"I count myself one of the number of those who write as they learn and learn as they write." ~St. Augustine

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A Bitter, bitter cup

A full, overflowing cup of pain, sickness and sin.  A cup full of rebellion, apathy, and hatred.  A cup full of stench, slime, and darkness I can hardly imagine.  This is the cup He was asked, intended, sent to drink.  This cup, this disgusting cup, is what my Jesus wrestled with the Father about that lonely night. He must drink it. 
...he fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me..." (Matthew 26:39)

When I really look--- I mean really take a long, thoughtful gaze---at my sin, it deeply grieves me.  The sin in my husband's life, my kids' hearts, and the sin in my friends... these too can bring a heaviness that sickens my soul.  I can just smell our sin and feel unwell.  And, I only have a taste, one small waft, of the stench of our sinful hearts.

My Jesus drank deep from this cup.

My sinful tendencies, habits, attitudes, thoughts and actions fill the cup that Jesus chose to drink that dark night in the Garden.
And, oh!, am I so glad He did.

Tricia Rhodes, in her book Contemplating the Cross, asks me to think for a moment, "Try for a moment to imagine the cup the Father holds out. Look into it.  What do you see?" and then she invites me to ponder further, "What would your life hold today had Jesus dashed the cup to the ground, refusing to drink it's bitter dregs?  Don't rush with this question.  Evaluate it deeply, pondering days and nights of an existence without redemption."

Days and nights without redemption.  The words alone bring grief and sadness to my soul.

Days and nights without forgiveness and mercy.  ...without grace.   Think on it just a moment...  a life lived without His peace, release and freedom.

When I linger on this thought for even a moment...  Oh!  The gratefulness in my heart wells so full and so deep, I can hardly contain it!

How do I even begin to thank you, my dearest Savior?  Thank you for drinking in my sin!  How do I even begin to worship You aright? Words can not express what you have given me in this choice, this obedience, this drinking.  You have brought me near!  You have loved me with an everlasting love.  You have released me and filled me and washed me white as newly fallen snow.  You have made this crooked one, this wounded child... me... straight and whole!  Teach my soul to see you, to see me, to see this world rightly with your eyes.  

"I want a principle within,
Of watchful, godly fear,
A sensibility of sin,
A pain to feel it near.
Help me the first approach to feel
Of pride or wrong desire,
To catch the wandering of my will,
And quench the kindling fire.

If to the right or left I stray,
That moment, Lord, reprove,
And let me weep my life away
For having grieved your love.
Give me to feel an idle thought
As actual wickedness,
And mourn for the moment minutest fault
In exquisite distress.

Almighty God of truth and love,
To me thy power impart,
The burden from my soul remove,
The hardness from my heart.
O may the least omission pain
My reawakened soul,
And drive me to that grace again,
Which makes the wounded whole.
~Charles Wesley, "I Want a Principle Within"

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Remain and Keep

He has just walked with his disciples into the garden.  Evening light and a soft, cool breeze may have accompanied this quiet journey.

His words to his disciples, his friends, express a sadness that is deep beyond language, "My soul is deeply grieved to the point of death." (Mark 14:34).   Deathly sadness.

I have experienced grief---deep, dark, physically painful grief--- but, I have never been grieved to the point of death.  This is grief of epic proportions.  Jesus was walking forward that night into pain unimaginable.

And, He told his friends of His heart. But, they didn't get it.  They just couldn't.  And, neither can I.   I want to get it, Jesus, my friend.  I want to understand Your heart more... 

They keep with Him, following and trying to understand their teacher, their friend.  But, He must separate Himself and wrestle with His heart.  He goes a stone's throw away...

...with one request of His friends.  "Remain here and keep watch with me."  (Matthew 26:38)

Remain here.  

Keep watch.  

With Me... 

He is asking them to stay, to stand firm, to remain where He tells them.  Obedience.  Awareness.  Remain in Today, Stephanie... Rest in me.  Remain right where I have put you.  Don't rush.  Just rest and remain still.  

He is asking them to keep awake, to keep aware, to be watchful and ready.  Alert.  Aware.  Keep awake, Stephanie, while this world slumbers.  

He is asking... or is He inviting?... them to do it all with Him.  Close to Him.  Within earshot and able to feel, sense and see His pain.  Do this all with Me.  I am always Present, always with you, always available.  

The themes of this month, pour over me with these words... Remain here, Keep watch, and stay With Me.

Is He whispering to you, I wonder? ...  Stay here and watch with Me, my friend.  

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Remember and Keep Awake

I had an odd experience last night.  Exhausted, my head hit the pillow and I desperately wanted to fall asleep.  But, I just couldn't.  I was being kept awake by a very strange noise.  ...bird song.  It was long past 11:00 PM and yet, they were singing as if it was early morning.  Confused birds!?

Loud and lovely, they sang, as if the sun was on the horizon.  But it wasn't.

I was annoyed and tired.  For the longest time, I laid there frustrated, tossing and turning, with the beautiful bird chirped song pounding my tired ears!    And, then I prayed.  Drawn by God's Spirit, I was reminded of the fact that God's creation is His to use and speak through at all times.   So, I asked, Father is this for me?  Why are these birds singing at this time of night.  

I instantly felt a response well-up in my spirit, Stay awake, Stephanie.  

And, I knew He wanted me to remember.  He wanted me to be alert and awake in this sleepy, tired, busy, media-saturated,  lulled world!  I had just finished the Prayer of Examen before bed.  I had become very aware at how much of my day is spent truly unaware of God's Always-Presence.

Stay awake and remember.  These birds are awake when all around them everything is sleeping.  ...you need to be like these birds!    

I do forget and fall asleep.  I walk through life sometimes like a dream, half aware and sleepy.  One thing to the next ---and then on to the next thing.  I do forget.  Do you?

So easily, the distractions of every day life pull us away from the Real and the Eternal.  We fix our eyes on things seen, not the unseen.  Or, at least I do.

And, what a beautiful Truth is found in remembering our Lord, our Friend, our Brother!  I want to fix my eyes on Him:  Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of my faith.

Today, in an effort to remember and to remind my soul of sweet, real, awake and eternal things,  I begin a Lenten study of the cross and Christ's work there.  If you want to join me you can find free lessons to download and print from Tricia Rhodes' blog, The Soul at Rest   or you can buy her wonderful book with these lessons inside, Contemplating the Cross-A 40 Day Pilgrimage in Prayer.  
"Today and every day, God the Father extends an invitation---to actors and mechanics, schoolteachers and bright-eyed children, preachers and bartenders, accountants and garbage collectors, gamblers and homemakers.  It is an eternal unchanging summons to kneel in the shadow of that cross, where He sacrificed His only Son, and made it our souls' home.  God beckons us to gaze in awe at what we see on Calvary's mount."  Tricia Rhodes, Contemplating the Cross.  
Thank you God for your pursuit of me, your pursuit of your sons and daughters!  Thank you that you pursued us at creation, in the garden, last night and today.  Thank you Father for the deep, lasting, generous gift of Your Son's life.  Thank you Jesus for entering in, pushing through, walking here and loving me so much.  Thank you Holy Spirit that You will lead me into all Truth and teach me about my God!! 

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Snuggle in

This morning my daughter snuggles in...  my arms wrapped around her, her head pushing deep into my chest.

Buried.  Burrowed.  She presses in and we hug.   We hug long and tight.  She whispers, "Oh that feels soooo good!"

There is nothing like a hug, really.  Tender, tight and sweet.

My girl.  She knows that a hug like this is always available.   And, sometimes she surprises me with her enthusiasm in wanting one!

She is getting taller this 13 year old of mine.  ...we may very soon be face to face.  But, she will tilt and bend and burrow in order to snuggle into that spot, she calls it.  The crux of my arm feels a safe and secure place to her.

This is what I am reminded as I read of God's stronghold.  The LORD is the stronghold of my life---of whom shall I be afraid?  (Psalm 27:1)

Stronghold.  A strong hold.  Wrapped around and secure--- I am held in Him.

This is what I have in my loving Father's embrace.  The Hebrew word here in Psalm 27 has such depth of meaning...   maowz:  my place of safety, my protection, my refuge, my harbor.

My strength.

I have an ever Present embrace.  I have an always-available hug.  I can burrow in.  I can tilt and bend and get there.  His arms wrapped around in a sweet embrace.  He is my strong hold!

So, I snuggle in this morning.  I push in and rest in my Father's embrace.  And, it feels so good and so very right...

Rest, my friends in His embrace.  He is the stronghold of your life!  

Friday, February 17, 2012

This too...a gift from loving hands

We are taught to say, "Thank you" for gifts received from when we are very young.  Even now, I often remind my kids to be careful they "thank" the gift-giver before they even open the gift.   "Say 'thank you', I tell them, "the very second it it given.  Then open it..."  

I want to teach my kids thankfulness for the giving---not even necessarily for the gift.  Thankfulness for the heart of the giver---the generosity, the thoughtfulness, the kindness.  And, thankfulness for the trust to open it, knowing that this giver is good and kind.

This, too, a gift from His loving hand.  

In our home, these has been the words we have been speaking to each other lately...

Today, as I drove around Southern California lost, a bit anxious and late for an appointment, my husband (after giving me correct directions and helping me find my way) said these words to me through the cell phone.  He said them as we were hanging up.  He said them with a smile in his voice.   I could hear it.  I could hear his smile, saying those gentle words...

This, too, my love, ...is a gift from His loving hand.

Deepening trust.  That is what I have been asking for.  This is just what I asked Him for this morning.    Father, I am rooted and established in love.  May I know this Love more!  May I trust this Love, Your love.   May I rest in Your unfailing love.  

To grow in the knowledge of the height and depth of His love and then to rest in that Truth always.  ...in all circumstances.

When I am lost.  Or, in pain.  When I am sad.  Or, overwhelmed.  When I am tired.

To see my life as wonderfully ordered and beautifully orchestrated by a loving, Creative, kind and All knowing Father.   To trust all things He allows and brings and gives...  as gifts from His loving hand.

This too...is from My loving hand...

Trust is not trust until it has been tested. 
Charles Spurgeon

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

There we go again...

There I go again.

So naturally, so easily...  I run to planning, doing, solving, organizing.
When things get heavy or rushed.  When things feel a bit overwhelming, or manic, I naturally lean toward "doing" and controlling.

Make a list and check it twice.  Check the box, do the task, cross it off, add another task, do.

And in my doing, I sometimes forget.

This time I forgot.  Days on end, I forgot.  I fed myself on the almost-healthy food of "task completion", rather than eating a nutritious, filling meal on God's word.  I forgot to eat dinner.  Instead I snacked away my heart hunger on the "carrots" and "celery" of list making and planning.

Task completion and planning certainly aren't sinful in-and-of-themselves.   But, they don't satiate, they don't satisfy, they don't feed my soul in the same way that rest, trust and sitting with my Heavenly Father satisfies.

This morning, again, I ran to email first and then to the "to do" list.  ...my "safety blanket" when I am feeling overwrought.

...and, as I was writing, I "almost" heard a still small voice.  Almost, just barely, I heard a whisper into my soul. I heard an invitation..."Come.  Come and sit with me, Stephanie".  "Remain in today. Rest in me." 

I kept writing, re-writing this task list, checking it twice and adding new "must dos" to my list.  But, I knew.  Deep within, I knew.  Why I forgot so easily is beyond me...

So, I went.  Finally, I went.

I sat.  I opened His Word.  Like the first, amazing bite of a juicy bacon burger, His Word fed me instantly.

The Lord is my Light and my Salvation.  

My devotional, which had been neglected for days now, had me reading in Psalm 27.  Do you know what it says in Psalm 27:8...  "My heart says of you, 'Seek His face!' Your face, O Lord, will I seek".   Should I be surprised?

Should I be surprised that my loving, faithful, always-present Father would use His Word to echo the very Spirit's whisper I had barely heard 20 minutes before---Come and sit with me.  Seek My face!

There He goes again. He never gives up on me.  He keep pursuing.    He keeps giving.  He keeps feeding and offering Himself to me.

There He goes again.  ...Loving me.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Fickle Heart...

My heart is fickle.  I am indeed prone to wander, Lord I feel it!

I don't mean to be faithless and inconsistent.  I just am.

One minute full of faith, trust and the knowledge of His love--- the next minute, doubting or worrying. Afraid or insecure.  My heart is fickle.  Have mercy on me, Lord!  Bind my heart to Yours!

But, my kind Father knows this and still He loves.  His heart is steady.  A fortress.

Still, He is faithful.  Always faithful.  Always loving.

My reading this morning took me to I Kings 19...  truly one of my favorite passages in the Bible.
In the previous chapter, Elijah has just seen God's amazing hand and has acted from a place of deep faith and trust in the Lord.  He knew God and He trusted God in I Kings 18.  But, then in chapter 19 we see him become afraid.  He is scared and overwhelmed.  He feels like giving up.  "I have had enough!" he says to the Lord.  (v.4)

And, God's response...

He is still faithful.  He is loving.  And, Father God is gentle...  so very gentle with Elijah.  In I Kings 19, we see God initiate, steps out and talk to Elijah in his place of frustration.  He meets him right where he is at.  In fact, God lets him sleep and then feeds him.  Then God lets him sleep some more and feeds him again.

Finally, God gives him the opportunity of His Almighty Presence and whispers to him.  Gentle whispers of truth and love.  ...He is always faithful.

My heart is fickle.

My God is constant, faithful and steady.  He is a rock that never changes.  He is reliable.  And, He is loving and gentle.  "an ever present help in time of trouble" (Psalm 46:1).

Ever-present for me.  Ever-present for you, my friend.  Still faithful is our God!

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Whose are you?

To whom do you belong?  Who do you belong to?

Whose are you?  

Confusing grammar aside...  I am asking myself this question today.  To be more accurate, I wonder if God is asking me this question.

Paul answers this question in one beautiful sentence that lighted off the page this morning...  "An angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve came to me this morning."  (Acts 27:23)

The God whose I am...

I am His.  I belong to Him.

We do like belonging, don't we?  It feels a right and a warm concept if our belonging includes purity, love and refuge.

I like "belonging with him" when people describe my relationship to my husband.  I like to be connected to him in that way.  I like when people say I belong to "this church" or "this organization"... that said, I like this notation when I am proud of the church or the organization.

I like to belong.

When I took my husband's name, I became part of his clan (so to speak).  Wearing his last name was a sweet thing for me--- they are a good people, a good family.  I like being associated with him, his dad, his mom, his brother and sister.  I like the connection.  I love the belonging that came with my marriage.

But, deep down... whose am I?  If my husband were to die... and I were to take another last name, would that change my essence?  No.  If I stopped belonging to that organization, this church or that team would it change who I am in any essential parts?  No.

First and foremost, I belong to God.  I am His kid.  I am His girl.  His princess.  I am essentially, in essence, and in reality His girl alone.

Remembering this truth throughout my every day is key.  I believe that freedom would abound in my life if I walked every moment under the awareness and umbrella of  being "His alone".  If I awoke each morning, ate each meal, parented each child, walked each place with the concept of being His and serving Him alone... what might my life look like?

Paul knew.  He knew whose he was and to whom he owed his allegiance.  I want to know this more. I want to walk in the beauty of this belonging.

In my attempt to know Him more this year, I have been making a list of words and phrases I find describing Him as I read His word each day.  Let me share a few of the words...

This is Whose I am:

I belong to...
a giver
an initiator
one Who is findable
one Who is merciful 
and higher than the heavens
a majestic King
one Who is strong
Who is eternal and endless
one Who is holy
one Who sees all
I belong to the One who
notices and questions
who rewards
and judges
I belong to the One who is
a rock
a lover
a fortress
a hope
a refuge

I am His!!  This amazing, loving, wonderful One owns me.  I belong to Him.

Whose are you?

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