Weeds in a Vacant Lot

 

So the other day I posted this picture on Facebook: chickweed

Asking whether it was a weed or a real-on-purpose plant.

And the comments took were not as cut and dry as I was expecting.  There was some debate.  Was this Creeping Jenny, or Chickweed?  Is this plant something desirable, or an invasive pest?

(Spoiler alert: chickweed- although the discussion has now convinced me to pull up the free plant that appeared in my yard and replace it with it’s near twin that I will purchase at the store.  Sometimes gardening- and America- makes no sense…)

But over the past 24 hours, something that was just a passing query has now taken root (pardon the pun) in my mind.

How do we determine the value of something?

Is it beauty?  Usefulness?  Rarity?  Convention?

What makes chickweed a weed and Creeping Jenny a desirable plant for your garden?  (I know that there is probably an extensive, fact based answer to this particular question, but please, for the sake of discourse, let’s let the metaphor stand…)

When is something mundane, and when is it an invitation to marvel?  What is the thing that separates the ordinary from the remarkable, the humdrum from the holy?  Is it something inherent to the object, or is beauty truly in the eye of the beholder?

If you look in the Bible, God uses ordinary objects over and over again to break into our reality.  A bush.  A donkey.  A star.  A stable.  Bread.  Wine.  Things that have ordinary uses, and yet, when viewed with kingdom eyes, shimmer with transcendence.

Children are so good at recognizing this duality.  Daily I am handed a wilting dandelion or a particularly remarkable stick?  Why?  Because, in my little people’s eyes, these are treasures.  Little boy’s pockets are always filled with rubber bands and acorns and fragments of paper, because they need an arsenal of miracles within their reach at anytime.  Poking a dead bee with a stick becomes an hour long activity.  A pile of dog poop next to the sidewalk becomes the inspiration for a 15 minute fantasy tale of the doggy that left it (don’t scoff- this happened to me this past Sunday afternoon).  To a child’s eye, the world is chock full of magic and imagination.  An adventure just waiting to happen.  To an adult, these same things simply hold face value.  Where did the whimsy go?

A few months ago, I read a poem, and then immediately took a paint pen and wrote the poem on the wall in the bathroom.  Why?  Because I only have about 7 minutes a day of uninterrupted time to shower think.  And I wanted these words to surround me during that time…

Praying by Mary Oliver

It doesn’t have to be

the blue iris, it could be

weeds in a vacant lot, or a few

small stones; just

pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try

to make them elaborate, this isn’t

a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which

another voice may speak.

Just pay attention.  For me, this concept is summed up in the word Selah.  As I have noted earlier on this page, Selah is a word used in the Old Testament.  Although  the definition isn’t precisely known, scholars tend to agree it means something along the lines of “Stop, and think on this.”  When used in the Psalms, it is thought that this word could signal a musical interlude in the song.

Either way, it is an invitation, even a command, to stop.  It is a doorway into silence.  A moment that grabs your attention, that reminds you that there is more to this life than the next thing on your calendar.

When is the last time you paused?  Even just for a few breaths?  When is the last time you gave yourself permission to stop, and think on something?  To simply be grateful? Do you live an interruptible life?

I seldom do.  And yet, I am constantly seeking small rituals that can serve as reminders to pause.  To breathe.  To be aware that I am not what matters in this life.  To marvel and to give thanks to a good God who is with me all the time.  In the blue iris and in the handful of small pebbles my preschooler just handed me.

Selah.  

I Like Big Buts…

 

Psalm 13
O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?

    How long will you look the other way?
How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
    with sorrow in my heart every day?
    How long will my enemy have the upper hand?

Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
    Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
    Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.

But I trust in your unfailing love.
    I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
I will sing to the Lord
    because he is good to me.

The words of this Psalm seem so tender to me.  I can think of months… years… when my prayers sounded just like this.  Hard times find us all.  And when we are in the midst of them, it seems as if God is so very far away, that he has forgotten us.  Psalms of Lament (like Psalm 13) make up almost 1/3 of the Psalms in the Bible.  Clearly, God wants us to know that it is ok to come to Him with our pain.  To cry out in the midst of the situation, to bemoan the hard place you have found yourself in.

I love that we serve a God that gives us permission to be in pain. I love that we serve a God big enough to handle our heartbreak, our fears, even our selfish concerns.  I love that in the Psalms, He models for us what it looks like to lay yourself out before God, exactly how you are.  No artifice, no pretending.

However, in the times I have spent in this place, I have noticed that I can become myopic.  We get so stuck on our story and our situation that we lose the greater picture.  Our prayers become smaller, and, eventually, lose focus on God and become completely focused on ourselves.

It is in this, too, that the Psalms of Lament can be our example.  Because, in their formula, there is always a common thread…

a big BUT.

But I will trust in your unfailing love.  I will rejoice because you have rescued me.  I will sing to the Lord because he is good to me.  

Remember.  The Psalmist is still in the midst of the pain.  There is no rescue in sight.  And still, the ‘but’ remains.  In the midst of the darkness, he is affirming what he knows to be true.  That we serve a powerful God.  One who loves us with unfailing love.  He celebrates a rescue that seems far away and still incomplete.  He chooses to sing of the Lord’s goodness in the midst of the darkness.

That’s one pretty big but.

What is the difference between a lament and a complaint?

That is a question that was posed in my Sunday School class a few weeks ago.  And, truly, I think that the primary difference is the presence of a but.  We can lament, while still affirming God’s sovereignty.  We can mourn, while still acknowledging a Plan that is at work.

When we complain, we forget to remind ourselves of God’s faithfulness, and we get lost in our own pain.  We are limited by our own perspective. Our story ceases to be The Story, but becomes our own story, smaller, diminished.  We don’t choose to believe in the redemption that is coming, both for us as individuals, but also us as a People of God.

Buts are important.  Crucial even.

 

 I like big buts.  And I cannot lie.

Fake Busy

You know what I am tired of hearing myself talk about?  How busy I am.  Yes.  I do a bunch of stuff.  But yes- I have the same 24 hours in a day that everyone else has.  And, just like everyone else, I get to choose how I spend it!  So why do I get stuck in this cycle of complaining about how little time I have like my own schedule is something that is happening TO me?

I chose this!

Half the things I find myself racing around to do are things that my husband calls ‘fake busy’… burning items on my to do list that I just made up out of my head that I need to get done.  Since when is buying a new pack of athletic socks an emergency?  It sure seemed couponthat way to me last Thursday!  Just because I have $10 loyalty rewards and a 40% coupon at AC Moore does not mean that I am required to go to that store today.  Whether or not I have painted my fireplace is actually not a life and death situation.  And yet, that’s how I live my life!  80% of the things I feel stressed about are things that I made up for myself to do.

How about you?

How often are your days filled with ‘fake busy’ items on your to do list?

How much time to you spend in front of the TV?  On social media? Disengaged with your life?

How many hidden pockets of time are being lost in your day?

I have a lot.  And as I am reflecting this Lenten season, I wonder what would happen if I invested that time more wisely?  If I lived my life intentionally, prioritizing people over things?  If I spent the hours entrusted to me engaging with my kids, calling an out of town friend, or just savoring the sweetness of my life, instead of rushing headlong into the next project I created for myself?

    Remind me that my days are numbered—
    how fleeting my life is.
 You have made my life no longer than the width of my hand.
    My entire lifetime is just a moment to you;
    at best, each of us is but a breath.” Interlude
We are merely moving shadows,
   and all our busy rushing ends in nothing.
-Psalm 39:4-6

We have a choice.  Even on the things we have to do.  Yes.  Humans need to eat, with shocking regularity.  But what if cooking a meal was an invitation into presence?  If we enjoy the scents, the smells, the colors of cooking our food, instead of rushing it onto plates?  What if time spent in the car was seen as an opportunity to pray blessings on the strangers we pass along the road?  Or to marvel at the beauty of a sunset, a tree branch, a backseat child’s laughter?

There is a difference between surviving and truly living.  We all have 24 hours.  How we spend them is an attitude of the mind.

 

Please Don’t Give Up Chocolate for Lent this Year…

vhovolsyr

Today is Ash Wednesday, the official start of Lent.  Which means that people all over the world will begin their Lenten fasts.  In my experience, however, these chosen fasts have more to do with crash dieting than with deepening one’s walk with Christ.

Having grown up in a tradition that didn’t talk that much about practicing Lent, I only had a vague idea of what Lent was as a high schooler.  If you were to ask 16 year old me what it meant to practice Lent, I probably would have told you that for 40 days before Easter you weren’t allowed to eat chocolate, soda, and you were supposed to go for a 3 mile run instead of watching TV every day.  In essence, Lent was a second shot at that failed New Year’s Resolution.  Other than the timing of the season, I didn’t know that Lent had all that much to do with God.

As an adult, I have come to understand what Lent means in the practice of the faith.  The season is meant to be a time of anticipation, a time of making room for Christ.  That is the purpose of a Lenten fast- to create a hunger for God, to create space in your life and your schedule to devote yourself to prayer and reflection.  In my thinking, the practice of Lent should draw you closer to God, creates a sense of fullness and satisfaction, not one of hunger or deprivation.  So let me ask you (humbly, gently); does giving up chocolate, caffeine, or fast food really create room and awareness of God in your life?

Is there another practice that could better accomplish that purpose?

I so often see people (and have been guilty myself) of choosing something for a fast that is really more of a diet plan.  In my mind I am thinking I am doing this for God, but if I also happen to lose a bit of weight in the process, that’s ok too.  As I reflect upon this, I realize that that is dancing a line very close to idolatry.  What am I really pursuing in this goal?  To draw closer to Christ, or to draw closer to my goal of the perfect body?

In the past few years I have decided that instead of giving something up for Lent, I will instead add something.  A daily (or if that’s too hard, regular) practice that serves to draw me closer to my savior.  To more deeply connect me with the author of life. To invite me into a time of personal worship.  This year, I am going to try and set some time each day to create.  As an act of worship.  Acknowledging that I am formed in the image of my Creator.  That practice speaks deeply into my soul as something I need right now.  Perhaps there is something your heart is whispering to you that would draw you closer to God…

Time each day to walk, outside, appreciating God’s marvelous creation.

A family meal each week, set aside to connect with each other on a deeper level.

Worship music in your car on your morning commute.

Reading the Christian book that has been sitting on your nightstand for weeks.

My challenge to you is to use Lent to enrich your relationship with Christ in a way that has no other outside benefits.  Let your pursuit of Him for the next 40 days be unspoiled by other secondary goals.

And may the Peace of Christ be with you.

 

Snowstorm Sabbath

2015-02-26 09.01.32

One of my favorite things about living in the South is our kooky reaction to winter weather.  As the first flakes of frozen precipitation begin to fall from above, we feel compelled to act as if the sky itself is falling.  School is cancelled.  There is a run on the grocery store.  Motorists on all major thoroughfares immediately smash into fellow  vehicles.  We stack up our firewood, pile on the blankets, and drink mug after mug of hot chocolate.  It’s amazing.

We have just weathered one of those storms, and, as we emerge from the blizzard of 2016, I find myself realizing what it is that I love so much about our winter panic- in the midst of the storm, everything stops.  We stay at home.  Engage with our families.  Cook luxurious meals and excuse ourselves from going to work, to the gym, to board meetings and the other obligations that fill our days.  We shelter in place.

In essence, we take a sabbath.

I cannot tell you how much the last few days have meant to me.  I have had real conversations with my family.  I have gotten down on the floor and played with my children. I took moments to pet my dog.  Wash my dishes by hand.  Talk to my neighbors.  I have marveled at the beauty of nature, and listened to good music.  In essence, I have taken time to stop and truly enjoy this beautiful life I am living.

In typical Southern fashion, the weather today is heading towards 50 degrees.  On the street outside of my office I see people in winter parkas walking next to others in t-shirts.  And I find myself a bit sad about the thaw.  Because although I appreciate the return to normal patterns and schedules, I know I will miss the freedom and space created by the snow.

For the record, no, I am am not wishing for an eternal winter. But I do find myself asking what it is about these snow days that are so meaningful.  What practices can I carry forward into the sunshine?

Here are some questions I have been asking myself in the discovery process… maybe they will resonate with you as well:

What do I cherish the most about snow days?

What elements of this time can I begin to incorporate into my own sabbath practices?

How can I hold myself accountable to engage deeply in relationships with those I love in the midst of my busy-ness?

Are there any new traditions I can put in place in my life to capture some of this whimsy and peace I love so dearly?

On Getting Unstuck

Being a blogger is a funny thing.  I don’t have many readers, so many times I feel as if I am just sending out words into the void.  But here is the thing, my words still matter.  To me if no one else.  And because of that, I feel tremendous pressure to write ‘correctly.’  To have something to say.  And not just anything to say, but something substantive, important, original.  That’s a lot of pressure!

And so many times, I allow this pressure to be amazing to silence my voice.  It’s as if I only have two options, be remarkable, or be invisible.  Be pitch perfect, or be silent.  The more I think about it, the more parallels to this pressure I see across my life.  If I can’t be the best, I often would rather not show up.  And, may I just say, that as a working mom of two littles, there are precious few areas of life where I feel like I am bringing my A game these days.  I can change a diaper like a champ.  I am pretty darn good at using Amazon Prime.  And I make a mean Eggo Waffle.  Not exactly skills to brag (blog) about.

So where does that leave me?  Silent.  Afraid to share the thoughts I do have for fear that they are not polished, not worthy to send out into the world.

And yet, am I not a person, created in God’s own Image?  Do my words not reflect his divine Creativity in the fact that I have strung them together from nothing, creating something out of the void?

Blank notepad and pencilAll to often I let being the best become the enemy of being good.  Of being mediocre even.  Of being me.  I lock myself in, for fear of lacking in comparison.  I get stuck.  In my own insecurity, my own reticence.

Is not writing a form of creating, which in itself is a form of worship?  As I label the words in my mind as not worthy, I am affixing the same description to myself, as God’s created.

What is it that is holding you back from being fully you?  How will you get unstuck today?

When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
     “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!”
“Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
 Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!”
 “I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
Luke 19:37-40

The voices in our heads…

Question:  What were you just thinking? Just then?  If a day in your head goes anything like a day in my head, the answer could be anything.  From pondering the grocery list to reflecting on the meaning of life, the gears in my head are always moving.  And not in a linear, predictable way.  One seemingly mundane thought can lead to another, and another, until my mind ends up miles from where it began.

In the truest part of ourselves, we are thinking creatures.  We think an amazing amount of thoughts, ALL the time.  In the morning, we wake up thinking about our days, thinking that we wish that we had more sleep, thinking about the dreams we just had that were actually the thoughts we were having in our sleep.  At the breakfast table we eat our cereal as we think about how stressed out we are about the day ahead.  All day long it goes, thinking, daydreaming, worrying, but living our lives in our heads, many times much more than we do outside of our heads.

maybieHave you ever wondered what it would be like to NOT think so much?  Take my dog Maybie, for instance.  Do you know what she thinks about?  Squirrels.  And walks.  That’s it.  Literally.  Sometimes I just want to spend a day in her head, looking out the window and waiting for my next walk.  Thinking about… squirrels.  I think more than my dog because that is how I was created.  In the Garden of Eden, God created us in His Image.

So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  Genesis 1:27

And what does it mean to be created in the Image of God?  What IS God?

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
John 1:1-4

God created us in His image, and in the Bible, His Image is described as the Word.  So, When you think of it, our capacity for speech, for words, for thought, is part of what makes us image bearers of Christ.  This ability to think, to reason, to observe and interpret the world and our lives is a sacred thing.  In the Garden of Eden, we were created as real, thinking beings who spent our lives in the presence of God, walked with him in the evenings, and shared every bit of our lives with him.

Worry was not a thing.

Fear didn’t exist.

Our minds, our thoughts, were happy, joyful, creative places.

So what happened?

The serpent.

Have you ever thought about the fact that the first thoughts Adam and Eve had after they ate the apple were ones of anxiety?

Ack!  I’m naked!

In an instant, a life of peace, a mind of harmony, was transformed into one of fear, anxiety, and self doubt.

When we began to doubt God’s goodness, we immediately began to doubt everything we knew about our lives, our selves, as well.  The serpent keeps whispering his lies into our ears.

Have you ever taken inventory of your thoughts?  Kept track of how many of your thoughts in a given day are happy ones, verses sad, scary, or anxious ones?  If you are like me, the bad ones outnumber the good ones.  And what’s more, the bad ones are the ones I pay attention to.  Why?  These ones are the lies…

But everyone does it.  However, is this the way it has to be?  In the world of therapy, professionals are starting to question the assumption that all of our thoughts are true, all are valid.  How can someone who is socially successful feel in the depths of her heart that she is unlovable?  How can a person who by societal standards is beautiful still believe with all of her mind that she is ugly, fat?  How can a mother who is working herself to the bone to support and nurture her family lays awake at night, convinced that she isn’t doing enough?  The truth is, we are all walking around believing lies, despite overwhelming evidence of that these things simply aren’t true.

We all live in a world where it feels as if there is an angel on one shoulder and a devil on another.  One is whispering lies, telling us we aren’t good enough.  The other is whispering the truth of God, that we are dearly loved, cherished, enough.

Which voice are you listening to?

John 10:1-10
“I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber!  But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice.  They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

“I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep.  Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures.  The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”

Satan’s purpose is to steal our joy.  To kill our confidence, to destroy our peace and our relationships with others.  God’s purpose is to give us life, and life to the fullest.

But here is the thing.  You get to choose which voice you listen to.  You can allow words of life, or of death, to rule your brains every day.  Which voice are you going to choose to listen to?

I am going to leave you with one final thought… words directly from God, in one of my favorite passages of the Bible- Philippians 4:6-9.  These words have been so influential for me in the battle for my mind.  Let these words wash over you and know, above all else, that you are dearly loved.

Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done.  Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.

 And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

prayer: a poem

all day long the mumbled missives are sent:
postcard length portraits of this human experience.

our cherished hopes,
concerns for our loved ones,
whispered pleas for green lights,
passing thoughts for strangers,

prayers fill in our still moments, forming
the punctuation of our days.

the world as we wish it to be,

all placed carefully in the palm of our creator.

who do you love?
What is it you hope for?
Who are you
truly?

the contents of our prayers tell the true story, revealed only to
a God who sees us.

IMG_0097

freedom

So I just spent a week blogging about ways my life could use discipline… but as I was jogging yesterday, I realized that I cannot talk about these things without also talking about the most important principle of my life.

freedom.

You see, freedom, specifically, my freedom in Christ, is one of the most defining characteristics of my existence.  I grew up in a faithful Christian home, full of grace filled believers.  But somehow, I grew up with the misconception that living a life as a Christ follower involved toeing the line in all areas.  I was a dedicated do-gooder, a person who believed that living in a way that pleased God meant that I had to beat myself into submission.  Although I could define grace if asked, I lived as if it had no impact on my life and my world.

So what happened to change things?  I messed up.  I made mistakes.  Big ones.  Ones that went against my definition of who I was, and flew in the face of what I had decided a ‘good Christian’ should be.  My selfish and immature 19 year old mistakes wrecked my model of Christianity and I found myself at a Crossroads: walk away from my faith in disgrace, or engage with God on new terms.

Once I wrecked my paradigm of Good Christian Behavior, the Bible began to make more sense.  900 some pages of people messing up, and God remaining faithful.  Before, I read these scriptures as a Pharisee, scoffing at the Israelites’  hardheadedness.  Now, I comprehended the message that God was SHOUTING through these pages- there is simply no way to be good enough to earn your way into heaven.

You can’t do it.

And yet, God still loves us.  Has redeemed us.  Sent his Son to suffer and die and pay the price of our hardheadedness, our sin, our stiff necked pride.  Through Jesus, we have been given a precious gift: freedom.  Our very inability to be good enough to win God’s favor invites us into a world of adventure.  One where failure is acceptable, even expected.  One where we have the opportunity to discover who we really are, and in turn, more of who God is.

Yes.  We try to honor God with our choices.  Yes.  Discipline is part of the Christian walk.  But discipline inevitably leads to failure.  And sometimes, deliberately breaking the rules we set for ourselves reminds us of who is ultimately in charge.

freedomSo when I wake up tired or discouraged, I give myself permission to fail.  To fall short of the 20 mile march.  To leave the laundry unfolded.  To turn the 8 PM rule into the 4 PM rule, or to burn the midnight oil, whatever is required to honor the needs of my soul.  And in these permissions, I am also realizing that I am free.  As a child of Christ, my worth isn’t set upon what I accomplish, the cleanliness of my house, the behavior of my kids or the balance in my checkbook.  My identity is hidden in Him, and I am free to rest in the shadow of his wings.

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
    will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
    he is my God, and I trust him.
For he will rescue you from every trap
    and protect you from deadly disease.
He will cover you with his feathers.
    He will shelter you with his wings.
    His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
Psalm 91:1-4

even in darkness

139

I had a conversation a few weeks ago where someone asked me what I thought about times in one’s life when you don’t feel God’s presence as strongly as you once did.  While the person seemed to be asking me an open ended question, I felt the tension of needing to give the ‘right answer’.  I knew that what I was supposed to say is that when you feel far from God, you just grit your teeth, double down, and wrestle your way back into the Light.  So, in my shame and cowardice, that is what I said.

But here is the truth.

I am in that place- the valley.  I have been for a while now.  And right now, today, I don’t have the strength, or even the desire to pull myself up by my bootstraps.  I’m weary.  I’m battered.  And, paradoxically, I am okay with it.

Because here in this valley, I am in the process of learning one of the most valuable lessons I have ever been given.

Though I may waver, God is faithful.

O Lord, you have examined my heart
    and know everything about me.
    You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
    even before I say it, Lord.
 You go before me and follow me.
    You place your hand of blessing on my head.
 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
    too great for me to understand!
Psalm 139:1-6

Me? I am fickle.  I am bound by circumstance and perspective.  My view on life, on God, on everything, is bound by time and situation.  I can’t see my way out of this place.  Also- I am tired.  My days are consumed with watching small children, with holding down a full time job, with walking the dog, and doing the dishes, and the dozens of other small obligations that seem to crowd into my life.  When I reach the end of my day, I am just as often crashing into bed feeling like I narrowly escaped catastrophe as I am going to sleep with a prayer on my lips.  Right now I do not have the time, quiet, or capacity to be pursuing God like I ought to be.  Like I want to be

…and that is okay…

You saw me before I was born.
    Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
    before a single day had passed.
Psalm 139:16

Because God never changes.

His love for me is unwavering. No matter how I act, no matter what I do, His love for me remains.  Because Love is knit into His character just as firmly as fallibility is woven into mine.  God’s love is not based on merit, on effort, or on intentions.  It is based upon the fact that we are His beloved children, created by Him and treasured by him.

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
    They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
    they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
    you are still with me!
Psalm 139 17:18

I am, by nature a do-er.  I grew up in a family known for their good works.  My temptation is always to view my worth in terms of my worthiness in terms of what I have done to deserve love, to deserve mercy, and (let’s be honest) to deserve applause.  Living life in a day to day race to the finish line makes me feel as if I am somehow not measuring up.  When a day goes by and my Bible remains unread, I imagine it glaring at me from the nightstand, resentfully neglected.    When the pile of Christian Living books on my bookshelf is covered by a layer of dust, I see this as physical evidence of my unworthiness, of my failure as a disciple.

And yet, when I read scripture, this is simply not true.  God’s love for me is not tied to my efforts.  Who I am, my identity in Christ, is hidden in something much more solid than my own efforts.  I am a child of God.  Dearly loved.  Redeemed.  Delighted in. Known.  Seen.  Treasured.  None of this depends upon or even reflects what I do to deserve it.

I am beginning to feel that this time of darkness is truly a blessing.  Though I don’t always feel competent successful in this phase of life, I can come to rest on the truth that God’s love is built on the solid truth of who HE is, not on the capricious reality of who I am at the given moment.

I can never escape from your Spirit!
    I can never get away from your presence!
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
    if I go down to the grave,[a] you are there.
 If I ride the wings of the morning,
    if I dwell by the farthest oceans,
 even there your hand will guide me,
    and your strength will support me.
 I could ask the darkness to hide me
    and the light around me to become night—
   but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.
To you the night shines as bright as day.
    Darkness and light are the same to you.
Psalm 139:7-12

When you next find yourself in the valley, straining to feel God’s presence, and feeling condemned by your own shortcomings, I invite you to see this as a time of invitation.  A time to rest, to reflect, to intentionally not try to climb your way out.  Instead, join me in the process of waiting and listening.  And trust that God’s love is still there, still unwavering, still the truest thing about you.  For this has been a lesson that is changing my life right now.

Yet also, realize this- when I speak of the valley, I am using present tense.  I think we often view these chapters of life as lessons that need to be learned, or times we need to endure before we can bounce back, invigorated and ready to overcome.  Yes.  I am learning.  Yes, God is speaking.  But, yes.  I am still here in this place.

Often we don’t know the reasons or the answers to why things happen to us.  And that is yet another time when the big-ness of God can be a comfort.  For he knows I am here.  I am not forgotten.  Though I may not feel the closeness with God that I crave, though I may not feel the delight I once felt, I know God is there.  And for now, that will have to be enough.

Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Psalm 139:23-24