste it. Not bury it.

The first two servants do well with the little they’ve been given. They use it, invest it. And it pays dividends. The third servant, out of fear, hides the wealth in the ground. He buries it; he wastes it.

And you know how the story goes. The first two servants are commended for their faithfulness. They celebrate with the master. For they are faithful with little. And it adds up to much more.

Like drops of water that become a soaking.

Studying Dry Falls that day, you know what I noticed? A waterfall with a lasting impact, striking the creek below with notable force, is really just made up of millions and millions of tiny droplets. Very, very small things.

And I think again about that little drop on Micah’s head, splattering over and over again. And I ponder what faithfulness looks like in a life like mine, a life like yours.

And here’s what I conclude. Faithfulness to the gifts the Master has given us is nothing more than many very small things. God’s not asking us to be great. He’s not asking us to do something huge. He’s not asking us to make a lasting impact in one fell swoop.

He’s simply asking, like the master in the parable, to be faithful in the small. Over and over again, like tiny drops falling on Micah’s head, like millions of little droplets that make a giant, lasting, striking waterfall of a life.

The small things you do, day in and day out, like…

Changing a diaper. Cooking a meal for a neighbor. Buying a sandwich for the man on the corner. Cleaning a toilet.

Visiting the sick. Praying for a friend. Smiling at the grocer.

Providing for your family. Showing up to work, with a smile. Inviting a friend to church. Tucking your child in at night.

They are worship. They are tiny droplets that seem small, but add up to something big. They add up to a life, a symphony, of faithfulness.

I once read that God doesn’t need us to do anything big. Jesus already did something big on the cross. So that we wouldn’t need to, so that we wouldn’t have to.

And, as my friend Kathy often reminds me, “You don’t have to be fabulous, just faithful.”

And your life will add up to something great. Because our God is a creative God who creates great things. Like waterfalls. And Micah. And cascades that fall over you without really getting you wet.

In heaven’s economy, faith looks like a little mustard seed. And it can move mountains. And the kingdom of heaven belongs to a small child. And the sower sows small seeds that, in fertile soil, add up to rich lives. In heaven’s economy, small is not bad at all; it’s really, really good.

So find your small things today. Forget about having to do something big and great. Don’t bury your small things by considering them too small. They matter. You matter.

And one day, the Master will say to us, “Well done. You have been faithful with a few things…come and share in your Master’s happiness!” And the celebration will feel like a cascade of droplets, adding up to a waterfall of faithfulness in our lives.

If only we could see our droplets like that, all added together. We would see they have lasting impact. Striking impact. That together all these small things really do add up to something great.

What about you?

What are the unique gifts God has given to you, the small things that can make a lasting impact?

How can you be faithful in the small today?